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Adoption, Sex, and the Pursuit of Love: Why Adoptive Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Sex

As parents, we spend our kids’ entire childhood focusing on loving them, supporting them, meeting their needs, helping to shape their identities, and instilling in them the values and morals we hope they will carry with them throughout their lives. It can be difficult to wrap our minds and our hearts around the fact that our kids are growing with each passing year, and that there may come a time when they won’t need us in the same ways we have grown so accustomed to throughout the years.

Parenthood is not an easy journey by any means, and we often spend a lot of it not really knowing what the heck we are doing! We work diligently to prepare our kids for living their lives in a way that feels right and successful for them, and many of us pride ourselves in doing so. However, there is one important issue that will likely arise for our kids as they grow and mature—an issue that many parents don’t feel comfortable even thinking about in the context of their kids, much less talking about or preparing them for. If you haven’t already guessed it—yes, that issue is sex. Aaaand, yes, I am going there.

Are you ready for this? I, honestly, don’t know that I am either, but here goes.

Sex. It is a completely natural thing, right? Our bodies consist of organs and glands and other complex biological parts and processes—the makeup and mechanics of which I am not going to even pretend to know about—that all make sex possible. It can be a way for us to connect with a partner; it can be a way for some of us to grow our families; and it can help to fulfill a variety of our emotional, psychological, physical, and biological needs. So, why is it so difficult for us to talk about with our kids, and why is it important for parents to have those discussions—especially with kids who have been adopted?

Why is it so difficult to talk about?

While sex is completely natural and something that a number of us have experienced ourselves, historically, it has been something deemed inappropriate to talk openly about. For many, it is an experience that is shared with another person in the privacy of our homes and behind closed doors or other places that can help protect us from exposing our most intimate selves to the world. It is within those experiences that we can open ourselves up to being vulnerable, to connecting emotionally and physically with a partner, and allowing ourselves to feel somewhat free and uninhibited.

For those of us who have experienced it, we all have our own memories of when it first happened, with whom we shared the experience, where it happened, etc. Some of us were ready for it to happen, and some of us were not. For some, the first experience was as positive as a first time can be—for others, it was an experience we wish we could forget. Regardless of how, when, where, or with whom it happened—I think it is safe to say that most of us will agree that our first time had an effect on us and likely changed us in some way.

Many people believe they are ready for sex when it first happens, and many are subsequently surprised to discover how unprepared they actually were. While the physical aspect of a person’s first time is important and may make for some truly memorable moments, more often than not, it will be the emotional aspect of it all that they will carry with them for a long time after the fact and may have a profound impact on their future sexual experiences.

An important part of being a parent is protecting our kids from anything that may cause harm to them or to others. Regardless of whether our first experiences were positive or something we would rather forget, it can be difficult to think of our kids as being ready for something as mature and intimate and life-changing as sex. Sex can be a wonderful experience, but we are all well aware that it can also be extremely harmful—both physically and emotionally. As parents, we want to protect our kids from things like sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, sexual violence and abuse, and the other potential physically harmful or consequential aftermaths of sex. And, we want and need to do our best to help protect them from the emotional and psychological implications of it as well.

As parents, it is overwhelming and a little heart-wrenching to think of our kids as ever being ready for or interested in having sex, but we would be doing ourselves and our kids a great disservice by living in denial about the fact that it will happen someday—whether we are ready for it or not.

Why it is important to talk about sex with your child who has been adopted?

It has taken a long time and a lot of introspection for me to get to this place, but I will fully admit that before I met my husband and became a mom, my understanding of and beliefs about love were extremely distorted and convoluted. When I experienced the trauma of losing my birth mother, my brain responded to that trauma and loss by wiring itself to view the world in a different way. Whereas most infants and toddlers who maintain their connections with their birth mothers feel safe and loved and cherished, my perspective of the world was based on the belief that people who love me will always leave me. With that as the foundation upon which I approached my life and every experience and relationship within it, I subsequently formed an understanding and belief that love always comes at a cost and that I had to give something in order to receive it. I had the choice to either spend my life running from love or fighting for it, and I chose to fight for it.

In other words, I spent my life believing that love was something that I had to be in constant fear of losing.

