How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

Adoption Fragility

Today’s story –

I am an adoptive parent and I will admit I have to stop myself sometimes and realize my thoughts or fears are out of fragility. My adopted son (age 6) is “star of the week” at school this week and is choosing his pictures to share with his classmates. He has chosen pictures of both biological siblings and mom, and those of us he lives with. My fragility I am afraid is coming into play because I don’t want him to be hurt by the questions others may ask. Any insight on how to help him navigate his peers in this situation? I don’t want to hold back on him sharing what he wants to share, it is his story to tell. I also don’t want him hurt.

One response was – You are assuming he will be hurt. Maybe he will, but his status as an adoptee is for life, so he has to deal with that. I’d let it happen organically and address anything that may occur, after, if he wants to. Don’t make it a big deal. Let him lead and just be aware the days after for any signs.

Similarly, Let him lead here and don’t interfere. The reactions of others is something he now gets to deal with for as long as he lives. Your role is to prepare him to answer the questions in a manner that he is comfy with.

And wise – Stop trying to stop him hurting. STOP, STOP, STOP. Just let him be. Get a grip on your emotions. YOU cannot stand that he is hurt. He will be hurt he is human.

And this recognition – none of us – whether you are a biological parent or adoptive parent – want our children to “hurt”. Sharing his truth, with you in support of his sharing (because it IS his truth), is how you provide as stable a reality as possible for him. Could it be that you do not want the “hurt”? The reality that others will know the whole truth regarding your son and his place in your life? When everyone in family’s loves and supports a child, it is a beautiful thing. Let him shine – it sounds like he has a great group of “family” cheering him on.

One often sees warnings for adoptive parents not to share a child’s adoptive status with others because it leads to bullying and people treating them differently. There’s *absolutely* a difference between an adoptive parent sharing this info and a child sharing it of their own volition. She might be trying to figure out how to make sure her child doesn’t inadvertently open themselves up for poor treatment from others, while still making sure they’re able to share their truth in a way that is comfortable to them.

Some more good advice – let him know that he can share what he wants to. Then give him words in case someone asks something he doesn’t want to share..like “hmm I don’t remember that” or “I’m not sure.”

And this honest recognition that many of us know – Kids are mean. I’d just be prepared for the fact that they could be very cruel to him. Kids used to tell me that I was adopted because my “real family” hated me, or they they’d thrown me away. It might go well or he might be in a lot of pain afterwards. I was just as cruel back, lots of “any morons can have kids” etc. It wasn’t a super productive response – so 0 out of 10 – I do not recommend him going that route.

Also, the times they are a’changing – Talk about what he feels comfortable sharing in a calm environment before he’s in the spotlight. Let him practice. Pretend you’re a classmate, so that he gets to practice his answer when someone says, “if that’s your mom, who is this?” But also know that at 6, kids may not even care. Lots of kids come from blended families or have same-gender parents, so it might not even be on a 6 year old’s radar to ask. People are in so many diverse family situations nowadays. My friend who teaches elementary school says they refer to “your adult(s)” rather than parents.

Reality – Honestly just let them ask questions and him answer. Kids are better at this than you would think. What gets bad is when adults bring shame into the situation. If you act like questions shouldn’t be asked or the answers are bad then that’s what will bring shame into it. 

And regarding transracial adoption (hinted at in the graphic above) – My girls are 17 and 19. I am white they are Black and adopted. They feared telling their story but also got really tired of kids asking why their mother was white. When my younger one was in 2nd grade she told her story. She did not have any pictures of her true family because we don’t know who they were. She came home beaming. The kids asked very tough questions and she was unflinching. She then grew up with these kids no longer wondering why her mother is white. It was behind her. IF there is no shame in being their mother, there is no shame in them being able to tell their story.

And all adoptees are not the same – Ohh, this is a hard one. I hated when kids used to ask questions. It would make me so uncomfortable. (still does haha). I would just gently remind him that he doesn’t have to answer any questions he doesn’t want to answer and that he only has to give out the details he feels like sharing! And this is true – most questions come from pure curiosity rather than mean intent.

