Witness of the Heart

March 29, 2017


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 They are rife with assumptions based on inaccurate, outdated cultural beliefs that see adoption as an event that perfectly—and painlessly--solves a problem for the child and both sets of parents.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?

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