The approach of summer brings a lot of hopes and adventures. However, it also brings a lot of chaos and fears. The end of spring welcomes in a time of transitions for seniors in high school as they get ready to leave the nest and venture off to colleges. For the adopted teen, graduation can be a roller coaster of emotions. Some adoptees don’t have baby pictures which stand as a reminder of a time and connection once lost. As parents stand in front of a screen showing the start of life for their child to the proud moment they share in at graduation, the adoptee feels the sting of not being born to their adoptive parents, as if screaming, how can I ignore the wounds when there is salt everywhere? It brings moments of grief as the adoptee looks into the faces of his or her adopted family and realizes such a moment of joy will never be captured in the hearts and minds of the people who were chosen to begin their lives. When they see the baby photos of peers, many adoptive children don’t have those treasures. As clips and highlights are shared about how kids showed gifts and talents early on in life, the adoptee may have the pain of knowing his family didn’t have the privilege of seeing his early moments in life. For the international or the transracial adoptee, the pressure may be felt when a caring teacher asks, “Where are your parents?” though the child is standing with them nearby.
However, graduation can be a complicated time for adoptive parents too as they fight to understand the ups and downs their child faces during such a crucial time of life. They wonder at such a great moment in their child’s life and how he or she can be so depressed or angry. At times, they may wonder why their child cannot be excited about her success. Why the sabotage? Why the tears? Adoptive parents need support during such events because they are fighting to understand as well as fighting to support. In the midst of it all, the truth is that the child is grateful for his adoptive family, but at the same time, he feels the weight of loss. The grief that an adoptive child may feel may come from the pressure of peers asking about family members and seeing a difference in appearance or personalities. It may happen when a child is called up for an honor’s award, and a statement is made regarding the day the child was born and how her graduation day is the second greatest moment for a parent. It is pretty much any moment that will remind a child she came from somewhere other than her adoptive family. For adoptees, they may have worked hard to let go of the past and live in the present, and they may have started to accept that they belong. The hardest moment comes when they are reminded by a big event like graduation and that they came from somewhere else.
So what can be done? Awareness is key. During times of holidays, celebrations, and in this case—graduations—we can support adoptive families by recognizing that these events bring times of joy and times of grief. If you are a person who knows an adoptive family and is given the opportunity to share in that glorious event, sneak in a word of encouragement to the child and parent. Ask how things are going. Perhaps ask for the best thing that has happened and the worst. This will open an opportunity for the parent or child to share their sadness as well. Most people just need the invitation to be less than joyous. You can have a great impact by simply being aware. Remember adoptive families are a beautiful miracle of amazing people coming together with hearts meant to become one unit. The more we can support them, the more we will see a community of thriving families.
So the next time a graduation comes around for an adoptee, or perhaps it is another celebratory event such as a birthday, a wedding, a work ceremony, remember your adoptive child needs you more than you may know. Let him know that you know this might be a day of mixed feelings, and that you are there if he needs to talk. Allow her the comfort of knowing that her feelings don’t hurt you, but rather allow you to know her more deeply when she shares what’s on her heart. Let your child know that you are proud of him and that his achievements are wonderful. Also, it may be helpful to share with your adoptive child that her birth parents that gave her something special: that was a life that could grow in this world and make an impact. It doesn’t matter if the birth parents were good or bad, the fact that life was given was a special gift. It is also a way to open a door for your child to express feelings about her birth parents that she may be feeling. Most importantly, give yourself a pat on the back; you helped your adoptee achieve graduation, and that is a great feat.