I cannot decide what kind of tea to have during this blog. Something calming would likely be best. Welcome back to Blogville, my little chat room of random thoughts.
It is difficult to describe my experience growing up raised by my parents, while having a ‘mystery mother’ on the side. It will not be the same experience for other adopted persons but there may be some aspects that they can relate to. If you recall, when my parents adopted me they were told to forget about where I came from as I was their daughter now. But, I was always someone else’s daughter too.
Who was my mystery mother? Where was she? Did she think about me? Was she looking for me? Had she changed her mind and now wanted me back?
I think that as a society, adoption planning focused on the role of the birth mother pretty exclusively. The role of the birth father was, sadly for many young men, nothing more than a passing thought. The role of the birth father appears to have been sorely under recognized in the adoption process historically. As a result, I always considered my mystery mother to have been a poor innocent girl who was taken advantage of by my birth father, became pregnant, and was then forced by her parents to make an adoption plan for me. They even made her go to a home for unwed mothers, they were so ashamed. I think you can see how I thought she would be searching for me.
I distinctly recall swinging on the swing set in the back yard of my childhood home, pumping my little legs to swing higher and higher. I was about 6 or 7 years old. I had been singing at the top of my lungs, louder and louder, swinging higher and higher. Suddenly I began to wonder if my birth mother could sing like me, or me like her actually. If we did sing the same, what if she could hear me, would she know I was her daughter? I can still feel the butterflies of anticipation that I felt that day in my stomach. My feelings darting between excitement and fear.
In my fantasy of thought I pictured her walking on the sidewalk in front of our house, stopping in her tracks when she heard my singing, and then running towards me to gather me in her arms, crying and saying, “I have found you! You must be my daughter with your beautiful voice! I have been looking for you forever!” (By the way, I have no ability to sing, just please don’t tell my little girl self that ok?) The fantasy then changed to her trying to tell my parents that now that she had found me I must go live with her. I do not believe that I really wanted to find and go live with my birth mother, (except maybe when I was really, really, mad at my parents lol), but I’m sure I wanted to know that she cared about me and wanted to know that I was ok.
I knew, and know, that my parents loved me but our relationship was often shadowed by the mystery mother. After all, when the person who is supposed to love and protect you above all others does not, or can not, care for you, it leaves a mark. Adoptive parents, I believe that children who are adopted need to know that the actions of their birth parents in no way defines them. Thinking that maybe you cried too much, or your ears were too big, or that you had done something to cause you to need an adoption plan can impact on a person. When I got in trouble as a child I would sometimes regard it as proof that I should have been given away, or that my parents must regret choosing me. I would even sometimes think that my mystery mother had made the right decision, I was not worth keeping.
I believe that discussions about decision-making need to happen, especially decisions that impact on others around them. Children need to know that the fact they needed an adoption plan was a decision that, though not caused by them, had a huge impact them. Literally a life-changing one. They need to be reassured, frequently, that the decision was not made because there was something wrong with them or because of something that they did. They need to know that choosing an adoption plan is a grown up decision usually made before they were even born. Adoption plans made for older children and youth are also made because of the behaviour of the adults, not the children. Children and youth deserve to be in families who can love and care for them safely. Be sure to tell them this, kindly, respectfully, and often.
I believe that children and youth who were adopted need extra reassurance when they are experiencing consequences. Saying things like, “We love you and want you to be a kind person. That is why you need to sit and think about the way you just talked to your sister.” Or “We love you and know that you just made a wrong choice. Let’s talk about what better choices you could have made.” Or maybe, “We love you, and people who love you need to set limits so you can learn and grow up to be a responsible person.” Some phrases that hold the child or youth accountable but separate the behaviour from who the child or youth is.
When you adopt older children, they are even more vulnerable. You do not know what former caregivers may have said to them and you will be competing with that. Don’t be afraid to ask them who told them they were, “dumb, stupid, useless, ugly, fat, skinny” and so on, and talk about it. Talk about the impact people’s words have on other people as a teachable moment. Don’t be afraid to ask them who told them they were probably, “bad blood, risky, just like their mother, their father” or other thoughts people may have stated about adopted older children. Then talk to those people and educate them about the impact of their words. You cannot always know what children might over hear accidentally, or be told outright. You cannot protect them from other people’s thoughts or beliefs, but you can protect them by talking about it. Talk it through and chase that elephant out of the room!
Even as an adult I still sometimes struggle with insecurities. I remember times when I would be having a disagreement with my husband, or having a difficult parenting day, and I would sometimes think that they must be right, after all, if my own mother did not think I was worth keeping, why should my husband accept me, or why should my children listen to me?
I often use humour and sarcasm (I’m sure all of you that know me are shocked to learn this) as a defence mechanism to protect myself. This behaviour comes from that insecurity, even to this day. My parents did what they were advised to do by the social workers, they forgot I was adopted.
I do not want your adopted children or youth to experience what I have experienced. Communication is the key in my view. I am communicating one adopted person’s experience and opinion on how you can help. There are many experts in adoption, kinship, attachment, trauma, emotional regulation, and other related fields, who know much more than I on the subject. There are support groups who will welcome you. Parenting is best done as a community! Reach out to yours as needed. Your children are worth it!
As always, I would love to read your comments. If you are not comfortable commenting on this public forum please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org