We talk often about forming positive relationships with birth families. But what do you do when you can’t get past the anger you feel toward them?
If you know us, you know we are strong advocates for open adoption. We often write and speak in favor of open relationships with a child’s birth family. In our own family we have regular contact with biological parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even brothers and sisters. We feel that if it is possible and safe to have an open relationship with a child’s birth family, you should.
Often when we talk about respecting birthparents we are met with someone who counters, “How am I supposed to deny my anger? I can’t love the person who hurt my child.” While we never encourage foster and adoptive parents to pretend that unpleasant feelings do not exist, we do encourage all people to treat one another with respect. Sometimes we can be fooled into thinking that when anger is present, no other emotion can exist. This simply is not the case.
Think of the last time you were angry with your child. Mine was yesterday afternoon. I asked my child to pick up his backpack. He glared at me, rolled his eyes, and kicked his bag. We battled wills over the proper placement of the backpack for a few moments. I placed one hand on my hip and another pointing sharply at the backpack. My face held an expression of no-nonsense and my tone lowered. I felt my heart pick up pace and as my eyes narrowed. In the end, my son put his back pack away then immediately served a consequence for his behavior. Throughout the interaction, I felt frustration, disappointment, anger and even love. More than one emotion can exist at the same time. We don’t ever want someone to pretend things are conflict-free with birthparents. A perfect conflict-free relationship with another human being is just not something any of us can attain.
So what do we do when we feel anger? According to Wikipedia, “anger or wrath is an intense emotional response. It often it indicates when one’s basic boundaries are violated.” According to the Collins English Dictionary, “Anger is the strong emotion that you feel when you think that someone has behaved in an unfair, cruel, or unacceptable way.” We are not meant to deny anger. Anger is a response to a real or perceived injustice. When the injustice is real, I like to think of the response as righteous anger.
Righteous anger is what moves us to action. That initial anger response may move us to stand up to a bully. It may drive us to tackle a social injustice. Anger may propel us toward saving the whales, cleaning up oceans, or fighting for fair and equal wages. Anger may move us to protest, campaign, change laws and stand up for those who are weaker. Anger may even be the emotion that wakes us up and drives us to foster or adopt out of a broken system that exists in a broken world.
Even Jesus felt anger. Matthew 21:12-13 is a short paragraph describing a time when Jesus went into the temple and discovered that it had been turned into a place where venders were gathering to sell items to those who had come to worship. Jesus had an immediate and swift reaction to the injustice he discovered. “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.'” Jesus saw that something was wrong and was moved to action.
Many of us became foster and adoptive parents because we saw the injustices our children were facing and it filled us with anger. Whenever we see that something is wrong, we strive to make it right. We advocate at our children’s schools, court hearings, visits, IEP meetings, doctor’s offices and therapists. When our children are singled out because of their story, our anger drives us to educate neighbors, friends, family members and even professionals. Anger cannot be denied. It is often the initial emotion that stirs the fight inside of us.
We cannot exist on just this emotion of anger. We must also have love. Love motivates us to fight for our children even after the anger has subsided. Love drives us to protect. Love drives us toward action. Love is also what moves us to nurture. Love is what fills our heart so full that we feel it might burst. Love is what overflows out of our spirit. Love has a power that anger will never have. Love has the power to forgive. Love overcomes anger.
Love motivates us to fight for our children even after the anger has subsided.
As foster and adoptive parents, we will always be faced with the tough stories of our child’s past. It’s ok to feel hurt if your child was hurt. It is ok to feel sad if someone made your child feel sad. It is ok to feel anger toward the person who hurt your child. It is ok to feel rage, disgust and bitterness. Your child will feel those feelings too. When you do experience those emotions, commit to not staying there. Your child is a beautiful creation. If you live in the negative emotions you are risking that your child will think your emotions are a reaction to their character and identity. If you show respect to your child’s birthparents, ancestry, heritage and culture of origin, you can’t go wrong.
Mike and Kristin Berry are the authors of the Confessions of an Adoptive Parent blog and the book The Adoptive Parent Toolbox. They are the parents of 8 children, all of whom are adopted. Mike and Kristin’s passion is to reach overwhelmed, weary, and stressed out parents, all over the globe, with this message: “There is hope…..you’re not alone on this journey!”