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Adoption Through The Eyes Of A Child

Imagine waking up one morning and immediately being met by someone who informs you that you are moving and are leaving that day. You are allowed to take only the items that will fit into one small bag. Nobody is telling you where you are going or why you have to leave. You dress quickly and pack the items that are most meaningful to you. You take one more look around the room—at the items you will have to leave behind, the place that has always been your home, and photos of your loved ones—not knowing if you will ever see them again in this lifetime.

You get into a car and watch out the back window as everything you have ever known disappears as the car drives away. You are taken to the airport. Someone you don’t know is with you—to ensure that you reach your destination safely. You board a plane and, exhausted by the emotions and stress of the day, you eventually fall asleep. When you wake up, you look out the window at a landscape that is entirely unfamiliar to you. You gather your belongings, walk out of the airport, and get into a car as the person who is with you gives the driver the address to your destination.

Following a long drive, the car stops in front of a place the stranger next to you calls your new home. As you exit the car and walk up to the house, you are struck by how harsh the sun is and how cold the air feels. It is strangely quiet and everything smells different.

Someone walks up to the person who is with you. You have never seen a person with their skin color before. As you glance around, you realize that you are surrounded by others who all have similar features, but look nothing like you. They speak in a language you don’t understand. The person you are with introduces you and calls you by a name you don’t know.

You are hungry, and you ask the person who is with you for food. They lead you into the house and prepare a meal for you. You look at the plate in front of you. It doesn’t look like anything you have ever seen before. You taste the food, and it doesn’t taste like anything you have eaten before. You don’t like it, but you force yourself to eat it all, as you don’t want to be rude. Later in the evening, you lay in a bed that doesn’t feel like yours. You glance around a room that is cold and unfamiliar and doesn’t look or feel like home.

You have never felt more frightened and alone.
Your heart aches for your loved ones and for the place you have always called home.
You long for something or someone that feels familiar to you and may bring you comfort.
But, there is nothing.
And, there is no one.

But, this is your life now.
This is your home now.
This name and identity they have given you is the person they want you to be now…

Now, imagine this experience through the eyes of your child.

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The preceding vignette is a dramatic interpretation of a fictional experience, but it is important for you to be able to consider what adoption may feel like from your child’s perspective.

Think of a time when you have had to move or start your life over in some way.

How long did it take for your new place to feel like home?
How long did it take for you to adjust to living in a new home with someone you already knew?
How long did it take for you to meet and warm up to your new neighbors or coworkers?
How long did it take for you to acclimate to the weather or to familiarize yourself with your new neighborhood—your new city?
How long did it take for you to feel more comfortable and a little less alone?
How long did it take for your heart to ache just a little less for the friends and family you had to leave behind?

I have been asked on a number of occasions for my opinion on seeking therapy right away for a child who was adopted. My immediate response is that it depends on the child, their trauma history, mental health diagnoses, and a number of additional factors.

I don’t necessarily believe that all children, youth, and adults who have experienced adoption are in need of therapy—nor do I believe that it is something that can and should be forced upon a person—regardless of age.

When I think about this on a personal level, I have to admit that I am sometimes taken aback by the question.

Adoption is not possible without loss, and the loss of one’s birth parents is one of the most significant forms of trauma that a child can experience. With that being said, it is not unnatural or abnormal for a child who has experienced a traumatic loss to feel the need to grieve that loss and to do so in their own time and in their own ways.

I think a majority of us have faced situations that have had a profound impact on our lives. And, regardless of whether those circumstances were filled with joy or sorrow or were perceived as successes or challenges—they often take time to get used to and accept. Sometimes there is forgiveness and growth and healing that needs to happen, and sometimes additional supports like therapy are needed to help us along the way.

I have battled mental health issues pretty much all of my life and received therapeutic supports like therapy, medication, etc. as a teen. None of it was very effective when I was younger, as I was embarrassed and ashamed of having to take meds and see a therapist. As a teen, I was resistant to pretty much anything that made me feel even more different than I already felt.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and I was able to make the decision for myself that therapy truly became the support that I needed to help me process and heal. The need for therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all or cookie cutter type of situation, and therapeutic supports sometimes aren’t helpful until we are in a place where we can trust, open ourselves up to, and work with someone like a therapist to help us on that path to healing.

