Knowing They Are Loved

Knowing They Are Loved

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Knowing They Are Loved

Children make your life important.

~Erma Bombeck

“Hey Grandma, what can I do to help?” My four adopted grandchildren burst through the door. This was the first holiday that we were celebrating with them. My daughter had been trying for almost three years to jump through the hoops required by the Department of Social Services, so she and her husband could rescue their nieces and nephews from foster care and group homes and add them to their family.

Although from the beginning I harbored serious doubts about this endeavor, I knew how important these children were to my daughter and her husband. The birthmother of the children was my son-in-law’s sister. Every contact with her, his parents and his other siblings had been disastrous for him and for my daughter. I worried that contact with the children meant increased contact with the rest of that family. Bits and pieces of information about the abuse the children had endured merely added to my conviction that the plan to adopt them was fraught with problems.

Of course I hated what these poor innocent children had suffered, but I worried that intervention would not be successful, especially for the older ones. I almost didn’t write the letter of support that my daughter needed as part of her paperwork.

Then I read a vignette in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It was called “I Like Myself Now.” That convinced me that our love for these kids might help them believe in themselves helped. I wrote the letter for my daughter.

What these delightful children, ranging in age from nine to sixteen had endured in their lives prior to their rescue, still makes my heart ache. Their birthmother, who used drugs and consistently exposed them to the abusive men in her life, had never provided a safe and stable home. After her parental rights had been taken away, the children seemed stuck in limbo.

During the waiting period, Sarah and her husband, Rob, visited the children frequently, celebrating birthdays and holidays, bringing gifts and love. Although we had never met them, my husband and I began to shop for gifts and send them with Sarah for those visits.

Listening to Sarah’s stories about what the kids had endured was painful. But she tempered these stories with delightful anecdotes about their quirks and foibles. Their startlingly different personalities began to emerge in those stories. Without planning it, we began to love them long before we met them.

Finally Sarah and Rob became guardians and the children moved into their small house. The weekend after the kids came “home,” my husband and I went to meet them.

To give the children some distance, we decided our first meeting would take place at a local family-friendly restaurant. Sarah and Rob are always prompt and as often happened, my husband and I were a few minutes late. As we pulled into the parking lot, the two boys, nine and twelve, erupted from the restaurant lobby with “Uncle Rob” in tow, and ran toward our moving vehicle.

We quickly exited the car, only to see that the boys had suddenly turned shy. Their eyes were huge and questioning. I could almost hear the question, “Can you love us?” hanging in the winter air. It seems likely, given their past, that they wondered if they would measure up to our standards. The minute we pulled them into a hug, the boys’ tense bodies relaxed. They couldn’t stop smiling.

The girls, fourteen and sixteen, more reserved than their brothers, were waiting just inside the restaurant door. The older one dazzled us with a wide and engaging smile, while the younger one accepted our hugs but held back.

Two years later, the oldest of the four and the one who had assumed the role of protector and mother, told us that she couldn’t understand why we loved her, that she had been “such a brat.”

Can you imagine the conviction she held that she could never measure up and we would reject her as everyone else in her life had done? For months after her arrival, she was frequently angry and out of control. Patience and love and her slow realization that her new family would love her regardless of what she did pulled her through those difficult times.

Since that first meeting my husband and I count our blessings that these children have become part of our family and are finding new pathways for themselves with the love and support that all of us willingly give them. Although they continue to struggle with the residue of those early years, I am convinced the progress they have made directly relates to the knowledge that they are loved.

~Judythe Guarnera

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