I’ve noticed recently that there has been a bit of discussion and debate around the fact that there are different voices, or viewpoints being heard and expressed in the adoption world.
Adoption is a very complex thing, and it involves many many people, and so of course there are going to be many different voices all wanting to speak and to be listened to. I’ve noticed that sometimes these voices can clash with each other because they come from opposite sides of the story. An example of this is the adoptive parents and the (adult) adoptees. This ‘debate’ is for me very interesting because as an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, I can put myself very much in both ‘camps’
I was adopted at 16months old, as a relinquished baby in Asia in the late 1980’s. I am now in my early 30s. I have a 4year old little girl who was adopted nearly 2years ago, from the UK care system. Our experiences and stories are massively different, but we do have a shared identity in being adopted. I hope that when she’s older we can make this a positive part of our relationship.
I have always known I was adopted, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know. My mum tells me that I drip fed appropriate information as I grew up, so that by the time I was old enough to really understand adoption, nothing of my story was new or a surprise. We are trying to take this approach with our little girl. At the moment her life story work is very basic and sporadic. It’s mostly led by her and talked about on her terms because thats all she needs right now. When she’s older she may need some more support to explore and understand her story. As adoptive parents we are fully committed to supporting and helping her to make sense of who she is. We want her to know that it’s ok to talk honestly about how she feels. We’d rather she did than keep it bottled up inside. If we can be open and approachable now, the hope is she will feel confident to share with us when she needs to.
I am very sure of my identity as an adopted person, and I feel very happy and content with this. I know who my family is, and feel very much part of it, and hugely loved. I have no desire to find my birth family (it would be pretty much impossible anyway). Most of the time I forget I’m adopted because although it’s made me who I am, it does not define me. When I meet new people I don’t tell them I’m adopted. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s just not something that’s really relevant to everyday life. It’s the same with my little girl, we don’t announce her adoption to everyone. For a start it’s her story to tell, not ours, and when she’s older she can decide what she wants people to know.
Although I’ve had a very positive experience of adoption, and I’m very grateful for being adopted I totally understand that some adoptees have a different view. I hope that my daughter will feel the same way, but I am preparing myself for the chance that she won’t feel the same. I understand why some adoptees feel so much anger, pain, grief hurt. You can’t have adoption without loss, and loss brings all of those things. All parties experience loss in adoption. The child, they lose their birth family. Birth family lose their child. Adoptive families often come from a background of loss. Many adoptive families also have to grieve a loss of the family or parenting experience they imagined. I get that some adoptee feel angry at their birth family for a number of reasons (e.g. abandoning them).
There are some things I struggle with though. One of these is anger and blame directed towards adoptive parents. Maybe it’s because its not something I’ve ever felt, so find it hard to imagine why someone would have these feelings, but blaming them for their struggles seems unfair to me. In the UK children come to adoption through the care system. They’ve been removed from birth families because it was not safe for them to remain there. Adoptive families go through extensive assessment to assess their ability to parent children who are likely to have experienced a high level of trauma in their young lives. Adoptive parents are (usually) not to blame for these difficulties, they didn’t cause the trauma. All the adoptive parents I know do their very best for their children. They support them in every way possible. They love them fiercely. They know that ‘love does not fix everything’, and yet they still love. They support their child to find their own identity, and work with them to put the pieces of their lives together (e.g. life story work, contact). I don’t think they see themselves as ‘superior’ parents, in fact, most I know spend a lot of their time over analysing their parenting and doubting themselves. I do appreciate that there are some exceptions to the rules, and I know that adoptive parents have their flaws too.
I do think thats it’s really important for more voices to be heard in adoption. For adoptive parents to listen to what adoptees have to say. You can’t truly understand what it’s like to adopted unless you are. I think it would be helpful for parents to prepare themselves for what their child may feel or think when they grow up. This way they can prepare themselves to learn how to try and help their child. For them to acknowledge that those feelings are real, and not to dismiss them. For adoptees to listen to adoptive parents, to understand some of their equally valid feelings. For them to remember that parents are at the end of the day people too, so they’re not perfect and may slip up at times. That most of them are trying their absolute hardest to do their absolute best.
To conclude, I feel it’s really important to remember that everyone is different, and are entitled to have their different opinions, and thats ok too.