This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear - A Response

Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear by 

Adoptees. We're allegedly 16% of America's estimated 500 serial killers whilst we represent only 2-3% of the population. We're also the heroes of pop culture from Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, to Superman and Luke Skywalker. In real life we're Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Marilyn Monroe...and Ted Bundy. We're overrepresented in mental health settings, often at two-and-a-half to six times the rate of non-adopted children. Why can we fly so high and fall so hard?
Most of the analysis disregards the truths about adoption, swept under the carpet along with our origins by a society who prefers to ignore them. So it's time for adoptees to step up and tell the world those truths. None of the 'a mom is a mom, it doesn't matter who gave birth' shit. Because it does matter. The truth matters. 
1.  There is not one 'real' mother.
Real is one of those words that denotes authenticity. Superiority. Only one according to King Solomon, can be the 'real mother'. And I know you want to be the only 'real' mother. You may be a great caregiver. I know you changed my nappies and stayed up countless nights with me, attended the parent-teacher evenings and all that good stuff. I know you 'mother' me - often to the best of your ability and always with the resources within you.
But the relegation of my first real mother to the function of incubator by using the terms 'birth or biological mother' objectifies her, and diminishes her role and her importance in my heritage. She is also my 'real' mother plain and simple... I bonded with her before I was born during my very formation, she is and forever will be a part of me and I of her. And you - adopter - you are my parent. Maybe you are my 'real mother' too. After all, it's just a label. Two women played a part in making me who I am. My mother doesn't parent me. You do. Does this mean that either one of you is less important than the other? No.
Without my mother I would not be alive. Without you I would not survive to see adulthood. I would not be able to survive without either of you. Don't think that I cannot appreciate life and our relationship. I can... if we both acknowledge the truth. You and I have a unique bond without you pretending it's something that it can never be and trying to force others to do the same. Otherwise all we are taught is that lying is the best way to handle life - as if living under an assumed name wasn't already enough to teach us that.

2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
In my childhood daydreams, I was the daughter of a nobleman and a beggar girl, the ugly duckling who turned out to be a swan or even a lost princess. Surely my fairy godmother would soon rescue me. When you are ignorant of your parentage such fantasies are beautiful to dwell upon. Even though my adoptive mother wasn't an evil queen, nor my father an abusive woodcutter, the fairy tales I read kept me dreaming. One day I would be reunited with my natural family and ascend my true power. Power that had been taken from me when I was adopted.
It is the sad truth that all adoptions start out of loss no matter how you try to frame it. I may be your gift. I may be your chosen one although the reality is that usually you were chosen to be my parents by a team of so-called experts....whilst for you, any child would do. And saying otherwise is a lie. But I am a child who's lost her mother without her conscious knowledge or consent. I have learnt by my formative experiences that my consent is not important. It has unsurprisingly left me far more open to abusive situations later on in life.
That I dream of my reunion with my natural parents has little to do with your ability to parent me, although it may be enhanced by it. If you tell me that happy children do not find their natural parents, you invalidate my very natural need to repair the bond that was once broken. You might use manipulation and indirect blackmail to stay my hand by putting me into the position of telling you that I do not appreciate your parenting and if so, I will learn by your example. I will also use manipulation and emotional blackmail. You might force me to commit sacrilege by contradicting the universally acknowledged ideal of motherhood. Because you know full well that I will hesitate from further rejection and keep me bound to you by fear. Fear leads to pain. Pain leads to destruction. Is that what you want?

3. I am not the answer to your prayers.
...even if you think I am. You may have had hopes and fantasies about your natural child and when you realized you couldn't have one, they were transferred to me. This is normal, but when those hopes and dreams turn into expectations it creates a box that I feel I must fill or risk rejection a second time. If you objectify me, you deny me my humanity and create a permanent sense of failure.
For that reason, I would ask you to ditch your hopes and dreams and look at who I really am. Whilst hopes and dreams may be resisted more easily by your biological child, an adopted child will subconsciously perceive that she must match up to the child you could have had and end up second best. We are after all, more often than not, your second option and worse told to feel happy about this. Grieve your unborn child and don't fill that hole with us. Because whilst we won't fit, we will still kill ourselves trying.


