All They Need is Love, Love… Love is All They Need

That’s so catchy, it should be a song. Oh, that’s right, it is a song. My bad. It is also the most common thing I heard from well-wishers when they heard of our adoption. Four months or so into the initial chaos of language learning and behavior modification, all I could conjure in my mind when someone said “all they need is love” is an image of me in an apron, bringing a grateful child homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk, and forever after, all is well. Boy, was that not happening!

The fundamental problem with the “all they need is love” motto is that when the child struggles, and many do in profound ways, then by that definition, the parents have failed to love. I know enough adoptive mothers to know the mental anguish and guilt that comes when your child struggles, and you don’t know what to do to help them. It also causes marital problems, as we blame shift.

I do not mean to mock well-wishers. Many of them have a deep desire to be a part of the adoption story in some way or other. I think what we may all need is a working definition of what “love” means in the context of a child with a trauma background.

Some people question if their adopted child has had trauma, especially if they were adopted at birth. There is evidence now that, even in utero, negative events that the mother endures can bathe the baby’s brain in stress hormones, creating what could be a lifelong pattern of anxiety, fear, learning disabilities or anger. If they were adopted later, then there is the likelihood that they endured neglect, abuse, alcohol or drug toxicity, hunger or abandonment.

It is helpful to expect that your soon to be adopted child will have trauma and will be in an emotional state of self-preservation. Self-preservation is extreme selfishness. Self-preservation leaves no room for gratitude, and it does not trust. It is, however, very, very understandable. A child only knows what they have experienced. They do not know they are now in a safe place where they can trust, be grateful and unselfish. Some children learn these things very, very slowly.

There is hope for these kids – all kids!! If you are in a desperate place, my commercial for this month is to look into online Skype classes from Heather Forbes. She is a social worker and adoptive mother. Her information is geared towards the hardest scenarios, is readily available and so applicable! Karyn Purvis and Created to Connect classes/camps are also excellent, but aren’t online.

There have been times in my house in the past five years that were ugly and seemingly hopeless. Yet, we have seen trauma-based behaviors wane, and have seen gratefulness, helpfulness, joy, peacefulness, honesty, generosity and love from our adopted kids. Nobody is perfect, and never will be, but there is hope… and, yes, love will still carry the day. Love will lead you to research help for your child and will lead you to change your own habits and behaviors. This kind of love is most akin to a mix of tough love and longsuffering. This kind of love works… with or without the milk and cookies.