A moment in open adoption parenting

by Lori Lavender Luz on November 3, 2009

in Adoptee,Adoptive parenting,Birth parent,Open Adoption,Parenting,Tessa

Tessa was distraught, after a Halloween party, for not getting the nod for a sleepover at her aunt’s house. The excitement of the kid-oriented haunted house, the disappointment about the sleepover and a sugar high made for a meltdown.

I got her into the car and she continued to wail about how mean her dad and I are. Roger and Reed were in the other car (long logistical explanation), so Tessa and I had some rare alone car time.

The wailing changed tone as we headed home.

“Why can’t Crystal and Joe be my parents!? I have never even been with both of them at the same time!”

Whoa.

I silenced the GPS lady so I could focus. Here’s a slowdown of my processes during moments like this.

  1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
  2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
  3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
  4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
  5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
  6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart.

Following are the salient parts from the ensuing conversation, which lasted about a half an hour and culminated while we cuddled in her bed.

“Tell me more,” I said while driving home.

“If they got together, maybe they would LIKE each other. And then…”

“And then…?” (pause) “And then they could be your parents?”

“Yes.” (pause) “But Joe is married, and Crystal has Luke.” (pause) “They will never be married, will they, Mom?”

Now, the best thing I did here was not personalize this and make it about ME. Her words, and the thoughts behind them, had NOTHING to do with her feelings for Roger and me, her attachment to us, her love for us. The best way for me to help her find resolution about having two sets of parents, and about her own road not taken is NOT to pretend that one set of parents doesn’t exist, is NOT to feel bad that I can’t be everything to her, is NOT to “fix” it for her by pointing out all she does have.

It’s by giving her space and support to find her own way.

“No, Sweetheart. They were together many years ago, but they were not a good match. You know, don’t you, that they both love you?”

“Yeah, I know that. But why aren’t they my mom dad?”

“Would you like me to tell you the story again? After we get home we can cuddle and talk.”

“Yes!”

10 minutes later we pulled into the garage. Tessa got on her jammies and brushed her teeth. We climbed into her bed, about an hour past normal bedtime.

“Crystal and Joe were very young. Twenty may not sound like young to you, but it’s a time when some people don’t have a lot of skills in dealing with other people, with being frustrated. You know that class we took together, Taming the Anger Monster? Well, at that time, neither Crystal nor Joe had learned how to tame their anger monsters.

“They broke up because they were hurting each other. With words — you know that words can hurt. And as much as they both loved you, they knew that neither one was able to give you a stable home, a calm home. At that time. You needed a forever family then, though. And that’s what you got. Daddy and I will always be your mom and dad, no matter what.

“The Crystal and Joe you know now are different from who they were then. It’s OK to imagine what life with them would be like. What do you think?”

“Well…I would have an older brother from Crystal. And a younger sister from Joe. I’m not sure if we would live at Crystal’s house or at Joe’s house. And I would probably go to a different school. One I don’t even know. I might not even know Reed. Or Grandma and Grandpa. Or the OTHER Grandma and Grandpa. And all my aunts — I wouldn’t have any aunts! That would be weird.”

“It would be very different, wouldn’t it? You can tell a thousand stories of what your life is not. And only ONE story of what your life IS. This is your life, Tessa. Lots of people around who love you now and forever, including Crystal and Joe, daddy and me. All of Crystal’s family, all of Joe’s family, all of our family.”

“Mama,” she said sleepily, the anxiety and sadness gone for now, “I love you.”

“I love you, too Tessa.”

*****

There probably were wiser words I could have said, and things I shouldn’t have said. I’m putting this out there because in this space I try to share (within the limits I’ve set regarding Tessa’s privacy) as many facets of open adoption parenting as I can. It’s important to know that “open adoption” isn’t just something you do when you exchange photos, send emails, have a visit. It’s something that can come up even when you have other plans.

Image: JewelBasket.com

Please see my response to the reader comments (below) at my follow-up post, Hotel Rwanda and open adoption parenting.

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{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

Lori, that was a perfect discussion. I mostly lurk but I learn so much from you and had to post to say thank you for keeping the list of priorities in the right order. K is too young to ask these questions himself, though I know it’s coming with the way his speech has improved, but P (who is biological) asks them more than I’d expected. It helps to see how other people have helped answer them so that I have a framework in mind when they ask me those tough questions.

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battynurse April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

Wow. What an amazing conversation. I have to admit that I don’t know if I could manage in the moment to not take this personally. You handled this so well. Just amazing.

