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Adoption myths persist because we find comfort in the reassurance they offer. They reinforce people's belief systems. Some myths reassure adoptive parents that their families built through adoption will fulfill all their idealized dreams about parenthood. Other myths linger because they overlay a veil of positivity that hides the challenges and complexities that adoption engenders and cloak the pain of loss and family fracture under a tale of happily-ever-after. This cover-up exacts a cost because it imposes a level of denial and falsity which in turn alters relationships from genuineness to role-playing.
One of the greatest acts of love that we can share with our children is having the courage to acknowledge the complexity of adoption, the challenges, and the emotionally difficult aspects. We build deep connection when we choose to handle them together. Sweeping the tough stuff under the rug hurts the entire family and denies all of them a chance to bless one another with the grace of truth, to see and love one another as our genuine selves.
Our children need us to be their safe harbor where they can seek and find strength, security, honesty, and refuge. The absence of this honesty and safe space leaves children to flounder on their own to handle issues of great complexity and for which they lack the experience, understanding, and tools to handle. As Intentional Parents we choose to see truth, to be the reassuring source of comfort, light, and truth even when it is difficult or painful. This is love. It does not rely on the obfuscation of mythology and instead rests securely on the steadying foundation of truth and the reassuring guard rails of love.
Consider the following powerful/dangerous/invalidating adoption myths.
Myth: Love heals all.
Of course, love is an important ingredient of family life. Essential. It is not the sole element necessary to create secure, healthy family attachments. Love is akin to the soil that nurtures life yet also requires sunshine, rain, and minerals. Truth-telling is the sunlight of relationships. Validation is the soothing rain. Acceptance is the nutrient that nurtures. All are necessary.
Myth: We are exactly the same as bio families.
Families built through adoption are genuine yet they have unique distinctions that families built solely through biology do not. The both/and reality of adoption means that adoptees have two sets of parents. One set gave them life; one set raised and nurtured them. Whether or not there is ongoing physical interaction, each is a permanent part of the adoptee--even if only biologically, psychologically, and emotionally. Adopted children all experience a traumatic and painful separation from their first families. This is true regardless of any valid reasons that led to the adoption. The echoes of this loss have a life-long effect on adoptees and their families.
Myth: We are a multi-racial family and we are colorblind.
Parents who adopt children whose race differs from their own must value their race not erase it. Rendering race invisible serves to make it valueless. But race does matter. It is an important part of our children, something to be treasured, celebrated, and acknowledged.
Myth: He/she joined our family as a baby, so they won’t experience grief/loss/trauma.
The impact of trauma occurs whether or not a child is old enough to be aware of their removal from their first family. The reality exists in the DNA, in their bodies' own cellular knowledge that has prepared them to be the continuation of one family's lineage and then found themselves grafted to another. It makes a difference and children feel it physically as well as emotionally.
Myth: My child isn’t interested in his/her birth family.
Let's be honest, the person most of us find the most interesting and important is ourselves. We yearn to understand who we are, where we came from and how we fit into the flow of the generations. Having this knowledge provides us a stable base and a steadying guard rail. Our children experience a similar drive to understand their origins and to blend it with the influences of their adoptive families. Given verbal and emotional permission to acknowledge their interest in their own roots, it is exceptionally rare for adoptees not to want information even if they do not want to physical contact. Intentional Adoptive Parents will ensure that our children know that we acknowledge the importance of their biological truth, that we are not threatened by it and that we will support them in discovering their story.
It is equally important that we allow our children to determine when they want to talk about and explore this heritage. The decision and the timing must be theirs. Our responsibility is to support them and not impose emotional and psychological barriers.
Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews
by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog,
"Writing to Connect"