On Second Thought…

Last Friday was Forever Day, the day we met our our four Ethiopian children for the first time.  As I wrote on Saturday, last year the day was a disaster for one of my daughters, and this year, I was concerned that it would be difficult again.  Honeybee, in particular, has been processing a lot of grief this year and Dimples is highly sensitive to Honeybee’s emotions, often regulating to her. I saw the potential for it not to be a happy day for them.  And if we are being perfectly and completely honest, it is hard for the other children to celebrate when they hear comments like, ” My real family is my Ethiopian family. I wish I still lived in Ethiopia; it is better there. I hate this family. I wish you had never adopted me…”

I have some wonderful and wise friends in my life that I value more than I can say.  My friend of many years, Emily, left this comment on my post last Saturday.

 I think when so many kids struggle with this anniversary that it’s ok not to make a big deal or celebrate it. Talking about the joy of bringing your kids home on an ongoing basis so that story becomes the fabric of their personal life story and not making a celebration out of that anniversary might work better for some children and families. One thought is – its yet another way we are imposing what we think should be a joyous occasion on a child who saw that time as full of grief, mourning, loss, fear and anger. Our culture sort of dictates that we celebrate this like it was a birthday (often with cake and some even do gifts) but for the child it is not their birthday.

I also feel that some kids would love and welcome a forever day celebration or some kids 6-7 years down the road might want to mark that time. But when you fear it will be a disaster then we should pause and say “why” and maybe treat that day like any other but offer a few extra kind words or if you can sneak in a little kiss so in your heart you recognize why that day is meaningful to you.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this Lisa because maybe we all need permission to let that one go if it doesn’t work for our children and causes them extra stress. What do you think?

I read her comment and asked myself, “Why do I feel compelled to celebrate this?”  Like a marriage or a birth, I want to mark the significant events of life – the great things that God has done.  The challenge comes when those things came as a result of suffering.  For my daughters in particular, but for all four of our adopted children, their adoptions and life with us were the result of great pain and loss.  Their parents died, they endured life in an orphanage, some of them suffered severe neglect and abuse in their early years.  We came to give them a life of security, love, and happiness, but it doesn’t always feel that way to them.  It is complex and brings emotions that are confusing.

Russ and I decided that he would simply mention Forever Day in the blessing he prayed at the beginning of our Sunday dinner.  I served a favorite meal and we moved through the day. It felt just right – not forgotten, but not emphasized in a way that triggered big emotions.

We ended the afternoon with a Sunday stroll – in the snow – a good adventure that helped us make it through the evening with fewer challenges.

Just to keep life interesting, Little Man kicked his boot off into a ditch and Russ had to retrieve it.

Does your family celebrate Forever Day?  How about families who adopted older children – do you celebrate?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Have a great start to your week.

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 TBRI® 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.

27 Comments

  1. Amber
    February 27, 2012

    So glad it went better, Lisa! Those were very wise words from your reader. I'll continue to ponder this as my kiddos get older!

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth
    February 27, 2012

    Thank goodness for smart friends! We have never celebrated family days, but I wish I could say that it was because I had such wonderful insight early on. No, it was because another adoptive mother had mentioned that for her older children the day was so traumatic for them to remember she couldn't ever bring herself to celebrate it… because the memory was not anything close to celebrating. I guess I tucked that little piece of information away. Our son's adoption day was very traumatic. I have never seen an angrier child and in his mind he was being kidnapped. And fought accordingly. Remembering what the other mother had said, I gave myself permission not to try to make a happy day out of one filled with such pain.

    Reply
  3. *Ashley*
    February 27, 2012

    I have ZERO insight into this as a family waiting to bring our first home BUT I am really interested in the conversation this post might ignite. As an American I want to celebrate everything….Age is no deterrent for Birthday celebrations in my home, Anniversaries are met with wedding-video-watching, memory-lane walking and favorite-dinner-making; Christmas is a huge celebration- taking up the entire month of December with Advent..But..those things aren't founded in grief and loss in my family either and I want to be sensitive to my child and his needs. In other words, I am really interested in where this conversation goes and the different views on celebrating Forever Day.

    Reply
  4. Ashley
    February 27, 2012

    We do not celebrate Family / Forever Day. We adopted 6 year old twin boys in 2010. We've only had one so far, but did not bring attention to the day, and we do not intend to this year either. We, like you mentioned, talk about what a blessing it is that we're all together on a daily basis. I understand everyone feels differently about the topic, but to me, celebrating family day would be singling them out and making them different than the other kids in our family. We celebrate birthdays in our home…a day to celebrate that God made YOU…and that your family loves you!

