Adoptees are often good targets for school bullies because many still carry a victim’s mindset. We unknowingly let others take advantage of us, due to a sense of powerlessness resulting from the early-life loss of our birth mothers. We have lost our ability to see our options, our choices that will lead to an abundant life. We need to learn to take our power back and become responsible through making healthy choices!
Marilyn Schoettle, M.Ed., created a wonderful system for teaching adoptees, no matter what our age, to take our power back when misunderstandings and insensitive comments come our way. A Win-Win System
It is a win-win system, for it not only teaches the one who is hurt to make the right choices, but it also educates the sender about the appropriateness of the message. It is also suitable for parents because oftentimes bullies can be adults. “How much did she cost?” “Who is the real mom?” “Why is his skin a different color?”
Schoettle named it the “Wise-Up Power Book” and based it on the acronym W-I-S-E, with each letter representing a choice to take one’s power back when misunderstood. Let’s go through examples of each option: W— WALK AWAY! This provides maximum self-care for the child and inadvertently teaches the other person about adoption— that was a hurtful, inappropriate statement. For example, after your international adoption, a woman may come up to you in the grocery store and ask, “Why did you go way overseas to get a child when there are so many children that are waiting to be adopted here? If your anger was about to spill out and you were in an extremely vulnerable spot, you would choose to walk away. I—IT’S PRIVATE! This sets a verbal boundary and doesn’t let the person go any further. Suppose an adult adoptee announces to his friends that he’s going to begin searching for his birth family. They say, “Why would you want to open that can of worms?” Simply using this option, with a smile, would stop further insensitivities. If not, you could resort to W. S—SHARE! Here the adoptee begins the opening up process when he/she feels strong enough to reveal feelings. The adoptee may say, “I am so glad that I was adopted.” E—EDUCATE! This is sharing knowledge about adoption to help the insensitive person grow. For example, an adult adoptee who was reunited with her birth mother, discovered that her birth mother was riddled with guilt. The adoptee could choose to educate her birth mother by saying, “Almost every birth mother I know has this kind of guilt. In fact there is a classic book about birth mothers, The Other Mother, by Carol Schaeffer. Why don’t we go to the library and find a copy?” Ideas for Teaching the WISE-UP Method to Your Children:
• Purchase The WISE-UP Power Workbook, by Marilyn Schoettle:
• Purchase a stack of colored cards, loop them together, and put a situation on each card that would require a WISE-UP choice.As different experiences happen within your family concerning this topic, add them to the deck of cards. Role play the scenarios together, ahead of time, so that you and your children will be prepared.
Adopted teens are oftentimes hard to reach! They don’t like talking about adoption. However, if they can hear the story of a fellow adoptee, the walls come crumbling down. This is a sample chapter of a workbook I’ve written that may provide that tool for your adopted teen. Every chapter is broken down by sections, in bold capital letters. Feel free to use this with a group or whatever.
SOMEONE’S A LOT LIKE YOU!
Long ago, there was an adoptee by the name of Moses. You probably would have really liked him because he was a lot like you! He was born into a family that lived in Egypt and they were slaves of a wicked king named Pharaoh (it sounds like fay-row). This king was so incredibly mean that he decided to have all boy babies from Israel drowned in the Nile River after birth.
When Moses was born, his mother was upset because her baby was a boy and she knew that the king was going to kill him. She prayed for a way to save her baby’s life.
One day, an idea came to mind. She thought, “Why don’t I find a special basket with a cover on it and then seal it with thick mud so no water can get in? Then I can put my baby in the basket and float him in the river. That will save his life.”
Thus, she carefully made the basket so that it was watertight. When the time was right she wrapped her baby in a blanket, put him in the basket, closed the lid, tiptoed down to the river, and gently floated it near the place that Pharaoh’s daughter would soon come to bathe. Moses’ sister, Miriam, went with her mother and hid behind the reeds. Her mother told her to watch for Pharaoh’s daughter because when she took the baby out of the river, she would be able to tell her that she knows someone who will nurse the baby for her—Moses’ mother!
Just imagine what it must have been like for baby Moses! He was used to being held close to his mother’s body and now he was in a dark, stuffy basket that was floating on a river. He cried, and cried, and cried.
If he could have talked he might have said, “Something inside just doesn’t feel right. I feel all mixed up inside. Where is my mommy? Where did she go?”
1.If baby Moses could put his feelings into words, what do YOU think he would say?
Circle which words apply from the following list:
• It’s dark in here.
• I can’t move.
• Where is my family?
• I can’t see anyone.
• I am so scared.
• I want my mommy. WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING INSIDE YOU?
Whenever you lose someone you love, it’s called “loss.” It means that there is a hole in your heart where that person used to be. If you lose someone you love when you are a baby, like Moses, it is very hard for you to put into words how you feel. You may feel all mixed up inside, very sad and depressed, or that you don’t want to be with your family and friends. Even though you may have a loving family, you may feel sad and think about what it would have been like if you hadn’t been adopted. Those thoughts are normal! When adoptees become teenagers, they may try to tell others that they are hurting by doing hurtful things to themselves and others. For example, they may quit eating, eat too much, steal clothes from friends or stores, do drugs, have sex, get drunk, or try to commit suicide. WHY IT HELPS TO PUT FEELINGS INTO WORDS
Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water for a long time? It doesn’t work, does it? Eventually the ball pops out of the water and goes way up in the air. That’s the way it is with hurt feelings if we try to keep them deep down inside and put on a strong front. It works for a while but eventually, the feelings surface in ways we never expected. Please complete the following:
1.Has anyone ever told you that you were hurt deep inside when you were
separated from your birth mother?
