April 30 marks National Reconciliation Day. Prior to being an adoption professional, I had no idea the extent of the deep wounds surrounding adoption and foster care for so many. After years of working in the adoption field, I now understand that the conditions and circumstances of adoption can sometimes create rifts that often seem too wide to cross and wounds that often seem too deep to heal.
In 2004, as a recent college graduate and Fellow with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a colleague on Capitol Hill gave me surprising advice. She shared that the work we do in adoption and foster care is important, but out of all the issues dealt with in Congress, it was the one viewed as the most contentious. That surprised me. I had known my whole life I wanted to work in the field of adoption. I naively thought only of forever families being formed, children realizing their basic right to permanency, and beautiful reunions. I thought everyone was working towards similar goals, so it would be a coalition of like-minded change-agents working diligently to better the lives of others.
Twelve years later, I know better. I know the stress, the heartache, and the bridges burned. I have read too many mean-spirited comments, taken too many calls from overworked adoption service providers, exhausted adoptive parents, frustrated adult adoptees and searching birth parents. When in the trenches as Executive Director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, it was hard to not get discouraged, to not take broken relationships with colleagues over disagreements about our work personally. I left the profession in 2015 to start my current company Trustify, where I still work with many adoptees. I can look back and see that there is so much common ground to be had. We can mend fences, build bridges, and forgive. Here are some ways to get there:
1. Start with yourself.
As an adoption professional, an adoptive parent, birth family member, or adoptee, there are many ways we blame ourselves for bridges we may have burned or situations we handled with less grace than we wished. Forgive yourself. Make peace with your past and with the choices you made. The oxygen mask theory applies here. You have to forgive yourself before you can make peace with and forgive others.
2. Take baby steps.
There may be a long history of pain you will have to work through to mend the fences you wish to mend. Living in a space of regret can be crippling. Taking baby steps shows you that you can make progress forward. Invite the adoption organization on the opposite side of your issue for coffee. Reach out to the adoptive parents of your birth child to connect. Begin to open the doors to the open adoption you planned by sending a photo. Talk to your adoptive parents about your family of origin or birth story. Begin the process of search and reunion to give yourself answers you may need. Today is the only day we are promised, so take the next step needed to find the healing you deserve.
3. Remember why you made the choice.
Whether you are a social worker, an adoption attorney, a birth parent, an adoptive parent, or a foster parent, you made a choice that has forever impacted your life. It may not have been an easy journey, but remember why you started it. Keeping your focus will center you back to place where you can offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you and accept forgiveness of those you have hurt.
4. When it is bigger than you.
Sometimes you need to call in the professionals. When a situation is bigger than you, there is no shame in reaching out for help. As I complete my Masters in Counseling and Development, I see the great gain individuals and families gain by working through the issues surrounding their adoption. Meeting with a counselor as a family or as an individual can help lead you on the journey toward reconciliation with yourself and others.
5. Be the change you want to see in the world.
There are so many sides to and debates in the adoption world. The decisions made usually are with the best intentions at heart. When disagreements, pain, or hurt happens, it is almost never intentional. When it is intentional, hold on to the notion that “hurt people hurt people.” Bitterness is a poison you swallow hoping the other person will die. In the end, no one is dead but you. So be the change you want to see. Reach out and make the first connection to find common ground, building a path to forgiveness moving forward. It is a journey, but an important one for you to start to find true healing in your family, profession, or in your own life.