Having an idea of what to say can help – I always told my daughter that it’s her choice what she wants to share and her choice whether or not she wants to answer questions about it, but to be prepared that people WILL ask questions. I gave her some phrases to use if she didn’t want to answer certain things such as ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’. I had to explain to her that most people don’t understand adoption much less open adoption and they will ask invasive questions even though it may come from an innocent place. I think preparing kids for other people’s reactions is important.

It commonly happens in school these days that children are asked to do family trees which can feel awkward to an adoptee. Here’s how one family dealt with that – In kindergarten my class did family trees, and I didn’t know who my first family was. My mom helped me with practice answering questions about adoption and we made up a song about adoption to help my classmates understand. There were 3 other kids adopted in my class so my mom came in and our entire class learned about adoption, I sang my song, classmates asked me questions and mom answered the ones I deferred to her. I loved sharing my story and it made me feel comfortable and not as “different” after. I’d let your kids know it’s also okay if they don’t want to share either.

It’s okay to be cautious. Just be careful not to place your anxieties on your kid. Have a conversation about how they are feeling. Ask for them to “perform” for you since you can’t be there. Ask them how they feel about adoption, what’s something they are excited to share, if they have any questions. But mostly express that you’re excited for them to show off their WHOLE family.

Is Gotcha Day Offensive ?

Personally, I have always found this disturbing.  I really can’t believe an adoptive parent thinks like this but it does seem to be a common thing.  I wonder how the child might feel growing up knowing their own birthday wasn’t important.

“We celebrate our children’s Gotcha Day not birthday. The birthdate is the day they were born not when their life began. Gotcha day is what we celebrate and acknowledge as their new birthday. It’s when we became a family, their family. That’s when they were born into our family. Gotcha day is their birth into our family and as their parents. The moment all of our struggle was worth it and forgotten, similar to when a woman gives birth. All the pain washes away, when you finally meet your child”.

One adoptive parent said, “I understand that most people who have not adopted a child simply do not know that their questions may be rude or offensive or not the politically correct adoptive term.”

Families celebrate this day in many different ways and it can vary from a large party type celebration to a minor recognition to nothing at all.  Adoption comes from a place of loss and brokenness.  It also carries with it heavy emotions for everyone involved.

The term “gotcha” is too casual for the arrival of a child into the family. It can be insensitive to all parties involved in the adoption process.

One adoptive parent prefers to use the term Finalization Day but would be equally comfortable with Adoption Day.  Still, she prefers finalization as it’s more specific to what the day actually is.  She also admits that over time this may evolve and change.

As she explains her reasoning, she shares that she and her husband talked about it and put a lot of thought into it.  They arrived at the decision to mark “Finalization Day” on their calendar and to consider it a celebration of the day that their family became whole and complete.

As a somewhat enlightened adoptive parent (I would not say completely enlightened but adoption is going through a definite reform in perspective that is painfully slow for some of us but progress never-the-less) she acknowledges that it is very, very important to always honor her son’s birth family and his story.  However, it’s also not something she wishes to focus on all the time. It’s a PART of who he is and she sincerely hopes it does NOT define him.  Only time and maturity will prove whether that is true or not.

While he’s the original mother’s son and always will be, he’s also their son and their other children’s brother.  It is understandable that she would want him to never feel singled out or like he’s any less loved or less part of their family.

She goes on to admit that it is a very delicate balance. And every adoptive child and adult will feel differently about their adoption journey and story. Each adoptees’ story is special and unique and it’s not a “one size fits all” situation.  Adult adoptees go many directions in how they feel regarding their adoption. That’s honest.

It seems that her hope is that he’ll never, ever want to think or talk about adoption. Maybe he’ll just want to BE and not think deeper about how he came to be who he is. Not consider himself an “adoptee.”  That is probably wishful thinking but oh well.

She goes on to also explain that all of their children have adoption as part of their personal story. They have all been touched by it and are walking this path together.  She acknowledges that as they grow up, they all may have their own thoughts, feelings and questions.  To her credit, she always wants to be an open book with them and readily share anything – at ANY time of the year – that they might want to know.