Recently I attended a dinner party in which a panel of speakers came to address a group of adoptive parents. It turned out to be a very informative and well received evening. It was interesting to observe these parents. I learned so much by simply watching their body language. Several parents sat forward in their chairs, listening intently to what we had to say. They asked questions and seemed genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to understand some of the issues their children might face both now and in the future. Then there were the parents who sat back in their chairs, arms crossed in front of their chests (psych. 101 protective posture) and when they did speak it was defensive.
One mother said her daughter talks about being adopted often. It is a casual questioning about her country (she is from Korea), her first mother etc… This adoptive mother said in a laughing gesture that she is amazed at how outspoken her daughter is for her age. I replied that I thought that showed what a wonderful mother she was for being so open that her daughter feels comfortable sharing the questions running through her mind.
The mother sitting back in her chair, arms folded, says “well my daughter NEVER brings it up and I don’t think that means there is something wrong”. Now I have to say again that I don’t think a child needs to be bringing it up all of the time to be considered healthy. Nor do I think a mother needs to be bringing it up all of the time if their child doesn’t. Forcing an issue in an attempt to normalize it will probably have the opposite effect. However, I can’t imagine this woman’s child NOT picking up on her mother’s body language, an aura of defensiveness surrounding her like a wet blanket. Kids are not stupid. No wonder adoption is never mentioned in her home! Kids don’t want to hurt their parents. If a child brings up a subject and picks up on the discomfort it brings to their parents how often do you think they are going to bring it up?
Every time I hear an adoptive parent say that being adopted doesn’t have any effect on their children it makes me cringe. I am not implying that every adopted child is in dire need of counseling or anything but to assume that they don’t ever think about it simply because they don’t bring it up is naive.
Feeling threatened by the subject of adoption is a problem for the PARENTS to fix, it’s a problem for society to fix. It’s not the child’s responsibility. Being adopted isn’t going to go away. It is what it is. You can’t adopt a child and expect everyone to act as though they were dropped on the doorstep by the stork. No past, just the present. Origin is taboo. Yet that is exactly the sort of attitude many adoptive parents and society in general displays. Friends, family, the lady at the grocery store, all pretending the subject of origin simply doesn’t exist. Even WORSE than quietly ignoring origin are those who go out of their way to ARGUE that it doesn’t matter which is the same thing as pretending it doesn’t exist.
Listen, all the love in the world isn’t going to change reality and it doesn’t NEED to. WE (adoptees) are fully capable of loving and appreciating BOTH realities. To be denied the right to do so is just cruel. How can you expect a person to not feel affection for the people who brought them into this world? It’s just selfish and cruel to expect a child to see a picture and pretend there are only two people in it when they can clearly see four.
I have always known I was adopted. It was a subject I would bring up on occasion. My mom would handle it by creating elaborate stories as to why I was given “away”. Here is my favorite- “Your mother and father were very poor. They had eight children and couldn’t afford to keep you”. Can anybody say……….THERAPY? I honestly believe in my mother’s eyes she was telling me these things to make me feel better. Of course lie piled on top of lie never works out like you intend. She knew nothing about my first parents so instead of talking about it honestly with me she assumed I needed the elaboration to feel better about the situation. It didn’t work. Looking back I know that honesty and open communication about how I was feeling would have been much better. My mom now denies ever telling these fabricated stories but I clearly remember. So even though the subject wasn’t necessarily taboo I could sense something was not quite right and thus open, honest communication was definitely discouraged.
I remember hiding in my closet during particularly bad blowouts between my mom and dad and praying that my real mother would come and save me. I know this may make some adoptive parents squirm in their seat but if I can just continue to be honest for a moment it’s not that difficult to understand. All kids get angry with their parents at one time or another. I think it’s just natural instinct for an adoptee to think about their family of origin during such an occasion. Non-adopted kids have the knight on the white horse-we have our other parents. It would have been nice to have someone tell me that I wasn’t a freak for thinking about my first mother and father. It would have been nice to know it was a natural thought to have on occasion but instead it remained in the closet because my mom could never have dealt with that sort of thing. Talking about my first mother in a past tense is one thing but bringing her into the present as a real, living, breathing human being that mattered to my present self would have been too much for my mom so I remained silent as so many adoptees do even into adulthood.
Then there is the issue of looking different, feeling different, acting different but trying to blend. “Yea, you blend”. NOT. Diversity is rarely celebrated in our world, in fact it is most often discouraged and that’s sad. Pretending we are something we are not is what I’m getting at here. It sucks. It would have been nice to have had someone I felt safe talking to about feeling different. Someone (namely my mother) who would not instantly tie it to her own issues with needing loyalty. Instead of feeling safe talking about my feelings I just picked up and carried her bags.
So many things cross the mind of an adopted child that I would be here for a week or a month trying to list them all. I am just trying to say that keeping all of this stuff inside hurts. Kids should feel safe talking with their parents and not bear the weight of grown up issues upon their shoulders. Adopted kids should feel safe and comfortable verbalizing their feelings to their parents and not fear hurting the people they love. If you adopt a child it is what it is……they are ADOPTED. You can’t wave a magic wand and make them not adopted. Deal with your emotions, see a therapist if you need to but make yourself available to your child without handing them your baggage. If I could say one thing to fearful adoptive parents it would be to uncross your arms. Open them up and embrace truth.
Those of you who’s arms are open~thank you. Keep questioning, keep learning, keep growing. And don’t be surprised if your kids grow up feeling safe and secure in your presence, honored as an individual, self-assured, confident, more like a cherished daughter or son than a possession. Of course they will still have some issues. Who doesn’t have issues? But how wonderful it will be to know they will feel comfortable coming to you and talking about how they are feeling….the sign of a healthy parent/child relationship. That’s a huge payoff don’t you think?