I have spent a vast majority of my life not knowing my worth and not having the ability within myself to believe in or embrace my value in this world. Knowing that my birth mother made the decision to not keep me in her life—to not have a relationship with me at all—made it really difficult to shape my identity and form a belief about my own worth in a positive or self-loving way. In terms of my physical being, I viewed it as something to hate. As a young girl, I often wondered if my birth mother would have loved me if I had been beautiful. I grew up in the shadow of my gorgeous, tall, and popular sister—who also happened to be adopted—and I spent most of my childhood believing that the kids in school didn’t like me and teased me because I wasn’t pretty enough…because I didn’t look like them. I never learned or believed that my body was something that was worth protecting—it was simply the shell of me that existed only to contain all of the emptiness and broken pieces of who I was inside.

Having attended a private, Catholic school during my formative years, I was pretty sheltered from many realities of the world. The only extent of my sex education consisted of the abstinence-only message I received during grade school. Before high school, I knew nothing about condoms or birth control pills and I knew very little about STDs and teen pregnancy—only that they were bad and they were consequences of having sex before marriage. Attending a public high school certainly changed all of that for me in the sense that I became much more aware of the world around me, but I had also reached that period in my life where I believed myself to be invincible—as many teenagers do—and that everything that happened to other girls would never happen to me.

I started dating a guy from a different school (because I was super cool like that) during my junior year of high school. After years of feeling painfully invisible while watching my friends experience the countless and very dramatic ups and downs of their relationships, it felt amazing to finally have someone in my life who saw me as beautiful and someone worth getting to know on a different level. It was the first time in my life where I felt loved by someone who wasn’t my family, and the euphoria of it all was exciting and a little addicting in a way. We dated for several months before we reached the point of being “ready”. For me, losing my virginity to him became a way of holding onto someone I felt was slipping away. I remember very little about it beyond feeling guilty, empty, and somewhat lost after it happened.

The relationship ended, and I began my battle with severe depression and anxiety shortly thereafter. At the time, I didn’t realize how devastating it would be to experience the loss of that relationship. I didn’t realize how empty I would feel and how much I would miss feeling wanted and seen and loved by someone other than my family. After that relationship ended, I found myself craving those feelings of being needed and wanted and seen and loved. It became almost like a drug to me and I was reckless and stupid and thoughtless in my pursuit to find someone or something to fill the void the loss of that first relationship had created within me. As a result of the choices I made, I became pregnant during my senior year of high school. Due to severe stress, extreme and rapid weight loss, and a number of other factors, it eventually became medically necessary for me to terminate the pregnancy.

I never believed any of it would happen to me—but it did.

As I look back on the period of my life between high school and when I met my husband—knowing what I know now—I truly believe that a number of the choices I made were done so in pursuit of something to fill the void created by the losses I have experienced in my life. I often hear people say that having a biological connection to someone doesn’t matter—but it does. It can mean the world to someone who has never had that type of connection in their life. I love my family more than anything and my parents provided me with a really good life, but I still fantasized as a young girl about life with my birth mother—my birth family. There was a subconscious craving within me for that biological connection to someone…anyone. That need and desire for a biological connection was fulfilled when I gave birth to my oldest son. There are no words that could ever express what it felt like to hold him in my arms and to finally look into the face of someone with whom I shared a resemblance—someone who shared my DNA.

That moment of becoming a mom was profound and life-changing beyond measure. Not only did he fill a void within me—his very existence gave my life purpose and meaning. I always dreamed of becoming a mom, and I remember promising him the world in that moment of first meeting him. He provided me with an opportunity to love someone unconditionally and to feel some of that love in return.

The desire to create a family or a life you feel you never had is a common theme among children, teens, and adults who have experienced foster care or adoption. Young people who have had very little in life to call their own—along with a distorted sense of self worth—may develop a belief that their body is the only thing of value they have to give, rather than seeing it as something worth protecting. This may lead them to search for love and connection anywhere they think they might find it, which can involve potentially risky and reckless behaviors.

