This guest blog is by Gayle H. Swift, an adoptive mother, adoption coach and author.
Here in the USA, November marks two important observances: Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month. I venture to say adoptive parents certainly feel deep gratitude for the privilege of being able to parent their children.
Joining these two observances feels appropriate. Becoming adoptive parents delivered a visceral joy that many of us thought impossible.
For most of us, the scope of that joy lay beyond our ability to conceive—literally and figuratively—until adoption breathed it to life.
Parents want to shout their joy from the rooftops! Happy tears accompany their discussions of how adoption made them a family.
Adoption is complex.
It is essential, however, that we also balance out our gratitude and our joy with a compassionate acknowledgement of adoption complexity.
Our children experience adoption in a very multi-pronged way. Yes, they enjoy the pleasure of a permanent, loving family and form deep, affirming attachments within that family.
But adoption is not all “milk and honey.” There is also the bitter. For our children, adoption came at a cost: their separation from their birth families and their spot in the family timeline.
Even in fully “open” adoptions adoptees’ separation from their original family is a life-long loss. They will experience and process the depth and range of this division throughout their lives.
Their grief is not a once-and- done type of thing. Adoptees spend their lives weaving together the influences of both nature and nurture, of their two families (birth and adoptive,) and forging themselves into integrated persons who blend all of these factors.
To become whole, complete and, rooted adoptees need all of their parts.
Adult adoptees reveal what they needed as children.
Their journey is challenging, emotional and daunting. Adult adoptees tell us that as children, what they most needed—and most appreciated—was having adoptive parents who stood “with” them throughout their uphill journey.
They felt deeply nurtured and supported when their adoptive parents did not see their birth families as rivals but instead, understood that their first families are an integral part of
People to value not fear. Whenever anyone—especially their adoptive parents or extended family—dismissed or diminished their first families, they felt gut-punched. Rejected. Afraid.
(Even in situations of abuse or neglect, birth parents will always be a part of the adoptee; they are permanently connected by DNA and the flow of generations. At the very least, value and appreciate that fact and distinguish between the non-working, negative choices and behaviors made by birth parents.)
Adult adoptees say that they craved they support and acceptance of their parents but often faced adoption grief/fear/anger alone because they feared hurting or losing their adoptive families.
It already happened once to them. The possibility of history repeating itself was terrifying and so they hid their struggles/questions/yearnings. They shouldered the challenge alone with only a child’s limited resources and perspectives.
Instead of leaning on their parents, at great personal cost, adopteees protected their parents and kept them in the dark. Adult adoptees also report that in the absence of absolute, regularly repeated reassurance from their parents that it was okay to discuss adoption complexity, grief and, loss, they kept those struggles hidden or they repressed them.
They chose to live “as if” the need to explore this part of themselves and their story did not exist. The cost of this repression and denial was huge both physically and emotionally.
A tragic by-product is that it mired the parent-child relationship in role-playing and lacked truthfulness. It built a wall of secrecy and isolation between parents and child. And the adoptee suffered deeply. All would sense the underlying emotional distance even if they did not consciously admit it.
The greatest gift we can give our children is validation, acceptance and love.
Armed with greater Adoption-attuned knowledge and understanding, adoptive parents now can support and love their children in a healthier more empathic way which allows them to navigate the adoption journey together hand-in- hand, heart-to- heart. Not alone but in partnership, bonded by love
and commitment. As the saying goes, “Sorrow and fears shared are divided while joys shared are multiplied.”
This Thanksgiving let us be grateful for our many blessings, especially the blessing of family but also for the blessing of truth, understanding and, inclusivity. Too many children languish in foster care. They pray and hope their dream of a family will come true—one that will love and accept them, their idiosyncrasies, their history and, their truth.
Gayle H. Swift is an adoptive mother, former foster parent and a co-founder of GIFT Family Services which provides coaching support to adoptive and foster families before, during and after adoption. She’s the co-author of the multi-award-winning ABC, Adoption & Me: A Multicultural Picture Book. Her blog, Writing to Connect reviews general interest books through an Adoption-attuned lens and looks for ways to use books to serve adoptive families and begin important adoption conversations.
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