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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.

*****

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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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.

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Yes, I Am Racist (And I Am Doing Something About It)

I, like many others, believe that racism is inherent and that we all harbor racist beliefs—to a degree. Yes, you read that right. I am saying that I am racist.

Am I comfortable saying that about myself? Absolutely not.

Do I fear the ramifications of my acknowledging my own biases? Yes, absolutely.

Am I going to put this out there any way? Hell yes.

Why, you ask? Because I would be doing a great disservice to myself and to others by refusing to acknowledge that aspect of who I am.

By definition, racism is the belief that one’s own race is superior to another. Racism is also further defined as the belief that some characteristics or abilities are specific to a certain race and, in turn, determine the superiority or inferiority of that race. These beliefs can often lead to discrimination and prejudice against people whose racial identities differ than our own.

When I acknowledge that I am racist, I am not referring to the perpetuation of the stereotypical vile and hate-filled bigotry that we often see attached to the term. I am referring to the fact that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of a different racial group, and that can sometimes lead to my making snap judgments about others before actually knowing who they are and what they have to offer the world.

I am acknowledging that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of my own racial group as well. I was not raised within the Asian community. I was raised in a Caucasian community with the understanding that I was different and the more I embraced assimilation, the easier it would be to exist as an outsider within that world. When I am surrounded by other Asians, I feel lost and completely out of my element. I don’t know how to exist in that world to which I belong only by virtue of physical attributes.

Do I choose to avoid situations in which I feel uncomfortable due to my race? Absolutely not. Because it is through those moments of discomfort and insecurity that I end up learning the most about others and myself.

I am not going to lie. When I engage in conversations about race with people—especially whose racial identities are not reflective of my own—I often feel very insecure and somewhat overwhelmed. Not because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who don’t look like me, or because I don’t want to be a part of those conversations. I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know what it is like to live in their skin. I can be supportive of their lived experiences and the battles they face on a daily basis because of the way the world views them, and I can stand in solidarity with them, but I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to exist in the world with a racial identity different than my own. While I cannot walk in the shoes of others—nor would it necessarily be appropriate for me to attempt to do so—I can and do make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to learn and grow in my knowledge of the issues. This includes learning about the historical trauma deeply rooted within their race that may affect the way they have been taught to interact with the world.

Conversations around race would be a lot more effective if we would stop being so defensive and so focused on finding reasons as to why we aren’t racist and start acknowledging and owning the truths about why we are. Too many people avoid true introspection because of the fear of what they may learn about themselves. It takes a lot of strength and courage to acknowledge our shortcomings—to walk into the darkest parts of ourselves with eyes wide open. What we often fail to realize is that—it is within those places of darkness that we will find some of the most important and enlightening opportunities from which to learn.

The thing about acknowledging your own racist beliefs and personal biases is that you can also make the choice to not allow yourself to remain stuck there. Do you acknowledge the racism inherent within you, own it, and do the work to educate yourself and grow in your understanding and knowledge of the issues in an attempt to rise above? Or, do you refuse to open yourself up to the possibility that you may be racist and knowingly (or unknowingly) continue to perpetuate those racist beliefs?

You, alone, have the power to make that choice.

Educating yourself in an effort to rise above the racism inherent within you means just that—you seek out the opportunities to learn and grow. While engaging in conversations about race with people of color is extremely important, you also need to be willing to do your own work and not rely on people of color to educate you about their race. Because, honestly, it can be hard enough to exist in this world as people of color, that trying to educate other people about your race can be a greater burden than many of us can bear. And, while truly learning about race and privilege is not possible without a willingness to be vulnerable, it is often the people of color who are attacked for trying to educate others or sharing about their lived experiences. If you are able to lower your defenses long enough to truly listen to the messages of people of color, though oftentimes somewhat difficult to hear, you will discover that a majority of us share about our experiences to educate others—not to attack.

It is not easy to acknowledge the unfavorable aspects of who we are. And, our responses to messages about racism, privilege, entitlement, and fragility are often reflective of our own insecurities. Conversations about race and privilege are often wrought with “us vs. them” mentalities—which often lead to heightened defensiveness and messages falling on deaf ears.

These conversations would be much more effective if we are willing and open to acknowledging that, as humans, we are deeply flawed and we all have work to do—starting with ourselves. We need to be willing to truly listen to the messages that are being shared and think introspectively about how we unconsciously perpetuate racist beliefs and our personal biases and what we need to do to break the cycle. We need to attempt to see the world through diverse lenses and engage in meaningful conversations about how we can work together to more peacefully and productively coexist.

The fight against racism starts with you. It starts with me, too. And, I will forever be a deeply flawed work in progress with an infinite amount to learn in this regard.

How about you? Are you willing to do the work?

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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?

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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.]