The word adoption can stir up many emotions. Vulnerability and adoption go hand in hand, but no one enjoys feeling vulnerable. There is a belief surrounding adoption that once an adoptive parent decides that adoption is his or her journey, they are stronger than the average parent. Somehow, his or her superpower is the ability to surpass basic human emotions. I’m here to tell you this is far from the truth. There have been many times I have felt vulnerable during my adoption journey. My children felt vulnerable because they had to assimilate themselves into a new family while balancing their feelings toward their birth family. I also saw the birth family constantly checking with me regarding their boundaries, which showed that they were feeling vulnerable, too.
The first time of my life when I felt vulnerable surprised me; it was my infertility. This made me feel like less than a woman, and there were many family members, friends, and strangers whose actions validated this feeling over the years. Many would ask when I was going to settle down and have a family. I imagined often that there was a clock hanging over my head whenever they would look my way. I could feel the desire to become a mother lingering in my soul. I felt vulnerable to time and expectations placed on me by my family and society. I was still single when I decided to adopt. It was hard to acknowledge that my body was unable to function and I felt a great deal of guilt later when I did get married. I found myself discussing my private thoughts and struggles with infertility with those who asked. It felt like I had to defend myself over and over for wanting to be a mother. I never questioned that adoption would lead me to become one. It surprised me how many of the people who I thought supported my journey questioned my integrity as a mother because I chose adoption. Regardless, I have learned that adoption, although a roller coaster at times, was a rewarding way to become a parent.
Vulnerability During the Assessment Process
I felt vulnerable as adoption came to the forefront during the assessment process. The application, home study, and weekly and monthly monitoring from agencies made me feel vulnerable in ways I had never considered. Some would refer to this process as a paper pregnancy, and the phrase would cause my previous feelings of vulnerability due to infertility to resurface. Others questioned if it was worth all the inquiries and paperwork to start a family. There was no question for me that all the paperwork was an honor to complete to build my family. That said, some of the questions caused increased feelings of vulnerability due to their intimacy. Paperwork is part of the process and it is easier to embrace it than fight it.
Feeling Vulnerable as a Parent
Adopting as a single parent left many who knew me speechless yet somehow more full of advice and concern than before. These were the same individuals who had encouraged me to settle down and start a family. When I chose not to do it the way they believed I should, I became more prone to feeling vulnerable about adoption. I have adopted as a single person and with a partner. Vulnerability is present throughout the entire process, especially when having to tell others. I remember feeling so happy that I had finally decided how I would become a mother. When I began telling others that I was going to adopt they would be excited at first but gave much advice on who I should adopt. When I decided to adopt a sibling group of older children, the news shocked them. How could I take on two children at once? How could I as a single person meet the needs of two older children from foster care? Each question mirrored how vulnerable I felt. I had to reject the many things society had taught me related to parenting and adoption. Contrary to what society had taught me, I knew I was strong, able, and had the resources. I knew I would be the best parent to my children. I was able to understand that no one had all the answers at the start of the parenting journey.
A few years later when we decided it was time to grow our family, we again turned to adoption. So many people questioned whether we should add another child to our family. In the second adoption process, I felt more vulnerable. I was beginning to see that I generally felt vulnerable about adoption because of the doubts and unanswered questions I had. Would I be a good parent to all of my children? Did I have the patience and time to take on another? Since this time I was with a partner, many thought they could ask deeper questions about infertility. Even as these questions lingered, I still felt the pull to build my family. I recognized these vulnerabilities and acknowledged I didn’t have all the answers. It was extremely hard to let these questions and others go unanswered without feeling I needed to supply an answer.
We were constantly questioned by family, friends, and strangers about the validity of our family. Some questions that frequently arose were centered around my children’s story, my ability to love a child that I did not birth, and dealing with open adoption. These questions often came from family and friends. I would be as honest as I felt I could be but always mindful of myself and my family. There is a risk involved with showing your vulnerability around this subject because people only know their own experience. I learned it was okay not to expose my vulnerabilities or my family’s for the sake of an outside relationship. Self-protection is key to keep up with all the demands of parenting. That is not to mention all the responsibilities we may have to be a loving partner, employee, family member, or society member. We need to be mindful of how much energy we put out to help others understand so we do not expose ourselves to additional feelings of vulnerability.
