I’m not sure how I got into The Jordan Harbinger Show, but I’m glad I did. He interviews fascinating people each week, each episode having the aim of honing critical thinking skills.
I listen to podcast host Jordan Harbinger and co-host Gabriel Mizrahi while I’m walking Dexter most days. The show puts out a lot of content, which Dex and my cardiovascular health appreciate.
I’ve listened to episodes on why people believe in conspiracy theories, the latest in cognition and bias, what it’s like to be a spy, and how to not fall prey to various types of predators. I’ve heard episodes featuring former criminals, military leaders, cutting edge scientists, brain hackers, funny people, and experts in fields I didn’t even know I was interested in.
I’d heard nothing to make me think that Jordan Harbinger had any direct experience with adoption, so I kind of yiked when I heard he was going to answer “Why did my adopted child leave?” on Feedback Friday.
Up and Left
Dumbfounded Dad writes in because his son, adopted at age 7, left home abruptly after turning 18, citing mental health reasons. The son had previously chosen not to have contact with birth family, and he left to find his own way (it’s not clear if he is in contact with birth family at this time). The son asked his parents by letter not to contact him; he will contact them when he’s ready.
Dumbfounded Dad is gobsmacked, as any parent of a suddenly exiting 18 year-old would be, wondering, “Are there other things I could do besides twiddle my thumbs and wait to see if things change?”
Listen to the 10 minute segment here, starting at 3:51 and ending at 13:49. There is a transcript available at the bottom of the page in case you’d prefer to read.
I was pleasantly surprised that Jordan and Gabriel were able to grasp beyond the typical narrative that centers on the adoptive parent and also understand the situation from the adoptee’s perspective — BothAnd. Here are some excellent points they made.
- Jordan starts out by acknowledging that this must be incredibly painful for the Dad and the Mom.
- He also acknowledges the existence of “adoption baggage” for an adoptee, resulting from the trauma of separation from first parents. He admits to resorting to armchair psychology because he doesn’t really know enough about adoption dynamics.
What the Parents Must Do
- Jordan advises the parents to remain loving and open with their son as he does his own work. “It’s important that you process those feelings with your wife, but I would resist the urge to lash out or reject your son, because that could reinforce everything he might believe about his worthiness as a person. Unconditional love and support, that’s what he needs right now. That doesn’t mean that you can’t express how worried you are, how hurt you are if, and when you do talk to him. But I would do it from a place of love and compassion rather than a place of anger and blame.”
- He suggests the parents do their own work. “Allow yourself to go through your own process, which really is a process of grieving. Your son didn’t die, of course, but you are mourning the relationship you used to have with him. I’m sure you probably want to fast forward through this period, but you need to allow yourself to process everything. I’m glad you guys have a therapist. I would definitely be exploring all of this in your sessions with that therapist. Because even though you shouldn’t dump all that on your son, processing the anger with each other and with your counselor is super important.”
- Jordan and Gabriel notice that none of the siblings told the parents what was going on. “That is another thing that I would explore in therapy. Your relationship with your children, what you guys are doing consciously or unconsciously that might be making your children hesitate to share this kind of thing with you.”
When Hurt Feels Like Fear
Both Jordan and Gabriel picked up on this from Dumbfounded Dad: “My wife and I are scheduling counseling for us and getting a security system for our house, as the college he plans to attend is in the same town we live in.”
Jordan said, “Why extra security? Do you feel like you’re physically in danger? This initially struck me as almost like a punishment thing… it just seems weird that your son would leave and you’d go, ‘Fine! I’m going to get an alarm tomorrow.’ “
The title of the episode — Why Did Your Adopted Child Leave? — could be deemed problematic, but not just because of the show. It highlights an empty space in our language and culture, that we don’t even have a word for an adult adoptee. Due to this limitation, adoptees are eternally infantilized.
We need a word, people.
I did perceive one possible misstep, a minor one. Jordan said, “You adopted this boy, you treated him like your own.” I find that verbiage othering for the adopted person — meaning not quite belonging, not quite a full-fledged member. Some readers and listeners may feel differently.
Jordan closes this segment with this: “In conclusion, support your son. Love your son. Give him the space he needs right now. Be there for him when he’s ready to talk. And when you do talk, approach them from a place of compassion and empathy and try to understand what he’s going through. In the meantime, allow yourself to have your own experience and process whatever comes up for you guys. If all goes well, both you and your son will each have some time apart to look at your relationship in a new light and hopefully, come back together with a little bit more awareness. Your relationship could actually be even stronger than it was before.”
Good job, Jordan and Gabriel.
If you read or listen to this segment, what do you think about how it was handled?
More on Adoption Advice Givers
- Bad Advice from Dr Laura
- Bad Advice from Parenting Expert John Rosemond
- My Kids Know More Than Today Show Experts
- Bad Advice from Dear Abby to an Adoptee
- Dear Abby Mucks it Up Again
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.