Relationships are difficult for anyone, but they can be especially challenging for adoptees. One of the most important relationships in a person’s life is that which we have with our parents. It shapes our views on love and attachment, and it helps lay the groundwork for relationships we have with others in the future. Adoption is not possible without the loss of an adoptee’s birth parents. That loss can occur due to a variety of reasons, but it is the most traumatic loss that a child can experience. For me, the loss of my birth parents taught me from a very early age that people who love me will leave me. It also taught me that a parent’s love isn’t necessarily unconditional. That loss of my birth parents made me feel like I wasn’t lovable because my birth parents—the two people in my life who were always supposed to love me—didn’t love me enough to keep me.
I believe all adoptees subconsciously feel like a part of them doesn’t belong in their adoptive family. We like to believe that blood doesn’t equal family, but when you don’t have that type of connection to someone, you can’t help but to feel like something is missing in your life, no matter how wonderful your adoptive family may be. As an adoptee, you live your life constantly searching for a place to belong. That feeling of acceptance—be it from your teachers, your peers, or your significant others—is essential, as it makes you feel like you are okay and you are worthy of being liked or loved.
As a child, I often would become overly attached to teachers. I was the child who was devastated on the last day of kindergarten because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my kindergarten teacher. I was probably the epitome of a teacher’s pet throughout my elementary school years. I would work hard to get good grades and would even bring my teachers gifts (drawings, etc.) because I craved the attention and acceptance from them. I never fit in that well with my peers, but looking back, I can honestly say that I believe most of my teachers liked and respected me, and those were the relationships that really mattered to me at the time.
That “perfectionist child” mentality of constantly wanting to please others and working hard in school so my parents would be proud of me lasted until I reached my junior year of high school. That was the year I started dating my first boyfriend. I always felt awkward and unattractive, so for someone to see me as beautiful was a wonderful feeling. I had a great relationship with my adoptive family, but this relationship was different. I think I really blossomed as a person while in that relationship because I no longer felt invisible and I felt like I truly mattered to someone outside of my family.
When that relationship ended, it was probably one of the most devastating periods of my life, because I went from feeling like I was somebody to feeling like I was nobody. I became really depressed and pushed everyone away—even my family. I hate to admit it, but I truly became a person who was really rotten and unlovable. Nothing in my life mattered anymore—I didn’t matter anymore. During that period of time, I dragged my family through hell and back and did a lot of things I was not proud of. Looking back, because I had stopped caring about everything, I think I was subconsciously testing my parents to see if they would still love me if I wasn’t that daughter who used to make them proud.
With a lot of love and support from my parents, I was eventually able to pull through that dark period in my life. And, I can truly say that NOTHING I can do will ever make my parents love me any less. It took me a long time to realize that, but my relationship with them is even better now, due in part to the struggles we faced together.
When I gave birth to my oldest son, it was a life-changing experience. It was so amazing being able to hold him in my arms and finally look into the face of someone who looked just like me. At that moment, I remember silently making a promise to myself and to that little guy that I would be everything for him that my birth mom couldn’t be for me. I have made many mistakes throughout the past nine-and-a-half years and am constantly learning how to be a better mom for my sons. They are everything to me, and I cannot imagine my life without them.
In writing this entry, I want to let adoptive/foster/kinship parents know that the best thing you can do for your child is to be there for him or her. Adoption issues will more than likely manifest themselves during the teenaged-years. Remember that while most teenagers go through a phase of not being particularly pleasant to be around—some of their behaviors and issues may stem from being adopted. Start talking with your kids about the good, the bad, and the ugly (age-appropriate, of course) when they are young. Tell your child every day that they are loved—especially on the days when they are not particularly loveable. Do what you can to show them that you are willing to weather any storm with them. And, try not to take their words and actions to heart. Take extra good care of yourself during this period of time, because it most likely will not be easy, and it may take a while for you to see that light at the end of the tunnel. My parents stuck with me through it all and they never let me forget how much they loved me. I am the person I am today due in large part to my parents’ love and their absolute refusal to give up on me no matter how hard I pushed them away.
7 thoughts on “An Adoptee’s Perspective on Relationships”
Great stuff! Must be something in the air, b/c I just wrote about how relationships are especially tough for transgender folk.
Great minds must think alike, huh? 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading your post!
I could have written this and I’m not adopted. I had many of the same feelings as you did.
