Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adoption Talk, Going Beyond "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Counselor Robyn Gobbel encourages parents to rethink the "don't ask, don't tell" theory of talking about adoption:
Countless times I’ve sat with the parents of older adopted kids and had them tell me that their child isn’t impacted by the core issues in adoption (loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy & relationships, control/gains- as described by Silverstein and Roszia in 1982). The reason the parents are so certain of this is because their child has never talked about. Adoption isn’t a secret in their house, but their child has never mentioned grieving for their birthfamily or feeling rejected. Their child never talks or asks about their birthfamily. Because their child is silent about adoption issues, parents assume that adoption issues don’t exist.

Can you think of a time in your life when something was really weighing heavy on your mind but you didn’t talk about it to anyone, even your closest confidante? Or a time when you just couldn’t get something out of your mind but you were afraid that it you talked about it, you were certain you’d hurt the very person you love most in your life? Or maybe you’re just a more introverted individual and you aren’t really one to divulge your innermost feelings. There are probably thousands of reasons why people (and children!) keep quiet even when something is really pounding away at their heart.
She promises a future post on HOW to encourage adoption talk.


Anonymous said...

This is very timely for our family. Our son never wants to talk about how he was relinquished, what his life was like before our adoption, or how scary and hard adoption was (has been). He just says that he is happy everything turned out well. My partner accuses me of banging our poor child over the head with information and questions and expressions of emotion regarding our adoption. I hope it is a way to get our son to think about any complex or contradictory feelings he has and to learn to express them in a caring environment.

Interesting that last Friday, a very scary incident happened in our son's classroom at school. The teacher never reported the incident to us (grrrr!), and our son said nothing. However, he spent the entire weekend making sure windows and doors were shut and locked, and came into our bed every night at 2:00 a.m. When I found out about the incident on Monday, I asked him about it. Before I could finish my question, he covered his ears and yelled, "Too scary! I don't want to talk about it!" Again, I have forced the issue, empathizing with him about how scary the incident must have been, how scary that the adult in charge didn't tell the parents about the incident.

All of the other kids in the class immediately reported the incident to their parents, but not our child. Knowing our children, I believe that adoption must be very lonely for some adopted people: you must feel like you can't be honest or share unpleasant/complicated feelings and perspective; sometimes, perhaps often, it doesn't even occur to you to share your fears with your adoptive parents and that they will protect you (why would you? we were part of the scariest events that could possibly happen in your lives?).

I try to model communication of my own complex and hard feelings with the hopes that my children will learn how to do the same. This seems so important to having healthy, intimate relationships as you move through life.

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Mirah Riben said...

Excellent point.

One of my favorites stories, told about this issue by a very clever adoptive mom, is this:

She passed her son's room and saw him staring in the mirror. Instead of just assuming he was ruminating over a zit, she casually said: "I bet you're wondering who you look like. I do!"

In this casual manner, she opened a door. She let him know that talking about "those" issues and feelings was not taboo and that it wouldn't hurt her.

Too many times I hear adoptees say they just "knew" it would hurt (or even "kill") their adoptive parents to talk about their birth families. Is this because of their own fears or the body language of their aps when they broached the subject? I do not know. I only know that many express strong feelings of concern of hurting their aps with talk of their origins. So much so that many adult adoptees conduct their searches - or being found - and reunion in totally secrecy or wait until their adoptive parents are deceased. Some go to great lengths to maintain a double life in secrecy to the added stress of all parties, including the adoptees' spouse, partner or children.

Open the door to these conversations! Give your child PERMISSION to speak freely about it and show him that it will not kill or hurt you fatally! Those who cannot do this really need to get into therapy and work on their fears - which are 99% unfounded fears of alienation of affection and feelings less attached because blood is thicker than water.

There is no more basis to fear losing your child to his or her birth family than there is to "losing" an adult child to a spouse or partner!

Assuming that silence equals no interest is fulfilling your wishes and playing to your own fears.

Remember the old saying "Any man can be a father but it takes a 'real' man to be a Dad!"??

Well, unless you've been abusive you are your child's Mom & Dad and no mother or father by blood changes that. Love multiplies. We all love multiple grandparents, children, siblings. It's never an either/or and shouldn't be for adopted persons who have two families.

If you love your adopted child then that love extends to his progenitors. If kept a DADT secret, the adoptee senses that and feels there is something wrong with HIM!