Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.

By Madeleine Melcher

{Disclaimer: I am but one person with my own experience. Adoptees are human beings, so of course our feelings and experiences vary from black to white to every shade of gray. I cannot and do not speak for everyone, but will always stand up for everyone to have a chance to speak.}

Dear adoptive parents,

I lost my sweet momma in my twenties, but I can still almost feel what it was like to be tucked into her tiny frame as she held me when I got a boo-boo or snuggled me into my covers me at night. Later, when I outgrew my mom, it was she that tucked into my chest. She was my safest place. She was my soft landing and had been since I was placed with her and my father as a toddler, after a time in foster care. Small but mighty, her love for her children was no less than fierce. My sister came biologically, four years after my adoption—sisters– welcomed with the same great joy and love.

The fact that I was adopted was just that…a piece of my life but not my entire story. I was not defined as my moms’ “adopted child”- I was the oldest, the one that liked to read biographies in grade school, the neighborhood kick-ball queen, the bossy one…and a million other things, but never was I referenced by my mom as “her adopted child” and you know what? I have never once referenced her as my “adoptive mom”. She was my mommy and I was her child (still am) …period.

What I learned so lovingly from my mom answers so many questions that I am regularly asked by parents who have adopted or plan to, that I decided to share some of it with you. So here it is, in no particular order and wrapped in love- lessons learned from my sweet momma:

  1. It is best to be yourself My mom knew her place was not to replace a birthmother or birthfather and the truth is- people can’t even if they want to- not any more than someone could replace you or your spouse, or you could replace one child with another. My sweet mom, knew her job was to BE THE PARENT and parenting does not require D-N-A—it requires L-O-V-E (and a whole lot of patience….and sometimes chocolate). I also always knew that I was enough, that I did not have to change or be a better daughter in order to receive her love- I was loved just for being me—that is a gift, no matter how you come to your family.
  1. We quietly sacrifice and do the dirty jobs for those we love Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned but you have to pull up those big girl panties and push through in the best way that you can. When my parents divorced, my mom, who had spent her life preparing to be a wife and a mommy took on two jobs and went back to school at night. She wore the same Easter dress for what seemed like my entire childhood so my sister and I could have new dresses and sandals. She squeezed in time after a long day of working to make memories as we created pom-pom bunnies in the spring or homemade paperweights with our pictures on them for grandparents for Christmas. She did all the glamorous jobs of a parent, like cleaning up throw up, preparing oatmeal baths for her chicken poxed children and prom dress shopping with an overweight daughter with raging hormones and an attitude (yep, that was me!).
  1. REAL love comes freely and without conditions My mom did all she needed to for her children, not just for my sister who she gave birth to, but for both of us because her love for me was no less REAL. “REAL” …it is a word I see pop up regularly, related to adoption. Dictionary definitions of REAL include descriptions like, “actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed” and “genuine, authentic, bona fide”. My mom’s love was pure and came without condition. I knew she would be there NO MATTER WHAT- it doesn’t get any more REAL than that!
  1. Honesty from the start is always the best policy I routinely tell people that knowing I was adopted for me was just as normal as having a belly button—it was just always there. There is never a time I remember, not knowing that I was adopted. My mom was always honest with me (in age-appropriate ways) about what is known of my story prior to my time in foster care. With honesty comes trust and mutual respect. I will never understand why I still read posts that say “I was just wondering when I should tell my 6-year-old he or she was adopted?”. The answer is: DAY ONE.
  1. Find something to be thankful for, each day. My mom was thankful for me and that she had what she felt was the privilege of raising me and being my mother and she told me so- even on my worst days. She never took on the role of someone who “saved me” rather she always said that it was she who was blessed. In part through her Thanksgiving, I knew how much I was loved and wanted- and every child needs to know that.
  1. Sometimes you have to do things that feel difficult or uncomfortable because you love someone My mom always told me that when I was older if it were important to me to find my birth family, she would help me. Since her death I have wondered if that was a hard thing for her to offer- if it made her worried or anxious as I have heard other parents have felt. If she was uncomfortable or worried, she never showed it to me- she only wanted to be sure I knew that she would help me if that were something I needed. Though it was never something I needed, it meant a lot to me to know that that was an option if I wanted to and that no conditional feelings were attached to the offer.
  1. You learn more from listening than from talking My mom LISTENED…she listened TO ME and that is how she knew what I needed- whether I wiped out on my bike and needed her to sit me up on the picnic table and pick rocks out of my knee with tweezers, boo-hoo’ed over a teen boy or had questions or feelings about my adoption or anything else- she ALWAYS listened. The truth is, there are tons of folks in the world that will talk to you about adoption but no voice on or about adoption is more important than YOUR CHILD’s.
  1. If you do not have something nice to say, think of something or just be quiet Though my story involved living in a car with my birthmother who had an older child with a different father and ended in my being left by my birthmother with friends and her not returning for me, my mother never once made a judgmental comment about my birthmother or speculated negatively on why she would have left me. Instead, my mom always seemed sympathetic and sweetly understanding to my birthmother’s situation, whatever it may have been, and as I got older we both reflected on her on my adoption day with hopes that she had peace and happiness and love in her life. I suspect my mother’s grace had some influence on my positive feelings about my birthmother and I do not think that any new negative revelations about her would change that.
  1. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube Have you ever squirted too much toothpaste out and tried to get it back in the tube? It doesn’t work. Once you share something you can’t get it back in the tube, but I never once heard my mom tell the details of my story to another person. She let my story be mine from the beginning to the middle and all the way to the end and it was always for me to decide who to share my story with and how. Parents through adoption have this really important job of protecting their childs story and allowing it to belong to them. I am pretty sure I told everyone I met – but that was something my mom left me to decide.
  1. It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round My mom always made sure we knew we did not have to agree on everything with someone to be friends and that there are always people with other feelings, opinions and experiences. I had no idea how true that was for adoption until I was an adult. Adoption is predicated by loss, yes, but no two people have the exact same story or feelings. Every person is different. Some adoptees feel a loss or grief their entire life, others cannot truly understand that, but neither is wrong. Of the parents who read this today, your children who are adoptees will feel as many different ways as there are number of you. Anyone that speaks or writes about adoption in definitives beyond their own feelings is wrong.
  1. It is often the people that are the angriest or hardest to love that need love and understanding the most. A day or two on some adoption social media pages is long enough to see that there are some people in the adoption triad that are really living with loss or pain and that often evolves into anger or acting out. When do we need love the most? A shoulder to cry on? A listening ear? When things are tough, right. Whether it is a child you welcomed into your home that is difficult and struggling or people you encounter elsewhere in person or on the internet that are angry and hurt, you can’t forget the compassion and love…they may need it the most.
  1. Share the facts and let people come to their conclusions. I knew as much of my story as my parents did. I always felt loved unconditionally and I consider myself so fortunate I was able to decide how I felt about my adoption without anyone else telling me how I SHOULD feel. I knew whatever my answer was I would continue to be loved and supported. My feelings about being adopted and what that means not to the rest of the world, but to me and how that affects my life are my own and that is valuable to me.
  1. EVERY CHILD is worth and deserving of a loving and stable FOREVER FAMILY. When I see listings of children who are waiting in foster care and available for adoption- just waiting for their chance at a FOREVER FAMILY I cannot help but wonder why? Why did I get a home when I did and some other children languish in care- over 20-THOUSAND of them aging out of the sustem each year, relegated to a future that has an increased possibility of unplanned pregnancy, homelessness and incarceration? Why? It is a question I will never have an answer to because ALL children deserve a loving, forever family. I am hopelessly imperfect and you know what, I deserved a family and the over 100-THOUSAND sweet faces, waiting in foster care do too.

