not the same
I feel like there are many people in the lives of adoptive families who want to try to downplay the differences our adopted children have from those who have grown up in a more stable, loving, safe, home environment. The downplaying? It’s not malicious; in fact I wholeheartedly believe that these friends want us to feel better about ourselves as parents by praising our children! And while I am thankful for the kindness that is behind many of the comments…
The bottom line is this: any child who has experienced a traumatic start to life is not the same as a typical child who grows up in a loving family knowing that their needs will be met.
The bottom line is that this is directed toward any one person at all. It’s the culmination of almost 9 months of watching not only our own story unfold, but also the stories of many other children in many other families. My own story is the one I’m most familiar with, but there are so many others who live in shades of the same story as we do.
The bottom line is that we need grace. I know it seems like we are beating a dead horse when we bring up the struggles, but the horse is far from dead. In our lives, in the lives of so many adoptive families, there are still days when the trauma gallops full speed ahead, and we just try to hold on to the reins, often knowing that the best (only?) thing we can do is throw them up in the air and let a gracious Father take over.
Here’s the thing: she is not the same.
Our daughter? She is not like other four-year-olds.
She might be of average height, weight, and build.
She might be adorably cute (especially when that dimple pops out)!
She might know how to throw her hands on her hip and give me a sassy attitude.
But she is NOT THE SAME.
She might want to be held and talk like a baby sometimes.
She might want me to lay in bed with her for a few minutes at night.
She might meltdown when I give her water in her cup instead of juice.
All of these things might trick you into thinking she is like other four-year-olds. But she is not.
Your four-year-old might be of average height, weight, and build. I imagine you never worried about whether or not she was being well fed while spending time in an orphanage.
Your four-year-old might be adorably cute, but I imagine she never felt the need to be a favorite just to get a little bit of extra human interaction. I imagine that she isn’t constantly assessing who might be her competition; who might get more attention than her and fighting to maintain control over any and all new or stressful situations.
Your four-year-old might throw her hands on her hip and give you sassy attitude. I imagine it’s because she’s just giving attitude. I imagine it’s not because she feels the need to prove something to people she’s only known for 8 months.
Your four-year-old is not the same as mine.
Your four-year-old might want to be held and talk like a baby sometimes, but I imagine it’s not because she spent her babyhood and early preschool years in a crib without the attention small children need. I imagine that your four-year-old had the chance to be a baby when she was a baby.
Your four-year-old might want you to lay in bed at night with her for a little while. I imagine that you don’t have conversations where she tells you about how sad she was that you weren’t there in her orphanage with her.
Your four-year-old might meltdown when you give her water instead of juice. I imagine it’s not because she has such a desperate need for stability after transitioning from one country to the next that even small changes in the schedule can cause serious regression. I imagine that your four-year-old had the chance to drink water when she was thirsty rather than having to wait for scheduled bottle breaks.
Your four-year-old is NOT THE SAME.
Now, I know that our four-year-old is, well, four. And there are things that four-year-olds do that all four-year-olds do because they are FOUR. The motivation and thoughts that go into the actions though? They are VASTLY DIFFERENT. We are constantly assessing whether her behavior is typical of age four, or if it has some deeper something lurking in the background.
I promise when I tell you, “it’s not the same”, I mean it. It’s not just my imagination. YES, she is doing amazingly well. YES she loves preschool and being social. YES personality is a factor. But deeper than that is the straight-up fact that there are parts of her brain that haven’t had the chance to develop like your four-year-old.
I feel like the longer she is home with family the less understanding people are of the fact that she is not the same. The protective layers that she has built up over time are finally starting to break down, and NOW is when she needs more understanding than ever before. NOW, when she has acclimated to what “typical” behavior looks like is when people need to refuse to stare at the surface and declare “she is the same.” I have had 4 four-year-olds, and I promise you, it’s not the same.
The longer she is home, the less likely people are to understand that her past requires more than just hugs and kisses to recover from. Love heals wounds, but it takes time, not just months, sometimes YEARS.
Years, friends. Years.
I’m not angry, I’m really not. I completely understand that the training we have gone through to be prepared for her is not the typical training new parents go through. I understand that most parents don’t need to understand how the brain develops, and how brain development changes when there is an overabundance of cortisol washing through your system as a baby. I get that.
But I also get that I am her advocate. I am her defender. I am her mama bear. Being her mother is a privilege and an honor. It’s also like having an app running in the background all the time; my mind is constantly flashing the low-battery signal. It’s a different kind of tired that comes with loving this girl.
It’s just not the same.
There are days when I wish it were, trust me, there are. But I also know that while sameness is desirable on many levels, the differences are teaching me so much more.
Love. Understanding. Patience. Compassion. Patience (oops, did I already say that?) Grace. Peace. Respect.
Although you are perhaps not in our shoes, I would ask that you please respect her and don’t assume that she is like your four-year-old. In this case, respect is not to treat her just like every other four-year-old… respect is knowing and acknowledging where she came from and understanding that her actions and reactions require different actions and reactions from us.
She’s not the same, and I love her for it. She’s making it possible for the Father to make me not-the-same, too.
For all of the people who have a child, no matter what age, no matter what circumstance, who is not the same- you are not alone. You are being made not-the-same, too, and it’s a beautiful thing.
For more information about attachment/bonding/brain development in children who experience early trauma, check out The Connected Child.