When You Need Me…an open letter to adoptive parents
This post is by guest blogger–Connie Dawson, Ph.D., LPC. Connie is an adopted person and is my hero in the field of adoption. She is the author of HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Raising Likable, Responsible Children–from Toddlers to Teens–In an Age of Overindulgence, and SHAME–Rewriting the Rules. This post is from an article in Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network News, published from 1994-2000.
In the natural order of things, parents are supposed to take good enough care of their own needs so they can be fully available to pay good attention to what a child needs.
When you expect me to meet your needs because you are not willing to meet your own, I may decide to “handle” the painful reality that my needs are not as important as yours, I had best deny mine and pay attention to yours. Deny what I need in order to deserve to be cared for by you.
After all, when I come to you, I am already very afraid. To be taken from one’s mother, from familiar sounds, smells, and rhythms, is terrorizing. This is the most abject fear..,.and I am totally helpless to do anything about it. What will happen to me? Surely, I am going to die. This cannot be right.
Imagine if a stranger were to come to your house when you were two years old. The stranger picks you up and carries you away. No protest you can make will make them take you back. What are your feelings?
And, what can I decide about myself and about you, my new parents, whoever you are? In my determination to survive, I make a primitive decision.
When you need me
to make you whole
to give meaning to your life
to heal your pain…
I feel overwhelmed.
If I have a temperament which favors tranquility and security, I may decide to work as hard as I can to meet your needs. In doing so, I will withhold enough of myself from you to feel safe because I don’t trust you. I will look good but not believe I am good. I am your servant. I do not believe I deserve to succeed or be competent for myself. I don’t believe in my own ability to be competent because the competence that you reward is my competence to meet your needs. At that I can never succeed. Not truly succeed. I can’t do for you what you are not willing to do for yourself.
If my temperament rests on asserting my right to challenge my caregivers for seeing me and my world through their need, I might be so openly resent my actions in every way possible would say, “Go and get your own life. This one is mine.” I will unconsciously try my best to make sure you fail as a parent. Perhaps, in the hope that the world will notice that you are expecting too much of me.
I might also, at some time, feel so bereft of any hope that you will ever acknowledge me for who I am and not just for what I can do for you, I may “go passive” and withdraw from active involvement in my life, and in yours.
What is the best thing you can do for me? It’s challenging. Take care of your own unfinished business. Do your grieving. Get help to heal your wounds so they don’t become mine.
Learn what you need and get those needs met in ways that don’t hurt anyone.
Identify the helpful and unhelpful parenting YOU received and get help to change the unhelpful stuff so you don’t pass it on.
Be truthful with yourself and with others. Don’t lie about my birth family so you don’t have to face . up to your responsibilities. Don’t be sneaky and manipulative. Find your character and your integrity and use both to make decisions and take actions you will be proud of.
Perhaps most important of all, be a safe container for me. I have a primitive belief that if my birthmother sent me away, I must have been too much for her to handle. If you are frail or depressed or tentative, if I can push you around or if I think you don’t have a good sense of yourself, I won’t be able to trust you. I will still think I am too much to handle and I’ll have to shut myself down to match you or strike out recklessly in all directions.
And, when I am an adult, one of the ways you can deepen our relationship is to support my need to search out my genetic heritage. To do so is to send a powerful message to me that my needs are important and that you love me.
When you do these things, I am more inclined to trust and love you. If you need me too much, I will hold back, to my regret and yours.