Archive for the ‘General Discussion’ Category
We shared the recent Easter weekend with my son’s birth mother and grandmother. How apropos it seemed to be celebrating this holiday which focuses on resurrection and new life. After living a closed adoption for twenty years, twelve years ago my son and his birth mother reconnected. Their relationship has grown and deepened over the years. We have come to discover the blessing of expanding one’s concept of “family” to include his birth relatives. Because they are important to him, naturally, they are important to us.
We are navigating the unique territory of becoming acquainted on a deep level as we build history and forge connections that make our relationships meaningful and authentic. Over the last ten years our family has significantly dwindled in size. It gives me great peace of mind that my son now has many additional people in his life who truly love and care about and for him. Since reconnecting and meeting his family, he feels more grounded. Many of his passions and talents which were unique in our family, reflect familiar skills, talents and generational inclinations in his birth family. He finds it reassuring and validating.
I find it fascinating and also a bit sad. For him. For them. For all of us. However, our growing intimacy also increases awareness for all of us about the duality of adoption. (Our joy at his being part of our family exacted a great loss for him and his birth family. We all could see the great What Ifs. What If he’d been adopted within his biological family? What if he’d never been adopted?) Our experience has reinforced my appreciation for the benefit of open adoption. If we truly and unconditionally love him, how could we deny him the benefit of expanding his world to include so many additional people who love him? Can we ever be loved by too many? I think not.
For further explorations about adoptee search, reunion and open adoption, read the anthology It’s Not about You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion and Open Adoption edited by Brooke Randolph, LMHC. I wrote the first chapter and adult adoptees, adoptive parents and professionals shared their personal experiences in the remaining chapters. The book provides wonderful insight into what has and has not worked for many adoptees. Those currently parenting will find their experiences provide information based on personal experiences and not on supposition or hypothesis. It addresses when, why and how to tell a child they were adopted; reasons why adoptees search; benefits and challenges of open adoption and reunion. Intentional Parents will find this book provides a much-needed resource.
“The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s three-part online interactive curriculum is a critical resource to parents who are experiencing or considering openness in adoption and professionals who provide services in this area. Launched in November 2016, Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! is an interactive presentation where a narrator guides users through the curriculum. It includes audio and video clips, reflection questions, exercises and a comprehensive User’s Guide with important key concepts and terms.
We know openness is a healthier way to experience adoption but that doesn’t mean people always find it easy to navigate these new relationships in their lives. Without the right supports in place, families may needlessly struggle.
Starting today, we [The Donaldson Institute}will be charging a modest fee of $29.95 for this curriculum. Thank you for making openness and healthy relationship development a priority in your life.”
Recently, an adult adoptee shared with me a letter which she wrote when she was ten years old. It reflects directly on our recent blog regarding the need to listen deeply to adoptees and affirm both the positive and the challenging impact which adoption imposes on their lives. It began, Dear Mother I Do Not Know, and continued:
Can you be my ghost friend? I will write to you and talk to you. Since I am not related to anyone I know, I am practically alone. I was adopted. I don’t know who I am related to.
This child was raised with a very open attitude towards adoption and yet, her pain is palpable. She still felt the angst of isolation, the yearning for connection to birth family, the desire to know someone who was related to her. The absence of any biological relationships left her feeling unmoored, rootless. For those of us raised in our birth families, this struggle is difficult to imagine, understand and to determine how to best respond. Her words embody what Betty Jean Lifton, Ph.D discovered in her research: that adoptees’ inner world are inhabited by an entire kingdom of missing, broken or out-of-reach relationships.
To help all members of the adoption triad, therapists must be able to see the ghosts that accompany them. These ghosts spring from the depths of the unresolved grief, loss, and trauma that everyone has experienced. They represent the lost babies, the parents who lost them, and the parents who found them. Too dangerous to be allowed into consciousness, they are consigned to a spectral place I call the Ghost Kingdom. Search and reunion is an attempt by adoptees to reconnect with the ghost mother and father, and live the alternate life.*
But as Intentional Parents, we can–and must–do something to help our children. We can create an atmosphere that invites–welcomes–discussion of adoption and which acknowledge the adoption-connected realities which our children face. We can welcome Open Adoption because of the benefits it imbues to our children. (While Open Adoption brings complications to our lives, the benefits it offers our children make it worthwhile. Keep in mind that Open Adoption is a spectrum of as clearly explained by Lori Holden in her landmark book, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption.)