Tips for talking with your child or teen about sex

As a mom of tween and teen boys, I am not an expert on talking to kids about sex, nor would I ever claim to be. However, I strongly believe in talking to kids about it and starting at an early age and in age-appropriate ways. Due to some experiences in my own life and what I have learned in my work as a volunteer sexual violence crisis counselor throughout the past 11 years, it has always been important to my husband and me to talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Included on the list below are suggestions and some of the ways in which we have attempted to help prepare our sons for their future relationships:

  • Starting early. We started having the “good touch, bad touch” talk with our oldest son when he was around 3 or 4. At this point, he knew the concept of right vs. wrong and had an awareness of his body to the extent that we could talk with him on a very basic level about which body parts were inappropriate for other people to see or touch, who is allowed to see those body parts, and in what context would it be appropriate for them to do so (i.e., his pediatrician while doing a check-up exam at an appointment—and only when Mama and Papa are in the room, etc.). These discussions usually occurred during bath time.
  • “No” means “no”, and “stop” means “stop”. This is a message we have tried to instill in our sons in various ways throughout the years, starting from when they were very young (around 3 or 4 years old). For example, if we were having a tickling match, the moment someone said “stop”, we would be hands-off—everyone would stop, and we were done. Now that the boys are older (they are now 11 and 14), they do know what sexual violence is and they understand the importance of respecting their partner, their partner’s body, and their partner’s right to say “no” or “stop” at any time and at any point during their relationship.
  • Teaching respect and acceptance. Respect for themselves and for others is something we have always worked to instill in our sons. This has included discussions of the right to say no to things like sex, peer pressure, etc., and the right to make decisions for themselves, regardless of what others may think. We talk regularly about embracing diversity and everything that makes us unique and treating all people with respect and kindness. These discussions include topics of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Talking openly about love and relationships. Both of the boys have each had their first girlfriends (and, yes, my head did explode when that happened!), and we have used those opportunities to talk about things like what love is and what love isn’t, what it means to love and respect your partner, the ups and downs of relationships, what it means to be in love with someone, what an equal partnership should look like, etc. Because they are at an age where they can easily be embarrassed when talking about girlfriends, we try to do so in a way that is respectful, lighthearted (but not teasing), doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and doesn’t shame or embarrass them for choosing to be in a relationship. My husband and I have also made it a point to show our sons what love and a healthy relationship can look like. We share in responsibilities as a family. My husband and I are affectionate towards each other (in appropriate ways), and we don’t attempt to hide it from the boys. We screw up. We argue. We break down. We get back up. We apologize to each other and to our sons (because parents get it wrong and need to apologize, too). We support each other in our decisions and we back each other up as parents and as partners. We work through our issues together whenever possible, and we try to support each other through all of the ups and downs of life.
  • Talking about sex. The boys have known about sex for a while, through friends at school and from what we have discussed with them at home. We started talking to them about sex a couple of years ago, and we tried to keep the initial discussion pretty lighthearted. (Let’s just say it may or may not have included one of us singing part of the chorus of “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls.) It has always been important for my husband and me to not stigmatize sex or make it feel shameful to our sons or something they need to hide from us or be embarrassed about. They know it is something that is completely natural and an experience that people who are in love can choose to share with each other. We have talked about the importance of waiting until they and their partners are ready. Both of the boys have expressed interest in girls, but they are well aware of the fact that we will love and support them regardless of who they choose to love. They know about the importance of protecting themselves and their partners when they have sex. We have also discussed pregnancy and the importance of accountability and helping to raise and support their child, should they become fathers before they have found a life partner. I am sure there will be many more discussions about sex, sexual safety, and related issues, but we are thankful to have reached a point with the boys where talking about it feels fairly normal for all of us (something we have been known to do over a plate of spaghetti at dinner). As a general rule, we try to keep things pretty light in our home, because that is what works for our family. It has always been important for us to avoid fear-based, judgmental, or shaming language or tactics when talking about sex with our sons. Rather than focusing the discussions on what we feel is morally right or wrong, we attempt to keep the focus primarily on the physical and emotional safety of our sons and their future partners. Whether we like it or not, the decision of whether or not to have sex and when they feel ready to do so will ultimately be up to our sons and their future partners. It is inevitable and we have always felt that it is our job as their parents not to shame them or judge them or put the fear of God in them with regard to sex—the best thing we can do for them and for their future partners is to prepare them so that they are able to make safe, responsible, respectful, mature, loving, and informed decisions when they each choose to take that step in life.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and what has worked for my family won’t necessarily work for yours. In fact, the purpose of this post was only to encourage you to talk to your kids about sex and, whenever possible, to do so in an open, honest, loving, and nonjudgmental way. I also hoped to share that talking with your kids about sex doesn’t have to be mortifying or embarrassing or cringe-inducing for you or for your kids.