    Reply
  5. Donna
    February 27, 2012

    We have celebrated our Gotcha Day with our two adopted at 5 and 3. We have not had the triggers like you do. We celebrate with Liberian Food and prayer for family still in Liberia along with thanksgiving for youngest treasures. We do not have issues with other kids feeling left out as they are so much older and have always wanted to celebrate what we all worked so hard to accomplish in making our family bigger.

    On the other hand we have 4 young men from Africa staying with us this week and as I put my 9 year old daughter to bed last night she was crying missing her 'Mama DeeDee' Oh my little love how my heart broke for her. Yet because this does not often happen in our home, I believe this is part of the healing for her. Grieving over what was lost in not only her mother, but her culture that was lost also, but which she was reminded of by seeing all these young people in the choir.

    One step at a time and one day at a time to healing and wholeness for them and for us.

    Reply
  6. Karen Sear
    February 27, 2012

    This is such a great discussion. As a therapist with adoptive families, as well as an adoptive mother myself, I have seen the spectrum of what this day means for children.

    In my own family, "Forever Day" is the type of day many adoptive families think of when they hear "Forever Day". Sometimes we talk about driving up to the orphanage in Ethiopia, our hearts full. We talk about those first moments that are forever locked into memory. (Although more and more we do this on their birthdays) But every year we light candles and pray for their families who are still back in Ethiopia. In my case, my kids were too young to remember, so we talk about what they wish they knew, things they wish they could see. We wonder out-loud what their parents might have looked like or where they had lived. We talk about these things year-round, but this day we celebrate their families who are far away.
    For other kids I know, the day is like a death, the day they started to realize that their dreams of what they wanted their family to look like were not going to come true. When I think about remembering the anniversary of the death of a loved one, instead of a celebration, what might be more appropriate would be quiet reflection, lighting a candle, talking about the things they miss from their lives prior to the adoption.

    Lisa, in your case, it sounds like a simple acknowledgement was enough to let your kids know that you had not forgotten, but that you weren't going to make a big deal about it. Then you did something special by going on a family walk that just was what it was. . . a family walk.

    Reply
  7. Kim
    February 27, 2012

    I appreciate that you are willing to step aside and realize that while you may feel like a big celebration, your children may not. I'm not even at this point yet as we're still waiting to be submitted to Embassy, but from all of the reading I've done, it seems like many adoptive families are too ready to make "Gotcha Day" or "Forever Day" about them without thinking about the grief experienced by the children. Our boys are 7 and 8, and they will have very distinct memories and feelings about their first families. I hope I can be like you and honor that in our family, too.

    Reply
  8. dorothy
    February 27, 2012

    Good Question Lisa….we have never celebrated 'gotch day' or 'forever days' at our house. To be honest so many of ours started as foster or at-risk headed into a legal custody crisis that the days they first entered our homes (or were finalized) are so complex and twisted we have not chosen to focus on them. Instead we talk about their adoption journey on their birthdays just like we talk about the rest of their life story. It's a decision which makes many of our friends uncomfortable, but one I have never regreted making.

    Reply
  9. Lisa H.
    February 27, 2012

    This is an interesting topic. We've never made that big of a deal out of our children's adoption anniversaries…partly because with a large family, I'm doing good to get all the birthdays taken care of! :o) I think for us, we absorb it into our celebration of the child's birthday…that God created that child and how very blessed and grateful we are that He let us be their family/parents. We will mention to our children something like, "Wow, Mimi, 8 years ago today Daddy and I were in India bringing you home!" and then we'll talk about it to whatever degree the child seems interested…Similar to the way I'd tell my bio. child something that happened on the day they were born. I think as adoptive parents we have to be careful not to try to over-compensate for our children's losses by going overboard in celebrating or emphasizing "how WONDERFUL adoption is" , trying to "make up" for the hurt they've experienced, and inadvertently fostering instead a greater sense of being "different" or having been dealt a lesser hand in life than other children.

    I really don't think there's one right way or another, just a need for us all to be sensitive to our children and how they are processing the events in their lives….You do that so well, friend!

    Lisa H.

    Reply
  10. sleighs79
    February 27, 2012

    Oh, what a wonderful topic! We finalized our adoptions less than a year ago. We had a wonderful party to finally celebrate that we were a legal family at long last, but I've struggled with wondering whether we should 'celebrate' that every year. There are so many complicated 'milestones' when adopting through foster care, the day they enter our home, the parental rights are severed, the day we sign the papers, the day the court finalizes it – those things are all tinged with such pain, even for me, that I'm a little reluctant to 'celebrate' any of them. It is obviously the prevailing wisdom and practice of most adoptive families that I meet or read about to celebrate a family/forever day that I did not feel a single bit of validation for my reluctance until today. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one thinking this way or wondering if this is the wisest practice for our family. I'm eager to read the rest of the comments as well as hear more advice from those who have been doing this a lot longer than me. I'd especially love it if some of you with grown adopted children have insights on this – how has it panned out long term for you one way or the other?

