I know it seems like a very nice thing to say. I know you mean well when you say it. I know you’re trying to compliment us, to encourage us, to praise us even. But you never say it to us.
You say it instead to her.
She hears it a lot, and it’s always the same, “You are so lucky to have a mother/father/family who loves you now.”
My stomach seizes with panic when I hear the word lucky, and I want to mash my hands over my daughter’s ears so she doesn’t have to hear it, either.
Her response is never what you expect, either. Everyone always seems to expect her to smile and nod and agree that her life is so much better with us.
But she doesn’t.
Instead, she just stares at the floor and bites her lip, and a complicated kaleidoscope of emotions crosses her face: Grief and anger and confusion, nothing like the happiness and gratitude everyone seems to expect.
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We are so, so thankful for her. We are thankful that, somehow, she ended up as our daughter, that we ended up as a family. And I think, deep down, she’s thankful for us, too, even if the words are still hard for her to say.
But the circumstances that brought us together were far from lucky.
It was our inability to have a biological family of our own, coupled with the dysfunction she was born into, followed by two messy years in the foster care system that made us family.
There’s nothing lucky about any of that—not for any of us.
And that small word, “now,” innocent-enough, is full of implications of its own.
As if she had never had those things before.
She can hear it in your voice—pity and relief that she was rescued by social services, taken from the only family she had known, however dysfunctional, and given to us.
But she doesn’t think of it as a rescue mission.
To her, it was an upheaval, a horror, a kidnapping. Even now, five years after her adoption was finalized, she does not want to believe anything but the best of the family she was taken from.
My daughter had an entirely different life before she met us—seven years of memories, more than half her lifetime—and some of those memories did indeed involve biological parents who showed her moments of love. She’s told us about the bike rides she would take with her biological father, about the way they would look for rocks on the lakeshore, about the video games they used to play. She’s told us about the trip to the Mall of America she took with her biological mother, about the way she would do her hair and makeup, about the cats and goldfish they had as pets.
So telling her she is so lucky now is complicated. It’s a confusing thing for her to process, and those words force her to reflect on a trauma-riddled past that is always simmering beneath the surface, a secret she suspects might be true but just cannot bear to face.
Telling her this is akin to telling a kindergartener that Santa Claus isn’t real—she might have her suspicions about it, but she is clinging to her blissful ignorance, grasping at the straws of her childhood, wanting just one more moment to indulge this flimsy fantasy.
Telling her this forces her to recall things she doesn’t even want to think about in a therapist’s office. Those words snag like cockleburs in her thoughts, and they are so hard to untangle.
So, please, don’t tell her she’s “lucky” and don’t use the word “now.”
Please don’t say anything that might be a variation on that theme. Please don’t use language that separates her world into before and after, then and now, unlucky and lucky.
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I know your intentions are good. I know you are trying to be kind, to compliment us on our parenting, on the family that we are making. I know you are trying to express your heartfelt support and admiration. But if you want to compliment us as foster/adoptive parents, then say those things to us privately—leave my daughter out of it. There are better ways to speak to her about her situation, ways that do not carry the residue and unspoken judgment of “lucky” and “now.”
Just tell her this instead: You are loved by so many people.
That is an absolutely perfect thing to say. It’s true, it’s beautiful, and it is inclusive of everyone who ever has—and ever will—love her and claim her as family.
And it might even make her smile.