Imagine yourself boarding a jet to a foreign country. Anticipation is high as you place your bags in the upper compartment, listening to chatting.
Upon arrival, the heat is stifling and the people pushy. You meander the streets in search of an appealing restaurant and when the waitress brings the menu and water, you can’t read it–it’s a foreign language and she can’t speak English.
All of a sudden, a situation you thought was going to be wonderful has produced feelings of isolation and loneliness. No matter how hard you try, you are not able to make a “connection” with anyone or anything in this foreign country.
This illustration can be compared to how adoptees and foster kids feel when they lose their first (2nd, 3rd, 4th) family. I’m aware it’s difficult for adoptive parents when I say that this is how adoptees feel when they arrive at your home. We don’t know you, even though you are loving strangers. You don’t smell, feel, sound, or look like our first moms. Even though this is tough to read, it is an essential step for connecting with your adopted child, no matter his/her age.
Many who adopt newborns believe that “babies don’t remember.” Oh, yes we do. Our first mom’s womb was our first home. We felt the warmth of her body, the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, and we even knew if we were wanted or not. It is in the womb that the emotional landscape for the baby is put in place as a reflection of the mom’s emotions. (Check out THE SECRET LIFE OF THE UNBORN CHILD, by Dr. Thomas Verny).
So, the dilemma is: How can you enter this other world of the adopted child, teen, or adult. Here are a few pointers for entrance to the infant, child, teen, and adult adoptee hearts:
- Acknowledge the reality of adoption loss from day one.Newborn: On the way home from the hospital, “I know you must feel very sad and I am sad with you for not having your first mom. I want you to always know that I will never leave you or forsake you.”Older child: I tell you, friends, I have been with some social workers who have their “client kids” with them at an event. These workers gloss over the child’s loss callously. At one event, I talked with the teen who had just been transferred to yet another placement.
“This must be so painful for you.”
- Honor the first parents, no matter how painful the backstory.
Just having found the paternal side of my first family, I know first-hand what it means to come from a painful history. My first father was a very broken man, now deceased, but leaving six children from six marriages in the wake.
I am fairly convinced that my adoptive parents knew the back story, but it was never shared. I’m convinced, also, that the hospital where I was born knew the back story, for after multiple attempts to get my newborn hospital records, even after a court order to release, I was denied access.
Now, even if my parents knew the truth, would it be appropriate for them to share it with little Sherrie, the Sherrie who sat on the green couch with French knots with them and heard what was age appropriate.
My answer is, “no!” Ask an adoption-certified therapist about the correct age.
However, at the age-appropriate time, tell your child the truth, for it is truth that sets us free. Free from unexplainable anxiety, free from a painful past, free from non-existent self worth.
So, if I were my adoptive parents (and remember that I grew up in the closed adoption system…so give them grace as I do), I would have said something like this:
“Your first mom and dad must be fine people because they birthed you. But, they are very broken people who have made a lot of choices that weren’t healthy. ” Emphasize that “you” and your life weren’t one of those unhealthy choices.
Now, something important here. Please don’t explain adoption to a child, teen, or adult adoptee by saying, “Your first mom loved you sooooo much that she gave you to us.”
The adoptee response would likely be, “Well, if that’s what love is, I don’t want anything to do with it and you’re love.”
So, parents, you have every right to enter your child’s world, but it must be entered with finesse. I know you’ll do great.