In my opinion, the absolute best example of “The Talk” that I have ever seen was on Friday Night Lights in the season 3 episode titled, “The Giving Tree”. The conversation takes place between Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and her daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), after Tami learns that her daughter is sexually active. One of the many things I love most about the conversation Tami has with her daughter is that, even though she already knows that her daughter is having sex, she approaches the conversation in an unassuming and non-accusatory way. She doesn’t focus on what she feels is morally right or wrong and she doesn’t shame her daughter for the choices she has made—her primary focus is on the physical and emotional safety of her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. I also really loved that Tami makes sure her daughter knows that she has the right to say no at any time and that, if the relationship doesn’t work out, she should not feel obligated to have sex with any of her future partners. She also encourages her daughter to be open to talking with her about anything—even something as difficult to talk about as sex. It is so good that I am going to conclude this post with a transcript of the conversation. I hope you will find it as helpful and thought-provoking as I have and be able to draw inspiration from it for conversations with your own children.

TAMI: So, um, do you love Matt?

JULIE: I love Matt.

TAMI: Does he love you?

JULIE: Matt loves me.

TAMI: He does… And, what about birth control?

JULIE: Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.

TAMI: Hun, that’s the conversation.

JULIE: Yes, we’re using birth control.

TAMI: What kind specifically?

JULIE: Condoms…we’re using condoms.

TAMI: Do you know how to use them properly?

JULIE: Yes, I know how to use them.

TAMI: You know you have to use them every time, because you know sometimes boys try to tell you—

JULIE: Yes, Matt’s really good about it.

TAMI: And, you know, just because you’re having sex this one time, doesn’t mean that you have to all the time. And, you know if it ever feels like he’s taking you for granted, or you’re not enjoying it, you can stop anytime… And, if you ever break up with Matt, it’s not like you have to have sex with the next boy necessarily. [Starts to tear up.]

JULIE: Why are you crying?

TAMI: Because I wanted you to wait. But, that’s just because I want to protect you because I love you, and I want to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. And, I always want you to always be able to talk to me, even if it’s about something so hard like this.

JULIE: I didn’t want to disappoint you.

[Tami shakes head and hugs Julie.]

Parenting in a World that Doesn’t Make Sense

As a parent, when horrible and senseless tragedies like the mass shooting in Orlando occur, it is difficult to not feel helpless and hopeless. It is difficult to not feel guilt and shame for the world in which you are raising your child. You struggle for the right words to say—sometimes knowing that there are no words. Sometimes the only thing you can do is hold your child a little longer—a little closer. You cherish those moments as you fight back the tears—knowing that, due to these unspeakable acts of hate, there are parents out there who are preparing to say goodbye to their children for whom they would give anything to be able to hold in their arms again.

You wish you could do something to help make the future just a little less bleak for your child. You wish you could rid the world of hate. You wish you could shield your child from the senseless violence that, with each occurrence, silently erodes your ability to trust and to feel safe. You try to believe that it won’t happen to you or your family. You try to desensitize yourself to the violence and hate around you. But, it doesn’t work. Regardless of how hard you try, it is impossible to shake the fear and the grief. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost was someone’s child. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost mattered to someone.

You can’t tell your child that everything will be okay, because nobody can ever truly know. It is difficult to not allow fear to overcome you—to keep you from doing the things you want to do and enjoy doing. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but you can make the choice to keep going—to keep living your life. Because, if we let fear overcome us, then fear wins, right? You provide your child with a safe, stable, and loving home, but you also do what you can to prepare them for what they may encounter in the world. If you choose to share with them some information about tragedies when they occur, you attempt to do so in an age-appropriate way, but also in a way that teaches them that, while there is evil in the world, there is also a lot of good.

From the moment you bring your child into the world, or into your family, it is your responsibility to help shape who they will become. It is your responsibility to instill in them the values and principles that will help pave the way for them to learn how to become compassionate, functioning, and contributing members of society. You encourage your child and build them up while also doing your part in holding them accountable for their actions. You are there to help pick them up when they fall and you hope they are able to learn from their mistakes. You watch as they tackle challenges and adversities and encourage them to be open to the lessons life tries to teach them along the way. You teach your child the importance of motivation and hard work to achieve their goals and their perceived successes in life. And, when they are ready to be on their own, you can only hope that they hold onto some semblance of the values, advice, and lessons you shared with them along the way.

