Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in the Counselor’s Office… (and I was the counselor!)
In the last article I shared some of the “gems” that I have been taught by adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents. This column will focus on things I’ve been taught by adopted people (both adults and children). For many years I have ruminated about HOW adoptees (and their respective sets of parents) can positively acknowledge their adoptive status. Here are some gems I’ve learned from the folks who knew:
For adopted people who are still children, it is the responsibility of their parents to create a positive feeling about being adopted. Powerful things that can be given to adoptees come from their previous sets of parents. Think what it means to a person, who was adopted, to have an original name chosen by their birth parents, or perhaps a keepsake.
One adopted woman, over the age of 60, shared that when she found her birth family her maternal grandmother asked if she had the clothes she had sewn for her. The adoptee had to confess that she had never seen these treasures – how sad that someone had decided that this little baby girl did not need these things when they would have meant so much to her. Gifts, keepsakes, names – anything that can be sent forward with a child going into adoption – holds a powerful message of affirmation for the child.
Parents hold tremendous power to acknowledge adoption as important to their child’s self concept. When I asked a group of adult adoptees how they wish their adoption had been acknowledged in their growing years, great emotion was attached to the wish that their adoptive status could have been talked about openly.
Adoptive parents have the difficult mission of learning to tolerate, in fact to massage, their children’s salient feelings about adoption. This is not easy, since all parents wish to shield their children from hurt, from feeling different, about being unhappy about some unavoidable aspect of themselves. However, it is imperative that adoptive parents learn to do just the opposite – to support their children as they make peace with the fact that they do not live with their genetic relatives.
For Adult Adopted People
Here are some great ideas from adult adopted people who want to acknowledge their adoption.
- Choose a day related to an adoption event (your finalization day or the day your parents brought you home) and celebrate with a ritual. One adoptee sends her adoptive parents a card on this day, while another takes her adoptive parents to dinner. Being adopted is a very significant life experience for people – life altering, if you will – and deserves to be acknowledged.
- Make yourself available to the agency that facilitated your adoption as a resource. The people who work there may still need education about what adoption means over one’s lifetime.
- Reconnect to your history in whatever way you feel able to. Any effort you make brings you closer to wholeness and authenticity.
- Make yourself a lifebook (something like a child’s story book) that includes ALL of your important information.
- Get involved in some service work where you can share from your unique and expert position as an adopted person. Combat the myths out there through sharing your story.