I was speaking with an adoptee in his late twenties. He has a healthy relationship with his adoptive parents. Since his eighteenth birthday, he has been cultivating a warm and reassuring relationship with his birth-mother.
In his conversations with her, he is able to see many of his own behaviors reflected. What makes this awareness unique is that in his adoptive family they stand out against pattern and appear quirky—not unacceptable, just not typical for his adoptive family. What has been interesting to learn is that these “quirks” are actually the norm in his birth family.
I’m not talking anything earth shattering here. One example that comes to mind is the natural ability to draw. He is the only one in his adopted family with this skill. In his birth-family, however, there are many generations of artists. Creativity is part of the family culture. He possesses a great talent and a powerful need to express this wonderful ability. As he was growing up, his skill was encouraged and valued.
This made me think of the many ways in which our adopted and fostered children bring extra ingredients to the family recipe of talents and inclinations. Sometimes this can be received as a blessing, the surprise everyone applauds, marveling at the wonder of their child’s natural gifts. In other families, the out-of-the-family-norm behavior may be unwelcome, may go unrecognized, or may even be discouraged.
In a family of natural athletes, a child who prefers reading to running may feel completely out of synch. A musical genius in a family of tin-eared, tone-deaf relatives may not get the encouragement he/she needs. In some unfortunate situations, they may be ridiculed, coerced into giving up an interest or, saddest of all, be punished for not doing the family activity or for wanting to pursue their “own thing.”
As adoptive/foster parents, we expend a lot of energy looking for commonalities and similarities with our kids. This represents important “claiming” behavior that reaffirms how a family gels as a “tribe.” It is equally important to honor the differences or talents that only he/she possesses. Notice and appreciate both the commonalities as well as the individuality. A family of clones would be very dull indeed. Like a hearty stew, every ingredient is essential to create the robust and satisfying recipe. For families, every member is valued, encouraged to grow and contribute. When this level of respect flows through a family, everyone benefits.