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Lynn April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

Oh my gosh! Lori, this is an amazing post! I am simply in awe of you for being so calm and understanding. Tessa is going to look back on that moment one day and remember how you listened to her and let her express how she was feeling. It is a wonderful thing that she has Crystal and Joe in her life and that you and Roger are such supportive parents.

I’m sure I will be coming to you for advice over the coming years if things go as planned over the next couple of months!

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Kami April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

47th comment here so you know what I am going to say and what everyone else recognizes too: Wow! I hope I have your grace and wisdom when I get similar questions.

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Delenn April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

A great post. Showing such patience and understanding to your daughter–brought a lump to my throat.

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Sarang April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

Thank you for sharing this post. My husband and I just finished a 7-week adoption seminar and open adoption has been on my mind a lot.

Thank you for sharing how this can be. And how beautifully it can be handled.

Thank you.

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Bea April 7, 2010 at 5:00 am

Great answers. Don’t know what could have been wiser.

Bea

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Anonymous April 7, 2010 at 5:01 am

such a great post. I think there is much wisdom in this that I needed to hear today. Thank you.

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Ziggy April 7, 2010 at 5:01 am

One day I hope to be as perceptive and ‘allowing’ mom as you (meaning, allowing your children to figure things out for themselves, and have their own paths, i/o just telling them “well, you have this and this and this that you should be grateful for!”, and understanding that their journey to become well-rounded adults starts when they are this young)… If I can do the following in ANY circumstance, I would be more than happy:

“1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart”

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MrsSpock April 7, 2010 at 5:01 am

I think it is a conversation like this this makes us afraid to explore adoption more. Though, hey, this did not seem as scary as what usually runs through my head.

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Bean stalk ballads April 7, 2010 at 5:55 am

Fantastic and selfless. She is blessed to have you as her Mum.

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Michelle April 7, 2010 at 5:55 am

Thank you for this honest and heart-string-tugging post about adoption. As my husband and I explore all of our child options, it’s always good to hear what happens when that little baby can talk, and ask questions. You handled this so beautifully.

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Lut C. April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Popped over from the crème de la crème list. Excellent post, a peek into what open adoption can mean.

And like Mel said, those points can apply in any relationship.

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Mrs. Gamgee April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Breathtaking…

Thank you for sharing this moment in time with us. As I allow my brain and heart to think a little more often on adoption as a possibility for us, these are the kinds of moments that I wonder about the most. I think you handled it with grace and patience and love.

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tbonegrl April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

this might actually be my second comment to this post as I read it when you posted it, and found it to be such a breathtaking look into what this moment truly looked like. Thank you for being so open. It is beautiful.

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Dawn April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

That was simply beautiful. I added you to my blogroll and I’ll post this blog to the Creating a Family community. Thank you for sharing and for your wisdom.

Dawn Davenport
Creating a Family-nonprofit providing education and resources on IF and Adoption

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Sunshine April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Absolutely stunning.

Wonderful mother.

Wonderful writer.

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Angela April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

That was beautiful! I will revisit your process before speaking! That was great. I like that you helped give her your blessing to think on how things could be, but what was. That will be very helpful with my children! Thanks!

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kmina April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Here from CdC.
Great reading.
You are a very strong and unselfish woman and your little girl is very lucky to have you as her mother.
Best of luck to you all,

Mina

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..Soo.See.. April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Wow. You’re awesome. :) It was a tough one to not let it turn into something about you, but you did a fabulous job at helping Tessa through it. I hope to be able to take those 6 steps one day with my kiddies.

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courtneywrites April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

Hi Lori,

Thanks so much for your comment on my blog! It led me here, and has in turn led me to other amazing blogs that are invaluable as we consider adoption.

This post in particular is so helpful because I think this is one of the things I fear the most with adoption. I know it’s inevitable, but you handled it with such grace, and I hope that if/when it happens to me, I’ll be able to stay as composed and objective as you!

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Tammy April 7, 2010 at 5:56 am

I’m working on trying to find something intelligent to say. I came here through the Creme09 but this post really hits home to my Mom through Adoption center. The main thing that struck me was your comment about not personalizing her question. I’m finding for myself as well, that the first and most important job is to recognize that what it isn’t about me being her mommy, it’s about her figuring herself out. And what a relief that realization has been for me as I parent a very sensitive and inquisitive young girl. Thanks for this thoughtful, transparent and informative post!

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sara August 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

thank you for this post. my daughter is just a toddler, but i know this conversation will happen one day (and probably more than once). i know i will remember what you said to your daughter, and i hope my response can be similar. i can’t wait to check out more of your blog!

