Saturday, September 14, 2013

Round Table: Adoptees As Mothers - Part 1

The prompt: In what way, if any, has your experience as an adoptee affected the way you parent? Does your adoptedness impact your children and/or your relationship with them? When you consider the choices you have made or might make in the future regarding reproduction, does adoptedness play a role?

Laura Dennis As an adoptee with two smallish non-adopted kids, my parenting approach differs purposefully and significantly from the home in which I was raised. It’s nothing against my adoptive mom, but I will not expose my kids to strict religious dogma. That’s the first thing.

Next, I parent according to my gut (and with insight from my husband and a trusted MD). Although I think my adoptive mom did raise me according to her own instincts, that instinctual method would have worked much, much better had I been her biological child. (Duh.)

Since I have non-adopted kids, I can go with my gut and have it work well most of the time. The only instances in which I have to be careful are when my kids’ basic personality differs from my own or my husband’s, and I must adjust my approach accordingly.

Finally, I will not perpetuate secrets and lies with my kids; I had enough of that growing up in a closed adoption. For example, while neither my husband nor I practice religion, we do celebrate Christmas as a cultural activity common to my background growing up Catholic and my husband’s Eastern Orthodox Christian ethnicity. A man dressed as Santa Claus even visits our house on Christmas Eve to give presents (it’s a Serbian thing, Santa is allowed to be seen by children). However, my kids know that this is a man dressed as Santa. I will not pretend or lie to them for the sake of childhood fun. Their fun resides in enjoying their friends and families, not in my misleading them.

In the same sense, I’ve told my 5-year-old a lot of things about life that most other kids her age don’t know about (at least where we live). She knows about puberty, menstruation, divorce, death and adoption, for example. I’ve tried to use age appropriate language and answered her questions according to her own interest, without going above her head. She knows it’s always best to tell the truth, and she knows she’ll always get the truth from me.

Amanda Two big themes in my parenting that I am sensitive to are feeling unloved and feeling like I do not belong. These were such intense emotions for me as a child and I never want my children to know what it's like to feel that way.

Growing up, I knew I was loved and cherished by my adoptive family and original family. My adoptive parents made sure to make this clear. Still I carried the sense of being unloved or unwanted with me, which was intensified incredibly in middle school when I was being bullied by peers. My adoptive mother must have somehow intuitively known that these would be struggles for me. My adoptive name, Amanda, means "worthy to be loved." She gave me this name so that this truth would follow me throughout my life as an adoptee. My original name, Christen, too was about honoring my belonging with in my original family.

Recently, I was upset that my son wasn't put in the same class as his best friend when the school knew he had a close bond with this other child. I look at my son who was sad about being put in another class but still happy they get to play together and I say "wait a minute, is me being upset about this really about him or about me?"

This really can resonate with any parent -- I know that. We all must investigate our emotional responses to our children's experiences and decide what about our response is about our own childhood vs. about our child. We must do this before we react to whatever issue parenting has confronted us with.

I do know that I cannot shield my son from being in a situation where he is new and needs to find belonging, like his new class and classroom. I cannot prevent him from being rejected or hurt by friends. Ultimately, these are experiences that will give him the skills and tools in the future to handle rejection and loss on his own when I am not there.

So when my son comes to me and is sad that he isn't with his old classmates, and later on in life is sad that a crush doesn't like him back or that he doesn't mesh well with a teacher's personality, what is my response? At the end of the day I can say to my son, "I do know how terrible those emotions can be. What can I do to make sure that you always know that you are an amazing and wonderful person?"

Rebecca Hawkes The very shape of my family was likely influenced by my adoptive experience. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but I noticed after the fact that I had created a family with one biological and one adopted child, mirroring the family I grew up in. I share the biological connection with one daughter and the adoptee connection with the other, though of course I have to be careful about projecting too much of my own experience onto either of them! One thing I'm aware of in terms of my own parenting style is that I tend to prioritize connection over correction, and I'm pretty sure this is rooted in my adoptedness. Disconnection is unbearable to me. Also, I am suspicious about the extent to which any parent can truly shape his or her child, given the strong similarities I've observed between myself and the biological relatives I didn't meet until adulthood. As a result, I tend to be more focused on supporting rather than influencing. I HOPE that I am providing the right nurturance for my children to develop into generally happy, well-adjusted, productive adults, but I assume that the basic template of the self (personality, interests, etc.) has already been set.

Von Big impact -- parting is such a big deal.

Deanna Shrodes Regarding choices I made in reproduction...