What my mom was really good at was LOVE, which translated into meeting the needs of her children- physically and emotionally—as the PARENT, no “adoptive” required, expected or wanted by me. As someone who benefited from the kind of love that would fight an angry bear or run in front of a bus, and as a mom to three children that came to me through adoption, I know how much you want to do the right thing. I feel sure you will help your child with whatever they need and in any way you can, whether it is their adoption, long division, shoe tying, sensory issues, bullying, field hockey, driving, dating, whatever it may be—because that’s what parents do- and I hope you do it with the same great, fierce love my mom did. I hope my mom knew that she never needed to fill anyone else’s shoes and I know no one can ever fill hers. I did not share even a smidge of blood or DNA with my mom, but she is the very best part of who I am. I want you to know, she was a very REAL parent and so are you!


madeleine-1 madeleine-2

Madeleine Melcher is an adoptee, a 2017 Congressional Coalition on Adoption- Angel in Adoption, author to 3 adoption books, including Dear Adoptive Parents, Things You Need to Know Right Now – from an adoptee, and a devotional she co-authored with Rachel Garlinghouse, entitled Encouragement for the Adoption & Parenting Journey: 52 Devotions and a Journal. Her adoption writing has been featured on a number of widely read sites including the Huffington Post and on the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption Guest Blog. Madeleine loves speaking to groups of parents who have adopted and her presentations have been described by parents as “life-giving”. Of all the things she does, none compares to being the mommy to her 3 children who are truly the joys of her life.

You can follow Madeleine on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/DearAdoptiveParentsFromAnAdoptee/   Instagram @ madeleinemecher and Twitter @madeleinemelch5

* * * *
Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.