    Reply
  11. Melissa
    February 27, 2012

    We do not celebrate Gotcha days. Partly because with our first adoption, Drew came home from Korea on our other son's birthday. I wanted Clay's birthday to be special. So we talk about Drew joining our family frequently and look at pictures together a lot. With our second adoption we haven't done anything on that day either since we didn't with Drew's. On the actual day for both of my children we do mention it, but don't make a big deal.

    Reply
  12. Sarah
    February 27, 2012

    We adopted our two at 6 and 7 months, and celebrated with our oldest the first couple of years home, but the more I thought about the meaning of the day, I realized that it is just as much a day of mourning what was lost as it is a day of celebrating what was found. Seriously, there are VERY FEW kids whose Adoption Day was joyous. In both of our travel groups, ALL of the kids were traumatized on their adoption days–from babies to elementary aged kids. They were scared, withdrawn or trying to put on show to charm their new parents so they would like them. My babies didn't cry a lot or show extreme emotion, but looking back at pictures, I see how incredibly scared they were. I have a hard time celebrating that, knowing it wasn't a good day for my children.

    We talk about the joy of meeting each of our children throughout our everyday lives, rather than make a big deal of it on one particular day. My kids are 5 and 2 now, and I imagine as they grow older they can choose how big of a deal to make their Adoption Day (I don't like the term "Gotcha"–it's what we say when we play tag, not have a baby!). Both of my kids know how special their adoption was to us and knows that they were chosen and special. I'd prefer to weave in the significance of their adoption and their birth culture in a more holistic way rather than on one day.

    Reply
  13. Maureen
    February 27, 2012

    We do celebrate our children’s family day and yes, we treat it like a birthday. They pick the dinner, help make a cake, and as a family we watch a side show and video of their adoption trip, and they receive a gift. I have discovered that it has created a shared experience that our adopted children enjoy together, similar to the trip to the hospital and birth pictures that my birth children share. For our birth children their birthday is also their family day, but for my adopted children their birthday is simply a day that someone picked, but their family day is theirs, it’s when they became part of our family. It’s not the only day that we talk about their adoption but it is the day that we celebrate their adoption.

    Reply
  14. Carrie
    February 27, 2012

    We celebrate "Family Days" with both of our daughters. Our youngest was adopted as a baby and loves to hear the story of how we flew to Ethiopia to meet her and bring her home. Our oldest was adopted at age 9 and didn't have any connection to family in Ethiopia. Although she was nervous when we met her (as were we!), becoming part of a family was a happy day for her and she has good memories of the time we spent together in Ethiopia. We keep our celebrations simple. They usually include a trip to our favorite Ethiopian restaurant and some reminiscing about meeting each of our daughters. That said, it makes a lot of sense not to make a big celebration out of the day if it is a day that the child associates with loss and sadness. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and decision with us. I'm so glad that the day went well for your family!

    Reply
  15. Luana
    February 27, 2012

    Again, great post, Lisa. You always make me think.

    We adopted our daughter in December 2010. She was 8, but due to some delays, she is processing more like a 3 or 4 year old. This past December, her re-adoption court appointment fell on her adoption anniversary. Also, she had been asking for earrings for quite some time. When she looked at the judge in his black robe and was trying to process why we were there, I simply told her, "This means all done China!" She was thrilled!!! Then we went to get her ears pierced and now she tells everyone when showing off her earrings, "All done China!"

    She is old enough to remember lonliness and neglect and will often tell us, "All done China" or "Airplane, China, no thank you!" She is very clear about not wanting to return to her birth country, but this attitude may change as she matures.

    After reading the comments, I started thinking…"Would we throw a party to celebrate the death of a loved one? Year after year, we grieve and miss that person and feel pain, so I agree with your friend, a simple acknowledgement is probably best.

    So glad it worked out for you this year.

    Reply
  16. Emily
    February 27, 2012

    Lisa, as always I'm so impressed by how you seek God for what is best for the children He's given you (all of them :-)). I'm curious if you feel comfortable sharing, did your girls (or boys) make any comments on the day being different than normal?

