“The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. But Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.”– Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
All five of us cram onto the squooshy love seat–elbows poking tummies. each child jockeying for a comfy spot, then finally snuggling in for our family’s favorite daily ritual, the bedtime story. Tonight the kids are dead quiet, lost in the story of how little Max sails off to become the ruler of a tribe of wild monsters.
Several hours later, Theo, my four year old, wakes up screaming, red faced and sweaty, pointing to a shadowy corner of his bed: “scary monsters! scary monsters!” he sobs, then collapses in a shivering heap in my arms.
For days afterwards monsters lurk everywhere. He will not sleep in his own bed. We have to remove the offending book from a shelf in his room.
From that night on, I never read another even slightly scary book before bedtime again. Ever. I forgot how highly aware of our fears we are as children. And how open children are to
the hidden power of the stories we tell.
Monster Taming for Dummies
Did you ever notice how a child goes about taming monsters? Do you remember how you used to do it?
You don’t often hear four year olds griping with their toddler friends about how unfair monsters are. How hard it is to slay a monster. Or how expensive. Chances are, unless a grownup gets involved to tell them a more ‘logical’ way of doing it, a child will swing right into action to deal with the problem. This is a typical gameplan (based on my four kids):
- hide under covers
- yell for mom or dad
- sleep in mom and dad’s bed
- re-dream the story with a different ending
- wake up. build forts and makeshift monster-fighting swords and shields.
- enlist the help of slblings in an epic monster battle.
- ask fairies and angels for assistance in said battle.
- draw or paint monsters.
- make up silly songs about monsters.
- shapeshift the monster bigger or smaller, with different shaped eyes and bodies; become the wild thing, kill the wild thing, hug the wild thing, bake them cookies.
Is this how you do it?
What children know and we’ve mostly forgotten is that the story has the power to fix itself. And to fix what’s wrong in our lives in the process. Joseph Campbell and Oprah both built empires around this single concept.
Yet almost every adoptive parent I know (including me during every moment of my first adoption) is walking around with some pretty freaky & terrifying adoption monster stories in their heads. We totally think they’re real. And we do nothing to tame them!
Instead, we try desperately to avoid them, as if by looking the other way they will not catch us. (or we repetitively gripe about them, which just solidifies in everyone’s mind the really bad story we are trying to avoid.)
But listen up. Any four year old can tell you, ”That’s not the way to tame a monster!” The more you don’t acknowledge them, the angrier they get; the more you try and make them go away, the BIGGER and more REAL they become
If you’re looking for monsters, you find them everywhere…
As your adoption progresses, certain stories become the dominant ones for you. A lot of times these stories are filled with ghosts from the past or rumored demons lurking in the darkness (”infertility has marked me,” “adoption is hard”). Based on this you start to picture the outcome of your adoption in a specific way.
In the same way we are naturally drawn to items in the news or other adoptive parents in process who mirror this inner storyline we have often unconcsiously created.
Here are a couple of the most common fears expectant adoptive parents have:
- the birth mother is going to change her mind
- we will never get a referral
- the child will have a medical problem I can’t handle
- some part of the paperwork or approval process will reveal a flaw in us that will prevent us from adopting (this was a big one for me).
- it’s too expensive. we will never find the money.
- adoption takes forever
- adoption is SO hard
- I will not be a good parent
- It’s impossible to have a truly happy ending with adoption
- Infertility has marked me as a failure
- I will never become a mother. I will die alone.
What are yours? Given the fact that we adoptive parents are not as a rule known to be be calm models of inner peace. I bet you have one or two.
And let’s face it, there are lots of birth mothers who change their mind, there are lots of people who find it hard to afford adoption, have children with health problems, experience something going wrong in the adoption.
So what can we do to sleep at night? And even more to the point: how can we hope to have a reasonably happy adoption ending?
There is power in the stories we tell ourselves
The more aware we are of our fears, the more power they have to deeply & utterly transform us.
I’m not saying it’s possible or even desirable to try to control every aspect of your adoption experience. But I believe an accelerated adoption that has a win-win outcome for all involved parties happens most easily when we become highly aware of our inner adoption storyline and use it to positively influence our real life adoption story.
How does this work?
For most people, it begins with turning towards rather than away from your biggest adoption nightmare scenario. Simply admit the inner story you are telling yourself.
You’ll then naturally become more open to questioning some of the assumptions you are making about the real world ‘truths’ of adoption. Once you do this, everything in your outer circumstances becomes less stagnant and more fluid, filled with more & better possibilities. You start to hang out with different people. To gravitate towards more stable situations.
(note: if you’re thinking, ‘please! this is SO woo-woo. I’m just going to continue running around chasing after that perfect agency or situation that will ‘bring me my child. Now! ‘ I wish you the best of luck. More power to you.
But consider this: the outer story is hard if not impossible to change if the inner story doesn’t change first.
You can try all you want, but if you believe you are marked for failure by your past infertility, or adoption is crazy expensive you will probably only be comfortable with creating a very tumultuous, incredibly pricey adoption experience that ends in either failed adoption or you feeling undeserving of the wonderful child you do have.)
So here are three steps to begin using your current fears about adoption to create a different storyline (with a happier ending ):
1. Treat stories as sacred. The ancients considered our choice of stories, as well as how and where we tell them to be medicine just as powerful as prozac. Find a truly safe setting where your fears can be witnessed but not amplified.
2. Name it. Point to the thing you are praying will NOT happen. Scream it’s name. Get all read faced and pouty like a toddler. Confront it. Know that the thing you just named has been the subliminal message you’re sending out to every single person you meet. To everyone who sees your paperwork.
3. Start to notice who you’re hanging out with adoption-wise. Are people excited to jump on your nightmare bandwagon? Or do they listen with empathy but still offer hope and new possibilities? Which stories on the internet or news get your attention? Initiate contact with people who share positive information and stories about adoption.
In future posts we’ll cover three specific tools to unlock the power of your current adoption storyline to influence an even better adoption ending. So stay tuned…
In the meantime, get steps one and two out of the way by filling in the blank and leaving it as a comment below: “The adoption fear that keeps me up at night is ______________.” (no need to give specific info, just the general nature of the worry).
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