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.

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