An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

The Walls My Heart Built

The walls my heart built are my protection and my prison.

I learned from a very young age that the people who are supposed to always love you and protect you may end up being the people who leave you and hurt you the most. I learned from a very young age that the people you want to trust—the people you should be able to trust without question—are not always worthy of that trust.

My heart broke for the first time at a very young age. I learned how to mend the broken pieces of my heart together, but it was never to be the same. The innocence that I once knew was gone and my ability to feel secure and love unconditionally as any young child should was overshadowed by my fear of losing more loved ones…my fear of feeling more pain. So, I built a wall around my heart. It was not a strong wall, but it gave my heart a protective barrier—one that could easily be broken down by those I felt secure enough to let in.

My walls have never been fail proof. They allowed some people in who should never have been able to inhabit my heart—even for a moment. They allowed pain and betrayal to seep in—some of which were so harmful that I never thought my heart would ever recover. These walls have also kept me from forming real relationships with people who opened their hearts to me—people with whom I could never allow myself to do the same.

With each heartbreak and betrayal, my walls become stronger and stand taller around my heart. I find myself trusting less and allowing fewer people in. I find myself hiding behind my walls, even with people who love me and people I know I should be able to trust wholeheartedly. As I grow older, I find myself being able to forgive, but never forget. If you have broken my trust, I may let you back in, but never in the same way as before.

The walls I built as protection around my heart have also become my prison. While my heart remains safe, it feels so empty…so alone. I am tired…so tired. I wish I could let people in without question. I wish for the day when I can let my guard down and show people who I truly am without worrying about whether or not I will be liked or accepted. I wish for the day when I no longer feel the need to run away or hide. I wish for the day when I can allow my heart to love fully and live without fear of pain and loss and broken trust and betrayal. I wish for the day when my heart feels whole enough and strong enough to break down the walls I built around it so long ago.

One day, my walls will come down. But, for now, my heart remains protected and imprisoned—waiting for the day when the feelings of security are able to calm the overwhelming fears and the feelings of pain and loss are no more.

But, for now, I wait.

Parenting as an Adoptee: When Attachment Doesn’t Come Naturally

My sister and I never talked about being adopted when we were younger. The first time we had a discussion about adoption was just a year ago, when she was 31 and I was 29. A couple of weeks ago, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I spent the weekend in Indiana for an adoption conference. I had been invited to speak, and they made the drive to join me for the weekend, which was absolutely amazing. We spent a good part of the weekend talking about adoption and our own experiences. My sister shared things with me about when I first joined my family in Minnesota—things I had never heard before. I’m not ready to share everything she told me, but one of the things she mentioned really put something into perspective for me.

My sister told me how easy it was for her to adjust to her life with our family. She mentioned that she was out playing with the neighborhood kids on the second day she was here. It definitely didn’t come as a surprise to me, as my sister has always been very outgoing, friendly, and just very easy to love. My sister told me that I just wanted to be alone and often looked really sad when I first came to be with my family. This really clicked with me, and made me think about my own attachment issues.

My desire for alone time has always been a part of me, ever since I can remember. I think people would say that I am a kind and caring person, but I often find myself putting up a wall between myself and others—even the people I love. My fear of being hurt or abandoned—a fear I have harbored since I was little—developed into a need to always keep my guard up. The wall I put up between myself and others is my go-to coping mechanism.

My children are my life, and I would do anything for them. They know how much I love them. As much as it pains me to admit this, I would be lying if I said that my attachment with them comes easily for me. Most parents don’t think about attachment with their children because it comes naturally to them—it’s a non-issue. My love for my children has always been there and has never been in question. But, I often question my ability to fully attach with them. I believe that, due to my experiences early in life, I never learned how to fully attach correctly. I have relationships I cherish and very much value the people I have in my life. I have found that attachment has always been a balancing act for me, as I have often vacillated between becoming overly attached and pushing people away.

I feel like I am really putting myself out there, but there are times, as a parent, when I feel like I do things for my children because I’m supposed to, not because of an innate feeling of wanting to do it for them. There are times when I feel the walls go up between my children and me, and it takes everything I have to break through them. My husband and I provide my children with the things they need, and they don’t want for anything. They are happy, loving and caring little guys.