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of therapy, but it isn’t for everyone. And, that’s okay.

I think the reason why I experience a somewhat visceral reaction to the notion that all children who are adopted are in need of therapy is the insinuation that it is the child and the child’s response to being adopted that is abnormal.

It is important to understand that parents should not default to putting the onus on a child to change in order to help them heal. Oftentimes, the change that is truly needed is for the adults in a child’s life to acknowledge their own blind spots and be open to looking at the big picture in order to figure out how to change and adapt for their child—rather than focusing solely on the behaviors and challenges that they may view as abnormal or unacceptable. Because, more often than not—the struggles and challenges experienced by some children who have been adopted are actually very normal reactions to abnormal situations.

As a parent, if your child is struggling, it is important to stop asking “What is wrong with my child?” and start asking, “What can I do to change my responses to my child and to these situations, and how can I create an environment for my child that will best support their needs?”

Sometimes, the answer may involve therapy for your child or for your family as a whole. But, as a parent, you need to first ask yourself if your attempts to “fix” your child have more to do with your own resistance to introspection, your rigidity, your inability to change your responses to your child’s needs and behaviors, or your inability to change the environment (physical and emotional) in which you are raising your child—or if there is actually something more going on with your child that may require additional services and supports.

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Note: I am not a mental health professional, nor am I an expert on mental health issues. My personal and professional experiences form the foundation for many of my opinions, which I do often share on this page and on my blog—but my thoughts and opinions are my own and should never be used in place of the advice of professionals or your own gut instinct as your child’s parent.

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Walk This Journey With Us

Have you ever come close to finishing a puzzle, only to discover there are a few pieces missing?

Have you ever read a mystery that has no resolution?

Have you ever forgotten a word or a name that sends you on a search for clues to help you remember?

Have you ever heard a song and felt it was missing a verse?

Have you ever become lost in a place that should be familiar to you?

What if those missing puzzle pieces were your family medical history?

What if the unresolved part of that mystery involved the names and information about your birth parents?

What if that forgotten word or name was actually a key to unlocking a past that you have forgotten or is entirely unknown to you?

What if that missing verse could reveal vital details of your birth and your life prior to your adoption?

What if that unfamiliar place is the racial or cultural community with which you identify?

Please do not ever tell an adoptee who is grieving their losses or searching for answers to get over it, or focus on living in the present, or to just leave their past behind them and move on.

By doing so, you are attempting to disenfranchise our grief.

It may help you feel better about the situation, but what you are actually doing is attempting to minimize or invalidate our pain and our feelings about our lived experiences.

And, that is not so much about us and what is in our best interests—that is about you.

Because you are uncomfortable allowing us to sit with our pain.

Because you are worried about what we might find and whether those answers will somehow reflect on you as a parent and your perceived importance in our lives.

Because you don’t understand how we can be stuck in a state of grief and emptiness when you feel you have given us the world.

Because you feel threatened by the fact that we could love someone who chose not to or was unable to parent us as much as we love you who adopted us.

Because you cannot fix our pain or fill the void in our lives—and it is heartbreaking to know your child is hurting and not have the ability to heal their wounds.

Please remember that this is not about you, nor is it a reflection of you as a parent.

It is about our need to grieve our losses,
to sit with and process our pain,
to work through our trauma histories,
to search for information that may be vital to our identity formation,
to reconnect with our roots,
to find a place to belong,
to find out who we are and where we came from,
and to work on healing the hurts from our past.

Support us and do your best to understand what we are going through.

If you don’t have the words that we need to hear in the moment, don’t say anything at all.
Just be there.
Sit with us in silence.
In those moments, your presence will speak louder than your words.
Because sometimes there are no words.
And, that is okay.

Walk this journey with us, but please don’t ever ask us to stray from or abandon it.

