Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’
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.
Rear View Mirror, Gratitude and the Lens of Love
Conventional wisdom says hindsight is twenty/twenty. With Thanksgiving now in our rear view mirrors, what lessons can we bring forth throughout the holiday season?
Intentional Parents can choose to sustain a gratitude perspective amidst the onslaught of holiday noise and stress. Take a deep breath and imagine the benefits that might accrue to you and your family. Resist the temptation to groan and bemoan that it’s impossible to add another item to your To Do List. This is doable and it needn’t take much more than a moment of time and attention.
How many times a day do you check your phone for texts, Twitter and Facebook alerts or to post on Instagram? What if you resolved to reduce the times you choose to react to your phone. If you check it hourly, change it to every two hours or, only at break time or only after 5:00 p.m. (How does that make you feel? Responses may vary from exhausted relief, to a shivery sweat of withdrawal. We’ll blog about this aspect another time.)
Back to this momentous decision. Intensify your resolve and breathe … Now create a “Notes” page titled I Am Thankful For... Each day use this newly available chunk of time to list one thing about each family member which you appreciate. These can be significant or minor. Avoid turning it into a Big Deal. This list is for your eyes only and it’s intended to shift your point of view from one of stress, frustration and failed expectations to a lens of appreciating the little blessings.
Too often the weight of what we think loved ones should be doing or saying traps us. We focus on how they fall short. This tendency ignores the fact that we are all works in progress–especially our children. Our parental “hat” tends to highlight our awareness of what our kids still need to master: the skills, habits and values which they need to be successful human beings. This makes it easy to overlook our own shortcomings.
For a bit of perspective, let’s pause for a moment to review a recent day. Turn the lens back on ourselves. How many times did life serve a “reminder” that we can do better, that we depend on the help, cooperation, and feedback of others throughout our day. Humbling right? Knocks us right off that pedestal that is too easy to set ourselves atop.
Let’s return to our Daily Appreciation List. As we contemplate taking on this daily practice, what feelings bubble up? Our emotional response often provides a window of the emotional thermostat of our family relationships. What feelings wash over us? Excitement? Confidence? Doubt? Exhaustion? Something else?
If you struggle to find something positive to list, take this awareness as a wake up call that your family Emotional Bank Account* needs deposits. Fast!
Temporarily ignore instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. Sometimes we get stuck on “correction” mode and chronically evaluate our loved ones through this negative perspective. Problem is, this grim point of view easily overwhelms us and dominates our feelings towards others. We quickly see how they’ve missed the mark and we remain blinded to their efforts to comply, learn or, improve.
Time to don the proverbial “rose-colored-glasses. For this exercise, release the negativity and accountability lens and focus on finding one thing–no matter how small–one thing about each family member that brings a smile. While searching for an entry, view life exclusively through a lens of love and affection. Temporarily ignore instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. (There’s plenty of time to address that later.)
For the next month take on this daily practice. Notice how it opens your awareness to what IS working on your family. Notice too, how it alters the emotional temperature of the family. Consider sharing your Daily Positives List with your loved ones. (Have no expectations regarding their reactions! Simply inform them that you wanted them to know that you appreciate “this” about them.) Observe both their immediate and their long-term response.
What might be the result of committing to this daily gratitude practice for the month of November? Please share your experience with us. Look in the distance of time’s rear view mirror and remember the overwhelming joy of welcoming your child to the family. That memory serves as a driving force for being the Intentional Adoption-attuned Parent that he needs.
During this week folks who are Irish –literally and metaphorically– celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of having fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day’s origins. So what does St. Patrick’s Day have to do with adoption? The “luck of the Irish” comes to mind. Luck…a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees.
Luck is also something which adoptees are expected to feel about being adopted. Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion. This is often coupled with the equally offensive idea that they ought to “get over it,” quit whining about being adopted,” “be glad they weren’t aborted,”as well as “forget” any interest and/or connection with their birth families, etc.
From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-one years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous. But isn’t this (to be “grateful” for being adopted) the expectation that is often flung in the faces of our children? So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?
As parents committed to intentionality, we understand the pivotal role of relationship. It is the key to attachment, the conduit to connection, family building and the establishment of unified family values. Relationship requires mutual trust, respect, empathy and genuine caring about each other’s needs both physical and emotional. How can we best empathize with our children’s adoption-shaped emotions? We must recognize that there is a profound “conflict of interest” around their being adopted. Adoption created one of our greatest joys: we received a child into our hearts and families but it also caused a primal loss of our children’s first families. These two factors do not cancel each other out; they coexist. As with so much about adoption, we are called upon to hold a both/and mentality. We can be joy-filled because our children are part of our lives and simultaneously be heart-broken “for” them because of their huge loss.
Most of us–unless we ourselves are also adopted–cannot truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful for our infertility. Or how we might force a smile in the face of being told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy when in fact we grieve the loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. I believe most of us have felt gut punched by such callous remarks. To some extent I suppose we can be grateful for such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children’s plight. Like our children, we too, hold a both/and reality with our own emotions because while adoption provides us children to love and graft into our families it does not cure infertility.
Intentional families are lucky in one way: they exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about their choices, language, methods and emotions and who, therefore, raise their consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life hasn’t rocked them out of this comfort zone.
November is National Adoption Month. In 1985, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving as an adoptive family. We sat at table and joined hands to give thanks for our many blessings: our cozy home, the friends who joined us, the bountiful meal before us, and most importantly, for the family that loved us. After fourteen years as a childless couple, we had become a family and discovered what it meant to love unconditionally.
We appreciated our own parents with a deeper level of understanding and gratitude. Our hearts swelled with our heartfelt commitment to parent as well as they had done. We wanted to pass on our parents’ legacy of love and were both grateful for, and humbled by the opportunity.
Adoption had infused Thanksgiving with a deeper significance for us. In addition to gratitude for tangible blessings, we’d received the gift of a child’s life to nurture.
Perhaps, you too, feel drawn to share your heart and life with a child that needs a family. Spend some time learning about adoption and foster parenting. Thousands of children need quality homes, both temporary and permanent. If you’re not up to the commitment of adding to your family, reach out to support struggling families who need your help. Donations of supplies, clothing, school supplies, or toys are welcomed. Contribute your time at a shelter or become a respite parent who provides relief time to struggling families.
Contact your state Department of Children and Families. Other useful resources:
Advance from the person who wants things to be different, to one who takes action and becomes that difference. Your life and the life of a child will be transformed forever.