Giving Without Receiving

One of the things I’ve been asked to do a few times is to help people interpret the language and phrases in children’s adoption profiles. Adoption profiles are funny things, supposed to give a small and honest snapshot of a real child, whilst maintaining their privacy and generating interest in the child from prospective parents. Some profiles are more successful at this than others, but nearly all of them are written in a funny “social-worker-ese” way – no jargon as such, but they DO require some interpretation and require the person looking to be able to ‘read between the lines’. It’s easy for those who haven’t encountered many profiles before to not realise this or notice the unwritten. Profiles frequently include phrases and words which hint at certain issues, or phrases that can be read in one way but really mean something else. Since I’ve helped some American prospective adopters with this, I think in comparison the American profiles have a bit more of this kind of thing than the British profiles, but they are similar in most ways.

A great example from my Kestrel’s intitial information would be “Kestrel loves her food”

In standard English, “Kestrel loves her food” pretty much means –  Kestrel enjoys eating, is not very fussy, has big portions and likes snacking. The kind of child one would find it a pleasure to eat with and cook for, right?

In Profile-ese, “Kestrel loves her food” actually means – Kestrel has serious food issues and is obsessed with food. She is not fussy, but she gorges on food, steals it, hoards it, and will eat herself to the point of throwing up sometimes. She can’t stand it when other people are eating food and she hasn’t got any. Expect a meltdown. Also, her eating so much in no way means she actually enjoys the food – eating is often a compulsion for her, we’re not sure how much she really notices the taste.

Note – I’m not saying that “X loves his/her food” always means this. A feature of wishy-washy profiles language is that the same phrase can mean two completely different things in two different profiles. But it does provide a useful example, which helps illustrate why reading between the lines and being aware of what certain phrases/words may be used to hint at certain issues, is very useful.

Learning to read Profilese is a frustrating experience as a prospective adopter, but at this point I’m finding it second nature. When I read a profile now, as soon as I see words, I’m seeing alternate interpretations of them. I read the written and the unwritten simultaneously. Though I don’t claim to be an expert, let me be clear. I’m sure I miss things often enough, or interpret wrongly. And sometimes it’s so wishy washy that you think “Huh? Could mean A or B or C or something else entirely”.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a profile, and I saw a sentence. It’s one of those sentences, that an adoptive parent of a child with certain significant issues, would read entirely differently than most other people, be they other adopters, prospective adopters, or people with no adoption connection at all. It seems such an obvious thing to say, but in actual fact this is Profilese and so you have to read the implied along with the stated. And to be honest, I think you also need experience to really comprehend what is being said.

I’ve reworded the sentence, so it says the exact same thing, but I hope gives the child more privacy, because this is a real profile and child:

“Parents must be able to give without demanding anything in return?”

(Aha! I hear adoptive parents of kids like my Rhea and Kestrel making noises of mild amusement already!)

Standard English speakers reaction – Well, yes, of course to be a parent you have to be able to give without demanding. I mean, kids aren’t naturally mature, grateful, loving and well behaved individuals 100% of the time (or even insert-very-low-percentage of the time!). You have to love, nurture, discipline and care whether they’re throwing a massive tantrum and hitting you, or being mean, or whatever else have you. Kids don’t give you time off when you’re desperately tired, or suffering depression, or throwing up either. You give your all, but you can’t expect good behaviour all the time, or good achievement in school, or x,y,z in return.

All very true.

But this sentence is in Profilese! In Profilese these sentences, which call for parents who can give without demand, or “love unconditionally” (it means the exact same thing), imply that the child has significant issues.

I have adopted two children whom this sentence, with all it’s implications, has applied to at different times. It still applies to Kestrel actually.

Giving without receiving, in this context, means:

Can you pour your love into a child who may never be able to form a strong bond with you in return? And can you live with this, seeing other children love their parents so much, and not having it yourself. Not now, not in five years time, not in ten years time, perhaps not ever?

Can you give your all to a child who has significant emotional/behavioural/attachment issues, and know that your all may not be enough for them to ‘heal’, or make progress or achieve?

It’s very difficult to explain what this is like. If you’ve parented children with these kind of significant issues, you already understand. If you haven’t lived it, it’s harder to get to grips with.

Let’s take the lovely 1999 (!) again as an example, or the first few years of Kestrel’s adoption.

When I get up every morning, I know that 3 years into adoption, my daughter Rhea doesn’t love me, though I love her so much, and I ache for her to love me back. Love is not good behaviour, or whatever else…I just ache for her to have a feeling inside of her of “I love my mum”. I learn to love without expectation of love. I learn to live in a wholly one sided relationship, in a way that parents of most children cannot understand because their kids love them unconditionally, and entirely without realising it, indeed taking it for granted, their kids love impacts on their relationship in a massive way. That kids love their parents (who care for them day in, day out) is a societal expectation, the natural human condition, and you know it unconsciously, you’ve absorbed this into your understanding of the way the world works. When this doesn’t hold true for you as a parent, it really impacts on you.

And daily, I am dealing with controlling behaviour, and PTSD, and often verbal or physical aggression, and I realise that this may be a permanent fixture, that these issues might always be here. I give my all every day, but know it may be a hopeless excercise in many ways. I live without seeing “progress”.

You wonder if you are really making a difference, even though you can’t bear the thought of your child going through what they were going through, with frequent moves etc, and you know that stability and your care gives them the best ‘chance’. But you wonder, has my mothering changed anything? And you realise maybe it hasn’t, and won’t.

And it really changes you. It really affects you emotionally. I wound up with depression and secondary traumatic stress, unsurprisingly

That’s what it means. That’s what kind of adoptive parents that profile is likely really searching for. Utterly committed, and understanding these kind of issues.


I had a little laugh with Kestrel recently, about how social workers told me that she “loved her food”. She giggled, and she said it’s not food she loves, it’s chocolate!! She said that she didn’t really love food then, but she did feel the need to gorge on it all the time.

I no longer Give Without Receiving. I know that Kestrel loves me, and it’s a very unconscious thing, but has a really big effect. I’ve seen her achieve, make huge progress –  emotional progress, social progress, academic progress, everything really.

But I started out with no guaruntees, only hope. But from 8 years of experience from parenting Rhea,

I had the knowledge that I could Give

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2 thoughts on “Giving Without Receiving

  1. Ironically, In view of the topic, I felt emotional reading your post. I felt sad for a child who has been so traumatised that they are unable to feel love and I felt the gut wrenching pain of loving a child who is unable to love you back. Being any adoptive parent is a leap of faith, whether it’s a child with a profile written in code or a child who appears to be meeting all their developmental and emotional milestones. You never know what might be in your future. Nothing prepares you. It helps to be able to read between the lines and speak Social Worker lingo it once you love that child, you’re in, whatever the future holds. I can honestly say Katie has driven me to every emotion possible. I agonise over her behaviour and its causes and origins and how she feels about me. I will go back and read her profile and see what hidden insights it contained!

    • Thank you xx It is very much a leap of faith. And whilst I think it’s very helpful and a good idea to learn to recognise and interpret “Profilese”, there are no guaruntees you’re interpreting correctly however good you get at it. And at the end of the day, that profile is only a snapshot of a child, so as long as the profile doesn’t explicitly mention something on your ‘no’ list (eg. a diagnosis) if you are drawn to a child, then it’s worth enquiring on that child to find out more. Even if the wishy washy wording of the profile leads you to suspect this may not be the right child for you, I preferred confirmation in the form of the Form E (CPR) or a ‘no’ from a SW, rather than second guessing myself

      There are a few “hidden gems” of phrases in my older girls Form Es!

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