When people find out my family was formed through adoption, foster care and two surprise biological children, they usually have a lot of questions. People are curious about the process and about why we made these choices. At some point in the conversation people will sigh and say, “We thought about adoption. . . but I just don’t think I could love an adopted child the same way I love my own.”
I know the correct answer (after I get past the twitch I develop when people use the phrase “my own” as though adopted kids aren’t your own) is to tell them that that’s a common concern, but the love is just the same. But the longer I’m a parent of kids both through adoption and kids that were born to me, the more I’m learning it isn’t actually the same. And that’s okay.
The reality is that I don’t love my kids the same because THEY aren’t the same. Their stories aren’t the same. Their needs and gifts and losses aren’t the same. My kids are unique and my love for each one of them is uniquely shaped and influenced by who they are and the kind of mom they need me to be. I don’t love them the same, although I do love them equally.
There are times I look in my son’s beautiful blue eyes and say, “I think you got those from my Grandma.” There are times I look in my daughter’s beautiful brown eyes and say, “Those look just like your birth dad’s beautiful brown eyes. Should we look at some pictures of him again today?” I don’t want to be afraid to point out their differences because of fear that my kids will interpret that to mean I love them less. They already know they’re different, but when we point out the beauty of those differences with love and affection for their history, it allows our children to embrace them.
When I was pregnant with my first biological child, I remember fearing that I wouldn’t love him as much as my adopted children. When you adopt a child, you have to be willing to walk through fire for them. There is the mass of paperwork to be filled out, the home study hoops to jump through, the long wait to be matched with a child, the court experience, and all the uncertainty that goes with the process. We knew when we pursued adoption and foster care that we were passionate about these kids. We did it with intentionality and a heart that would do whatever it took to be sure our kids were safe and loved. Would it be possible to love a child we biologically conceived the same way?
Looking into that precious baby’s eyes after growing him in my body, I felt something so intense and familiar. It was the same feeling I had when I held my internationally adopted son for the first time. It was relief that this child was now safely with me and a knowledge that while this was the end of one journey, it was just the beginning of another. Without any conscious thought, I uttered the same phrase when first meeting my biological son as I did when my first adopted son was placed in my arms: “I know you!” The long wait to meet was over and this child was family.
There are many ways in which adoption has shaped the kind of parent I have become. I parent with trauma in mind. I parent with a priority placed on creating a safe, warm, loving, structured environment that promotes attachment. The love I have for my kids may express itself differently for each child as we work to meet the unique needs they came with and losses they struggle to address. The child who lived in an institution may have different needs and fears from the child who came from a toxic prenatal environment who may be different from the child who experienced extreme neglect who may be different from the child who has a genetic predisposition to mental health issues who may be different from the child who has a diagnosed medical issue. Each one of these kids has different needs and requires a loving mother to express her love in ways that speak to them. And each of these kids will be different because they grew up in a family where they had to learn to respect the needs of their siblings and support their parents as they worked to meet those needs.
There are moments this doesn’t all seem fair to the kids involved. But that’s okay, too. We all know life isn’t fair, but we do the best we can to make it equitable. Parents of more than one child know how tough that can be even if the kids are all biologically related. And I see how my children are developing empathy, compassion, and grace as they learn to see life through the eyes of their siblings.
Sometimes I take comfort in remembering my own childhood where I was the fourth of five kids (all the biological children of my parents). Each of us thought we were my mom’s favorite. I still secretly think I am and I imagine all my siblings feel the same. My mom didn’t play favorites and I know she loved us all equally, but her love was personalized and tailored to be just what we needed to the point that each of us felt uniquely loved and favored. That’s what I want for my kids.
We want our kids to feel equal in how we love them. We want them to feel totally confident in their equal worth and value to our family. There is no difference in the amount of love I have for my adopted and biological children. Many of us know the intensity of the love we feel for someone who was once a stranger to us in the context of marriage, but some people seem unable to imagine that we could fiercely love a child who came to us as a stranger, too. If you are on the fence about adoption because you’re concerned you can’t love an adopted child just as much as you would a biological child, let me assure you, YOU CAN. The love many not be the same because this child will be unique and will create in you a unique love, but you can love them equally. Every child can be your favorite.