I believe in advocating for change that will positively impact the future for our children, for ourselves, and for our world. However, I also believe in the importance of teaching our children to be kind and respectful to others, to show compassion, and spread love—not hate. We also need to make sure our children are aware that, regardless of what they believe, the rules DO apply to them. We can advocate against the injustices of the world, but laws and regulations mean very little if people refuse to abide by them.

If we truly want to change the world for our children, we need to help our children become a reflection of the world in which we wish for them to live.

Loving My Misunderstood Child

My youngest son had a really rough day today.

As with many parents who receive fairly frequent communications from their child’s school, I always cringe when I see the name of my son’s school appear on my phone. There is always that moment before you pick up the phone where you pause, brace yourself, and take one last breath before answering. The voice on the other end of the phone is often different, but the message is usually the same. Your son was misbehaving, he was sent to the refocus room, and now he has completely escalated. Can you talk to him? [Insert the muffled sound of my son’s very agitated voice.] Okay, he is refusing to come to the phone. Can you just make sure you talk to him at home about showing respect, listening to his teachers, and following the rules?

Can you tell that I have been the recipient of just a few of these calls? I am convinced my son’s school has my number on speed dial.

The way my husband and I have addressed these issues with our son has varied quite a bit throughout the years. We are constantly learning, and just as our son has challenging days, we have pretty rough days that can affect the way we react to these types of situations as well.

As I was watching the clock tick by and waiting for my little guy to get home this afternoon, I vacillated between being very upset and annoyed by the situation, and feeling compassion for my son who lives in a world that doesn’t seem to understand him. When he got home, I heard the familiar slam of the porch door and the creak of the front door as he slowly made his way inside. The expression on his face was a heartbreaking mixture of anger, defeat, worry, and sadness. Without saying a word, I motioned for him to join me on the couch where he fell into my arms and I held him as he began to cry. It is a place where we cuddle most mornings and it is a place that feels safe for him. After he had calmed down a bit, we were able to talk about what had happened and he was able to share about the events of the day from his perspective. We were able to talk about how he could have made different choices and we came up with a plan of how he can work on reacting differently, but also how we can potentially incorporate some sensory tools to help him refocus and self-regulate when the situation at school gets to be too much. We talked about the different types of items we could try, how they are used, and came up with a plan for asking the school if they would be on board with trying this technique. By the end of our talk, he was calm, flashing his adorable and goofy smile, and was ready for dinner.

It hasn’t always been like this, and we still have days when all hell breaks loose and there is very little hope of getting the situation back under control, but my husband and I work hard to make it work. Learning how to parent our son in a way that is best for him has been like a rollercoaster ride that never seems to end. It isn’t easy, and we are constantly educating ourselves and adapting who we are as parents to help shape and guide who he is as a person. We gave up the notion long ago of trying to grow our tiny humans into the people we want them to be and have since focused on embracing who each of our sons are and helping them to become the best versions of themselves.

Our youngest son is a complete spitfire. He has his papa’s fiery Latin blood running through his veins and is an incredibly perceptive and sensitive little guy. He is very impulsive, he likes to challenge himself and others, and always seems to be pushing boundaries whenever possible. He is a very complex, witty, and goofy child with an amazing personality and a wonderful zest for life. He has the ability to have you cracking up one minute and wanting to tear your hair out the next. He dances when there is no music, and he hums and sings without ever having an impetus to do so. He has always had two speeds—running and sleeping—and he would much rather walk backwards in a world that is constantly moving forward.

As an adoptee, I know what it’s like to feel stuck and to feel like you are somewhere between and wondering if you will ever truly find a place to belong. My son and I both live in a world that doesn’t quite understand who we are, and it makes me want to work harder to be a safe haven for him and a constant in his life that truly gets him and embraces all of his wonderful and not-so-wonderful quirks and qualities.

