An Adoptee’s Translation of “You Are Special”

The graphic shows what adoptive and foster parents long to communicate to their children. The problem is that the word "special" doesn't translate to the adoptee's heart. Sherrie shows parents how to make the connection.

“You’re special!”

I know you,  parents. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe the depth of love you feel for your kids. Over the top. You can’t say enough.

And,  we adoptees love it too, except in certain situations.

You have no way of knowing that this might be an irritant to your child, so pretend you are a fly on the wall of  an imaginary room, filled with adoptees of all ages and stages.

Suddenly, someone asks, “How do you feel about being called ‘special’?”

How Various Adoptees Translate “Special”

One young adoptee stands to her feet and screams, “I love it!” and smiles from ear to ear.

Another says, “I remember raising my hand in elementary school and telling everyone that I was adopted. Later on the playground the kids made fun of me by saying stuff like, ‘Your mom didn’t want you so she threw you away.’  I ran into the school crying and was found by teacher who told me that being adopted made me special because my parents chose me. That was little comfort– it was more like a burden because I didn’t feel special.”

Then, other adoptees chimed in and translated what the phrase means to them:

  • Others have high expectations of me.
  • We must prove our worth by excelling.
  • We’re not like everyone else in the family…we are different.
  • Perform!
  • Be perfect.
  • Conform conform conform!
  • It’s not okay to just be myself

Whenever I teach this point during a training, many parents get upset. “Why can’t we tell our children they’re special?”

Please hear me, friends.

You can….just don’t tie it to our adoption.

That’s the only caution.

When It’s Okay to Say Special

So, you might say or do:

  • I love you to pieces….you are so special to me.
  • You are such a special girl, dude.
  • Bear hugs before bed.
  • Fun words before bed.
  • Silly stories: With our grandchildren, we had a time before bed that was for “silly stories.” We all got under the covers of our big bed and one person started telling a story…then the next had to add on to it. Or, try sentences that rhyme. It is so fun and the affection demonstrates they are special.

Here are five ways to show your kids they are special (ideas from Traci Little writing for Tommy Nelson blog: www.tommynelson.com/5-ways-to-show-your-kids-they-are-special/

  1. Create a “Mama and Me” Journal
  2. Date your kids.
  3. Make time to read to them.
  4. Love them where they’re at.
  5. Create a special love sign or handshake for each child.

That’s it, parents.

Just a little insight for you from the heart of one adoptee. Of course, I don’t speak for all.

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You might also want to check out:

Six Small Ways to Make Each of Your Kids Feel Special

www.parents.com/parenting/betterparenting/advice/small-ways-to-make-each-of-your-children-feel-special/

 

 

 

 

How To Explain Adoption to Your Adopted Child

There is an art to telling adopted children their story.

It is a certain way that snuffs out toxic shame and helps us adoptees go on after a trauma or multiple traumas.

It truly is an art.

Without the right artful approach, your child may silently reaffirm the lie that “my life is a mistake.”

Some parents are scared to death to tell their kids about their adoption. Where do I start? I know my child is already hurting and I don’t want to blow it by what I say and hurt them further. I love this kiddo more than life itself and I want to get this right. But, how can I talk about something that is so complex to my child? What are the right words? Will she understand?

But, don’t be afraid, parents. There is an artful way.

The lie–“your life is a mistake”–came into clear view for me after my birth mother rejected me after our tumultuous reunion. By God’s grace, I have worked through this issue and would like to share it with you. Perhaps, it will help someone parenting an adopted or foster child. I hope so.

What we’re talking about here is really foundational to your child’s healthy identity. Important stuff here.

What Not to Say

Here are some common ways of sharing adoption with your child:

  • Your birth mother loved you so much that she gave you to us. (If that’s what love is, I don’t want anything to do with it.)
  • We couldn’t have kids of our own so we adapted you. (Ouch!)
  • We had only daughters and wanted a son, so we adopted you. (Gee thanks.)
  • Your mother was not able to take care of you. (What was wrong with me?)
  • Adoption is so wonderful. Remember…you are a chosen child, special as can be. (So, it isn’t okay to just be myself?)

