Posts Tagged ‘loyalty’
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.
In our blogs we focus on the essential need for a Both/And attitude in adoptive families. Both birth and adoptive parents. Both nature and nurture. Each has positives to offer. Each is a permanent and core part of the child. We believe everyone benefits from this inclusive approach which releases our children from the lose/lose expectation that they must be loyal only to us.
When we operate with a both/and presupposition, we free our children from the burden of an untenable choice: care about those who gave them life or care about those who raise them day to day.
We can also embrace a both/and paradigm in other areas of our parenting to help nurture family harmony. Consider the issue of low level conflict. How might parents propose an approach that allows both themselves and their children to feel heard?
Here’s an example. Dad wants the lawn mowed–now. Teen wants to sleep in. What if they frame an agreement that lets the child rack up the extra zzzs as long as the lawn gets mowed by 6:00 p.m. (or other mutually agreed upon time of completion)? Instead of a battle royale, this could be a win/win situation. Both can get their goal accomplished and both can feel like they’ve “won.”
Consider how often we engage in power struggles with kids because we want what we want, when we want and HOW we want. Emotions escalate. Parent and child each dig in their heels. Frequently the issue being debated is fairly trivial on the surface. The real point is control. Parents don’t want to lose it and kids want as much self-determination as possible. Both lose in this struggle since the relationship is threatened and no real control truly exist.
Let’s face it, none of us like to be told “No.” The world of a child overflows with refusals, postponements and “Not on your lifes.” To whatever extent possible, allow children choice. Avoid phrases like “Would you like to…” if “No!” is not an option. Deliberately create opportunities for children to practice decision-making. When they are little, it is easy to offer them two or three options–the red pajamas or the blue, orange juice, water or milk, bath or shower–any of which are acceptable. Get in the habit of offering these simple choices.
Be certain that you make a clear distinction between an option and an instruction. If there is not really a choice to be made but rather an instruction to be followed, don’t play “Russian Roulette” hoping they’ll choose the only option acceptable to you. That is not a genuine choice. This kind of deck-stacking damages a relationship. When the child chooses the “wrong” choice (the one included as a sham option but which the parent is unwilling to accept,) they will be angry when the parent breaks his word and overrides the child’s choice. The phoniness of the transaction blindsides the child. The big lesson they learn is that the parent’s word cannot be trusted. That is definitely not the message parents want to broadcast.
As kids get older allowing kids to make choices becomes a bit more challenging. The stakes increase and so does the learning. The only way to become skilled at making good decisions, anticipating consequences and avoiding poor outcomes is by making decisions, living with the results and learning from the process. It is far better to have kids learn the difference between a “good” and a “poor” decision when the life cost is trivial: a failing grade versus a juvenile court record; an ugly outfit versus a hideous –and inappropriate tattoo; an unsatisfying friendship versus an abusive one.
Failure teaches many lessons; it takes tremendous courage to keep trying. Parents must help kids–and themselves–to focus on learning from the decision not on the expectation that every decision/attempt will satisfy or succeed on the first go around. Be there when your child fails, not with “I told you so” but with curiosity as to how it can be done differently.
How are you creating opportunities for your children to practice good decision-making?
What are you modeling about your own processes, attitudes, persistence and learning from failure?
Where are you most challenged in allowing your children the chance to self-manages and make decisions.
How careful are you to distinguish between options and requirements?