20 THINGS ADOPTION PODCAST with Sherrie Eldridge and Bronwen Smith

What Kind of Love Adoptees Really Need

June 28, 2022 Sherrie Eldridge, Adoption Author Season 2 Episode 5
20 THINGS ADOPTION PODCAST with Sherrie Eldridge and Bronwen Smith
What Kind of Love Adoptees Really Need
Show Notes Transcript

This podcast reveals how adoption's parent/child relationships oftentimes become strained and explains that the strain is not the fault of parent nor child.   Five adoptive moms give real-life examples of strain. Sherrie Eldridge reveals the greatest gift parents can give their kids in every situation--the gift of a non-abandoning heart. The pre-requisite to a non-abandoning heart is "risky love"--choosing to remain in the meltdown with the child, trace current-day strain to perceived abandonment, and speak to the past as well as the present.  With her seasoned adoptee voice, Sherrie urges fellow adoptees to forgive themselves. Why? Their brains were damaged in the midst of trauma, but still have great hope of recovery.

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INTRO: Last podcast, we talked about the level of stress that often occurs when parenting an adopted child. Not knowing where you’re at in your parenting, whether you’re a prospective adoptive parent or one that is seasoned, I’ve tried to break it gently to you that your child may push you and your love away–sometimes, or all the time. And, you must be proactive about how to handle this. 

Going to rely on 50 moms to tell us how pushback may occur: 

  • ●  Child Triggered by Mom: “It has been devastating to me to learn that my children can be triggered by my very being. I am their biggest reminder that someone else chose not to raise them.” (Kristen Ericksen) 
  • ●  Child Running Away:“I had no idea about the stress that could occur. The childhood and teen years, while difficult, with behavioral issues, were mostly good. I foolishly thought they’d last, but as adults, we have been rejected many times over. The first time was when one left home in the middle of the night and we didn’t know where he was for several months. When we did connect with him, he made sure we knew that he hated us, hated his home, and didn’t want us to find him. Since then, this pattern has happened many times over.” (Cindy Coisterson) 
  • ●  Child Becoming Distant:After I adopted her, our mother/daughter relationship flourished until her high school years when behavior issues intensified. That was the beginning of me feeling that our relationship was beginning to suffer and she was beginning to “pull away.” (Laura Whiting) 
  • ●  Child Trying to Control Family: “Children that have been through early life trauma are excellent controllers. Because I saw my job as a mother as one that was to help them learn to handle life situations, my control needed to be better than theirs. I was the teacher, so I became better at control than they were in a specific situation. In turn, they would learn to control in a new way, and I would learn to respond and control them in a new way. This “dance of control” challenged the tenacity of our family.” (Wendy Fitzgerald) 
  • ●  Child Attacking Mom’s Character: “I have two girls who are 18-months apart. I had TWO who worked hard together to hurt me best they could. They were purposeful even though they didn’t know what they were doing. Their own relationship was difficult. There was a lot of pain they tried to inflict directly, but mostly it was more passive aggressive. What came was more of an attack on who I am as a person.” (Pam Mittenberger) 

Blame for Stress–It’s No One’s Fault 

In our humanity, we want to blame someone for the stress and strain. How many times have I read in the paper about a crime, and then a footnote that it was an adopted child of so and so that committed the crime? 

And, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow adoptees say, “I wonder if I have a character defect passed down in DNA from my unknown birth relatives.” 

Retha and me: I wanted to be a cuddly newborn and a thriving teen. She wanted to be a confident mom–one that wasn’t plagued by self-condemnation and doubt. 

1. Adoptees–It’s Not your fault 

  • ●  Not some hidden gene hidden in you from an evil relative you don’t know. 
  • ●  Brains Damaged by Trauma 
  • ●  Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says in his book THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma: “We now know that their behaviors are not the result of moral failings or signs of lack of willpower or bad character--they are caused by actual changes in the brain. By allowing the child’s body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse from trauma...” (p. 3) 
  • ●  There is hope...I believe our brains can heal. Healing doesn’t mean that the repercussions of trauma will be wiped away. We’ll still have echoes of them, but they usually won’t trigger us. I still struggle with the repercussions. (Writing book–can’t think logically). 
  • ●  Quit condemning ourselves...forgive ourselves 

Even though I was severely traumatized, maybe something inside me would notice Retha’s love, even so slightly? All I knew was abandonment...but something new can peak through the dark clouds. Could I not see the twinkle in her eye? Could I not begin to feel safe physically when she rubbed warm oil on my asthmatic chest? 

2. Parents– we need risky love–love that isn’t afraid of our strong behavior–talk to us during and after meltdowns, please? Help us to understand the reason behind our strong reactions to life. Help us take responsibility for wrongs and suffer the consequences. 