Thank you for normalizing these feelings for me, Jack! I appreciate your comment!
Like Jack, I understand the need to belong and becoming the “teacher’s pet” throughout my school years, even though I wasn’t adopted.
Belonging ~ such a broad concept. As an adoptee this word has had several meanings throughout my life. I was adopted in 1964 when I was 5 years old. I am not Asian, but a mixture of Europe’s England and Ireland as well as America’s Cherokee and Ojibwa Native American Tribes. I come from peoples who left their land for a better dream and peoples who lost their lands because of this very dream. I am a mixture of these stories and when told or reflected upon become a personal paradox inside of me. I think perhaps adoption is like this as well. I’ve long been a believer in story; personal story and broader stories that shape individuals, families, towns, states, and countries.
As an adoptee I was given a new family story that directed me to give up the old family story. The old family story went underground. I didn’t belong to that family and the emotional scars from that family made me feel that belonging to that story was dangerous. When things go underground however, we grow shadows. Belonging to my adopted family was a wonderful story. Many years later as a woman in her 50s I would realize the flaws in this story and why the authenticity of that story never came to full fruition.
I believe as this blogger’s post shares in that there is a part of each adoptee that understands that they are, to some degree, a square peg shoved into a round hole. The family that adopts also knows and feels this. There breeds guilt, shame, and a lack of knowing how to fix it. The adoptee that has found their birth family often, because of the lost years, never feels a true part of that family as well. It is as if what comprises the security in family and belonging comes from two things that happen together. These two things are: history (connection over time that binds people through shared memories and experiences) and biology (that comprises looks that are similar, DNA that is similar, habits, smells, propensities etc). In my adopted family I have the shared history but not the DNA. In my birth family I have the biology but not the shared experiences that make memories and shared events and knowings that build identity in a consistent manner. In my case I have both the environmental influences from my biological family and my adopted family so I am ultimately a mixture of both. BUT ~ I do not belong to either family. I do not feel that I belong to either family completely. There is always this little undefined missing piece that disallows for complete membership/belonging.
I married a widower with three children when I was 22. I am now almost 54. I loved and raised these three children as if they were my own (ha! I am not even sure what that means…and that is a giggle for sure). In the first 20 years of our marriage we could not afford to fund my adopting the children. It would have cost $1,500.00 (this was in the 1980s) and we simply did not have extra money in this large amount to do such a thing. By the time we could afford to sponsor my adopting the children monetarily in the early/mid 1990s…they were already graduating high school. What would the point be then? At any rate….if you know about stepfamilies…well there are unique belonging challenges there for a stepparent as well. So, in reality, real reality, I do not feel like I belong in my marital family.
But…mind you…I am not a victim. I don’t have the feeling of belonging to family in the way that many or perhaps most people feel. Not to a mother, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, a grandparent, or an aunt. Yet, I am a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, and a sister.
So, I’ve come to actively search for the meaning of belonging on a larger scale; from a broader definition of what it is to be human, alive, and perhaps connected to something larger; something larger like the human race or as a spiritual being. So, as has been true for most of my life, I am on a spiritual path to make meaning and sense of the story I tell myself about myself and my world and my experience. I’ve moved from trying to make a sense of belonging from tangible people/family to something intangible God/the Universe/Spirit whatever works in regards to labeling…I am open. It is difficult. I’ve returned to therapy as a result. I am working with a wonderful EMDR therapist and we have delved into those early years…infant years too (0 – 5). It’s made a huge difference. Life is very different after working in this therapeutic modality. I highly recommend it.
After searching for 10 years I found my birth parents. After recreating my abandonment story in my marital family, I have learned to bring this story of loss fully into my consciousness so I don’t have to act it out again. Since I have come to accept the truth of the biological preference truth…I am freer to understand the meaning of this and become free of it without judging myself and allow myself to create boundaries with my adopted family around these things. And now that I am working on these early, early events and emotions that have built who I am and impacted how I tell the story of who I am, what the world is, and how I fit into it…I am discovering that the only one that I truly belong to is myself and to that power, energy, force that is larger than myself. I believe that this is the ultimate truth. I still struggle with it as I am weaving this new and more empowered story that feels based more in the truth than anything to date. I am not a victim…and neither are you. What is your story? What story do you want to direct and inform your life? How are you learning to tell an authentic story that is free of the tethers that drag you down? You are worth this journey of finding your authentic story that allows you to live from a place of joy.
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