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I Am Someone’s Daughter: Supporting Your Child as a Transracially Adoptive Parent

Note: I want to acknowledge the fact that transracial adoption encompasses a diverse spectrum of family compositions. However, a vast majority of the transracially adoptive families with whom I have worked include white parents who have adopted children of color. This disproportionality is reflected across the board in all types of adoption, so this post was written with this specific family composition in mind.

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I truly appreciate those who do not experience the world as people of color who are fighting the fight for and alongside people who do. Because the onus of educating others about how it feels to be a person of color in this world should not fall on the shoulders of those who experience it. Because—regardless of the messages people of color attempt to convey—the messages are often somehow viewed as more valid and more accepted when they are shared by those who are not people of color.

Because people of color need to know their place.
Because people of color need to assimilate.
Because people of color must remain silent.
Because people of color are more accepted when they don’t fight back.

It is your responsibility, especially as transracially adoptive parents, to educate yourselves and those around you.

To read.
To listen.
To open your hearts and your minds to the messages being shared.
To wholeheartedly immerse yourselves and your family in the communities with which your child identifies.

I have written about and shared my thoughts on many issues relating to adoption throughout the years, but the one issue that exhausts me the most to write about is race. Because there are people who refuse to believe that racism exists. There are people who refuse to accept the fact that the world will view their children of color differently. There are people who refuse to accept the fact that their children of color will experience the world differently.

Because they don’t see color.
Because they know and are friends with people of color.
Because there is a family of color in their neighborhood.
Because their family and their community are inclusive of people of color.
Because they love all humans, regardless of the color of their skin.

You cannot truly love or accept people of color if you refuse to listen to them.
If you refuse to accept their reality—their truth.
If you refuse to hear their messages because they hurt too much—because they may reflect realities about yourself that are difficult to acknowledge and accept.

If you are not willing to listen and learn from people of color—regardless of how difficult the messages are to hear—you cannot truly love or accept them.

No, I absolutely do not attribute all of the evils and injustices of the world to race.
Yes, I absolutely believe that we should hold ourselves accountable for our words and our actions.
No, I do not believe that everything is about race.
Yes, I do believe that a lot of the hate and political unrest that currently exists in our country is race-related.

Because some things ARE about race.

As a child, every time I saw someone pull their eyes back when looking at me, I learned that the world saw me as different.

Every time I heard the taunts about “dirty knees”, I learned that the world saw me as inferior.

Every time I heard someone tell me to “go back to where [I] came from”, I was reminded that I didn’t belong.

The first time I heard someone call me a “chink bitch”, I learned that the world was not a safe place for people like me.

And, the first time I heard my brown son say, “Mom? People are going to treat me differently because I am darker than my brother, aren’t they?” I knew that the world was not a safe place for people like my sons either.

The world teaches people of color how to externalize racism when we experience microaggressions and macroaggressions;
when our experiences and truths are invalidated, minimized, or completely denied;
when we are told that we have created our own oppression;
when we are told that we make everything about race;
when our messages are met with defensiveness and hatred and vitriol;
when we are forced to assimilate;
when we are forced to remain silent.

When you look at your child, you may see them as beautiful;
you see them as a gift;
you see their talents and abilities;
you see possibility;
you see their future;
you see them for who they truly are.

When others see your child, they will immediately make judgments about your child based on their outer appearance. What others see in your child will determine the way they interact with your child—if they choose to do so at all.

And, the reality is that the world may view your child as “cute” or “adorable” or “safe” now, but god-willing—your child will become an adult some day—and the world will undoubtedly view your child differently as they age.
The world may grow to fear your child as your child grows—for no other reason than the color of their skin.

It is your job as their parent to help prepare your child for the realities of the world. Because that is an aspect of what you signed up for when you chose to adopt transracially or transculturally.

If you are unable to hear the messages of people of color who are not known to you, and your first instinct is to put your defenses up and attack—how do you expect to create a safe and open environment in which your child can talk to you about race and their experiences with racism?