2.When you think about being separated from your birth mother, what picture comes to
3. Write a letter TO and FROM your birth mother about how you feel about being separated from her.
Dear Dr. Keck,
I am posting this question because I’ve heard stories from many adoptive parents who have violent children. Also, they probably aren’t going to violate confidentiality and post their name here.
So, I am writing in their place….asking your wisdom.
What are the beginning signs of violence and at what age do they really start?
What are the classic signs that violent behavior is getting serious?
Can you give them some specific signs of when a teen needs hospitalization or residential care?
If any of you readers want to chime in, please do so.
Dr. Keck and colleague, Regina Kupecky, LSW, have written a wonderful book called Parenting The Hurt Child. I read it and I could have sworn I was a fly on the wall of a trauma expert’s office, overhearing incredible wisdom. It is a must read.
Changing an adopted child’s name is of great concern to parents of internationally and domestically adopted children. One mother wrote, “When a child is adopted at age five or six, or later, do you feel it’s appropriate to change the child’s name? Should we ask our child? Doesn’t changing the name give the message that the birth family is bad, or something that that must be hidden?
There is core adoptee issue in this mother’s questions about names. A Name Establishes a Sense of Connection
Adoptees have a deep need for a sense of connection. Adoption experts Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter say in their best-selling book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self that an adoptee’s need for connection can be compared to a starving man’s need for food.
Because the adoptee’s connection with the birth parents severs at birth, unless it is an open adoption, there is a deep need for a sense of connection to them. In fact, with international adoptions, knowing the original name may be impossible. However, there are other ways of establishing a sense of connection, such as visiting the country of origin or attending a heritage camp.
Another aspect of connection needs to happen with you! We need to know that even though “we aren’t bone of your bone or flesh of your flesh” that we grew in your hearts instead of under them. We need to hear our adoption stories, repeatedly. My dad delighted in saying, “You were so small, I could hold you in the palms of my hands,” until his dying day. In addition, I delighted in hearing it just as much as he did telling it. Bottom Line about Changing Names
Should an adoptee’s name be changed? Personally, I believe it should be preserved and honored at all costs. It IS the link to the “past” portion of our dual identity. For parents to wipe it out would be one more severing and loss for the adoptee. It is something we can be proud of—something that proves we aren’t “aliens,” as many adoptees secretly believe. If it is changed, it likely will cast an unfavorable light on the birth family, instead of honoring them. Birth parents deserve much honor, even though their history may be negative or missing, for they gave you the gift of a beautiful child.
Our grand daughter who joined our family through adoption was named “Gracie” by her birth family. Our adult children have honored her birth mother and the heritage she gave by preserving the designated name as her middle name and adding their own first name—“Megan.” By the way, Megan means “pearl.” She’s our pearl of a girl!
All children, adopted or not, have secret places within where they can fantasize about perfect parents. They travel to these places when disillusioned with their own parents. Freud called this the family romance theory. When the non-adopted child learns around age seven or eight that his parents have both negative and positive characteristics, their fantasies dissipate.
It’s not that simple for the adopted child. The adoptee really does have another set of parents out there somewhere. Fantasies can continue throughout adulthood, unless recognized and dealt with. The birth mother can either be envisioned as a queen or a bag lady. The birth father, a king or a beggar.
You may not be aware that your child fantasizes like this, and perhaps not all adopted children do, but listen to the words of adoption specialists Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter in Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self: “In our experience, all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search, nonetheless. It begins when the child first asks, ‘Why did it happen? Who are they? Where are they now?’”
I learned this concept quite surprisingly one day while caring for my two-year-old twin grandsons. Whenever I have the privilege of spending a day with them, they often bring up the names of all the people in their extended family. Their minds turn often to those people who love them. “Papau, Sheia? Koa? Mimi? Gompa?” they ask, as if to say “Where are they now? What are they doing?” My grandsons have no trouble blending the two sides of their extended family. To them, there are no walls of preference, only people who love them and whom they love.
So it is with the adopted child. Somewhere, deep within her heart are the questions “Where is my birth mother right now? Where is my birth father? I wonder what they are doing.”
It is vital to keep in mind that there is no “we and they” mentality in the adopted child’s world. Birth parents have always been and will always be a part of her world, whether acknowledged or not. It is we, the adults, who sometimes erect walls of competitveness and possessiveness in relating to our child.
I realize this is difficult information for some parents of closed and semi-closed adoptions. You may find it threatening to open conversations about the birth family. However, it is essential if you are to be in tune with your child’s secret world. For specific help on adoptee fantasy, purchase a copy of Dr. Ronald J. Nydam’s book Adoptees Come of Age (Westminster John Knox Press).