In our online adoption community, we frequently encourage adoptive parents to listen to the voices of adult adoptees. We value their voices because we know they can offer valuable information about adopted persons’ shared experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
For this second installment in our series of advice to our younger selves, we asked adult adoptees to tell us what they wished their pre-adoptee self knew about the journey. This series is intended to help parents invest the wisdom, hard-fought lessons, and practical suggestions into raising the next generation of adoptees.
If you missed the first installment, in which adoptive parents shared what they wish they knew at the start of their adoption experience, you will find it here. Next week, we’ll share thoughts from the foster and kinship community.
Children Shouldn’t Carry the Weight of Big Feelings.
The primary theme of advice by the adult adoptees in our community was that parents should bear the weight of big feelings and experiences of adoption. And that children should not have to worry about their parents’ ability to carry that weight.
One member put it like this,
“I would tell myself I shouldn’t have to worry about “hurting feelings” simply by wondering about my own history, extended family, medical information, etc. It’s not a burden a child should ever have to carry, and the adult with the hurt feelings is emotionally immature and self-focused.”
Don’t Keep It Bottled Up!
The adult adoptees expanded on their thoughts and expressed that they wished their younger selves had known how to put those emotions out in the open with their parents. It’s one thing to be truthful about what you are feeling and quite another to speak up about it, right?
“…being open about what I needed to thrive when I needed it wasn’t selfish, rather how it should be in a family.”
“I would like to tell my younger self that I don’t have to keep everything bottled up inside. I was always afraid of hurting my mom’s feelings, and if I had just talked to her, I would have been emotionally healthier.”
“I would tell myself that it is not my job to make everyone else happy at my expense… That my choice (to do so) would stop me from being able to give voice to what I needed to help process my big feelings and instead just bottle them up inside.”
“I am Worthy.”
Another theme that came to light when we asked our adult adoptee members about lessons for their younger adoptee selves was around their sense of worth. They wished that they had known they didn’t have to prove themselves as worthy of love. For one member, it was a lesson that took too long to learn.
“I don’t have to prove to the world that I’m good and worthy and lovable. I don’t need to be the absolute best at everything to feel like I deserve to be in a space.”
“My Birth Parents are a Part of Me”
Several adoptees also mentioned that they wish they could have spoken about how hard it was to hear an adoptive parent disparaging a birth parent. When that occurred, the adoptee felt as though the adoptive parent was also devaluing the adoptee.
This advice from a birth mother is crucial.
“I would tell younger me to tell my adoptive mom when she shames my birth mom, she shames a part of me.”
“I would shake myself until I finally believed my existence was meaningful, not shameful.”
These Patterns Followed Me to Adulthood
Carrying the weight of that shame made it hard for one adoptee to believe she “too deserved to be happy – full stop.” Even into adulthood, many of these adoptees’ have found themselves in patterns of protecting others’ feelings that have not always served them well.
“…the choice I made to protect others first would become my norm throughout my life to my detriment.”
Ditch the Guilt and Self-Blame.
Finally, our adult adoptees shared that they wish their younger selves knew that they don’t have to labor under the guilt of wanting to know more of their stories. Some adoptees shared that they delayed their searches for answers about birth family, extended family, or family history, which quite often kept them from processing their genuine feelings and experiences.
One adoptee shared that her adoptive parent’s unhealthy perspective created “gratitude guilt,” and it kept her from searching for her birth family sooner:
“Younger me gave way too much respect to my adoptive mom for her selfish ways of looking at parenting.”
Another group member also wished that her younger adoptee self knew it wasn’t her job to worry about what her adoptive parents’ felt about her birth family. Carrying that worry can often prevent an adoptee from ever getting the answers the adoptee seeks.
Adoptive Parents Have to Do The Work
It’s clear from the advice the adult adoptees offered to their younger selves that adoptive parents are responsible for handling the big feelings their adopted kids experience. No child should be in the driver’s seat navigating the journey of processing an adoption history or all the emotions that come with it.
Adopted kids need safe, stable, and loving adults who will help the children identify their big feelings and talk through those feelings to form healthy self-worth and identity.
They need to know that our shoulders are big enough to handle their hard stuff. Communicating that message to our kids requires first that we adoptive parents do the hard work of processing our own history and handling our “stuff.” Though some of these lessons to their younger adoptee-selves might be hard to read, we are grateful for their voices reminding us about what our kids need.
Stay tuned for the final installment of this series of advice to our younger selves when we talk with foster and kinship community members.
While you wait for Part 3, tell us in the comments what you are learning from the adult adoptees in your life that help your own adoptive/foster/kinship parenting skills grow?
Image Credits: Marco Giumelli; popofatticus; Youth Radio