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Sheila R. September 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I really appreciate you’re vulnerability in sharing this very personal conversation between you and your daughter and also for your selfless act in allowing her to process a part of her life that will inevitably write on the wall of the person she is and will become….and you as well. :-) It was very touching.

I walk on the other side of the coin, in that we placed our embryos for adoption in an open scenario, and our Adoptive Family is now pregnant. Most of the time I find myself being completely centered on “ME” and how our arrangement affects “ME.” Largely I think that’s because the experience is all so new and I’m still in the midst of grieving. It’s very self-focused. However, I want to fully educate myself about how this does and will affect everyone in the years to come and how I can walk this journey with grace and compassion for all parties involved.

There are so many opinions about adoption; it’s hard for me to navigate through all the information and find useful stuff. I’m so glad I came across your blog and hope it’s okay to reference it on mine.

Many thanks,

Sheila

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Lacie September 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm

What a GREAT post.

This will be a resource for me in years to come.
Thank you!

ICLW #53

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Rebecca September 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Wow, what a beautiful post & such incredibly wise words. Thank you for sharing this as I’m sure I will need to refer back to your very wise advice at some point in the future. Happy ICLW:)

ICLW #22

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TheMadHouse November 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Hi I have come from the gems posts and thankyou for an insight and some very wise words indeed

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@jencull (Jen) November 8, 2010 at 5:29 am

Wow, this is what I love about blogging, learning new things and seeing things from different perspectives. Thank you:) Jen

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foodie mummy November 8, 2010 at 5:41 am

That was an incredible post. You dealt with this in such a calm and controlled way. I don’t know if I would ever be able to deal with something like this that way. Food for thought!

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Gaby November 23, 2010 at 10:15 am

Hi, Lori. This is waaaay late (exactly a year late, it seems), but this is my first time on your blog and the name of the post appealed to me. I have two adopted children myself. Theirs is not an open adoption by birthmother’s choice, though I wish it was. I loved this post. My children are still young so their adoption comments and questions are not quite as deep yet but you have helped me think through answers for the future. Thank you. I laughed because the car seems to be the place kids choose to ask the worst possible questions to answer while you are trying to drive and think and cannot look at them and hold their hands while you answer! Anything from adoption to sex to death to God is fair game :)

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Jenny - Sugar Loco May 25, 2011 at 6:49 am

I’m always amazed at how good you are at handling these tough situations. You’re very good and breathing and figuring out what the REAL issue is, instead of reacting at the moment. GO YOU!

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Chrissie August 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

This is my first ICLW and I am really enjoying finding new blogs and hopefully making new connections in this blog world! My husband and I are just starting out on an adoption journey but I really appreciate gleaning wisdom from strong women who have gone before me.. Thank you for sharing your story.

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Jeri August 23, 2011 at 12:52 am

What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this moment between you and your daughter. I love this list:
Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
Speak. Equal parts head and heart.

I just created a small poster of this and posted it to my bulletin board near my laptop and my phone and will be posting another copy on the fridge to remind myself that there is a BEST way of finding my emotional center, truly listening with my head and heart and ensuring I can at least empathize even if I cannot understand.

I found your blog via ILCW!

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Lacie August 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

I just re-read this. Again, what a great resource this will be!

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carol May 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I have to remember to step back and realized things aren’t about me.

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Harriet July 30, 2012 at 12:10 am

Late to this post but so perfect. You named one of my Big Fears. The I want to live with them and why can’t I and why don’t I?

I need to frame this:
Now, the best thing I did here was not personalize this and make it about ME. Her words, and the thoughts behind them, had NOTHING to do with her feelings for Roger and me, her attachment to us, her love for us. The best way for me to help her find resolution about having two sets of parents, and about her own road not taken is NOT to pretend that one set of parents doesn’t exist, is NOT to feel bad that I can’t be everything to her, is NOT to “fix” it for her by pointing out all she does have.

Reply

StylinMom October 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Gosh I just love everything you write! I wish every time I had a question in the future I could just drive over to your house and get your advice!
You are an amazing mother!!!

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Sunny February 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Thank you for this post. I had a very similar (at least the beginning) discussion with my 9 yr old last night and because I was already frustrated and emotional about other things, it didn’t go nearly as well and I went to bed in tears wondering what she needs from me and how I can possibly give it to her. Thank you for the calm post, the reminder that it’s not about me and that once again, I don’t need to be everything to her and that it is fine and good that she loves another mother. Thank you for helping heal my heart a little today and giving me hope moving forward.

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