Even in the ideal adoption situation, there will inevitably come a time when we as adoptive parents have to see our son process his story. That will look different when he’s eight and when he’s eighteen. We’ve said numerous times that Joe won’t be confused about adoption. We will explain everything thoroughly and he’ll know his whole life. He won’t be confused that I’m his mom and parent and his birth mother is his birth mother. We have completely different relationships. I’m not concerned about that part. Lately, though, I have been thinking about another emotion he could and likely will experience: sadness.
This we can’t really control. I hope it will be a minimal and healthy amount of sadness and not something that he holds with him all the time that changes the essence of who he is. He is such a happy kid now; I don’t ever want that to change. I know I can’t protect him from the world, so this is hard. I can already tell he is an empath at only 2.5 years old. He may feel great empathy or sadness for his birth mom. He also may feel anger or sadness toward his birth father for not being present in his life. That said, we still never plan to speak negatively of either birth mom or birth father. We want to present facts and allow him to feel however he wants. If he focuses on the wonderful dad he does have, he may not think about his birth father much. On the flip side, if he’s a very reflective person he may wonder about his birth father a lot. The important thing is, the door for birth mom and dad is always open. Were this a closed adoption, Joe would have even more questions we couldn’t answer.
I started thinking about the hard parts of being an adoptee because of an online course we had to take for our second adoption home study. “Disciplining the Adopted Child” went over discipline, the difference between behavior regulation and punishment, and guilt vs. shame. Guilt, it said, was a normal emotion. Kids feel a healthy guilt reaction after hitting someone and getting in trouble for it. That guilt can produce the change to not hit again when they see mommy is upset and their friend is upset. Shame is different. Shame tells him, “I am bad” inherently, rather than, “What I did was bad.” The course was mostly for those who adopt older children. These children have trauma and/or remember leaving their original family. They often feel less than, or that something is wrong with them, for them to have been sent away. There can be an underlying shame if they think, “I must be really bad for my family to give me away.” This can lead to depression. The hopeful part for our son, however, is that he was adopted as a newborn. He’s never known anything else but us as his parents (except one day in the hospital). He never had that goodbye moment like so many foster kids do. Because of that, he shouldn’t have inherent shame. Some will argue he may anyway, so I guess we’ll just wait and see. That’s when being emotionally available comes in. I want Joe to know he can always come to me with questions or feelings.
When we explain why birth moms place for adoption and how we have an open adoption because his birth mom loves him, we feel like that will fill any question, hole, or depression he may have about being adopted. He is loved; he wasn’t given away because he was bad. This is something kids with trauma have to learn sometimes (i.e. the parents were abusive; you were not bad). We’d like to think that’s the end of the story, but he may get sad sometimes just thinking about what his “other life” would have been. Nobody will ever know what that would have looked like. Therefore, we will teach him not to dwell on “what ifs.” We can also teach him that everyone in life has other lives … other choices, other possibilities that could have led down a totally different path. Our paths change constantly with every choice we make, so moving ahead is all anyone can do or should want to do.
It is likely he may have a really fun time visiting birth family’s house one day and say, “I wish I lived with them.” As his parent, of course, that will sting, but I know that is a normal response for a child. There may also be times he doesn’t feel like visiting at all. It goes both ways. We’ll likely see times he appreciates us and shows it. One thing we can do to honor birth mom is to be good parents. We hope Joe will see why he was placed in our family and why he is so incredibly special. We now have an adoptive parents meet up group we belong to; I imagine as those children grow up they can have each other to talk to as fellow adoptees. He will have some support there, knowing he’s not the only one. In addition to having those friends, we hope to enroll him in lots of activities and sports, so he learns his value as an individual and as part of a team.
We can’t predict the future and control how he will feel about being adopted, but we can be there for him. He is already an incredible little guy. Whether his good qualities come from nature or nurture won’t matter to his friends or his future wife. To be honest, I don’t really care where they come from either. It’s nice to be proud when I know I taught him something, but if he gets his goofiness from his birth mom or his baseball skills from his birth dad, that’s fine by me. I just love who he is, period.