Saturday, March 21, 2009

Adoptee on talking adoption to her APs

From Joy at Joy's Division, Talking About Adoption to my Adoptive Parents:

I try to keep my family worlds compartmentalized. It isn’t so easy because I am in relationships with both my mothers, they are both geographically close to me, in addition to emotionally.

I don’t like feeling split; duplicitous.

I remember once someone asking why adoptees don’t like to talk about adoption to their adoptive parents, I said I would rather eat glass and Addie chimed in with “pass the glass”

* * *

I know they want to be supportive of me, but to hear that adoption hurt me, I think makes them feel very uncomfortable. If they go that far with it, and I think at least my amom does.

I know they have conflicting feelings about some aspects of my “situation”, I know they feel protective of me, and themselves.

I also don’t feel they will be honest with me. That they will say what they think they should say in order to “protect” me.

Unfortunately, that they aren’t frank with me makes it harder for me to trust them.

* * *

I think adoption failed them, it wasn’t what they were led to believe it was. For them to be open about this with me, they would be afraid of hurting me.

I am supposed to be just as good as a bio kid, but I am not. I am me, I do not reflect them. I am not a descendent, carrying their genetic basket into the future, I am not an expression of their love for each other.

I don’t have their mannerisms, their habits, their way of looking at the world. My a-aunts granddaughter has my amom’s features, my child, their grandchild has mine, has my nfamilies.

* * *

The guilt I feel for not being the bill of goods they were sold is slaying . I don’t feel I can risk it.

I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing, I also know that I won’t know what unhappy surprise is waiting for me 9 months down the line. Of course I am exquisitely sensitive to it.

This is weighing on my mind tonight. Adoptees have a job, we are meant to fill a role, it is exhausting.

I've heard this from many adult adoptees -- I've commented before that the saddest line for me in Adopted: the Movie, is when Jen says, "To this point the most dangerous thing I've ever done in my life is bringing up the topic of my adoption with my family."

How do we, as adoptive parents, make it easier for our children to talk to us about their adoption? Is it possible?


Dee said...

Wow, these are really sad comments. My kids were with their birth moms for 6-8 years and suffered a lot, and we talk about it in therapy. Even though it's hard for them to talk about their birthmoms, it's probably easier than for kids adopted as babies. We have to be open about it in my family. I know several parents who have adopted babies and who just don't see any point in talking about adoption, and they don't realize how destructive that is to their children. There will always be some sadness there. Silence only makes it more painful.

Mei-Ling said...

"I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing."

That's why I have never talked about my feelings regarding my sister's birth "substituting" for my role.

Louanne said...

"I am supposed to be just as good as a bio kid, but I am not. I am me, I do not reflect them. I am not a descendent, carrying their genetic basket into the future, I am not an expression of their love for each other."

This one really hurts my heart. I have no idea if I can have children. We went straight to adoption and never felt a need to be pushing our DNA out there. So this just makes me sad.

Why do people think that your kids "need" to look like or reflect you? I have never understood this.

Mei-Ling said...

"Why do people think that your kids "need" to look like or reflect you? I have never understood this."

I won't claim to speak for Joy-joy, but it has to do with society's unspoken expectation that a woman will parent the child she has birthed.

Melissa said...

In our household, we do talk plainly about expectations. It probably helps that J is so obviously different from us, not just in appearance but in her artistic talent and such. Anyway, we've told her that our only real expectations of her are that she be true to herself, do her best in school, and try to have some manners now and then. And she is most definitely making her own path through life, choosing pursuits that are her own.

Adoption is such an everyday part of our language, the good and the sad/bad/mad in equal parts. And J doesn't hold back from expressing honest feelings that onlookers would probably think should hurt our feelings. Gotta have thick skin to do this stuff!

And frankly, our genes suck. Don't even ask about the "that town was too small a few generations ago" quandary that produced a gene puddle instead of a gene pool in my family tree!

malinda said...

Is openness in talking about adoption enough? Joy says (and Mei-Ling agrees):"I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing."

So what's the problem with "saying the right thing?" Is it lack of sincerity? They'll say the right thing, but I know they don't mean it?

Or is it ineffectiveness? Even when they say the right thing, it doesn't help me? What they say is something I know in my head, but it doesn't reach my heart?

Anonymous said...

Last night my 6 yr old was talking about the fact that she wasn't the smartest kid in the class. There is another girl who is always just a step ahead of her. This girl is actually a year older than my daughter, she was apparently kept back last year to redo first grade. But my daughter is so competitive, she is very upset that she is not #1.

What really surprised me was that when she was complaining about this last night, she threw in "Hannah is better than me because she SLEEPS IN HER OWN BED!!!! She isn't afraid to sleep alone!"

