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Anger and the Not-So-Angry Adoptee

I am angry.
Really, really angry.
It scares the crap out of me.
And, not because I fear causing physical harm to others, as that has never been an issue with me.

It scares me because anger scares me.

When I was younger, I certainly had my bratty moments, but I never raged or had moments of extreme dysregulation. There were certainly times when I could have, and probably should have—but it never really happened to my knowledge.

Because the stakes were too high.

Though my parents were very committed and weathered a lot of storms with me, I never felt like I could expose those feelings of anger to the world.

I did a lot to avoid experiencing anger from others.
Because anger terrified me.

That fear was paralyzing at times.
And, the anxiety was always there.

Attempts to avoid the anger of others came at a great cost—which continues to profoundly impact my life and who I am today.

I lost myself in my efforts to avoid conflict and making others angry. I could even go as far as to say that I missed out on a crucial part of exploring my identity by not allowing myself to feel or express anger as openly as I should have and face the anger of others.

And, those efforts to avoid anger were endless.
Apologizing for everything.
Remaining silent at times when I wanted to scream.
Giving up or giving in to avoid a fight.
People pleasing.
Flying under the radar as much as possible.
Isolating myself.
Going with the crowd.
Hiding in the shadows of others.
Allowing others to shape my identity and make decisions for me—even at the expense of my values at the time, my dignity, and the sense of who I thought I was and hoped to become.
Speaking softly in hopes that nobody would hear me.
Keeping everything bottled inside.
Not speaking at all.

As I have grown, matured, and experienced the world as an adult—I have allowed myself to feel and express my anger more freely. But, I have found that I can be somewhat immature emotionally.

Because I don’t always handle my emotions well and missed out on developing ways to cope with the emotions I rarely allowed myself to feel.

I have never harmed anyone physically, but I have said things that are hurtful more often than I would like to admit.

I lash out at those closest to me.

I fixate on things that make me angry, and even though I use opportunities to vent and process—some things are really difficult to let go of and move on from.

I use food as a coping mechanism—vacillating between overeating and not eating at all.

I completely check out.

And, every time I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to expose my anger to others—the guilt that follows is all-consuming and overwhelming.

I have been struggling for a while and my mental health has suffered greatly. And, I am finding myself in a place I have never been before—vacillating between feeling nothing and feeling so much anger.

I am so angry. So angry.

And, that scares me. A lot.

Because the one emotion that I have spent most of my life trying to escape and avoid is the only emotion I currently have the capacity to feel. It seems to be the only emotion that is reminding me that I am alive and still fighting.

I very much own where I am right now, and I am taking the steps to stop the downward spiral, take care of myself, and access the supports that I need to work through this.

I feel fortunate to be in a field where I have been able to develop skills and knowledge about being able to address situations like this safely and appropriately, but I wonder about others who have experienced adoption and foster care as a child and feel as I do, but may not have access to the same resources and supports.

As parents, we worry so much about the emotions our children express, and sometimes forget that expressing those emotions is so healthy and so incredibly important for our children to be able to do. There are absolutely cases where the dysregulation and emotions expressed are not healthy or “normal”, and that absolutely needs to be acknowledged and addressed in safe, supportive, and appropriate ways—and possibly with the help of professionals.

However, we need to also remember that through the release of emotions and the processing and support that usually follows—your child is working to form their own identity; they are fighting to feel safe; they are testing the limits of your love and commitment to them; they are navigating boundaries set for them and working to form their own; and they are working to develop self-awareness and coping skills that will profoundly impact the way they experience the world.

This world can feel pretty lonely, overwhelming, and hopeless when you haven’t developed the ability to name and freely express the emotions you are feeling and lack the supports to help you through.

The limitations in rarely allowing myself to feel and freely express emotions like anger as a child were largely self-imposed and fueled by the fear of another rejection or abandonment—another loss.

And, those limitations I set for myself as a child have made it extremely difficult for me to cope as a deeply feeling person in this world.

Even though I have a wonderful support system and access to resources—I often feel very lonely, misunderstood, overwhelmed, lost, heartbroken, and like I am a constant burden on those around me.

Please, please don’t let your kids grow up to be someone like me.

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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.

