It’s that time of year for many adoptive families. Do you miss the traditional giving of thanks? Or do you have misgivings? Perhaps you have a combination of both.
For families raising children from hard places, Thanksgiving – or any holiday – can create incredible anxiety. Nothing is predictable – except the unpredictability.
Furthermore, pop culture creates unrealistic images. As a teenager, I vividly remember watching the made-for-television film A Girl Named Sooner. Set in the 1930s, a childless couple “rescues” an orphan from a bootlegger who’d taken the girl under her wing.
One stereotype after another. An instant family. And of course, the fairy tale ending.
Overall, it’s decent family drama with several interesting twists. Possibly a conversation starter in your home or with extended family.
The film’s good feeling reminds me of the first Thanksgiving with my three youngest sons. The avalanche of well wishes, especially at school and church. “You have been so blessed this year. Those boys just shine around you. They are lucky to have you.”
Yet the conversation was one-sided. No mention of their past trauma. No mention of their present challenges from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Although thankful for the opportunity to be a father, I knew one thing for sure. We couldn’t play this charade forever. We weren’t going to be like every other family – no matter how hard I tried.
How long until people noticed?
After our third Thanksgiving, my sons’ older sister joined the family. Soon the challenges could no longer be hidden from public view. As the thoughtfulness from others diminished, their subtle judgment of my parenting grew – along with the blame.
A growing crowd made their voices clear. I wasn’t being “hard enough” on my kids. To those misinformed outsiders, I was too permissive. Too forgiving. Too involved. Too sensitive to criticism.
Wouldn’t a whooping whip them into shape?
Yet I knew my children best. And their endless fears. Clear boundaries were essential to my children’s overall mental health. Their sense of worth wouldn’t happen on its own. Just the opposite was more than likely to unfold.
Shame on top of shame.
That’s when Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning. Thankfulness rooted in mindfulness. With no guarantee of success, I was now thankful for anyone who understood. For anyone who lent a helping hand. For anyone who showed kindness, when least expected.
Whether to my kids or me.
Within several years of adopting my final two sons, voices grew louder. “Tell your children to keep their hands to themselves. Tell them to not take others’ things. Tell them to play nice and follow the rules. Tell them to act their age.”
Sure. I’ll do that right now. Let me wave my magic wand and make your fairy tale real.
Sadly, few knew the intensity of our daily challenges. Even less wanted to know.
Yet I remain thankful – not just on Thanksgiving but every day of the year.
Thankful for 10 uninterrupted minutes to take a shower.
Thankful for my cell phone not ringing – with word of another unpleasant surprise at school.
Thankful for siblings who help each other without being asked.
Thankful for evenings where none of my children disappear.
Thankful for family members and neighbors who step outside their comfort zone.
Thankful for the bond that slowly formed and still exists today. 20 years later.
From time to time, I miss giving thanks like other families. But I have no misgivings of adopting whatsoever. And I hope you don’t either. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder for Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
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