Words of Advice

A few weeks ago, I visited Sierra Forever Families to speak to a group of adoptive and foster care parents. A casual thirty minute talk turned into an hour and a half of some good dialogue. I felt comfortable and open with everybody and I got the same feelings reciprocated from my audience. Although I felt like we touched on a lot of big topics and themes, I left feeling drained but also eager to tell the parents more. If only there was enough time to speak on everything I have learned this last year. From what I have collected from Pact Camp, books, films, articles, blogs, PACER, my dear friendships and my TRA Tribe, I could write a "How To..." book, and have many volumes. This is no right or wrong way to adopt a child, but being well informed with compassion and an open mind is very crucial to the emotional, mental, and spiritual upbringing of an adopted child. Here are a few things I thought of as I was driving home...

  • Don't imply that we have to choose between claiming our birth family or adoptive family.- I have a right to chose both set of parents/families as mine or not mine. My feelings towards both need to be respected and acknowledged.
  • Love Is Not Enough- Please refer to my previous blog
  • Space on birthdays - Birthdays or coming home parties are a great way to celebrate the union of new family members through adoption, but for some adoptees, birthdays and such celebrations are also a reminder of the loss of first mother/families, trauma, separation, and/or abandonment. Be aware that some of these feelings may be present around birthdays or the day they became a part of the family. Creating a safe place and time to talk through the feelings or at least acknowledge that they may be present can keep the adoptee from internalizing the sadness.
  • Explaining family relations- Having to always mention something about my adoption and how I was a part of my family was odd, because I didn't really know how to address or answer the real tough questions or comments. I didn't know how to talk about my adoption and feel confident at the same time. I didn't know that I didn't have to answer their questions at all.
  • Triggers after 18 years old- Even though I am an adult now and I am pretty emotionally mature, I still want my mommy and daddy to call me and ask me how my life is (specifically about my adoption journey this last year). I know I may sound needy, but my point is that I have ongoing feelings and triggers that are constantly coming up in my life. Some, I am aware of and can pinpoint the cause, but some triggers get to me and I just need to talk about it and be taken care of by my parents, even at the age of 32+.
  • Not a clean slate- Even though I was adopted about six months after my birth, doesn't mean that I came with no past or history that will never be desired. I think that some adoptive parents chose to adopt infants because of less emotional ties to birth mothers/families, less traumatic experiences to heal, or for the opportunity to raise a child as their own (a blank slate). Regardless of the reason, I and other adoptees come with a history, a past, and a previous family that we have to right (and some desire) to know about.
  • Matching role model- In second grade, I had an Indian woman as my teacher! I was so excited to see her. I clung on to her so tight and still found a reason to love her even though she was a strict teacher. I just remember seeing her everyday and wondering if she was my birth mother, if she knew my birth mother, or if she simply looked like her. There was something so comforting about seeing another Indian person on a regular basis that was a part of my life during that school year. Later on as I got older, I would love to watch the Miss World or Miss Universe pageant competitions. I would always watch for Miss India and hoped that she won. Just seeing another beautiful woman on TV confirmed that there were other Indians all over the world. Even today, my favorite show is the Mindy Project staring Mindy Lahiri. Just being able to watch not only an Indian woman on television writing, producing, staring and running her own show, but watching a dark Indian woman on television makes me feel represented and acknowledged for something positive rather than just another Indian owning a corner market store. I guess what I'm saying here is being able to see others like me in positive and successful roles allows me to be seen outside of the typical stereotypes.
  • Connect with other families built like yours- It wasn't until I entered Pact Camp last July that I saw  families built like my own. I seriously thought I was the only one. I knew that my cousin is a TRA as well, but besides us, I never really experienced many other families like my own in person on a regular basis. As a result, I felt odd and different. Then to finally see little kids of color running around with their white parents following closely behind hit me harder than I had ever expected. Every family that attended the camp was just like mine. I was an incredible feeling and I wish I had those connections growing up like the families do now. Normalizing adoption is key.
  • Living in a diverse neighborhood- I was very lucky enough to live in a diverse neighborhood. I had friends that were Cambodian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and African Americans. I have heard stories from my fellow adoptees that they grew up in secluded, predominately white, rural areas where they were the only child of color at their schools. Being around other kids of color helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin when growing up in an all white family.
  • Privacy vs. secrets- This one is difficult to balance at times. As an adoptee, my circumstance as to why my birth mother relinquished me and how I ended up in my family is nobody's business but mine. My past, my story, my history is for me to tell. For some new families that are welcoming a new child into their home through adoption, parents may get a lot of attention from other family members and friends. I am sure that there will be a lot of questions, curiosity, and excitement, but honoring the privacy of an adoptee's story is the most important than giving in to other's curiosity. I have heard stories where extended family members know more about an adoptee's birth family than the adoptee themselves. When it comes to the adoptee wanting to know more about their own story, their birth family, why they were adopted, then the adoptee has every right to know all the information that is provided, but not the rest of the family or circle of friends. Adoption is built on secrets and secrets do not benefit anybody. Keeping secrets about the adoption from the adoptee is not okay, but if the adoptee wants to keep their story a secret from the rest of the family, then they have every right to do so.
  • Talk about adoption often- Normalize adoption as much as possible, without making adoption the only topic of discussion. I didn't talk about my adoption much growing up, so I didn't know how to talk about my feelings or even have the confidence to be vulnerable about my sadness. Having adoption be a comfortable topic of discussion at any age will give the adoptee the power to protect themselves and to open themselves up when he/she decides to. Acting as though adoption didn't take place or that its normal without talking about it is simply ignoring the fact that adoption is present. It leaves the adoptee to figure it out and make sense of it on their own. When bringing up the topic of adoption or the more uncomfortable feelings that adoption may come with, adoptees may not respond or talk for awhile. Hearing that adoption is okay to talk about within family circles can relieve a lot of pressure to protect the feelings of adoptive parents. Even though adoptees may not respond right away, they are listening and waiting for the right time to speak up. That right time, may come unexpectedly a day, a week, or even years later. Just hearing and knowing that they can be open about their adoption when they are ready can be comforting.
  • Support non adoptive children- I have an older sister and she was seven years old when I came into the family. As of now, I am not sure what her experience was, but I am aware that she also went through a major adjustment period. She was no longer the only child and as I was told by my mother, I got a lot of attention when I arrived and she had to "take a back seat." It took me awhile to shake off that responsibility of causing my sister to feel that way because of my presence, but I can respect that she went through her own experiences. I am not sure how my parents supported her before and during this transition then and now, but I hope that my parents did acknowledge her feelings somehow.
  • Therapy- I didn't attend therapy regarding my adoption until I was in college. I wish I was in therapy much sooner, even family therapy because of the benefits I gained from it. My mother even wishes that she had put me into therapy as a child after witnessing the challenges I have gone through. Therapy for an adoptee can help the ongoing triggers, normalizing adoption, and creating coping skills for dealing with loss, sadness, and any other challenging feelings that may arise.