Planning my children was important to me. Not just in a general sense as with many people, but in a detailed way. I grew up having little knowledge of the circumstances of my conception or birth. All I knew was, my birth parents apparently weren't in love because my father abandoned my mother upon hearing of the pregnancy, and then she didn't keep me.

The details haunted me. So much so, that I never wanted my children to wonder about anything. So I probably went overboard about controlling things.

I made my husband go to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night if necessary. LOL And for most of our marriage before we took permanent steps where birth control was concerned, we used two forms of it, (double protection) just so I could always feel that I really was in control. (There goes that adoptee control freak tendency again...)

When I had kids, I wanted them to know they were planned.
That their father and I loved each other and desperately wanted them.

If birth control failed, I would have welcomed a child. I'm just saying, my dream was to plan all of my children since nobody except God ever planned on me and that distracted me for a large portion of my life.

I always knew I wasn't planned by humans.

It bothered me that from my first father's vantage point, I was someone to not acknowledge, and in my first mother's eyes I was someone to make arrangements for. At least that's what I always thought, growing up.

I carefully planned all four of my pregnancies (We have three children that lived and one that was lost in a miscarriage.) I can tell each of my kids exactly when and where they were conceived. (Yes, they sometimes cringe when their dad or I bring it up! Ha!)

Once my kids arrived, I proceeded to parent them just like I had also carefully planned. I know as moms we have a lot of preconceived ideas about how things will be and a lot of our ideas may change as the reality of mothering hits. But my main ideals, I ended up living out. My kids are 23, 22 and 16. They've all turned out amazing despite my shortcomings. Here are some things that were really important to me in light of my own adoptee experience...

No secrets - we're an extremely open, transparent family. There's nothing my kids can't ask me and nothing I won't tell them.

I was raised in what I would describe as an authoritarian home. You know, the "Because I said so" and "Don't ask why" and even the old, "Children should be seen and not heard" a few times.

My adoptive parents were very strict disciplinarians, with me in particular. I was a compliant child for the most part. Something I have retained from my upbringing is that I believe children need boundaries, discipline and consistency. I'm not their pal, I'm their parent. They have lots of friends, only one mom. Stepping aside from that role just to get them to like me at times when I've made an unpopular decision would spell disaster. So actually leading in my home?'s important.

But I've been a huge believer in listening. Active listening and hearing them out. All the way.

Not saying, "Because I said so," or "Don't ask why." It's perfectly fine to ask why and to discuss anything and everything.

We never had "THE TALK" in our house. We had and still have a series of talks...everyday.

As far as being "seen and not heard...." Their voice is always important whether they are 2 or 22.

And more than anything, love is so important. Spoken love and affection. I tell them I love them everyday and show them appropriate physical affection daily.

Rebecca Hawkes Some additional thoughts: My b-mom has commented a few times that my household reminds her of the one my b-dad grew up in. What she means by this is that my house tends to be the one where kids congregate. We seem to have a fairly steady flow of extra kids in and out of the house and we easily accommodate whomever happens to be there. I'm guessing this is probably rooted in some similarity of personality that I share with my paternal grandmother, though I can't say for sure because I've only met her once. I don't disagree with Deanna's statement that kids need boundaries and consistency, but I believe that will look different in different families partly as a result of the parent's personality and style. My home is unlike the one I grew up in largely because I am able to tolerate a higher level of chaos than my adoptive mother could. For her own sanity, my a-mom needed the home to be neat and for our lives to be very organized and structured; there's nothing wrong with that, but it was more about her own needs than mine. I couldn't parent in the way that my adoptive mother did even if I wanted to; our personalities are simply too dissimilar. It saddens me that my parenting style is a source of tension between my a-mother and myself. I wish she could be more accepting and view it as different than hers but not necessarily "wrong."

Mila Rebecca, I can relate very much to the differences in personalities between yourself and your a-mom. Due to the fact that my a-mom and I are exact opposites, we were destined to parent differently. And the added layer of adoption only amplifies and aggravates these differences between my mom and me.

Lynn Grubb I really resonate with what Rebecca Hawkes says -- I too have one adopted and one biological child and had an a-mom who couldn't handle (still can't) the level of chaos in my house. We too have kids spending the night or climbing and hanging out in our tree, but that I can credit to my a-mom who had an open door policy as well. My mom was big on cleaning and I am relaxed. One of my favorite moments when I met my birth mother was looking into her car and seeing that her bmw had all sorts of junk in it, including a hairy dog blanket in the backseat. It all made sense then!