Part of my experience in life is being a part of a foster family. For about nine years, my parents received placements of children who, for one reason or another, were removed from the custody of their parents. My parents didn’t plan to adopt, but perhaps that should have been expected. God has added three siblings to my family in the past decade.
One of the conditions of being a foster family is the confidentiality requirement. My parents often didn’t know the full story behind every child that came through our doors and they couldn’t tell my siblings and me what they did know in case it would endanger the child. That didn’t mean that we didn’t see the effects their background had on them. This unknown horror story wouldn’t disappear once they were safe in our house. It wouldn’t disappear once they got adopted or returned to their parents. When my sister arrived in our home, she had broken ribs when we first got her that prevented my parents from letting me hold her. My brother used to distrust all women to the point where a male had to be in the room for him not to be afraid. I can guess generally what happened to them but I don’t know details or specifics. All I know is something, or more likely someone, hurt them.
Without a doubt, I know my early life was better than theirs. My parents protected me, nurtured me, and loved me. I will never have to go through the things they faced as children or know what their pain feels like. As grateful as I am for the love and support of my family, it means that I will never be able to relate to my adopted siblings when they begin to explore their birth families. I can never say to them, “I understand what you’re going through” without lying to them. They live in the house of parents who did not give birth to them. Their birth parents were prevented from caring for them in the way my parents were allowed to. However valid the reason for their removal is, that doesn’t change how it affects them. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes only works if they fit your feet.
Understanding is not always required to support and love someone.
As their sister, though, maybe it’s not about understanding. I don’t need to understand what happened to see that their trauma still affects them. I imagine their parentage might bother them more as they get older, and when that comes, it will probably give rise to emotions that will pour out into their lives. As little as I understand, I care about them, and I care about how they feel. Understanding is not always required to support and love someone.
As painful as it is to hear, compassion cannot amend the past. The true power of compassion is in healing.
Most people don’t have experience with being adopted or abused, but most people have felt betrayed. They’ve felt hurt and pain; they’ve felt loss and confusion. The causes are infinitely numerous, but the effect is consistent. Pain may be relative, but it is universal. Compassion isn’t always about relating to someone who is hurting but about sympathy and concern for the person. Human beings are more similar than we sometimes realize. It’s not their experiences that make them so alike but their emotions through those experiences. Saying “I understand what you’re going through” has more to do with the aftermath than the trauma itself. As painful as it is to hear, compassion cannot amend the past. The true power of compassion is in healing.