Sunday, March 7, 2010

More on the Sherrie Eldridge Presentation

As promised, I'm going to try to summarize Sherrie Eldridge's presentation from Saturday. She essentially gave two talks -- one focusing on the feelings of the adopted child, and one focusing on adoptive parenting success. There was overlap between the two, of course, since understanding how the adopted child feels is a huge part of adoptive parenting success. I think I'll have to write at least two separate posts to cover it all!

In that first talk, Eldridge focused on only three of the twenty things adoptive kids wish their adoptive parents knew, but three that really allows for a good summary of all twenty.

1. "I suffered a profound loss before I was adopted. You are not responsible."

She talked about what the adopted child experiences on "gotcha day," that happiest of all days for us adoptive parents. For the child, the overwhelming feeling can be summed up in the question, "Where's my mommy?" Even a newborn is familiar with mommy's heartbeat and voice in utero, and feels lost when it is gone. "Mommy" is a representative of everything familiar for that newborn and for an older child, too. She said that adoption loss is more profound than loss via death, because everyone recognizes death as a loss, but not everyone recognizes adoption as a loss. So in the midst of the happy-happy-joy-joy narrative of adoption, the adopted person doesn't have the tools to deal with the loss.

Eldridge noted that adoptive parents can't fix the loss, as we want to. But we need to acknowledge the loss and validate the child's feelings. Before we can do so, though, we need to grieve our own losses first, whether that is childhood issues, infertility, miscarriage/still birth, etc. By acknowledging the loss as loss, and by validating feelings of grief, we "give the gift of what is so."

2."I need to be taught that I have emotional vulnerabilities arising from adoption loss, of which I need not be ashamed."

Eldridge said that everyday loss can trigger adoption loss, so adopted persons are vulnerable to feelings of rejection and abandonment. The adopted child (and adult!) might find it hard to say goodbye, fearing that it will be permanent as was the loss of birth parents. Adopted persons are likely to look at life through a lens of rejection, because of feelings that their first families rejected them. Adopted persons are vulnerable to seeing any absence as abandonment.

She used several examples from her own life -- turning into a real witch when her husband packed his suitcase for a business trip -- and realizing it was her adoption loss coming to the fore, not anything her husband was doing. She said half-jokingly if you don't return her phone call or answer her email, she's sure you're rejecting her.

Her advice was that adoptive parents need to educate themselves about the special vulnerabilities of adopted children, and carefully study our children so that we can recognize those vulnerabilities. And, she said, we have to tell our kids about those vulnerabilities, so that they can recognize them, too.

I found that idea -- telling adopted kids about the special vulnerabilities that exist -- interesting. I've talked to other adoptive parents about doing that, inspired in part by a friend whose daughter is OCD. I've been so impressed when she's matter-of-factly told her daughter in the midst of an episode, "That's your OCD talking." I've seen it making a real difference for her daughter, so I've wondered about doing that for a child who might be feeling rejected because of attention paid to a sibling, or who might be feeling abandoned because a friend doesn't want to play with her. Would it be helpful to explain to a child that some of these feelings -- which might be guilt-inducing, like a child who feels bad because she knows she shouldn't be feeling dislike for her sister -- might be coming from adoption loss? Would it be helpful to hear, "That's your adoption stuff talking?"

During the break, I talked more with Eldridge about this point. I asked her at what age she thought it was appropriate to start talking about it, and I told her the age of my kids, 6 and 9. She said that wasn't too early at all. Hmmmm. Definitely food for thought. . . .

3. "I need to know that you will help me grow through adoption loss."

This is where Sherrie Eldridge emphasized that adopted children are not irreparably wounded by adoption loss and our children need to know that. They need to know we will help them, that they are not too much for us to handle. We can help them grow and learn. We can give them the tools they need to deal with adoption loss. They may have wounds, but the wounds can be healed. There will be scars, but the wounds will heal.

One of the tools she suggested that adoptive parents can use with their kids is a "Grief Box," which can be used to acknowledge loss, validate feelings, and help an adopted child grow. I'll do a separate post about the Grief Box, which I think is a great tool. This post will be outrageously long if I include it here!

This was the point of the presentation when Eldridge started to give testimony, explaining how her healing from adoption loss was a Christian-based process, complete with Biblical references. I wasn't surprised -- I'd read her book, Questions Adoptees Are Asking, which was similarly framed. During the presentation, she made the argument that I'm not fond of, that each child's adoption is "meant to be," that it is part of God's plan. In fact, she said she didn't know any other way to explain adoption to a child.

I've blogged before that I think it's problematic to tell children this, because it's saying that God intended my child to suffer loss and grief, for her birth parents to suffer loss and grief, just so I could be a mom. It may be something comforting to adults, but is incomprehensible to children. Of course, being the loudmouth source, I had to say that during the Q & A period. Eldridge basically said that was her world view, so she couldn't say anything else. I asked her whether she found comfort in the "meant to be" explanation as an adopted child, and she said she hadn't become a person of faith until she was an adult. We were both very polite about it all -- at least, I felt Eldridge was very polite, and I tried hard to be, and hope she thought I was being polite! -- but it's a point about which we will have to agree to disagree.