I have found that being with my partner often makes me feel vulnerable. We each have our beliefs regarding our experiences with our children. The vulnerable feelings can surface when we are frustrated with each other or our children. We can find ourselves having disagreements related to parenting and needing to address whether or not it was related to our adoption journey. Over the years we have learned that we need to carry our vulnerabilities together as well as individually so they don’t hurt our relationship. There need to be open conversations about each other’s vulnerabilities so we do not put unrealistic expectations on our relationship. This sounds easy and concrete but has truly been a challenge.
Children of Adoption and Birth Families
This was especially important with our open adoption. The relationship that my children were experiencing then and are experiencing now with their birth family was and is important. That said, I found myself prone to feeling vulnerable about their adoption. I could not begin to fathom the trauma they experienced in their pre-adoptive days. We could only work on our attachment. It was important for me to be mindful of my bias and vulnerabilities related to their adoption. The role I took on as their mother was to be their biggest protector, and at times that job has been concerned with my feelings. I can only imagine how vulnerable their birth family feels and, with time, it may be explored with my children. I encourage them to talk about it with their birth family and therapist. We have established an open-door policy in our home that when our children come to us with concerns regarding their open adoption we actively listen. We may offer advice but are not living their journey. Sometimes a listening ear is all they need to overcome their vulnerability.
Vulnerability as a Result of Trauma
Children are known to challenge their parents. This can cause conflict within the family structure and can expose all kinds of vulnerabilities and insecurities. When this happens it is important to increase communication between all parties so the family structure remains intact. Children who have experienced trauma add an extra layer of testing that can cause one to feel vulnerable. Parenting these children comes with extra responsibilities that at times can be experienced as vulnerabilities. It is important to know that regardless of the trauma, you as the parent will learn what is the most important way you can lessen your child’s vulnerabilities and your own.
Parenting any child comes with a host of vulnerabilities. I often look at my children and question if I am doing it the right way to make them successful. In reality, we have 18 years to nurture, teach, and raise an individual who has to then use those skills for the next 70 or more years to survive—no pressure. In reality, the pressure we feel is put on ourselves by our inner talk. We grasp at these vulnerabilities and make them a reality. There is no crystal ball to parenting and it is important to not pretend we have all the answers. My children constantly remind me that the expectations I have as a parent oftentimes do not become a reality. Recently I had to discipline one of my children because of some poor choices on the internet. I took it hard because I felt like I had failed. How could my children make such a silly choice when I have been cautioning them for years about internet safety? My partner and mother reassured me that no matter how much you teach, sometimes teaching only comes with self-experience. It was interesting to feel all those insecurities I had throughout the years come back so quickly. I desperately reasoned that my insecurities must be related to my child being adopted. My mother came to rescue me from my pity party and to remind me of all the questionable choices I made as a teen. I learned that it is also important to look at the developmental stages of my children and not to just see my vulnerabilities as a parent.
Turning Vulnerabilities into Strengths
Adoption is a rewarding and beautiful journey. My children have been a true blessing. I’ve learned I need to take time to nurture myself and seek additional support if needed. You may feel overwhelmed by your vulnerabilities because they can come on quickly. Vulnerabilities are there to help you seek out your truth and, used correctly, they can be your biggest superpower. They can expose specific questions you have or help you see areas to self-protect. I found that in my single parenting days as well as during the time I have spent parenting with a partner that I needed someone to confide in when I felt vulnerable so that I could address the impact of my vulnerabilities on my family. I found people I could trust. It is also important to seek out support within the adoption community because people within that community can help validate your feelings. There have been times when my vulnerabilities related to adoption were too great just to confide in a friend or family member. I didn’t want to put the pressure of self-discovery on my partner. During these times additional support was needed. We frequently ask attachment therapists or mental health therapists the harder questions. The main thing is to know that you are not the only one who feels vulnerable. All parents have feelings of vulnerability; this is not just related to adoption.