Recently one of the boys we raised, who is now an adult and on his own, stopped by my office and asked if we could talk about a few things. He and his brother were dropped off at our home by their father over 20 years ago. Thier father visited once but then disappeared. Sadly this happens way too often.
Frequently, for one reason or another, a child or a group of siblings are brought to an orphanage and the family is never heard from again. Hopefully, whatever orphanage they’re left at has the resources and skills to help move that child from the pain of abandonment through the long journey to healing. An adoption is always a good option. But the reality is that once a child is over the age of about five, they won’t be adopted, especially if they have siblings. The orphanage will become their home; the orphanage staff will become their family.
When a child is dropped off, and they are old enough to know what’s going on, they begin the grieving process just as anyone who has lost a loved one. They have lost their family and life as they knew it. They begin to go through the various stages of mourning: grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These can vary from person to person, but less than you might think. We humans are very predictable creatures.
Whether a child was abandoned or removed due to abuse or neglect, their first reaction is always denial. “No, really, my parents are going to come back for me.” or “My mom is in rehab, this time I know it’s going to work.” Our hope is that the child can eventually go back to a healthy family situation, but the painful reality is it’s not the norm. More often than not, if the family cares enough to visit, they sometimes make the situation harder by making false promises, to the child and maybe to themselves. “It will just be a few weeks, I really am coming back for you.” or “Your dad and I are getting back together, then we can take you home.” These types of promises rip the wounds open again leaving the child stuck in the denial stage, living in false hope.
The next stage in the healing process is anger. If a child reaches the point of being very pissed off at their parents, we are thrilled, this means they’re moving forward in the process. I remember one 11-year-old boy who had been with us about three months. He was here with two younger siblings and was starting to settle in. One Sunday, his mother showed up to visit. He was seriously angry; wanting nothing to do with her, he ran to hide behind one of the buildings on our property. I walked back to talk with him, and as I approached, I could see he was so angry he was trembling. I sat down with him and told him he could do whatever he wanted, “If you don’t want to visit your mom you don’t have to. Go hang out with your friends or spend time in my office; I don’t care.” I just confirmed to him what he already knew about his mom, that she’d done nothing to earn a visit and it was OK to be angry at her. I believe my response did two things. First, it shocked the heck out of him. Second, it showed him he was in a safe place and that we would be here for him. It turned out to be a pivotal day in his healing process.
I could write about the different levels of mourning, but I’m sure you get the idea at this point. The healing process is slow, painful, and depending on the person can take weeks, months, or sadly sometimes years. Our hope is that every child moves through the process and reaches acceptance as soon as they are able. Until an abandoned child (or anyone who has experienced tremendous loss) can reach that point of acceptance, it is incredibly difficult to begin to rebuild their lives.
Once a child reaches acceptance, they can start over. They can start taking school a little more seriously knowing they’re not ever going back to their old school. They can start making real friends knowing they probably won’t be leaving in a few weeks. Most importantly, if they’ve landed in a healthy orphanage or care situation, they can begin to bond with healthy adults who are committed long-term in the child’s life.
Even if a child reaches acceptance and begins to move on with their lives it doesn’t mean the pain has gone away; the pain just softens over time. For most children, as they move into adulthood, they reach a point where they will try and find their biological family. If, years later, reunions can be arranged, it’s not always the Hallmark moment we envision. Occasionally they can rebuild a relationship with their family, sometimes they’re rejected all over again. People are messy and messed up.
I opened up by sharing about the young man who came into my office. I’m incredibly proud of both him and his brother as they’ve grown into healthy, productive, men of God. The older brother is married with two children and has demonstrated an incredible commitment to his wife and caring for his family. It was the younger brother who came into my office. He wanted to talk over the situation that after twenty years he and his brother had recently found family in another state. He had just talked with his “biological” mother. He has no memory of her, but they’re planning on visiting her next summer. The draw to know your biological family is strong and we’re tremendously happy for them both. (I’m tearing up as I write this)
The second thing he wanted to talk with me about was also life-changing. We were planning a get-together with many of the children raised in our home, and he was asking permission to propose to his long-term girlfriend in front of his true family at the party. (She was raised in our home also.) I think he’s reached a good place, a place of wholeness; God has restored this abandoned child.
There is hope for an emotionally wounded child, if they are lead to the master healer, and allowed to grieve in His arms.
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