Adoption—It’s Not all Hearts and Smiley Faces
The following was written by a 15 year old adopted as a baby from China.
I always knew my background. The story that had been told to me over and over again all through my childhood: ” Once upon a time in a beautiful land called China there was a mommy and a daddy who loved you very much, but they couldn’t take care of you, and so they gave you to the orphanage who brought you to us”.
I’ve been thinking a bit more about my adoption, and I realized that I have been suppressing a lot over the year. I can finally say that I am mad at my birthparents and not feel guilty about it. It [feels] really great, and also because of that I think I can be more open with [my parents]. I’m just needing to realize that it was okay to be angry at my birth parents . I think the reason why it was so hard for me to realize that was because my whole life they had been characterized as good people who loved me very much but couldn’t keep me. Maybe they loved me, but they just didn’t love me enough. I thought that they loved me, so I had to love them. Now I get that I do love them, but I am extremely mad at them, and that’s okay because well, I know they care about me and they’d be okay with me being mad at them. Heck, I bet some days they get mad at themselves.
Some people blame my troubles on everything that happened on the streets of China. Maybe they’re right, or maybe their wrong. I think about my birthparents every day. I ask if they think about me, if they wonder if I’m okay. But I know they do. It’s hard to convince myself, but it’s true. Sometimes I want to blame them for everything that has gone wrong. But I love them. They don’t have a name or a face to them, but I know them and love them unconditionally. I want to find them one day, but I don’t know if that will be possible. If I ever adopt a child I want to make sure they know that it’s okay to be mad because I don’t think I ever got that message from my parents.
Lest, you think this is just the lot of international adoptees in closed adoptions, I received the following message from the mom of a twelve year old in an open domestic adoption.
My son’s first mom, L, now has a year old daughter with her husband. We have had a very open adoption, including get togethers a couple of times a year with L and her extended family. We have even babysat for L’s daughter. Her visits and calls are getting fewer as she gets busier with her new family. My son has been acting troubled since our last visit a couple of months ago (acting out, hitting his brother, yelling at us, etc.) Last night, I was rubbing his back at bedtime and told him the L had called. He said, “I know you think adoption is all hearts and smiley faces and that I have to love L, but sometimes I hate L so much I just want to hit her, but then you tell me she gave me away (I never used that language) because she loved me. But I don’t always love her.”
To Be Received Someone Had to Give Away
We want our kids’ lives to be easy—to be all hearts and smiley faces with a bit of sunshine and butterflies thrown in for good measure. Part of adoption is being received, and that’s the fun part to talk about. “Daddy and I wanted a baby soooo much, and when we saw you, we fell completely totally insanely in love. Our lives were complete and we lived happily ever after.” But to be received by us adoptive parents, our kids had to be “given away” by their first parents. As adults, we understand or at least try to understand the compelling reasons why someone is not able to parent their child. We may even know that it was the best decision at the time. But our children may experience it on a different level. Sometimes it hurts to be the one not kept, and sometime being hurt makes you mad. Very very mad.
Because They Loved You?!?
We tell our children that their first parents loved them. We say this because we either know or assume that it is true. We say this because we want our children to understand that the decision to not parent them had nothing to do with them and everything to do with their birth parents. We say this because we want our children to feeling loveable. But I think the two young people above raise a great point that we adoptive parents need to hear. We need to support our kids through all their emotions and most important, we need to give them permission to have the full range of emotions.
The Truth About Birth Mothers
The truth is that some birth parents were abusive, some were addicted, and some were immature. It’s also true that most were in dire financial straights, most agonized over the decision, and most dearly loved their child—our child. We can and should share it all with our kids as they age. And I think it’s OK to speculate if we don’t know for sure. Share what you know about the specifics of your child’s birth mother and birth father, what you know about poverty, what you know about the social and political climate of their birth country, and what you know about human nature to come up with some ideas. And remember, we do know a little something about our child’s first parents by living with and loving our beautiful child. Not all traits, temperaments, and talents are heritable, but some are. Acknowledge what you know and what you assume.
How to Help Our Kids
If you are in an open adoption, consider that this is a conversation that needs to take place between your child and her first mother or father. Your child and her birth parent may or may not want you present. It is often helpful for you to discuss what is happening and your child’s questions with the birthparent first. The mom in the open adoption email above took that suggestion. At first L was reluctant to have this conversation and was even more reluctant to initiate the conversation. With gentle pressure the mom was able to persuade L that their son needed to hear from her. L told him that she wished every day that she could have parented him. She explained again why she didn’t feel ready to be a mother when he was born and wouldn’t have been the type of mother he needed. Apparently that is what he needed to hear since his mom reports that his behavior has settled down. He did not tell L that sometimes he hated her, but his mom had prepared L for this possibility.
If you are in a closed adoption, you have to rely on books or maybe conversations with someone from your child’s birth country. We have tons of suggested books for kids from 2 to 18—some general, foster care , and some by country (China, Korea, Latin America, Russia/Eastern & Central Europe, Vietnam) If you haven’t made a lifebook, get started on this valuable resource for discussing first families. (We provide many resources to help you get started on an adoption lifebook.)
As these two stories reinforce, in all our conversations with our children, we need to leave room for them to have the full range of emotions—even those feelings that scare us and them. A wonderful book of letters written by birth mothers in Korea to the children for whom they are making an adoption plan is titled I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. This title expresses the sentiment of all parents–birth or adoptive. We all want our children to experience just the beautiful parts of life. But life isn’t always beautiful—not for us, or for them, or for anyone. Not all aspects of adoption are beautiful. Our kids, however, are up to the challenge of incorporating the complete adoption package—the hearts and smiley faces and the dark clouds of confusion and rejection.
Have your children expressed the non smiley face parts of adoption?
Image credit: Cynr
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