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 15 Things Transracially Adoptive Parents Need to Know

1. Race and culture matter. My race and culture of origin are integral to my identity and will always be a part of me. Regardless of how much society claims to be colorblind, I will always be characterized and labeled by the color of my skin. Because I do not look like you, it is important for you to show me—through your words and actions—that being different is okay.

2. As a transracial family, our lives will change in ways we could never imagine. Be prepared that the perception of our family will completely change…as will our views of the world.

3. Honoring my race and culture of origin should not just be something that our family does on special occasions. It should be an integral part of our everyday lives as well. A few ways in which you can honor my race and culture on a daily basis are displaying photos or pieces of artwork that reflect my culture and ethnicity in our home, cooking ethnic meals, incorporating words from my native language into our everyday conversations, and reading cultural bedtime stories. Normalizing our efforts to honor my race and culture will make me feel a little less different and will help foster pride in who I am.

4. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your relationships with friends, family members, and others may drastically change due to prejudices you (and they!) never knew they had. You may need to examine who the people are in our lives and whether or not having them around will be more beneficial or detrimental to our family.

5. I should not be used as the bridge into my racial or cultural communities of origin—it is your responsibility to be that bridge for me. As a transracially adoptive parent, it is imperative that you provide opportunities for me to learn about and grow my connections with my racial and cultural communities of origin.

6. Nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent, and you absolutely cannot do it alone. It truly takes a village to raise a child who has been adopted transracially. It is important to accept the things you do not know about my race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing that lack of knowledge as a shortcoming or failure, try to view it as an opportunity to learn with me. Use every opportunity possible to involve our entire family when learning about my race and culture of origin. In doing so, you will be forming a stronger bond with me and helping me feel like an important part of our family.

7. Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to provide me with the opportunities I need to learn about my race and culture. Spending time in places where YOU are the minority should be an integral part of being a transracially adoptive parent. Interacting with and forming relationships with people who look like ME, but don’t look or act the way YOU do, is an absolute must. Remember that my journey takes me outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I need for you to be willing to take a walk in my shoes and weather those storms with me.

8. If we do not live in a diverse area, and are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to an area that is more ethnically and culturally diverse, or an area that reflects my racial and cultural identity. If we are unable to relocate, or if we have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which we currently live—it may be necessary to drive an hour or two (or more!) to provide me with the opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like me. It is imperative that you make every effort possible to provide me with these experiences.

9. Though on vastly differing levels, privilege exists within every racial and cultural community. Transracial adoption can be unique in the sense that it can provide people with differing levels of privilege within their racial and cultural communities the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of someone with racial and cultural experiences very different than their own. As a result of this privilege, a certain level of racism and prejudice exists in all communities. One important thing to keep in mind is that your level of privilege changes within your racial and cultural community when you are not with me. I, however, do not have that luxury, as your community will always view me as different, and my level of privilege within that community will always be different than yours.

10. Even though it is the PC thing to say, we do not live in a colorblind world—we live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It is inevitable that I will experience racism at some point in my life, and it is important that I know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching me that racism isn’t about me—it is about the ignorance of others who do not understand.

11. Remember that I am learning how to tell my story from you. I am learning how to deal with racism and prejudice from you. While you absolutely need to do what you can to protect me from potentially racist situations, it is also important to occasionally answer the questions about my race—if you feel it is safe to do so. These situations can sometimes become opportunities for others to help instill in me a great sense of racial and cultural pride.

12. Know that my racial and/or cultural identity may change at some point in my life. There may be times in which I will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It is important for you to lay the groundwork for me, but also allow me to explore and develop my racial identity in my own way. There are so many things that are out of my control when it comes to adoption. One thing I can—and should be allowed to claim ownership of—is my racial identity.

13. The greatest amount of scrutiny I will experience will most likely be from members of my own racial and cultural communities. Being rejected by members of my racial and cultural communities is one of the most painful forms of rejection one could ever experience. There is a great likelihood that I will be told that I am not “Black enough” or “Asian enough” at some point in my life. I should not have to prove that I belong or feel that I am less than by members of my racial and cultural communities. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of my racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

14. It is important to take great care in not losing yourself in the process when honoring my race and culture. While you won’t necessarily be able to teach me about my culture, you can and should teach me about yours. As a multicultural child, I will have so much more to offer the world.

15. Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising me with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor my racial and cultural identity will make a difference in my life, and you will be surprised with how much you will learn about yourself and others along the way!