My sons have always been my world, and I have always loved them with every fiber of my being. It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (both figuratively and literally) to get to a place where I can truly say that I understand my youngest son—that I understand what his needs are, the reasoning behind the choices he makes, and how he copes with the reactions of others who may not understand where he is coming from. It is very rarely easy, and there are as many good days as there are bad, but I am very thankful to finally be in a place where I can attempt to see the world through his eyes and parent my son with more compassion, kindness, and understanding. I have come to the realization that my days of having to explain to others who my son is and advocating for his needs are far from over. I will continue to walk this journey with him and do what I can to advocate for and support him in hopes that one day he will be able to live in a world that understands and embraces him as well.

I Choose Love

I have been thinking a lot about the current state of affairs in this country, and I find the hatred and unrest surrounding it all so upsetting. There are people I love and care about very much who remain on opposing sides of many issues. They have their opinions and beliefs and I have my own. However, I don’t love or respect them any less because we don’t see eye-to-eye. They have their reasons for their beliefs and I have my own.

The thing that really bothers me about all of this is the fact that some people only seem to care about being right. There have been so many arguments and debates over whose principles and beliefs reign supreme and why all members of the opposing sides are horrible and deserve to be made fools of or completely cut from one’s life. Yes, there are definitely instances in which the cutting of ties is absolutely the answer, but this is certainly not the case in every situation.

Call me naïve or a bleeding heart, but none of this is about being right for me. It’s about loving your neighbor—regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, etc. It’s about being kind and loving and opening your heart to others and accepting them and loving them for who they are.

You want to talk about God? I don’t know about yours, but my God is a loving and righteous God who walks with His sons and daughters and carries us through our struggles and supports us as we bear our burdens. He is a God who loves everyone, regardless of our perceived sins and shortcomings. He is a God who kneels and washes the feet of the poor and suffering, who takes His sons and daughters into His arms without question, and loves freely and openly and without the need to judge or discriminate.

My family has been perceived as different for as long as I can remember. When I registered my oldest son for school, the school system forced me to choose one of his races over the other—nonchalantly forcing his own mother to strip him of half of his racial identity without concern of the implications of doing so. I can’t remember a time when we have walked into a store and not felt the burning glares and distain for our mixed family from older Asian men and women who obviously feel I have somehow disgraced their culture because I married outside of my race and created tiny humans whose blood is not purely Asian. I have had numerous racial slurs flung at me throughout my life. These experiences could easily be perceived as reason enough to hate, but that is not who I am and that certainly was not the way I was raised.

The monumental ruling to allow all couples of legal age to marry in all 50 states matters to me as a straight ally, as a wife, and as a mom. It matters to me because I was allowed to marry the love of my life over 12 years ago and I cannot imagine a life without him as my partner, my other half, and father of my children—both in love and in law. As someone who was legally allowed to marry her partner, I cannot imagine the pain of loving someone so much and wanting to spend the rest of your life with them, and being legally banned from being able to do so.

I have so many dreams for my sons. I have no way of knowing who they will be when they grow up or who they will choose to love. I will love them regardless of whether or not they attend college or achieve their perceived successes in life. I will love them if they are gay and I will love them if they are straight. And, because of this monumental ruling, I will be able to dance with them at their weddings regardless of whom they choose as life partners and where they choose to live.

I will continue to remain unshaken in my belief that all people matter. No religion or law will dictate how I choose to treat others. I will never claim to easily or always love or embrace others or treat others with kindness. Doing so will always be both a struggle and a conscious choice. But, regardless of my spiritual or political beliefs, I will always try to choose love. I will always try to choose kindness. And, I will always try to choose what I feel in my heart is right.

Hate builds mountains. Love moves them. Choose love.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

Losing the Joy in Being “Mom”

I always knew I wanted to be a mom—not because I harbored a need to prove myself to be better than my birth mom or because I needed a tiny human who would always love me. I wanted to be a mom because there was something inside me that yearned to be one. I have always had a love for children, and I wanted to be able to bring a little one into the world to love, care for, and guide—someone who would also teach me and help me grow to become a better person. I have always felt like my life began at two, and that I was never given the opportunity for a true beginning of my life—one that seems to bring so much joy and excitement to so many parents, and one that so many look back on as adults through pictures, baby books, and family memories. I felt in my heart that I would be a good mom—I truly did.

When my sons were younger, being a mom felt so easy and so natural. I delighted in all of the joys and amazement that new life brings and felt so much love and pride for my sweet little guys. I continue to be so in love with my sons and so incredibly proud of them and who they are. However, as the years have passed, I have gradually found myself losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom.

