Well intentioned people who hear that we are adopting an older child from foster care have referred to the kids in foster care as “broken” or “damaged”. Those words don’t sit well within me. These kids are not a broken toy or a damaged shirt from spilled hot sauce on taco night. We aren’t going to “fix this child”. Instead I like to think of our decision to adopt an older child as offering a child a safe place to land. I imagine that their lives feel really unsteady most of the time and I hope a child coming into our home finds a safe place to be themselves, a place where they can let their guard down, a place where they can breathe a little easier because life doesn’t feel so stressful anymore.
Of course we intend to provide love and understanding. But more importantly we want to offer a child a safe space to heal and grow and the opportunity to become something different. As we read children's extended profiles it seems as though the course of their life is already mapped out for them; the grandparents have a history with Child Protective Services, their parents were foster kids who got pregnant or were incarcerated. And all too often drugs, alcohol and poverty are the underlining themes to each story. It’s a generational problem being passed down. And we are hoping to offer a child an opportunity to change the course of their life.
I’ve heard my children retell a story that they have heard their father tell of something traumatic that happened to him when he was five years old. When the story comes out of my children’s mouths they make it sound like it happened yesterday when in fact it’s a thirty-five year old story. Immediately I am annoyed that my children can recite the story word for word as I have heard my ex-husband tell it numerous times. I take a deep breath, “That is your father’s story to tell and hold on to for dear life, it isn’t yours. It doesn’t shape you. Stop telling it! It isn’t yours to tell and instead focus your energy on telling your story, tell people your dreams, share a story of kindness that has impacted your life.”
I went on to explain to them that the things that happen to you in your life shapes your story but it doesn’t define you. People chose to hold on to experiences and expect others to accept it as a definition of who they are or why they act a certain way. But that isn’t the truth.
The truth is our experiences shape us but they don’t define us.
I haven’t heard either of them tell the story since I stopped them in their tracks that day and said that to them. And I hope that the child coming into our family also learns that the choices that his birth parents made has shaped his life but it doesn’t define who he is going to be in the world. Because greatness is right around the corner. You aren’t broken. You aren’t damaged. You just haven’t been given a safe place to land. A home is waiting for you.