Today we have a guest post by Lori Holden, author of the soon to be published The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole . I have read the book and loved it. It is a truly a welcome addition to our collective adoption libraries, and I’m thrilled that she’s sharing her wisdom with us today.
“Real” in Adoption and how it Splits our Babies
Remember that Sesame Street segment, “One of these Things is Not Like the Other”? Can you pick which one of the four questions is out of place? And, more importantly, why is it the misfit of the bunch?
- Which ice cream do you love most, Casey — strawberry or chocolate?
- Which is your favorite sports team, Jamie — the Broncos or the Patriots?
- Which is your favorite pop singer, Riley — Bruno Mars or One Direction?
- Which set of parents are your real ones, Payton — your birth parents or your adoptive parents?
As you can surmise from the title of this post, the fourth option gets the ding-ding-ding! Could be because the other three have numerous options not mentioned — there’s also mint chocolate chip and peppermint ice creams, the Cubs and the Jazz, PSY and fun., plus countless other flavors, teams, singers. It’s only the last one that is a dual option — just two choices — winner and a loser.
And it’s only the last one that can split a child in two in a way that choosing strawberry over chocolate simply can’t.
If you’ve done much adoption reading (and if you frequent Creating A Family you’ve had access to some excellent adoption reading), you’ve probably sought out posts by adult adoptees. Some adoptees claim they identify exclusively with their birth parents, saying that they never felt like they fit in with their adoptive family. Others explain that their “real” parents were the ones who raised them, changed the diapers, kissed the boo-boos, showed up at the games/performances/events.
Neither answer is right or wrong. What’s wrong is asking the question in the first place. (Often, it’s not the parents asking; rather it’s society-at-large wanting a definitive answer to the age-old question of Nature vs Nurture).
Posing the question or asking for a ranking comes from an Either/Or paradigm that splits the baby/child/tween/teen/adult in two. It’s dualistic, starkly black and white, pitting a winner against a loser. Either we are the real parents or they are. Either we can legitimately claim the child or they can. While the baby in the King Solomon story was threatened with being sliced by a literal sword, adoptees are faced with a figurative sword splitting their hearts, their loyalties, their psyches, their identities. This happens anytime the adults around them operate from the Either/Or paradigm.
So what is an alternative?
Parents in adoption who want to avoid splitting the baby must make a subtle (and not difficult) shift into Both/And thinking.
Adoption creates a split between a child’s biology and biography. Openness is an effective way to heal that split. That’s the premise of the book I’ve written with my daughter’s first mom. Openness, referring to not only contact but also to the mindset in which we parent, shifts us into a Both/And paradigm, in which we move from duality toward unity. We multiply instead of divide. We offer to our children wholeness rather than fracture. We encourage them to claim all pieces of themselves, those by biology and those by biography. We enable our children to be claimed by both of their clans.
And we resolve in ourselves any need to be The One. That often-unconscious drive that influences our adoption relationships is more about us and not at all about our child.
My friend Torrejon, an adult adoptee whom I met on an adoption forum that’s committed to Adoptee Rights, turns the “which mom is your REAL mom” question on end. I had asked her about adoptee math, about how to ensure that adding the biology half and the biography half would end up equalling a whole person:
Not half and half…both things. The two parts are not mutually exclusive nor inclusive. Not 1+1=0…but rather 1+1=1. However, adoptees could end up with a 0 if they are divided into exclusive halves: ½ + ½ = 0
I’ve got two kids. I’m not half a mother to one, and half a mother to the other; I’m a full mother to both of them. That doesn’t mean I’m two halves…or two people. I’m simply a mom with two kids. So, by extension, I prefer to think of myself as existing fully in my two families — my birth family AND my adoptive family. BOTH.
Isn’t it enlightening how Torrejon reverses the generations to make her point? By splitting the parent between the children we can see the ridiculousness of splitting the child between the parents.
We would have no problem allowing Casey to have a scoop of strawberry today and a scoop of chocolate tomorrow. It would be no trouble if Jamie cheered for the hometown baseball team in June and the hometown basketball team in November. We wouldn’t feel challenged if Riley had both Bruno Mars and fun. in the same playlist.
Likewise, let’s allow — encourage — our children to expand their hearts so big that they can encompass all the people with whom they identify, whom they have an innate need to claim and be claimed by. Doing so need not take away from us — it merely adds to our children.
What have you done (or might you do) to shift from Either/Or thinking to Both/And thinking? What ideas do you have to avoid “splitting the baby”?
Lori Holden writes regularly at LavenderLuz.com about parenting and living mindfully. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available for pre-order on Amazon. She has written for Adoptive Families magazine, Parenting magazine and for BlogHer and MileHighMamas.com, a Denver Post site. On Twitter she’s @LavLuz and you can also find her on Facebook. She practices her Both/And technique with dark chocolate and red wine (though not at the same time).
Add Your Comment
This is an amazing, and well-thought-out post. Thank you!
I have gone through these very emotions, and as an adult adoptee, have found it sometimes difficult to put into words exactly what I felt growing up, and still struggle with today.
Our definitions of family are so different, and this puts it into words.
Again, thank you!
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Stephanie, Samantha and Laura 🙂
I love the way you explain this idea of “and” as well as “wholeness.” It makes so much sense, and yet, there can be so much resistence to this notion in the adoption world. So many of us adult adoptees are constantly juggling the wants/needs/demands of our first and adoptive families — and it’s ongoing. Then we get married and have to work in the in-laws!
I truly hope that adoptive parents will try to integrate these ideas into their parenting — whether they have an open or closed adoption. These children will grow up! I can only imagine how much easier we adult adoptees would have had it growing up if some of these sentiments were worked into our upbringing.
Lori, thanks so much for writing this amazing piece.
That makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing!