Recently my son opened up to me asking questions about his birth mom and I responded as best I could. The first two posts in this series simply recounted the conversations. In this third and last post, I offer commentary about the dialog between my son and me and about the comments the posts generated.
1. Know what it was; know what it wasn’t. The questions Reed asked and the things he said in his wondering about Michele didn’t hurt me at all (other than the fact that he was hurting). Why? BECAUSE NONE OF IT WAS ABOUT ME. This knowing is what enables me to be fully present for my children during such times. This point is key for adoptive parents to get — deep down in our bones. This was about my son and his innermost feelings. He will have them whether or not I am comfortable with him having them. The question is, can he trust me to feel them on the outside of himself?
2. Become impervious. Allow, encourage, enable your kids to feel their feelings about their birth families, and do it imperviously, as you do when discussing other hurts they might have that also have nothing to do with you: a broken toy, being spurned by a friend, not making the team. The feelings about birth parents are likely more intense, but they are no more about you than these other scenarios are. The questions and wondering about the birth family are not about you and therefore take away nothing from you. Take yourself out of the equation and it all becomes so much simpler.
3. The myth of strength. I am not any stronger than any other parents. It’s just that I get, deep in my bones, #1 above.
4. Don’t dread having these conversations with your child because, hey, see #1. And decide to enjoy rather than endure these moments of adoptive parenting. Opening your heart sets you up for success much better than will gritting your teeth.
5. Don’t dread your child having these feelings, either. If your child doesn’t ever encounter these emotions, great. If they DO, however, why psych yourself (and your child) out ahead of time? Besides, why would you want to deprive your child of all the soul-deepening and self-knowledge that comes from having feelings, which we label as “good” or “bad”, but can simply be guideposts for how to live?
Do not ever be afraid of your child feeling her feelings; fear only her NOT feeling her feelings or getting stuck in them. Help your child keep the emotions in motion. It’s the repression and stagnancy that cause problems.
6. Get to know. How did I figure out #1? By listening to adult adoptees. Andi, Andy, Jeni, Amanda, Lost Daughters, Torrejon, others. Don’t internalize everything you read but do listen for gems that will help you understand what may one day be felt by your child, as well as the underlying reasons.
7. Don’t underestimate the strength of your child. A wise school teacher tells me that a child will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set. Notice the strength of my son in these two conversations. He has all that within him. I just held the expectation that he would tap it.
If your child’s story has some difficult components to it, then when you do talk about the hard stuff, envelop him in love and be open to deep wisdom. Also, see the strength and resilience of your child. He needs to see you reflect those traits he already has back to him.
And if you have any further notion that I am “special” in a way that you’re not, please read my Hotel Rwanda post. Anyone strong enough to survive infertility and the adoption process and to undertake parenting is able to rise to adoptive parenting moments like these.
Don’t you tell me otherwise.