But I'm not going to discredit everything Eldridge has written and everything she had to say Saturday just because we disagree on this one point! It actually drives me crazy when people do that! I know a lot of people who can't abide Jane Brown, and won't listen to a word she has to say, because she said at a presentation she didn't think the "meant to be" story was a good one for children. We all have the capacity to think critically about what we read and hear, accepting what seems right to us, and rejecting what does not. Disagreement on one point isn't grounds for wholesale rejection. We can all be more open-minded than that, I hope.

Okay, enough of that soapbox!

Overall, I thought the Sherrie Eldridge presentation was informative and helpful for adoptive parents, and I'll post EVEN more about the presentation later. . . .


Wendy said...

Just a note about telling kids it is their adoption loss talking, we use similar language in relation to M's PTSD--especially with her self-harming and it is working. I have integrated adoption loss during heavy grief periods and that seems to have helped too. I think it is helpful for her to know that the out of her control behavior has a cause and that she is not "bad". I know she used to say "I'm just bad" when self-harming when clearly she could not react any differently, she is moving away from that and seeing that it is a problem that she sees a doctor for just like any other illness. She is learning to take that responsibility and control and by having language for it, it is becoming something she is understanding, accepting, and changing.

Lora said...

I always hate when adoptive parents say they don't want to bring things up in case the child is not thinking of them.

I thnk its best to assume that evey adopted child has some feelings of being abandoned, greif ,and not good enough. Even if they smile, even if they learn to please their APs.It may be too complicated to communicate for a child, they may need help.

But when do feelings unawknowleged turn to shame? I would guess its quite early.

travelmom and more said...

I think talking to our kids about their adoption loss causing a particular behavior is a good idea. I have abandonment issues from my childhood that manifest themselves in feelings of rejection, clingy behavior and dreams my husband is going to leave me, and when they arise I give myself a pep-talk that my abandonment issues are talking and that I am being over sensitive. This gives me a reality check and helps me realize that my brain might not be on the same page as my heart. When my daughter is cranky I often tell her that she is acting cranky because she might be hungry or tired, so she realizes that her behavior might be related to something physical, I think this is similar to helping her realize her behavior might be related to someting emotional.

malinda said...


I removed your post. Feel free to repost your criticism without expletives. And I'd like to know who you think has "paid off" Sherrie Eldridge, and to what end.

Anonymous said...

I can see how it could be helpful to teach kids to understand when their behavior might be related to their grief/loss due to abandonment/adoption IF we are sure that is what it is. On the other hand, I don't like to blame every little problem on adoption, either. My daughter (the one with OCD, which is probably genetic, not adoption related) may fear rejection due to her OCD, not because of abandonment issues. Shoot, I often fear rejection... maybe that is because of my past experiences, but it isn't because of adoption, since I am not adopted. I think a lot of people fear rejection! So, how can you tell when a child is experiencing a reaction that is adoption related? Maybe it is when the reaction is out of proportion to the trigger? Just curious as to what others think about this?

Anonymous said...

Uh, who died and made Sherrie Eldridge the "expert" to tell us what to do? I love how just because "she" was adopted, she can tell all AP's how to handle things. Sheesh.

malinda said...


I think what's helpful for APs is to listen to LOTS of adult adoptees. Sherrie Eldridge's viewpoint is easily accessible since she writes books about her experiences, but you're right, her experiences are no more or less valid than any other adult adoptee's experiences. It isn't fair, however, to dismiss what adult adoptees have to say to adoptive parents because their only expertise is lived experience. Collectively, adoptees are experts on the adoption experience, and who better to help us understand what the adoption experience might be for our kids?

Bukimom said...

Wow, I am so sorry that I missed this presentation. We couldn't attend because of other commitments. I read Sherrie's book 20 Things before we adopted and my impression at the time was that it was very negative. I now have come to appreciate her insights more and would have loved to hear her talk. I am thrilled that she is coming at this from a faith perspective that I also share.

BTW, I purchased her Forever Fingerprints at the last FCC Culture Day for my 7 year old, who absolutely loves that book. I really recommend it if you need help to open up with your kids on adoption-related topics.

LucisMomma said...

Like Bukimom, I thought the book 20 things... was very negative. I was glad I didn't read it before our adoption. But I'm so glad I did finally read it.

Since reading Parenting your Internationally Adopted Child, I've started the conversation with our DD. She was 4 when this conversation started about HER story, not our story of adopting her. She was able to verbalize quite a bit about her being left and being given away by the orphanage people. It was very hard to hear--how much harder it is for her to live it! So please start talking to yours about some of their "issues" (for lack of a better word or phrase) as being adoption/abandonment related. This conversation with my DD started when my DH was deployed for 12 months. It was miserable for her, bringing up all kinds of grief old and new for her to deal with. Thank God DH does not have to be absent ever again for long periods of time.

As for this being adopted as "God's will," let me tell you about a friend here who blogged this message (and I'm heavily paraphrasing this): She sees the adoption as Plan B. God's Plan A is for children to remain with their parents, within their own birth families and be loved by them. For some reason, this is not the case. So she and her family are Plan B.

My DH and I are thrilled that our family gets to be Plan B for our little girl. She knows that her first family in China were her Plan A from God, but for some reason that we just don't know, we are Plan B. That is so simplistic but so accurate, in my world view.

This parenting thing is scary stuff, with bio children or adopted.