Framing the Adoption Story

I wasn’t left. I was found.

The way birth stories are communicated is phenomenally important. Language is powerful. How our stories are told to us gives us the foundation for our self-esteem. For example, there is a huge difference between “your birth mother left you” and “your birth mother left you where you could be found.” Both are true statements, one of those statements feels better. We were found, because we are in your forever family now.

We are not charity. Some of you are rolling your eyes right now, thinking to yourself how could anyone think that about their kid. You’d be surprised. This is for those kinds of parents. When we say “I wish I was back in Korea” don’t try and argue with a 9 year old and let us know what could have happened if we weren’t adopted. We already know. We don’t need you to tell us how terrible our life would have been. That doesn’t build trust, it builds a mountain of resentment. We just need you to say “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m so happy you’re my son/daughter. I love you.” Leave it at that. If we seem ungrateful, you need to purge that from your mind also. Ungratefulness should be measured the same way a biologically family would measure ungratefulness. Not because of adoption. That is cruel and your child will harbor resentment and hurt if you ever utter the words, “you should be more grateful we adopted you.” It will take a lifetime of therapy to overcome that statement.  If you said it once, you need to apologize.

If anytime you mess up as a parent you need to fess up. Just like any other healthy relationship. There’s no pass because you’re a parent or because you’re family. When you lose it, say “I’m sorry I lost it. I took what you said personally, and it hurt my feelings. I should have reacted differently. I love you and let’s try this again.” Boom. Awesome. You coming to us gives us the freedom to find the courage to apologize back. Don’t expect us to apologize right away, we’re kids and emotionally immature. We may not apologize until adulthood- we take that liberty because we’re the kid and you’re the parent. The reason we need to hear an apology from you is because it builds trust. If you blow up every time we talk about something emotional, why would I ever come to you again about anything that is hurting me? You get put in the bucket of “mom just doesn’t understand.” That doesn’t start a conversation it ends it.

Many teens we talk with we let them know they are entering a period in their lives where they now have the vocabulary to start discussing some of their feelings. Their statute of limitations on victimization is running out and they need to use their words with their parents. I tell them, if I come up to you and say “you just don’t get it. You don’t understand.” Do you feel like you want to talk to me? They all respond no. So I tell them, why do they think they can say that to their parents and expect a meaningful conversation? They always look bewildered, like duh. Many of your kids don’t know how to start these important conversations. Many of them are afraid of your reaction. Adoptees protect their parents from conversations we think may hurt you, such as talking about our birth parents, talking about our identity. We feel that maybe you won’t understand, or will feel hurt like we’re questioning your parental legitimacy. We need you to create a safe environment for us where we can and want to be open. Many parents feel we have created an environment where our kids can be open, but did you create an environment where your kids WANT to be open? There is a difference.

Attachment Disorder

*Please note that I am not a licensed psychologist and this section is really just my opinion, based on my experience. I’m hopefully offering an alternative perspective to one that has been readily accepted within our community- one that I take exception to. I am not hiding my bias and should you disagree, that is perfectly understandable.

My mom firmly believes that attachment disorder is often a parent disorder. One of the most powerful things my mother told me was that she adopted us knowing we may never love her back. She was prepared as our forever mom to love us unconditionally without expecting any kind of reciprocation. This was completely selfless of her, and her selflessness and courageous decision to adopt us anyway empowered us to learn how to love her back. For some children, our adoption makes us question if we are loveable. That question in turn questions our capacity to receive and give love. Up until you came into our lives we thought no one loved us. Parents can often get very frustrated with our apathetic approach to family at first. Please empathize with us and demonstrate fearless unconditional love. I think what happens is that you are so longing for us in your hearts and then we arrive and I cannot imagine the pain it would be to have your child, whom you’ve loved since you saw our photo, to not reciprocate. It took me 4 years with my family before I decided to love them. My mother said when that moment happened it was like having a completely different child. I really did not believe the Hammetts were going to keep me as their daughter as it had been my second adoption. With their commitment to be my forever family, I learned how to love and how to receive love. This was a life changing experience for myself and my family. My mother refused to label me as having “attachment disorder” she always told me, that she understood where my distrust came from, and that she hoped that one day in my heart I could come to learn to trust and love her as she trusted and loved me. She never made me feel guilty about it, she was always very kind and empathetic. I think when parents feel rejection from their adopted child, it is easy to project feelings and name it as “attachment disorder.” Perhaps change the approach and expectations. Your child has enough “stuff” to deal with just being and international/trans-racial adoptee. They don’t need another “label” especially a disorder on-top of that. Behave in the way you want your child to emulate and eventually we will come around.