Talk to Your Kids About Their Adoption…part 1
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“Don’t ask don’t tell” at one point seemed to be a great solution to a national dilemma. Now older and wiser, America has figured out that there are inherent problems in a policy such as “don’t ask don’t tell,” not to mention we’ve (thankfully) grown as a nation and have outgrown a policy designed to helped the majority feel comfortable. The problems with “don’t ask don’t tell”? Well for one, it insinuates that the proverbial elephant in the room is shameful. Two, it only takes into consideration the feelings of the majority while completely disregarding the feelings of the minority for the sake of (perceived) harmony. Three, it robs an individual of a piece of their soul. An undeniable aspect of themselves that without, leaves them less than whole.
Should “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Apply to Adoption?
How does an outdated policy on gay soldiers relate to this adoption and parenting blog? Countless times I’ve sat with the parents of older adopted kids and had them tell me that their child isn’t impacted by the core issues in adoption (loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy & relationships, control/gains- as described by Silverstein and Roszia in 1982). The reason the parents are so certain of this is because their child has never talked about. Adoption isn’t a secret in their house, but their child has never mentioned grieving for their birthfamily or feeling rejected. Their child never talks or asks about their birthfamily. Because their child is silent about adoption issues, parents assume that adoption issues don’t exist.
I Invite Parents to Reconsider This!
Can you think of a time in your life when something was really weighing heavy on your mind but you didn’t talk about it to anyone, even your closest confidante? Or a time when you just couldn’t get something out of your mind but you were afraid that it you talked about it, you were certain you’d hurt the very person you love most in your life? Or maybe you’re just a more introverted individual and you aren’t really one to divulge your innermost feelings. There are probably thousands of reasons why people (and children!) keep quiet even when something is really pounding away at their heart.
I recently stumbling across a blog (thank you Twitter) about an American family who is currently vacationing in China- and during this vacation they have had the opportunity to meet their four-year-old daughter’s birthfamily. WHAT?!?! Yes, I wrote that correctly. The story is nothing short of amazing and the mother is understandably short on details in her blog. But I was struck by the blogger’s brief recap of this meeting. Her beautiful four-year-old daughter asked her birthmother “Do you love me?” and then a few moments later “Do you miss me?” (Read the whole piece by heading over to American Family). What a beautiful look into the questions that had been tugging at this young preschooler’s heart. Did her birthmother miss her and love her. Her mother writes about how this little one “doesn’t say much about her adoption.” But these two questions show that she is processing and experiencing those feelings of grief, loss, and rejection EVEN THOUGH she doesn’t say much about it.
Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) it’s hard to keep those lines of communication open. In my next article, I’ll talk about ways to encourage your child to express his thoughts and feelings, and ways to support them even if they don’t want to talk about it.
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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.