4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.
When I grew up and found my natural parents, there was of course no gold crown waiting for me. Just a realization that I was the rather ordinary product of a tawdry affair where responsibility for my presence was passed off to a childless married couple desperate for a child of 'their own'. I was a possession. My mother had become pregnant, victim of the wiles of a married and - as it turned out - immoral man. Not only was I not special, I was worse than others... born a bastard child, a second class citizen denied her birthright and a reject. And yet my reunion with my mother, a wonderful woman, was by all accounts successful even though it initially left me empty inside. My reunion with my father was an unmitigated disaster colored by [his] genetic sexual attraction.
Does this mean I should never have found them?
Until 19, I was effectively in limbo living the life of someone I didn't even know. Meeting my mother and father didn't teach me who I was, it taught me that I had the ability to choose who I was, for myself. But without that realization, I would have been forever stuck a victim of my circumstance not able to assume responsibility for my life or my actions. Feeling that you are a victim of life doesn't lead to anything good; so let us pursue our own journey and help us recover from the trauma - in part - by finding our natural parents. The outcome of the reunion could be good or bad... but in either way it will help shape how we manage our future and maybe give us the wings we need to fly. If we don't have that reunion, the realisation might never come and we will try to create meaning in our lives by pushing the boundaries. Sometimes quietly. Most times not.


5. I have no idea who I am. This can be good. But first it could be very, very bad.
Adoptees have gone through a trauma and a loss of their mother.  It doesn't matter whether or not they are conscious of it. Losing a baby is like an amputee having a phantom leg... for the mother. It should be there. It hurts that it is not. But it's not debilitating. If the mother is the amputee, the adopted child is like the phantom leg. Cut adrift, the connections which are supposed to be there, that the brain expects to be there... gone. We look like the other children, but we operate under different schematics because our brains have undergone stress at a formative stage.
For a time after birth until the age of around 2-3, the child is not fully aware of its own independence. Until the natural development and physiological separation of the child from the mother at this point, any enforced separation like adoption will result in a different kind of growth pattern. We are, like all children, naturally equipped with the resources to survive. We find the workarounds. But we do so differently, with strangers instead of with the people the brain is hardwired to expect.
We are not taught how to deal with this. We are told that our adoption is good, that our new caregiver for everything that matters, is our mother. But we know instinctively she isn't even before our cognitive brain kicks in. We have a fear of rejection which the mind has created as a survival mechanism from its first experience. We cannot trust those around us... so the best way of surviving is to trust no one. We are insecure, and are more likely to suffer low self esteem because we were already discarded as not worthy. It doesn't matter what you say. In most cases we will not be able to understand this until we are much much older and by then it is often too late.
Your adopted child will be more susceptible to bullying or to bully, more likely to become a rebel (after the initial attempt to be the perfect child), and in later life if this trauma remains unacknowledged and untreated, more susceptible to addiction, abuse and self-harm.
If your child gets through this, (s)he will start to realize that the ability to define themselves and create their own meaning free of lineage and free of definition is one of the most stunning gifts in this world. We, like the superheroes, are truly able to follow our call to adventure. But not before the shit has hit the fan, leaving everyone wondering what is 'wrong' with us.
The answer is nothing. We're following our own blue print designed to protect us in the best way it knows how. But it may not fit with your ideas. You may have to adapt them to help us counteract those parts with prove to be at odds with the healthiest way of living. If you do, then thank you. But you may also try and ignore, disparage or otherwise suppress what is widely researched and supported by the brightest minds working in clinical psychology and neuroscience.
And if you do, the question is not what is wrong with us, but why you put your own need to be parents before the needs of the child that you once said you loved... as if they were your very own.

MY RESPONSE:

I don't believe these actually are "Truths," but I think most adoptive parents do want to hear them.

This article was obviously written regarding the generally outmoded practice of the secretive, closed private adoption, and the current adoption system is much more complex than that, but it's still a good reminder to avoid falling in the trap of trying to mold our children into what we want them to be and believe. We do need to acknowledge the fact that it's hard for us to give up our expectations, hopes and dreams for our children and focus on the realities of who our child is... and who they're becoming.  If we haven't already, we need to stop and mourn who this child could have been if their lives had gone a little differently, and the hopes we had for them.

I wonder about this women's family and if they were really as harsh as she implies or if her perception of their motives and actions is as twisted as my children's often are?