The first step is to acknowledge what is. The second step is to intentionally work on our family relationships. Our crazy, hectic lives too often drive s to operate on autopilot Family life can be hectic. Time and energy run out before everything gets accomplished. We can get so enmeshed in the “doing” of our parenting responsibilities that we forget to take time to create moments of joy, connection and authenticity. Last week we discussed the importance of creating a relationship with our children that wraps them in an experience of being “seen.” What steps did you take to begin building this level of intimacy? Perhaps you intended to make a change or intensify your commitment, and life just got in the way. (Translation: nothing changed.)
Choosing a mindset is only the beginning. We must also set up a “system” that will remind us gently, but firmly and with regularity! How might such a system work? It could be as simple as a daily alarm on your phone or daily calendar entry. Icons work well. Here are a few examples: 🤗 ❤ 🐻 🍕 🏀 🏈 ⚽️ ⚾️ 🎼 🚲 ⛺️ 🌠 👩🍳 📚. It’s your system. It’s sole purpose is to remind you to squeeze in those important moments of connection. It can be a simple as asking your child what his current favorite song is and then listening to it together. Perhaps you’ve got a sport-minded child. The icon could remind you to practice a skill, watch a game or, go for a bike ride together. Perhaps they’d enjoy cooking, reading a book together etc. Get creative. The activities need not be expensive or time consuming. They simply must connect with the child’s interest and convey that because it is important to them, it is important to you.
What will be your first step? How will you help yourself remember to do it?
*Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30:71–79, 2010 Copyright © Betty Jean Lifton ISSN: 0735-1690 print/1940-9133 online DOI: 10.1080/07351690903200176
Adoptive families frequently encounter rude, inappropriate, intrusive or, dismissive questions and comments. Most of us who struggle with infertility have heard a variation of the following: Now that you’ve adopted, you’ll conceive and have a child of your own. While those with both bio and adopted children frequently hear: Which of your kids is your real child? People feel free to admonish our adopted children and tell them: You should feel lucky and grateful you were adopted. Or another hurtful criticism: How do you think your parents feel when you talk about or search for your birth parents? Although it remains unspoken, our kids get the message that they were a breath away from being aborted or abandoned to an orphanage and that there’s no room for any sad or angry feelings. They also recognize that you perceive their needing or valuing their birth relatives as a betrayal of the adoptive family.
What do all these comments have in common? The conversations lack personal engagement. They are rife with assumptions based on inaccurate, outdated cultural beliefs that see adoption as an event that perfectly—and painlessly–solves a problem for the child and both sets of parents. This myth dismisses the life-long emotional fallout that each member of the adoption triad must face. These speakers have not taken the time to listen or understand the unique and complicated experience of being an adoptee, birth parent or, adoptive parent.
Every comment glosses over the losses and grief that underpin the creation of an adoptive family. They’ve rendered these deep and powerful emotions invisible. In so doing, they’ve trivialized adoption-connected grief and loss and have denied people the opportunity to have their circumstances validated, acknowledged and witnessed. The speakers replaced the real people with two-dimensional characters because they are not willing to open themselves up and be mutually vulnerable. That level of intimacy is scary and intense. People tend to prefer the cultural myth.
But myth is not reality. Life is messy. Adoption is life on steroids: emotionally messy and complicated. All parties carry wounds which take time—for many, a lifetime—to heal. In the era of open adoption, balancing the multiple relationships takes commitment, respect and, persistence.
Remember the Hollywood blockbuster movie Avatar? The characters yearned to be seen—viscerally, authentically. Connecting on this personal level happens rarely because it takes commitment, empathy and deep listening. It means moving beyond the gloss of generalizations and noticing what is occurring between the lines, between the words, beyond the events.
Adoptees and their families (birth and adopted) crave this kind of authentic validation. (I would assert all people seek this kind of visibility and validation.) As adoptive parents, we have the opportunity to grow relationships with our children that are honest and that do see the reality of their experience. We must take the time to listen or understand the unique and complicated experience of being an adoptee. Instead of trying to “fix” things or minimize, Intentional Parents choose to listen to understand and validate our child’s reality. To do so, we must step beyond our own emotional baggage and history. This level of affirmation, honesty and vulnerability is intense, demanding—an exceptionally rare and genuine blessing. It makes for not just a relationship, which can be casual or intimate, but also for a true connection, a major building block for true family growth.. Few people experience this. As Intentional Parents we can bestow this gift on our children.
