Today, we’re going to talk about the dance of adoption. Yes, there is such a dance. And we’re going to talk about it for the next few minutes. And hopefully, you will come away with new ideas of how to dance effectively, with your adopted child. Well, think about the floor like this, it’s made up of all the dynamics of your adoption. Maybe, it was a closed adoption. Maybe, it was an open adoption, kinship adoption, international adoption. Those are all possibilities for what the floor is made out of. And I remember as a little girl, one of my friends, just up the street for me, had a beautiful dance floor, on the top of this mansion house that she had, and their parents had. And we used to go up there and just dance around. And I know as a child, I was probably imagining some wonderful prince that would come and save me some day and dance with me. And we would have a great time on the dance floor.
The Desire of Adoptive Parents to Love:
Well, those are the dynamics that we’re going to talk about today. And I know what you’re thinking, as you’re thinking about the dance with your child. You’re thinking, “I know what my first step will be, it will be love. I love this kid. I want to show him, or her love that maybe he never had before.” And so, the first step, is love. And then, the first day, is going to be epic. It’s going to be an epic homecoming day and you’re going to be just so happy when that child comes under your care as a parent. Well, think about the dancing. It’s really fun to dance with somebody who has a really good rhythm, right? I remember I had a boyfriend in high school. His name was Jack and we used to dance and dance and dance.
Adoptee May Have Different Dance Step:
He had great rhythm. We did the jitter bug, that shows my age, but that’s what was in store then. And we did the jitter bug and he tossed me to one side, then the other side. And so, it was so fun, because we both moved in the same way. But, think now about what it’s like, if you dance, or try to dance with somebody who has different rhythm and it feels so awkward and it feels stumbly. And it’s really frustrating to try to dance with somebody who doesn’t have a sense of rhythm. So, what I’d like to talk about today, is that some adoptees have a different rhythm, than you, adoptive parents and foster parents. For me, I didn’t have the same rhythm as my adoptive mom, Retha. I can’t imagine how frustrating it was for her to try to dance with me, because when I entered the dance floor of adoption, I entered and I might have even gone up to her as a little baby, however that would happen.
The Shadow of the First Parents on the Dance Floor
And as a child, I would step on her toes really, really hard. I mean, I loved to step on her toes. It gave me a lot of pleasure. I know that’s really, really sad, but when you understand the reason why that was occurring, then you won’t blame me, or shame me. But, that is a dynamic that happens to a lot of adoptive parents, foster parents and their kids. Remember as well, on the dance floor of adoption, that the birth mother is there. Either her presence, or her shadow is there. If your child was adopted internationally, it’s probably a shadow. But, in this day of open adoptions and birth parents being so much on the scene, which I think is wonderful. I have many, many dear birth mother friends that, I think is cool to think about them being on the dance floor also. Because, if you think about it really, it’s the first mom that sets the rhythm for the whole dance.
The Key Word for Sharing Adoption Story
If your child is a baby, it’s set in the womb. If your child is school age, it’s set with the interaction that the two of them have. The way they talk together, the way they work together, different things, the way they play together. And same with a team, the mother, the first mother is key, and she must be respected and honored in every way possible. Your child is going to say, “Well, why didn’t my mom want to be my mom? Why didn’t she want to be my first mom forever?” Those questions will come up with your child. And the key word here, is the word, any. And I want to share a principle with you, that will help you avoid shame, when you share your child’s birth and adoption story with him.
“Your mom and your dad were not able to parent any child. So, it’s not you, it wasn’t your fault.” But, no matter how positive the interchange right here, with the child, the child might look at it as rejection. It can be just really, really nice, or really casual, or whatever, but most adoptees that I know, interpret it as rejection. And so, we’re thinking all the time, “Was I too small? Was I too big? Did I have a wart on my nose? Did I cry too much? Was my life a mistake?” And so, see that’s the place that it leads to, shame is. And an adoptee will not tell you about that thought of shame, but it is there. I’ve spoken to many adoptees.
Betrayal and Confession
And for the majority that thought, that shameful thought, is there. So, you can avoid the shame by using the word, any. “Your first mom and dad were not able to parent any child, at the time that you are adopted.” So, also there is the aspect of betrayal that the child is carrying. Now, you’re going to understand why adoptees want to step on toes sometimes. We feel rejected and betrayed by the parents who let go of us, let go of their parenting rights with us. It’s like a newly-wed couple going to bed on their wedding night. And when the bride wakes up in the morning, there’s another person beside her, not her husband. And so, we feel betrayed. Yes, we do, birth parents. And it’s important that you understand that. And it seems like unfaithfulness to us. And it seems like a Judas kiss.
Adoptees Might Feel Shame about Beginnings
And so, probably I think, in all the years that I’ve worked in the adoption field, I think the best thing that birth parents can say is, “I’m so sorry, I hurt you.” That’s all you have to say. And that will open the adoptee heart. And he will be able to receive your love in a greater measure, than if you just try to go ahead without acknowledging the wound that this caused. Okay, so not every child will act like me. I called myself a rascal and some people have corrected me saying, “You weren’t a rascal.” Well, in some ways I was. I was a rascal to Retha, not especially to Mike, but especially to Retha. Your child may seem fine on the outside. Just totally compliant to all you want to do to the dance. She may have the same rhythm as you.
