My Learning Curve: How to Honor Birth Family on Birthdays (and why)

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I remember the year Kalkidan turned eight. Her birthday was approaching and she was very excited, so excited that I was concerned about it all falling apart. We met with her therapist early that week and spent nearly the entire session talking about what we could all do to make Kalkidan’s birthday a happy day.

Deborah explained to Kalkidan that lots of kids think about their birthfamilies on their birthdays and that can give them sad and/or mad feelings. Those feelings can make a special day difficult, so she suggested we devote timeĀ beforeĀ Kalkidan’s birthday to talk about her Ethiopian family. In particular, she suggested that we light a candle and remember Kalkidan’s mother.

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Russ tucked the younger children in bed the evening before Kalkidan’s birthday and then joined usĀ in the living room. Kalkidan chose a pretty candle which she placed on a small tray, then Russ helped her light it. She sat curled in my lap as we talked about her Ethiopian family.

It was very warm and sweet, as we filled her heart and mind with memories of her mother’s love for her. We talked about how precious she was and how much her mother must have adored her. We talked about Kalkidan’s sister and how their dimples matched. There were lots of hugs and kisses.

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Then we prayed and gave thanks to God for Kalkidan’s Ethiopian family and for bringing her to be part of our family. When we were done, it seemed right to close with a song.

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The next day, when she woke up as an eight year-old, her heart was free to celebrate. I don’t remember all of the details of that day, but I’ll never forget the quiet moment we had to remember her family – they gave us a precious gift.

[edit: I need to add one important thought that came to me this morning. When we honor our children’s birth families, we are honoring something deep in the core of our children. They wonder, was I loved? Am I worthy of love? Do I come from someone and something good? When we leave them with questions, they may create a story for themselves that is filled with shame that settles deep into the core of who they believe they are. Our children were created by God, in his image, they are precious, and regardless of their story, we can weave that in.]

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with hope and gratitude,
Ā Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRIĀ® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

12 Comments

  1. Julie Gumm
    March 3, 2016

    This is a great idea. Going to incorporate this with Mother's Day this year. That always seems to be a tough day for our daughter.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 3, 2016

      Great idea, Julie – another day that can be so hard for kids.

      Reply
  2. Molly Kitsmiller
    March 3, 2016

    How do you do this – or is it important to do – when your child doesn't have any memories of their birth family or birth mother? At what age do you think it really begins to help them?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 3, 2016

      Kalkidan didn't have any memories that she could recall of her mother; her mother died when she was three and she wasn't able to recall any distinct memories, although we know they were stored in her brain. We helped her create memories and her story based on things we knew, and things we believed to be true – her mother loved her, she nursed her and carried her on her back, she had dimples just like her, they shared a bed in their one room house, etc. I would begin this at the earliest age possible and weave it into their lives. When we honor our children's birth families, we honor our children.

      Reply
  3. Christa
    March 3, 2016

    LOVE this idea! My son struggles so hard every year around his Birthday. He misses his birthmom so much and his birthday is a hard reminder that he is not with her. We want to celebrate his life with him but he will have none of it. Maybe spending some time remembering would help him. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 3, 2016

      I'm so glad this may help. Birthdays are hard – and love is complicated.

      Reply
  4. Resa
    March 3, 2016

    This is perfect timing. My daughter's birthday is tomorrow. She was just asking last night if it was OK that she sometimes missed her birth mom she never met.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 3, 2016

      That is precious, Resa. Deep in their spirits, they do miss their first mothers, and she must feel safe to share that with you. Kalkidan also had an Ethiopian cross that she wore and I think it helped her connection with her birth family and heritage.

      Reply
  5. Jody C
    March 3, 2016

    Do any our children share a birthday?! This was a welcome and surprising sight at the top of my feed this morning – on my daughters 4th birthday. We woke to a heavy blanket of clouds/fog as our anxious toddler wrestled out of sleep as she had done the whole night. It mirrors the heaviness we anticipate from the mixed and emotional response she has to the affections of her birthday. Adopted from foster care and placed with us at 5 weeks. It's natural for her to struggle with the emotional angst the day may cause but I too think of her birth story and birth family and wondered how to appropriately incorporate all of the story and when to begin that. Thank you! If I'm honest, it almost feels unnatural to narrate this/her birth story out loud even though it's on heart my deeply at her birthday. Maybe because she came to us so young and we live a busy family life with 3 young siblings that doesn't adequately recognize how our children came to us… It's as if I'm bringing up something "out of the blue", but on the other hand it's all there anyhow,woven into the rich under fabric of our lives. Bring it to the light and show its beauty I think…I love how the Lord gently draws us forward into the light of more understanding, exposing places we think are going just great but in fact are missing some of His truth and redemptive power. He's gentle and righty at the right time. We can be more intentional about sharing our children's birth history with them in our everyday living.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 3, 2016

      Jody, this post was on my mind because we are coming up on birthday season in our house. Kalkidan's birthday was actually October 29th. I love your heart or your daughter and her story. You're doing a great job.

      Reply
  6. sciencedino
    March 4, 2016

    Our son lived with his mom until she passed away when he was 7, so he misses her deeply and specifically. On special days, he often "mails" her letters via helium balloon. For Mothers' Day this year, we're going to try this idea to create a memorial candle holder for his first mom: http://cfabbridesigns.com/most-popular-projects/m….

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 4, 2016

      That is beautiful; thank you so much for sharing the idea. Maybe I'll do it with my kids too.

      Reply

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