What that would be like for your child … for yourself. Imagine how would that benefit your family?
The Elephant in the Room: Fear of Rejection
Let’s face it, in Adoption World fear of rejection is the elephant in the room. Adoptees fear being rejected by their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents fear being rejected by their children. Birth parents fear being hated and unforgiven by their children. They also fear that once they have signed away their parental rights, adoptive parents may not honor the stipulations of their Open Adoption agreement. That is a lot of fear, pain, isolation and raw wounds. The potential for conflict, hurt feelings and miscommunication is immense.
Our recent blogs have focused on the importance of ensuring that adoption be a natural topic of conversation which welcomes the free flow of discussion points. In a full-throated Both/And paradigm we recognize that adoption is complicated. We accept both the positive and the painful parts. We move beyond happily-ever-after fairy tales and value the reality which confronts us.
That kind of honesty and acceptance is beautiful and too rare. Too rare. Often we dance around truth in a mistaken effort to protect one another’s feelings. Or we hide our true thoughts and feelings so that we don’t risk rejection. Relying on other people to read our minds won’t work, neither will hoping that things will just work themselves out. We are family joined through our love for our children.
We are inextricably linked. Whatever stresses one of us has repercussions for all of us. Each of us has competing needs but it is absolutely vital that we put the needs of our children as the Prime Directive for our choices and actions. Make talking about stuff routine and important. Our mantra must be: Adoption Matters; Talk about it.
Love and Loyalty
In the past, adoptive parents often equated—and mandated—their child’s loyalty as proof of their love. We now recognize this false equivalency. Love is something freely given. It is not a payment on a debt nor can it be required. To be authentic, love must be freely given. It must spring forth from the soul with an energy and vitality that is born from genuine connection. We cannot keep our children in an emotional cage where loyalty to us must supersede their affection/connection to their birth parents. A gilded cage is still a cage. Genuine love is freely given; it is not payment rendered.
Gratitude & Grace
Adoptees often hear that they should be grateful to their parents for adopting them. Such an expectation turns a blind eye to the complexities of adoption and the deep, abiding losses that it exacts from adoptees in addition to the benefits that it provides. Ironically, parents never hear that they should be grateful to their kids for allowing themselves to be adopted. When we flip the equation around like that, we can readily see the ridiculousness of expecting gratitude.
As adoptive parents most of us also wrestle with gratitude in another way. As we strive to express how we feel to our children’s birth mothers, naming the multi-dimensional emotion is nearly impossible. Gratitude seems almost insulting, like our child was the best Christmas gift we’ve ever received. (This casts our children like a commodity.) Language fails us. We need to invent a word that bears witness to the immense emotional reality for all—birth and adoptive parents as well as adoptees. Each copes with their own wounds and weaves this history into our joint lives as family.
Long-time readers of this blog know I am not a fan of the term “chosen” in the context of adoption. Many feel like this concept heals the pain of being placed for adoption. But saying the adoptive parents chose them is not the Band-Aid that heals adoptee rejection. It avoids the obvious: that before adoptive parents could choose their child, he had to be “unchosen” by his birth parents. It also plants the unspoken possibility of being “unchosen” again. Besides, with the prevalence of Open Adoption, “chosen” most accurately refers to the adoptive parents were selected by the expectant parents and/or the agency. One important “chosen” reality is that we chose to love children who were not born to us.
For adoptive parents, the arrival of their children is a miracle beyond conception and an event which they love to celebrate. In a recent letter, Dear Abby extolled the virtues of “Gotcha Day” as a wonderful way to celebrate an important and life transforming event. As Adoption-attuned parents, we understand that adoption is a beautiful way of forming a family. But, the Both/And reality of adoption means it has its roots in loss and grief for each member of the adoption triad. Thus, as an adoption professional and an adoptive parent, I’d like to offer three reasons to rethink “Gotcha Day” and to provide some alternatives. Please click this link to read my complete essay which appeared on Lori Holden’s blog Lavenderluz.com author of The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption.
For me, Gotcha Day feels a bit like a hair shirt. It’s intended to generate warmth but it itches like crazy and somehow doesn’t accomplish the job.