1.  There is not one 'real' mother. 
I totally agree with this one. Both biomom and I are my children's "real parents." This generally isn't an issue in our house unless my child is mad at me, at which point I may hear, "You're not my Real mom." I try to take this in the spirit it was intended (a way to strike out because my child is feeling upset).
"You're not my real mom."
"That's funny, I
feel real. Honey, do I look plastic to you? Believe me baby, this is not a Barbie body!"
2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
I think EVERY child fantasizes about their origins. I remember wondering if I was adopted or really an android or an alien... and wishing it were true!  This is a hard line to walk with my kids though. I firmly believe that it is vitally important not to hit my kids over the head with the realities (or suspected realities) of their family of origin (or allow them to vilify them either - which Bear liked to do), but at the same time we need to keep it real so that they don't focus all their energies on the dream and miss out on being a part of our family. This is especially hard with their black and white thinking.
I recognize that adoption is a major loss, and this is one reason we've never made a huge fuss or had big "Gotcha day" (a term that really bothers me!) and Adoption Day parties. Yes, they are an important part of our family history, but we try to remember that they are a day of loss as well.

3. I am not the answer to your prayers.
Gonna have to disagree with this one. While I did not know the names and details about my children beyond a picture and a brief description (which we all know are incomplete and inaccurate), and yes, we were chosen by a team for our children, I do believe that God chose these children for me (the series of Godincidences that led to them becoming a part of our family can be explained in no other way) and therefore they are an answer to my prayers. I do believe the children are filling a "hole in my heart," but it is a Bear- and Kitty- shaped hole.

4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.

I firmly believe that whenever possible kids should have a reunion with their birthfamily, but when they're adults --> a chance to explore their origins and imagine what their life might have been like, when they are hopefully emotionally stable, and secure in the knowledge that they have a loving family which they are very much a part of and that any relationship with this other family is a "bonus." Especially with social media, more and more kids are being reunited with birth families when they are not emotionally ready, often causing additional trauma.  The waters got "muddied" in our case, because the children had sisters that stayed behind with biomom, and we wanted to keep that door open so they could maintain that relationship.

Because of their black and white thinking, my kids felt torn by massive loyalty issues -- that if they allowed themselves to be a part of our family then they were betraying their birth family. Bear always had one foot out the door anyway, to avoid being abandoned again. It wasn't rational, but he felt that if we weren't forcing him to stay (which we would never do!), then we were kicking him out. He never allowed himself to come all the way in to try and see if he wanted to become part of our family, because that other door (with the tempting fantasy that everything would be perfect if) was always dangling just outside his reach. I think that "escape hatch," especially during those volatile teen years, kept him feeling abandoned  over and over again - constantly picking at a raw, open wound and preventing any healing.

5. I have no idea who I am. This can be good. But first it could be very, very bad.

The author describes the adopted child as being like a severed limb, lost and hurting without an attachment to the body from which it came. I think a better analogy is seeing the child as like the limb of a tree rather than a body part. Yes, if grafted to a new family tree, that limb will always look and feel different from the new tree, but it will grow and gain vital nutrients from the new tree and often the tree as a whole will be stronger for the graft, and everyone benefits from the beautiful variety.
I do agree with most of this, but definitely not the summary.
"what is 'wrong' with us.The answer is nothing. We're following our own blue print designed to protect us in the best way it knows how. But it may not fit with your ideas. You may have to adapt them to help us counteract those parts with prove to be at odds with the healthiest way of living. If you do, then thank you. But you may also try and ignore, disparage or otherwise suppress what is widely researched and supported by the brightest minds working in clinical psychology and neuroscience.And if you do, the question is not what is wrong with us, but why you put your own need to be parents before the needs of the child that you once said you loved... as if they were your very own."
Yes, our kids are operating in ways designed to protect them the best way they know how, but I do not think the majority of this is a "biological blue print." Instead, I think a lot of it is adaptations and defense mechanisms that were designed to protect the young child, but are no longer needed. I believe it is our job as parents to help them determine which of these are biological and a beautiful part of our child's personality, and which they need help overcoming to be the happy, healthy adults God intended them to be. I do not have a crystal ball to know exactly how best to help my child and/or when to back off, but as an involved, loving parent with the closest viewpoint, and the responsibility to help pick up the pieces if things fall apart, I will continue to try to help my child prepare for the future and put together the pieces of this identity puzzle.

I believe that this is putting my child's needs before my own needs, because it would certainly be easier to throw my hands up and say, "I can't wait until (s)he is 18 and goes to live with his/her biofamily!" (...and believe me, now that my kids are legally adults, there are definitely days when that is super tempting!)

 I hope my children will always know I'm here to love, cheer, support, and challenge them in their quest--whatever form that does, or does not take.

2 comments:

Kerry Fretty said...

You are so so very good at understanding this! and You have an amazing way of writing to speak what is true! I think we all need to read both parts to understand the big picture.Thank you for your words!!!

marythemom said...

Thanks, Kerry! I put this comment in my Words of Affirmation folder. :)