Early last week, I found a recording that I’d forgotten about. It’s a conversation I had with my mother when I was a freshman in college. I wanted to hear what my mom shared on that cassette tape, so I ordered a cassette player on Amazon.
It felt like Christmas when the package arrived! I opened the box and smiled at the bubblegum pink color I’d chosen. I carefully placed the tape inside the player and hit the play button.
Mom passed away in 2016, so it was emotional to hear her speak. She talked about wanting to live long enough to see that I could make it on my own. Then, she said, “I think I’ve lived that long because I feel that you could take care of yourself. I think I’ve brought you up to that point. For you, I want everything to be good and for you to never be unhappy, but that’s unrealistic, isn’t it?”
There was a long pause.
The woman I am now could hear the pain in that pause. I could hear my young adoptee heart wanting to share just how unhappy I was. Only, I didn’t ask the questions I most wanted to ask my mother: What if I still feel thrown away? When I’m all grown up and out on my own, what if these feelings of rejection and unhappiness are still here? What will I do, then?
I didn’t share what was pressing on my heart. I knew that my mother loved me. Though, I didn’t know if she fully accepted me; her adopted daughter who had a hard history, a birth family, a different ethnicity, and a whole lot of questions about identity and worth.
When I would muster up a sliver of courage to share my deepest needs, Mom would say that she’d “saved me” from a bad situation and that I needed to be “grateful.” A fellow adoptee recently wrote to me on Twitter with these words of advice to adoptive parents: “Don’t say anything negative about your child’s adoption. Don’t act like you saved them from the orphanage, foster home, or halfway home.”
When adoption is talked about in the negative or when adoptees are made to feel “saved” by their parents, it produces feelings of shame and helplessness. It alienates us and creates a barrier that blocks the lines of connection and trust. I felt the barrier between my mom and me as I listened to our conversation. I felt deeply sad for us both.
Mom didn’t mean any harm. She didn’t know how to handle the depths of my hurt. I didn’t feel safe and accepted enough to ask the questions I desperately needed answers for: What if I always feel thrown away and unhappy? What will I do then?
Here’s what I want you to know:
- Adoptees often express feeling unwelcome in the world.
- Adoptees often feel like they’re on the outside looking in.
- Adoptees are often afraid to share their deepest feelings and questions.
- The fear of rejection is real for adoptees.
As parents, here’s what we can do for our adopted children:
- Welcome them into the hard conversations, when they’re ready.
- Stand shoulder to shoulder with them and see life from their point of view.
- Allow ourselves to feel their emotions.
- Let them know that our hearts are open spaces to come and say what they need to say.
- Assure them that they’re loved, accepted and included, always.
- Let pauses be opportunities for deeper reflection.
Another word for pause is selah. By definition, this is a moment to reflect on what’s just been said. As parents, we don’t want to risk losing our children inside of the pause when we can hold them safely within an offering of reflection.
Perhaps, you could say, “I notice that you’re thinking deeply about something. I’ll sit and wait with you until—and if—you feel like sharing. No pressure. I just want you to know that I’m here. I love you.”
In that moment, you’ve offered an open space for open-hearted connection. That’s my goal as a parent because I know, as an adoptee, what it feels like to be emotionally stranded in the pause. I understand the fear of uncertainty when it’s unclear how to resolve those emotions.
The good news is, we can help our children share what they need to say. We can be increasingly willing to move to their side of the fence and see how they view the world.
Go deeper with me now.
Imagine that your child discovers a recorded conversation between the two of you. Imagine that their adoption comes up in the conversation. Then, there’s a pause.
You sense their pain.
Now, imagine that you offer space for reflection. What would you say to them inside of that selah moment?
What did they reveal to you?
How did you respond?
What were the moments of truth that transpired?
How did those moments transform your relationship?
Open minds, open hearts, open space, and open dialogue can transform how parents and their children connect.
Conversations from the past don’t have to hurt—not when the ones we have in the present are filled with acceptance, love, and the willingness to understand.
Please share this blogpost if you know others who might benefit from it. After all, we’re in this together. xoxo