I tried to point out that Hannah had a different start, but my daughter absolutely would not hear it. That really surprised me. We talk all the time about her being adopted, but I just realized last night that she does not want to admit that she hasn't been here from birth.

Elizabeth J.

Melissa said...

Malinda, I don't know if openness is enough, but it seems like it's the right start. I don't mean talking about it the way some people do, where adoption is a wonderful, God-given, 100% great thing, etc., but talking about the reality of it all. And doing so over years and years while building trust in other ways. Last night J pulled "At Home In This World" off the shelf. The book had been there awhile, waiting patiently till the time was right, when the story of a nine year old would strike the right chord with my eight year old. And Jean had signed it with a note to J. So my girl reads this, understands that it was acquired long ago as a gift from me to her, and that, given the wistfulness and admission of loss in the story, I *get it*. And we're able to talk about adoption. So far, this sort of thing has given me some credibility with J. Well, at least where adoption is concerned!

Joy seems to speak from a place of mistrust, where saying the right thing isn't the same as saying the honest thing. What's up with that?!

Maybe the bio vs adopted also depends on the community. Ours features families built in myriad ways of multiple racial combinations, so there is less expectation of kids looking like their parents.

Just thinking aloud...

malinda said...

Melissa, Zoe loved "At Home in this World," though she had a hard time with the concept of siblings remaining with her birth parents. I'm eager to know about J's reaction to it -- please share!

I absolutely agree that open and honest talk is necessary -- hence, this blog! -- but is it sufficient? There's the rub . . .

Mei-Ling said...

Melissa, I have something that might help you to understand what Joy is getting at.

You said: "Joy seems to speak from a place of mistrust, where saying the right thing isn't the same as saying the honest thing. What's up with that?!"

It's what I was referring on this post: "Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Likewise, just because someone doesn’t say something doesn’t mean it’s not true."

I'm going to write out a follow-post on this rather than spamming up Malinda's blog with a novel comment.

Melissa said...

Malinda, J liked "At Home...", but her favorite remains "The Three Names of Me"--it's so poetic, and the art is appealing to her. She even made a watercolor inspired by the book that she asked to frame and hang in her room.

Mei-Ling, we walk a fine line in our adoptiontalk, but even at this early stage the honesty is brutal. Last night after J read "Kids Like Me In China" for the 50th time (!), she said, "I know about the whole wanting boys thing, but isn't giving up a girl for that reason ... I mean, it's almost like killing the baby to abandon her because you never see her again. She's just gone." This from an eight year old. I don't think she's protecting me from any of her feelings about the losses of adoption.

My kid grieves, gets mad, resents me hugely at times (mostly when I say "no"), studies Chinese because she fully intends to move back there someday to live and knows from our recent trip back that she must master the language and have cultural competence to fit in. I don't know that she will actually do that; I think it's more that she wants that option. And all of that is OK with me because I love her and want her to be as happy as she can be with the hand she was dealt. And it's enough for me that I'm the one who gets to hold her and laugh with her and celebrate her successes and dry her tears along the journey.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I mentioned this post to both my kids and asked them if they thought it was okay to talk about adoption with me. Interestingly, the older one (10) said yes, even though she is not one to talk about it much and the younger one (6) initially said no, even though she talks about it more. (Perhaps she didn't understand the question.) So, I wonder if it is as simple as not only talking about it, but talking about the fact that it is okay to talk about it. We also discussed all the possible emotions that people could feel about being adopted (happy, sad, angry, confused, scared, etc.). I think that makes it pretty clear that it is okay to talk about it and that all types of feelings are acceptable (without necessarily telling them what they should feel).

That said, both of my kids are perfectionists in some ways, which I've read is a common characteristic of adoptees, who may feel like they have to live up to a certain standard to please their adoptive parents. It seems to be a difficult thing to get around. The older daughter has gotten better about it with a lot of repetition of the idea that it is okay to make mistakes, you don't have to be perfect, etc. The younger one was crying tonight that she couldn't tell the difference between "there" and "their" (spelling words, I don't know why she is expected to know this in kindergarten... many college students still mix up the two, but I digress).

Sue (who can only post anonymously)

malinda said...


We've struggled with the perfectionism thing, too. I agree that for adoptees it can be about not living up to adoptive parents' standards. There is that fear of abandonment, and that goes to not being willing to talk about adoption with their adoptive parents, too.

All kids might have some fear of displeasing their parents, of being "not loved" or abandoned if they do. But for adopted kids, there's no "that can't/won't happen" mechanism because, of course, it HAS happened. Having been abandoned once by birth parents (whether the abandonment is real or only perceived), they're not willing to risk it again. . . .