November is National Adoption Awareness month and over the years we’ve been an adoptive family, my feelings about this month have run the gamut. In the beginning, I just wanted to post beautiful pictures of my beautiful kids and acknowledge what an amazing thing adoption is in my life. Adoption made me a mother and for that I will be forever grateful. But as my kids have gotten older and have been able to express their own feelings about adoption, those beautiful pictures and happy captions haven’t always seemed as honest to our experience.

I’ve invested a lot of time in listening to the voices of adult adoptees and I’m learning there isn’t just one narrative about adoption. The reality is that adoption is complex. It isn’t all happy or sad, all good or bad. It changes day-to-day and with each new phase of life our kids enter. I’ve come to see that while adoption may be 90 percent positive for me and 10 percent hard, the math for my kids isn’t so simple.

We have a happy family. On the outside, we are absolutely the poster family for adoption. My kids don’t have major issues or a scary diagnosis. They are adorable and well-behaved. They are confident in our love for them and they genuinely enjoy their lives. We are attached. We are bonded. We love each other with a forever kind of love. But that doesn’t mean adoption has been easy or perfect.

We have found joy in the journey, but we are also getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable. We have had to learn that it is possible for our kids to both love our family and wish they could have stayed with a healthy version of their birth families. They can enjoy participating in our cultural traditions and also wish for a reality where they could have experienced their own cultural traditions within the context of their biological families. They can love me as their “real” mom and also miss their “real” moms. It’s hard to explain and it’s taken me some time to understand, but my kids are fully capable of holding these ideas in tension: that they are thankful to be adopted and also wish they wouldn’t have had to be adopted.

This is the complexity of adoption. It’s beautiful and redemptive and painful and hard. I will never be the only mother in my children’s lives. While that can at times be a hard reality for me, my love for my kids helps me focus instead on how hard that reality is for them. I can’t fix the pain adoption has caused and I can’t deny that I’ve benefitted from it.

My goal is to allow my kids to have their feelings. I don’t want them to push them down because they’re worried about how I’ll feel. I want them to know it’s OK with me if they acknowledge what they’ve lost. I will be right there with them, to help them grieve and to comfort them in whatever way I can. I will be with them as they ask the hard questions and I’ll help them try to put the pieces together of their beautifully complicated story.

And I’ll be right there when they want to celebrate the beauty and joy adoption has brought to our family. I will acknowledge the ways our family is complete and wonderful just the way it is. I will see the joy in my daughter’s eyes when she hands her daddy a picture she colored. I will notice the way my son looks for approval from us (and ALWAYS finds it) when he takes that three-point shot. I will find the fun and surprising ways my children are like me and honor the ways they are different.

As we work to raise awareness of adoption this month, what are we hoping those outside the circle of adoption will become more aware of? I hope they will learn that being adopted doesn’t mean you are “lucky” the way many people perceive it. It doesn’t mean my kids are forever sad and depressed, waiting for the day they can be reunified with their “natural” parents. It isn’t about a moment that happens once in a courtroom, but about a lifetime of learning what adoption took from you and what it added to you. It is about amplifying the voices of adoptees so we hear the truth about adoption from those who are most impacted.

The adoption narrative isn’t simple, but it can be beautiful. My ideas and feelings about it have changed over the years and I’m excited to see how they will continue to change as my kids teach me about what it means to them to be adopted. Our story is beautiful, and it isn’t finished yet.

You may also like:

Acknowledging the Loss in Adoption

Adoption Is Love

The Bittersweet Beauty of Adoption Love

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Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at