Some Adoptees Adapt Well…But Remember
She may be excelling in school, winning awards, all things. And that’s wonderful, I’m happy for you. But, don’t forget parents, that there’s a Titanic ship of loss buried in her heart. And no person can live with that amount of pain, very deep inside. So, sometime that is going to surface. And so, there may be times when your child pushes you away, doesn’t want anything to do with you, maybe when it’s time for a birth parent, or first parent reunions. So, it’s very important that you, parents be proactive about this and realize that, even though there’s not any acting out, no stepping on toes, there is tremendous pain. I sometimes, liken it to Phantom pain. We have had a part of us removed, amputated when we were adopted. And the part that was amputated is our birth parents.
Some Adopted Kids Aren’t Aware of Pushing Back
And so, just like an amputee always feels what is lost. We constantly are aware that the birth parents are on the dance floor as well. So, let’s honor them in new ways, knowing how important it is, not only to them, but also to the child. So, what can parents do? What can you do, if your child is jumping on your toes, just delighting in it, has no remorse. Let me say, first of all, that I was not aware as a child that I was stepping on Retha’s toes. I had no awareness and that’s what trauma does to our brains. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just living out the pain. We’re creating it, in a new way in our adoptive home. So, there’s so many dynamics, aren’t there, to remember? It’s so complex, but I know you can do appearance. And so I’m going to give you a few suggestions about dancing with your child.
Parents Must Leave Behind Expectation
First of all, leave your expectations at the door. Don’t go in thinking, “Oh, this is going to be an epic day. It’s going to be wonderful. I’m going to love my child.” That may not happen. Leave those expectations at the door. I remember speaking at an event a few years ago, and a social worker had brought into the event, an adoptee who had just been brought into DCS, I guess. I’m not sure what it was. But, anyway, she was just ignoring everything the adoptee was going through. And so, I can speak to adoptees like that. I know what it’s like. And so, I can talk with them, but that social worker, even if she was a parent who was not leaving expectations at the door, that the child would be all right. When you lose your first family, you’re not all right.
Adoptee May Have Different Dance Step
You’re hurting really, really bad. So, leave expectations at the door. Second, accept the possibility that your child is going to dance differently than you. There’s just no way that the wiring is the same. It’s really fascinating, to do research about how children are influenced by their parents and how they develop that dance. And so, do some research on that. It’s really, really cool to learn some of that stuff. Another one, is to remember that parenting an adopted child, is more challenging than parenting a bio child. It really is. Because, that child has come out of darkness. Some have come out of horrific darkness and you don’t want them to return to that, right? And so, you’re working over time. I know how tired you are, parents, and I want you to hang in there, because you’re not alone. And there are many parents that are struggling with this reality of a different dance depth, and being pushed back by their children.
Consider Sensory Issues
Another thing I’d like you to consider with this, is sensory issues. Sensory issues can really be playing big time for a child, who’s been relinquished. I have really, really bad sensory issues. For instance, I can’t stand it when my husband wants to vacuum the floor with the vacuum cleaner. I mean, it’s so loud. It feels like sirens in my ears. I can’t stand it, when somebody comes into my office here, without saying that they’re coming in, I just jump about three feet. Another thing, is both are, with my ears, but many, many sensory issues. So, do a Google search on this and read some articles from parents who have discovered sensory issues for their children. There are many different ways, and they even have therapists now, that are specializing in sensory issues. So, check that out, and look at that as a possibility, that may be a big part of why your child is pushing you back.
How Trauma Blocks Adoptee Self-Awareness
It may feel like your presence is like sandpaper. When I think about how I felt in Retha’s presence, it was like there were big, long fingernails scraping over a Blackboard. I just didn’t feel right when I was with her. So, that is something to consider. And let me just assure you that today, I wouldn’t step on Retha’s toes. Of course, she’s gone now. She’s been gone for years. I lost her. Let’s see, I’m 76 and she died when I was 36. For a long time, I have not had Retha. But, I know if she were alive, she was the person that would’ve worked on this together with me. We would’ve read books together. We would’ve had gut-busting laughs. We would’ve been great pals.
Adoptive Parents Can Still Dance
And so, I want you to remember, that healing for your adopted child is possible as well. And we’re going to talk about how that can happen on this podcast, a little bit later on. And so, it’s not wrong when your child has a different rhythm, or you have a different rhythm than your child. It’s what it is. And so, parents get out there on the dance floor, just start dancing your own dance and invite your child to come and dance with you. And he won’t have to conform to what you’re doing, but have some fun together. That would be really cool. So, I hope you’ve learned some things from me and my dance of adoption. And certainly, Retha would say, that parenting me was the most challenging thing in her life. And dancing with me was also challenging. So, hopefully your healing for your child will come sooner than it did for me. And I think that’s part of the reason I’m still here, is so that I can share those aspects of my healing with fellow adoptees and moms and dads.