While it may be easy for you to hide behind your computer or phone and spew hatred or vehemently deny the experiences of people of color—it is exhausting and heartbreaking and infuriating to be a person of color who is pouring our hearts out to you and sharing our thoughts and experiences with you (or elevating the voices and experiences of other people of color), only to be attacked and to have our realities invalidated in such hateful and hurtful ways.

When I write posts like these or anything race-related, I literally have to brace myself before posting.

Because the responses are often the same.
Because there will always be people who don’t want to hear the messages I am attempting to convey.
Because there will always be people who are so offended and so angered by our truths, that they choose to attack blindly.
Because I am not their daughter.

I am telling you now that I am someone’s daughter.
And, what I have to say matters.

Please listen.
Please learn.

Because what I am telling you will undoubtedly become your child’s truth or experience at some point in their lives—and it is your job to prepare them for the realities of the world.

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Unknown

The silence is so deafening and the depths of loneliness can sometimes feel like an endless abyss. There are many, many days where I am very present in the moment and I can feel my heart open to the love and support around me. I cherish those moments and hold onto them for dear life in hopes that they will help me through the inevitable dark moments—the moments that feel so suffocating and heavy where I am surrounded by loved ones, but can’t seem to shake the feeling of being so completely and utterly alone, or where I find myself briefly letting my walls down and pouring my heart out—only to be left feeling so heartbreakingly dismissed and unheard.

Can one ever truly understand how excruciating, hopeless, and complex it can sometimes feel for some people to simply exist?

There will always be people who understand your heartbreak and your grief in their own way, but they will never truly know how you carry your pain and how you feel your pain. They can never know what it feels like to spend your whole life trying to repair the broken pieces of your heart. They can never truly know what it feels like for you—the despair in knowing that the missing pieces of the puzzle will always exist…the heartbreak in acknowledging the voids in your life that no amount of love, or answers, or connections will ever be able to fill.

There will always be people with lived experiences similar to your own, but they can never truly know how you have experienced your life and what life feels like for you.

I fail to find the words to adequately describe what it feels like to sit in a room with people you have known and loved your entire life and feel like you don’t fit and that you never truly belonged. Like you are the consummate stranger. Like you will spend your entire life forever trying to prove yourself and prove your worth and that your life has value when the actions of others have caused you to feel otherwise. Like you have somehow failed your loved ones by never being able to fully heal, to fully let go, to fully embrace them and let them in, and fully believe that they won’t one day decide to leave you or decide that you’re not good enough.

No words can fully describe the guilt of knowing how hard they tried and how hard they have fought for you…how hard you have tried and how hard you have fought for them.

But you just…couldn’t.

Because, even as adults with partners and children of our own—it can feel impossible to shake that ever-present fear of loss. It can feel impossible to allow yourself to open your heart and trust the people in your life after being hurt time and time again. They may not even be the source of the hurt or the broken trust, but they pay for it.

You pay dearly for it, too.

It sometimes feels as though it has cost us everything.

Our relationships.

Our ability to open our hearts to give and receive love.

Our ability to believe that love can and should exist without condition.

Our ability to embrace who we are and find value in our existence and all we have to offer the world.

Our ability to experience life and be open to truly living it.

How do you grieve the loss of someone you don’t remember knowing? How do you miss a voice you don’t remember hearing? How do you miss the warmth of an embrace you are not sure you ever felt?

The ever-present messages intending to minimize or explain away your pain and disallow your need to grieve your losses demand a level of acceptance, submission, healing, and resiliency that some may never be able to achieve.

Because how do we get over it, really?

How do we trust the people we love and care about to sit with our pain without attempting to fix it—to fix us? How do we trust them to not attempt to minimize or explain away our pain? How do we allow them to attempt to understand the level of pain we are feeling if we are too afraid to open up to them in that way? If we don’t understand it ourselves? How do we allow them to acknowledge and validate our pain and show empathy and compassion without feeling like a victim or like the poster child for brokenness?

How can anyone—including ourselves—attempt to understand how profoundly we have been impacted by our lived experiences when nobody will ever know the whole story?

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.

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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.