    Reply
  17. Stephanie
    February 27, 2012

    Our first year we celebrated our Gotcha Day…it went really well we took a family picture and went to the kids' favorite restaurant, but the next two years have been wrought with such grief and pain that although we mentioned it we didn't do anything special.Our eldest has been grieving his loss and our youngest was confused by what it all meant (he was only a year old when he came, our eldest was 8) But these last few months our oldest keeps talking about the first Gotcha day and keeps asking if we can do it again. So I think we will try it again. I am so relieved to know that we aren't the only ones who have bypassed this day in silent celebration (on our part). I have felt so guilty for not celebrating it – but it seemed to open too many wounds that we keep hoping will heal. Maybe this year we will try to let it be kid run (with parameters of course) If it goes badly maybe not next year.Thanks for this post. It has comforted me in many ways.

    Reply
  18. Paula
    February 27, 2012

    We have never celebrated "forever day" for exactly the reasons you mentioned… I'm pretty sure the twins don't look back on that day with the same fondness that we do. With Thomas, it might be different, but we have just decided we don't need an additional celebration in our already complicated family. I think the idea of Russ saying an extra blessing during dinner is just about perfect. It marks to occasion with little fanfare and more like just a fact of your family's life.

    Reply
  19. Traci
    February 28, 2012

    Oh wow, thank you all for such great insight! My Ethiopian daughter is 8 years old and our first "Forever Day" is coming up soon. I was planning to celebrate, because that is what you do, now I am planning to give it more consideration.

    Reply
  20. amy
    February 28, 2012

    We don't. Our children are only 4 and 3 so we don't have big kid questions, but we do have big emotions =D. We have chosen to only observe that day only in our hearts for now.

    Reply
  21. Kasey
    February 28, 2012

    We do. Sort of. Our son was about 5 years old at homecoming. But we celebrate the day as the anniversary of our boys becoming brothers. Our other son was almost 3 when his brother came home, and they have worked VERY hard for the relationship they enjoy now. We celebrate the boys because it is their day – one homegrown and own Ethiopian 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily
      February 28, 2012

      That's so cool. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Mary
    February 28, 2012

    We have three special days with our foster/adoptive son. The day he came to us, the day we found out we could adopt him and soon the day we actually stand before the judge. But we feel the most significant day for him, is the day his story began–his birthday. I have a fun little script I go through with each of my kids about "the day you were born.". I was able to speak with our son's birth mom and get some sweet details to share as part of his script and then we have just a little sentence at the end about how thankful and happy we were that God put him in our family. He is little,so no big questions yet. He came to us thru foster care at 2 weeks,so no memories, but I feel the most comfortable with whooping up his birthday and then marking the other special days with a hug and kiss and a "I remember this day so well. How rich are family has been because of you.". The other days are big to us as parents and to his older siblings because we have the memory and we had the "choice" so to speak. In time, if he wants to whoop up the other days, we will. But for now, His most special day is the day he took breath for the first time.

    Reply
  23. realdaughter
    February 28, 2012

    I am an adult adoptee, and one of the things my adoptive parents did right was to NOT celebrate "gotcha day". (The term itself is pretty horrible, make me sound like I was captured) While I gained a new family through adoption, I suffered the loss of my original family and my original identity. Not something I will ever celebrate.

    Reply
  24. Laurel
    February 29, 2012

    We adopted 3 older children from Africa. We do not celebrate Gottcha Day. (I, too, don't really like the name people put to it.) One of our daughters would probably like to celebrate it … but the other daughter would definitely try to make the day horrible for all of us. She is not thankful that she was adopted. She is not thankful to be a part of our family. She is not thankful to have come to America. No. For her, it is certainly not a day to celebrate.

    We do mention it. We do talk often about how thankful we are that the girls are part of our family. But, we do not celebrate the TRAUMA of our month in Ghana.

    Great topic! Thanks, Lisa, for your continued transparency.

    Laurel

    Reply
  25. shannoncl
    February 29, 2012

    Her comment rings true, in our family, for so many reasons. Logistical, practical and emotional. Our family day falls right on the tail end of the holiday season. We are only two years in, my son is almost 5, and it was the first time I became a mom. The first year, *I* had traumaversary- and that was just coming off of his holiday overload slide. And in addition to the Ethiopian holidays, as a single mom- I. am. done. at that point. I want to mark it. I want to prioritize it over other events, but we just aren't there yet. Neither of us are. One day we will. And if we aren't- that's ok too.

    Reply
  26. learningpatience
    March 1, 2012

    Oh, I am late in getting to read this, and I am no able to read all of the comments . . . but reading this just freed up about a zillion bits of my brain! I have considered not celebrating, but it seems that "everyone else" is celebrating these things with their adopted children . . . and so we should. But maybe we shouldn't, and maybe that's ok! Yay for us!

    Reply

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