There are times when I feel extreme guilt because, as much as I love them, I sometimes look at them and can literally feel the wall between us. It scares me to feel this way, and I know that this is because of my attachment issues, but it makes me feel like I am an awful person. I feel absolutely horrible that, even though I feel like I am a good mom to my sons, I’m not a complete mom. I believe the fact that my children both have special needs is one thing that has somewhat exacerbated these feelings of not having fully attached. Every parent has dreams for their children, and most parents want to protect their children from anything that could possibly hurt them. When your child has special needs, you learn to adjust your life to fit their needs. These adjustments include letting go of some of the dreams you have for your child. It’s also difficult to know that you can’t protect your child from his or her special needs. Some parents are able to adjust easily to their child’s special needs, and are able to view the situation from the glass half-full perspective. Other parents greatly feel the loss of their dreams for their child and the guilt they carry for not being able to protect their child from something completely out of their control. I tend to fall in the latter category. My children’s special needs are seen as a source of pain, so the desire to block out that pain sometimes translates into my putting up a wall between myself and my children.

My attachment issues have been a source of frustration and extreme guilt for me. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am not a bad person, and I am a good mom. I also have to remind myself that my attachment issues are there because of something that was beyond my control. I love my children more than life itself, and I have developed a strong bond with them—it’s just not something that comes as naturally for me as it should. I have heard some parents say that their child “got over” their attachment issues. For children who never learned how to attach correctly, the ability to develop healthy attachments will most likely not come naturally and will be something they will have to work on throughout their lives. We’re not freaks or sociopaths or bad people—we’re simply wired differently than others and we have to work harder in our relationships. Rest assured, I love the people in my life and hold them all very close to my heart. I love, I genuinely care for others, I feel pain, and I feel empathy. Every person has a burden to bear—mine is just one of the many reasons why I hold my sons a little tighter and tell them I love them, and tell them again…

An Adoptee’s Perspective on Relationships

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.

Things

I wrote this piece a while ago, but thought it would make a great first blog post.

My husband and I are currently in the process of swapping rooms around in our house. Of course, with moving things around, comes the process of going through and throwing things away. My husband is very much a “thrower” and I am very much a “saver”. I am also an adoptee.

As I was watching my husband toss handfuls of things into the garbage without blinking an eye, I could literally feel my heart breaking. When he was finished, I quietly went through the bags and boxes piece by piece and rescued the items that meant something to me. My husband understood and left me to do what I needed to do to get through this process.

After I had gone through everything, we had a conversation about it. He told me that he wasn’t a sentimental person and never had the same attachment to things that I always have. I told him that adoptees view “things” differently than those who haven’t had that experience.

I was left abandoned in a subway station in Korea when I was one. I was left with absolutely no identifying information–no name, no birthdate…nothing. I was adopted at age two, and all I have of my life in Korea are “things”. I have no memories of the life I lived before I came to America.

I told my husband that I have a greater attachment to “things” because of those earlier losses I experienced in life. These things include baby items, some papers, pictures, and other items that have memories attached to them. I reminded him that his mom has his things from when he was a baby. I have nothing from when I was a baby. I hold very dear the “things” from when my sons were babies. They may never mean much to them, but they are incredibly important to me and they will always be here should my sons ever want to keep them or pass them along to their own children someday.

I was mulling over the events from this weekend, and I realized how important it might be to share this experience with foster, adoptive and kinship parents.

When you are getting ready to move or when you are tired of the clutter and are in the mood to throw things away, please be sure to give your adopted or foster child time to process the change and go through their belongings. It might take longer than you’d like for this to happen. If it means putting things into boxes and storing them in the garage or attic until your son or daughter is ready to go through them, then make this accommodation for them. Never spring something like this on your child and expect him or her to get over it and make it happen within a day or an hour. Getting rid of things can be a painful process for anyone, and even moreso for a foster or adopted child.

Please remember that the items you view as just “things” might mean the world to your child.