Thursday, March 20, 2008

"I promise"

Last night Alex was snuggling on the couch with me and asked if I would sleep in her bed with her. I said I would snuggle for a few minutes, but I can't sleep in her bed all night. She said, "When I was a baby, you slept with me." I've told her about how, when she first arrived home with us, I slept in her room with her because she missed her foster mom. She has been bringing up Korea and her foster mom recently, on her own initiative. I'm amazed at how much she remembers of what we've told her, but I'm not sure how much she really understands.

So, while still snuggling on my lap and right after talking about her foster mom, she looks into my eyes and says something like, "Promise you will never go away, mom. You have to PROMISE." (I don't remember the exact wording and her grammar is a little off...and I don't remember her ever using the word "promise." Wow.) I said, "I promise I will never leave you." And she said, "No, promise you will never go away ALEX." Did she mean "give away Alex"? Was she worried that she will be "given away" again? I told her I will always be her mommy and she will be my girl forever. That seemed to satisfy her.

I've been thinking about this a lot last night and today. It was a poignant moment, a glimmer of her first conscious processing of what had to happen for her to be adopted. :-( I'm sad to think she might be worried that her status as our daughter could ever be in jeopardy. :-( In combination with the comments she made last week, telling us out of the blue that she was "junk" - and now apparently wondering if she could be "thrown away" or "given away" ? I wonder if the adoption explanations we've tried to give have been misinterpreted? I remember reading a study that showed that 3-5 year old Korean children, adopted as infants, were worried that they might be taken away again. These concerns were generally not shared with their parents and in all respects they were well-adjusted, happy kids.

We've always been matter-of-fact about her adoption and have tried to make sure she understands where she began her life and how she came to be our daughter. But - no matter how delicately you couch it - when you tell a child that her first mother could not be a mother to her, and so she was taken to a new family - does she automatically, if unconsciously, conclude that she is somehow not valuable? That it was her fault? I suppose this would be a rational conclusion, and I've seen it expressed by adoptees before. I naively hoped my kids would somehow escape it. I also didn't expect to see these questions or fears quite this early.

I've briefly questioned the wisdom of our telling Alex her adoption story at this tender age. But only briefly. I still believe in my heart that honesty is the best policy, that by telling her the facts (at age appropriate levels) we are enabling her to understand and integrate her past with her present, are allowing her to question us with the expectation of receiving truthful answers, and are creating an environment in which dialogue can occur without an overtone of secrecy or shamefulness. As sad as I am to think she might be fearful or feel not valued, I would be even more sad if she did not feel she could express these things to us.

And so I plan to get my ducks in a row and talk to her again, sometime in the near future, about her adoption story. Her 3rd arrival day anniversary is coming up in May, so we'll probably have another discussion around that time and look at her lifebook pictures. This time, I may be more careful to emphasize that her first mother (and father) could not take care of ANY baby - and that being adopted means she belongs with us forever. I have to anticipate the "Why" questions this time, too - so I pray I can answer in a way that affirms her. Wish me luck!


Tammy said...

I think you are doing a great job of affirming her and loving her, and I agree that being honest in an age-appropriate manner is the best thing.

It's remarkable that she is starting to understand these things, and if she is insecure and a bit unsure of herself, remember that some of that may be her personality and does not reflect on your mothering skills :).

All the same, I will pray that she feels secure, loved, and knows you will always care for her.

Gardagami said...

See here or here

Mommavia said...

It's interesting you write about this...We are having many of the same questions from Jack. I am certain his are stemming from our Sam's upcoming arrival, but he asks lots of questions about the pictures we have around the house (one of me and Ian holding Jack's referral picture). I have been telling him lots of stories about how excited we were to learn we'd be his parents and about the first time we met him. (He is especially interested in the cab ride we took from Holt-Korea to our hotel...boys and their cars)

I think this is the age they are starting to understand in their little minds about how families are formed because another friend of mine with bio kids has had similar questions from her 3 year old about her place in the family. I always like to have a reality check with her because sometimes stuff is developmental with a little adoption thrown in.

Hugs to you!