What do you do when you’re adopted into a family that considers the topic of adoption taboo? This is the conundrum I encountered for about 25 years. I was an infant when my parents adopted me, and perhaps they subscribed to the belief of “ out of sight, out of mind,” as if not acknowledging the existence of my adoption would somehow make me, them, and the rest of world forget about it. And maybe that is why they waited so long to tell me, but that is a story for another day.
For now, I want to share with adoptive parents the loneliness, confusion, and heartache I—and potentially other adoptees—experience in this type of situation. As a parent myself, I understand the intent to protect your child from harm, whether it be physical or emotional. We deal with the nuisance of child-proofing our homes, strapping helmets on our kids when they take off on their bikes, and shower them with accolades so they know how much we love them. But we also “forget” our wallet when they cry out for the fat-laden, sugarcoated treat they see in a shop window and or assure them that their classmate didn’t mean the hurtful comments they recounted from their day at school. The line is thin between unabashed truth-telling and a calculated decision to soften or possibly eliminate harm that comes their way.
Unfortunately, with some issues like adoption, the only way to potentially extinguish the pain is to first acknowledge it.
As children mature, so do their emotions and understanding of what it means to be adopted. I remember phases of excitement and fantasy thinking about the mysterious family I never met. I also recall times of sadness at the thought of being abandoned and shame mixed with guilt since I had this affliction I couldn’t really talk about without hurting the people I called family.
The emotions consumed me and were far too much for a child to handle. The role of a parent is to protect, and that means putting your child’s welfare before your own. Know that despite your best intentions, making adoption a taboo subject is doing your child far more harm than good. Understand that your child may not be able to communicate her pain or curiosity well, so you must be the one to initiate discussions and create a safe space for her to share her evolving hodgepodge of emotions. This is, after all, what it means to be a parent, and in the long run, it will better serve the relationship long after the uncomfortable talks about adoption and painful questions you don’t want to answer. Both of you will feel vulnerable and exposed, but you both will also heal, and this will strengthen your bond in a way impossible to do without talking about what brought you two together in the first place.