How does all that register with an adopted child?

It’s crazy making.

Suggestions for An Artful Approach

I had to go back to the beginning. The very beginning. To God.

I realize now that my life began in eternity past, in the heart of God my Heavenly Father. He was the first to think of me and love me. Then, I was born on planet earth. And there were some bumps along the way. But those bumps never changed God’s love for me. My life will never end. My last breath on earth will be my first in Heaven.

Here are some points from my perspective on an artful approach with your children:

  1. Tell her she is God’s idea.
  2. Show her where her life began (Father’s heart).

  3. Explain bumps in the road after she entered planet earth. (Bumps are the really, really hard things…like adoption, like losing your birth family, like not knowing us when we. were placed in our home, like feeling something inside isn’t right.)

  4. Help her make a timeline of her life. Feel free to use the timeline I’ve created. You may make copies of it.

I wish you all the best, parents.

You can do it!

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Should Adoptees Individuate from Birth Moms, Too?

No long ago, my husband bought me a new-fangled device that holds IPhones on the car window.

One time, while stopping at a light, I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of my iPhone.

Yikes!

It wasn’t me…it was my birth mother, Elizabeth Lucini.

Exact replica.

When she and I were reunited by phone more than 20 years ago, the first  photo she sent showed her with shoulder-length blonde hair, mirrored aviator sun glasses, and a deep tan.

I didn’t like her when I saw the photo, as she looked “rough,” like she wasn’t soft and loving. Could I trust her to be a part of my life?

My mom through adoption, Retha, was soft and loving. She taught me to love pets and to never give up. She sat up into the wee hours of the night waiting for her promiscuous daughter to return home. She explained to the local bank why I’d overdrawn my college bank account…again and again. She explained to neighbors why I sneaked into their  houses while they were gone and stole their clothes. She bought me every color of pleated skirt and angora sweater possible and placed them under the Christmas tree.

She believed in me and I broke her heart when I came home and announced what every parent dreads: “I’m pregnant.”

Even then, she held me as my knees buckled to the ground, and my dad fled to the bedroom.

My birth mother was downright mean to me at reunion, announcing that she wished she could have had an abortion. Even though she gave me a gold and diamond pin from Tiffany’s, the warmth was not there. No love. She wasn’t capable of love or parenting.

Getting back to the topic of hair, my birth mother hadn’t started out as a blonde, but with dark, dark black hair that is characteristic of Jewish people from northern Ireland. I believe it’s called Irish black.

For some reason, later in life, she decided to go blonde. Perhaps because she ran with the rich and famous? The people who wore diamonds on their fingers that were the size of boulders? Perhaps because she was a published interior designer, whose rich clients flew her privately to Reno to do her magic on their houses or casinos?

Years have passed since I said goodbye to her.

In spite of the rejection, I loved her beauty. I loved her blonde hair, hazel green eyes, and incredible skin. I remember her eyes misting over when I told her at the airport how much I loved her and how glad I was that she was my birth mom.

Fast forward to today.

I have gone blonde, like my  birth mother.

Sometimes people don’t recognize me, but I love it.

Why?

Because it reminds me of where I came from, of the woman who gave me the gift of birth, and the fantasy mother I dreamed about as a child.

Could my decision to go blonde be called individuation, perhaps?

My understanding individuation is when a child leaves the nest, like a teenaged eagle, and learns to become her own person.

I flew from my mom and dad’s nest when I married the love of my life–Bob Eldridge.

But, where does individuation come in with the birth family?

Isn’t that piece of our identity that’s overlooked?

Actually, I flew the nest from my birth mother when I told her we should have no more contact. Her abuse was more than I could handle.

But now that I’m a way down the road, I am individuating in a new way. I’m taking what I loved about Retha and Mike and Elizabeth…and choosing which part of them and their role modeling I want to embrace.

I can throw away the chaff from the wheat from both families and pick up the kernels of wheat that I want to claim as their “legacy.”

And, blonde hair is one of them!