I first noticed the change when my oldest was diagnosed with special needs and learning difficulties. As I took him to appointments and attended teacher meetings and IEP meetings, I started to feel as though I had failed him—I felt like his special needs and learning difficulties were my fault. I didn’t know what I had passed onto him genetically and I started to question my abilities as a parent. Did I read to him enough? Did I really do enough when he was younger to help support his development? Was I really a good mom, or was I just in denial? I seemingly had found myself with a son who I felt like I didn’t know how to parent anymore. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t understand what he was going through and, because I didn’t have the struggles in school that he was having, I felt like I no longer knew how to help him or be the parent I had always hoped to be for him. I saw my dreams for him slowly fade away. While I still absolutely have great hopes for him, and truly feel he will achieve amazing things in life—it saddens me to know that the journey will be one with great struggles—those of which I have no doubt he will overcome.

A number of years ago, I wrote about my struggles with my youngest. I wrote about his rages and the hours I would endure of his kicking, punching, screaming, spitting, and throwing things at me—among other things. I wrote about attempting to get help for him and having him test in the clinical range for aggression and other behavioral issues, and then being told by the so-called “experts” that there was nothing they could do for him and that he would grow out of it. I still think back on that day with great disgust and anger. At that time, I was truly afraid of him and had, on numerous occasions, contemplated calling the police on him during his rages. I remember wondering if these “experts” had ever truly experienced what it felt like to fear their children or the sheer terror of watching your normally very sweet child go from the most loving little guy to someone completely unrecognizable and being pushed to the point where you are literally fearing for your life.

His rages are now very few and far between, but I often wonder if I will ever gain a handle on his behaviors. I often cringe at the thought of having to leave the house, because the simple process of getting ready for anything can have him escalating from zero to two hundred in minutes. I feel like I have tried everything, but it seemingly never changes. There are certainly some days when I, thankfully, don’t feel like I have run a half marathon after getting him ready, but those seem to be few and far between.

I am tired.

I am exhausted.

I feel like I am slowly losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom. I am sick of fighting. I am sick of yelling. I am sick of saying things I shouldn’t say and don’t mean because I no longer have the fight in me to even attempt to filter my comments anymore. I am sick of having horrible mornings and sitting at work absolutely consumed with guilt over what a horrible mom I have been. I am sick of lashing out at the people in my life who love me and try to support me because I don’t feel like I deserve to be loved or supported.

I am sure by now a number of you are thinking I am a horrible person and don’t deserve to be a mom. It’s so easy to judge when you haven’t been through it, and it’s so easy to believe that you would do things differently if you were in the same situation. I know I make mistakes, and there are certainly things that I could have done differently. This certainly was not the life as a mom that I had dreamed and hoped for. I love my kids more than life itself and I would do anything for them. Truly. But, it’s hard to find joy in being a mom when you are constantly being beaten down, told that you suck, that you’re hated, that you are the worst person in the world, that he wishes you were never even born, and then having glimpses of hope that are later dashed. How do you find joy in being a parent when you literally are brought to a place where you look at your child and think, “I love you so much, but I really don’t like you right now.” I know you are supposed to love being a parent and everything that comes with it, but I don’t love being made to feel like a piece of crap every day by someone you do everything for and would give your life for. How do you find joy in that?

I know that many people will think that I am wrong in sharing this struggle so publicly, but I know I am not alone in this. Some parents will never admit to losing their joy, and others talk about it openly and are told they are awful parents as a result. I try really hard to be a good mom to my sons and I work hard to make sure they don’t want for anything. I love my sons. I cuddle with them. I laugh with them. I cry with them. I teach and never stop learning from them. We have grown so much together.

Though some days certainly have driven me to the point of wondering what could have been, I won’t ever regret bringing them into this world. I will continue to fight the fight and I will continue to weather the storms with them. I will fight to hold onto the glimpses of joy, but I will also allow myself to say that parenting really sucks sometimes. I won’t ever be a perfect parent and I will continue to make mistakes and say things I shouldn’t say (though, I will try very hard not to). But, I will never stop loving my sons. I will never stop telling them and showing them that they are loved and that I am so incredibly proud of them. And, even though horrible mornings happen, I won’t ever stop taking the time to cuddle with my sons or talk things through with them at the end of the day or tuck them in every night with a hug and an “I love you.”

