Summary for table of contents: The Children’s Bridge Adoption Agency taught Glenda and René de Vries to encourage their adopted children to ask any questions their developing, vulnerable minds might have about their adoption from China. What the agency didn’t teach them was how to prepare for the strobe light inquisition from their brilliant young girls. Nor did they teach them how to explain the unexplainable, or how to express God's love and divine purpose for their lives.
A FOREVER FAMILY: Questions our adopted children needed to ask
We adopted our first daughter from China in 2000 when she was ten months old. Although she was mildly delayed at the time, she bonded immediately and intensely, so everything appeared within normal expectations.
The Children’s Bridge Adoption Consultants gave us instructions on how to help her assimilate well into our family and to deal with her subconscious loss. They taught us to plant age-appropriate seeds of thought about the adoption and to remain emotionally neutral so she would feel comfortable asking questions.
Even after learning this, I made a big mistake. We were driving in my car one day when my then four-year-old asked me, “Mommy, did I come from your tummy?” I hesitated and then responded with a quiver in my voice, “No, you didn’t; you came from someone else’s.” In the rearview mirror she watched tears welling in my eyes. She was silent for a while and then quietly said, “I wish I came from your tummy.” I swallowed hard and added, “But that doesn’t affect how much I love you. You came from my heart and that’s much more important.” She didn’t ask me any more questions about her adoption until we adopted our second daughter in 2004.
By then we had read more books and consulted even more professionals. We learnt that adopted children, whether they directly ask for it or not, need reassurance that their new family is a permanent relationship—something that few biological children ever doubt.
Our younger daughter was eleven months old when we brought her home. We immediately told her about her adoption through play and drama, and we included her older sister in these games. “We looked everywhere for you—under the blankets, under the bed, in the closet—and finally we found you in China and brought you home.” Then came big hugs all around.
When she was about six years old, she became frequently and uncharacteristically angry. Some experts said we should teach her how to control her anger in a positive way. Others said we should ensure she doesn’t benefit from the anger—no extra attention, taking away her privileges and toys. Some even said this might be her natural character. None of these suggestions seemed right for our daughter.
At the same time, our older daughter was having unexplained night terrors. We were advised to give her anti-anxiety medications. This recommendation also didn’t seem right.
Then a Christian therapist and friend who implements Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) in her practice said, “You have to get to the basis of the emotion.”
EFT has its roots in Attachment Theory  which recognizes that emotions are connected to our most essential needs. Uncovering the basis for the emotion will lead to the discovery of the need.
After hearing this, I realized we had to slow down and be emotionally and physically present. I knew that even though our older daughter was silent on the adoption issue, she might be having private thoughts and questions.
Every night, I lay down with them in their mutual bed and planted a seed about the adoption, or about school, or about their friends to see if either one of our girls would pick up on any of these conversations. I didn’t want to automatically assume they were having issues with their adoption or the loss of their biological family.
I can’t remember what triggered it, but finally my younger daughter turned to me with hostility in her eyes and blurted, “You’re going to get rid of me just like my birth mother.”
Whoa! “NO! I would never!” I replied.
I told her that it was God who brought us together in His divine plan. He knew we needed children, and He knew they needed parents. But her eyes told me that my words were insufficient reassurance.
So, I asked them, as I pulled the bed covers up to their shoulders, to come up with scenarios in which we would get rid of them.
The younger one asked, “What if we don’t have enough food?” I told them some possible options such as finding another source of income, planting a garden, visiting a food bank, or asking for help from loved ones. Giving them up to strangers was not an option.
“What if we broke your most precious vase?”
“Things don’t matter, people do,” I responded.
The older one asked, “What if we burned the house down?”
I talked about the insurance company and the police being unhappy with us, and our moving to a new home. But we still wouldn’t get rid of them.
The younger one asked, “What if we killed Daddy.” They both giggled, but I gulped.
“Oh,” I said, while casually looking at my nails, “ I would certainly be angry, and I would be sad forever.” And then I looked each of them directly in the eyes and said, “But you would still be my daughters… and I would visit you in jail.”
About three months after that conversation, while I was busy in the kitchen, my younger daughter came up to me and said, “I haven’t been angry in a long time.”
“Hmmm, that’s true. Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t feel angry anymore.”
And our older daughter no longer has night terrors.
Imagine if we had punished our younger daughter for her behavior, or just accepted that she had an angry disposition? What if we had put the older one on medication? What they both so desperately needed was the reassurance that we were a family—forever.
I believe all children need a forever family on this earth, and my prayer is that they will have one. God knows this is our basic need. That’s why He tells us we are His children, adopted fully into the family of God (Galatians 4:4-7).
Recommended reading: Russel D. Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches, (Crossway Books and Bibles, 2009) Andrew Adesman M.D., Parenting Your Adopted Child: A Positive Approach to Building a Strong Family, (McGraw-Hill, 2004)
Bio Glenda Dekkema-de Vries is a freelance writer and Columnist who lives with her husband and inquisitive children in Stouffville, On.
Footnotes:  The Children’s Bridge is a non-profit, federally incorporated organization licensed to facilitate adoptions. www.childrensbridge.com  John Bowlby, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds, (Routledge, 2005)
©2013 Glenda Dekkema-de Vries