I wish Retha would have talked openly with me about my part in the strain. Why was I doing what I was doing? It would have helped me understand why I stole clothes from a neighbor’s closet. “Sweetheart, I wonder if you scratched “I love you, mommy” on my dresser because you maybe wanted me to know how much you love and miss your First Mother?” Or, “Maybe you stole clothes from so-and-so’s closet because deep down you believe you were thinking that your Dad and I stole you?” 

This challenge may be intimidating to you, Moms. In order to do this effectively, you will need a deep comprehension of what’s really going on in your child’s mind and heart. Moms should examine how current struggles lead back to relinquishment, which is the biggest hurt for the adopted child. We will come back to it repeatedly in every chapter. 

Here’s a great example from Amy Snyder:”I remember one particular day when my daughter was 16 and very angry at me for asking her to put on a more modest shirt before going to a tennis class. She went ballistic and screamed, ‘Why does it always have to be about you?’ I sat speechless as she ran to her room. Her reaction was not in line, so I sent a quick prayer for wisdom and God graciously gave a swift answer. I calmly knocked on my daughter’s door and asked if I could ask her something. I asked, ‘Is that something you want to yell at your birth mom and can’t, because she isn’t here?” My daughter collapsed on me in tears and we got to cry together because of her pain. God used this moment that could have divided us to help bond us.” 

Of course, we admire Amy’s wisdom, but where did she get it? Did she get a masters in counseling? I don’t believe so. Another means of gaining accurate knowledge is from hearing the honest sharing of adult adoptees who are healthy. It’s here that you can learn how to speak the heart language of your adopted child. There will be ideas of how you might gain entrance into that opportunity at the end of this chapter. 


  1. Common icebreakers: Signal okayness to talk about first family 
    • ●  I wonder where you got your beautiful black hair. Do you think it could be from 
    • your first mom? 
    • ●  I wonder if your first dad had zits on his face like you. 
    • ●  You are so gifted in piano, just like your first mom was. 
  2. Effective icebreaker with shut-down teens: 
  3. In 1999, when my book, TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW was published, an adoptive mom read it and decided to write her reactions on the margins of every page for her daughter residing temporarily in residential care. “I didn’t know this...wish I would have.” Or, “Please forgive me for not knowing what to do here.” Her daughter was totally shut down in depression and suicidal tendencies. The professionals had tried everything they knew of to get her to open up, but nothing worked. However, when the daughter received and then read the book and her comments, she opened up and began her healing journey. 
  4. Greatest gift you can offer your child is a non-abandoning heart. Retha, my mom 

gave me this gift and these were her beliefs: 

  • ●  I will do everything possible to connect with my child. 
  • ●  I will still love her even if she rejects me. 
  • ●  I will love unconditionally, knowing her experience. 
  • ●  I will love her even though I am afraid. 
  • ●  I will love her by telling her the truth about her backstory. 
  • ●  I will love her with risky love that isn’t afraid of of remaining in the meltdown 
  • and helping her understand what’s happening. 
  • ●  I will go to my grave knowing I’ve done my absolute best for her. 
  • A Story to Remember: Chicks In Forest Fire 
  • That rare gift of a non-abandoning heart can be illustrated by this story about a forest ranger who was surveying the results of a forest fire in California. All the mighty redwoods were but an ash heap. Kicking his way through the ashes, he came upon a mysterious clump, which he kicked to the side. Immediately, baby chicks scurried out from their dead mama’s body. 
  • What a mom she was. She refused to leave her offspring even though fire raged around her. She accomplished her life’s mission and legacy of gifting her babies with a non-abandoning 

heart. What a mom she was to those scurrying chicks...and what a Mom my Mom was to me. And, what a mom you are. 

What Parents Can Do 

1. Create an Icebreaker Book for Your Child 

Just as the Mom whose daughter was totally shut down crafted an icebreaker book, you can, too! Get a copy of TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW, and journal your thoughts to your child in the margins. This tool will be a great way to open conversations about why your child is stressed. 

4. Read or Listen to Adoptee Memoirs 

5. YOU DON’T LOOK ADOPTED, by Anne Heffron
 BONDED AT BIRTH, by Gloria Owen
 TWICE BORN-Memoirs of An Adopted Daughter, by Betty Jean Lifton, Ph.D. 

6. Write Your Own Version of the Non-Abandoning Heart and the Fire 

The setting is that you’re the mama eagle in the forest with her eaglets. Then, the fire in the forest begins. What is the fire for you? How do you demonstrate your wings protecting your eaglet from the fire? What is the result of the fire, 
Copyright 2022, Sherrie Eldridge No reprint without permission. sherriesheartlanguage@gmail.com