Though the joy sometimes slips away, I refuse to lose hope.

A Letter from an Adoptee to Her Sons

To My Sweet Little Guys,

I am writing this letter not really knowing what to say or whether it will be something you will ever have the opportunity to read. We have had conversations in the past about my having been adopted, but I have a feeling there will come a day when you will have questions and will want to learn more.

I remember the first time Papa and I discussed adoption with you. I remember the silence that followed our telling you that I was born to someone other than Grandma and Grandpa. You asked me about my “real” parents and why I didn’t grow up with them. I remember explaining to you that Grandma and Grandpa are my real parents (as were my birth parents) and that my birth parents weren’t able to take care of me so Grandma and Grandpa became my parents. I remember you asking if my birth parents loved me, and my answering that I wasn’t sure, but I knew they loved me enough to bring me into this world.

While I seldom speak negatively about my birth parents to you—we rarely discuss them at all—the truth is that my feelings towards them change often. There are days when I don’t feel like I will ever be at peace with the way I feel about them. Other days are filled with a deep longing to know who they were and what fueled their decision to no longer parent me. I don’t know that I have ever had the desire to have a relationship with them—nor would it ever be a possibility—but I have always wished I had known something about them. They made life-changing decisions that have affected me and will affect you and your children as well. I will always feel guilty for not knowing my family’s medical history or what I have passed onto you and what you may pass onto your children because of me. I wish with every fiber of my being that I could fill those voids and answer those unanswerable questions, but the reality is that those are things I will never be able to do for you.

I want you both to know that by making that decision to adopt me three decades ago, Grandma and Grandpa truly changed my life. In a matter of a year, I went from being an orphan to becoming someone’s daughter. It is because of them that I have a forever family and a place to call home. They have given me a life filled with unconditional love, support, and amazing opportunities. They were the ones who were at my high school and college graduations and they were the ones who walked me down the aisle the day I married your papa. They will always be your grandparents and, God-willing, they will one day be great-grandparents to your children as well.

As you already know, I will never be a perfect mom. There have and will be things I say and do that I will regret immensely. However, I want you both to know that I will never regret bringing you into this world and being there to watch you grow and one day become the men and fathers I have always dreamed you will become. I will never forget the days you both were born and the overwhelming feelings that washed over me when I held you both for the first time. I will never forget the instant love I had for you both and the promises I made to do my best to be a good mom and work hard to make sure you don’t want for anything. Your lights shine so brightly in this world and becoming your mom has been my life’s greatest achievement. Your existence gives me so much purpose and I love you both with every fiber of my being.

It is an absolute honor and blessing to be your mom. Rocking you to sleep and singing to you and kissing your little fingers and toes when you were babies brought so much joy and love to my life. It may seem strange at times, but things like your birth stats and baby pictures and outfits will always mean so much to me, as I will never have those memories and mementoes from that period of my life to share with you. Papa and I love sharing stories with you of when you were babies and watching as your sweet faces light up with excitement and hearing your laughter as you try to imagine yourself at that age. We have so enjoyed watching you grow and experiencing with you the ups and downs of life. It has been a pleasure to share with you our values, beliefs, and traditions and watch as you take those little life lessons and use them in your interactions with others. Your kind hearts, your sense of humor, your zest for life, and your strength and resiliency are inspiring. We are learning so much from you and we are in awe of the young men you have already become.

I may have been one of the unwanteds, but I assure you that Papa and I wanted you from the minute we knew of your existence. We started forming our hopes and dreams for you the moment we heard your little hearts beating for the first time. Though we sometimes may do and say things we don’t mean, please don’t ever doubt our love for you. Regardless of the paths you travel or the choices you make in life, we will always love you and do our best to support you both through it all.

There may come a point in your lives when you may feel the effects of the missing pieces in my life. I promise to do my best to provide you with the answers I have to share with you and do what I can to help you fill in those empty spaces. I may not have a clear beginning to my life, but it gives me great pride in knowing that you will be the continuations of my life and my journey. Papa and I are so incredibly proud of you both and look forward to watching where your journeys lead as you continue to grow and form your own identities and strive for your own perceived successes in life. We love you for always and we thank you for making our lives and our family so complete.

Love,

Mom