Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Became a Child of Divorce Through Adoption Reunion

Although divorce is common and accepted as the norm in our society, this was not always the case.  In the 70's growing up, I only had one or two friends with divorced parents.  It was the norm to have parents who were married in the community I grew up in.

Today, I feel very fortunate that I never had to grow up as a child of divorce (the stigma of adoption was enough, thank you!)   Of course, as a sheltered child growing up in the 70's, thoughts about divorce rarely entered my mind.  I grew up in one house in one school district with one set of parents.  I was the oldest child and my younger brother, Scott, was adopted when I was three years old.  In our suburban neighborhood in Ohio, we walked to school from kindergarten to fifth grade without fear of strangers.  We had wonderful friends in a safe neighborhood where we played Kick the Can and Ghost in the Graveyard.

I went to top-rated schools with one of the best music programs in the area. I grew up in the days before electronics so we spent most of our free time outside playing.  In was an innocent time growing up in the 70's and every summer day, my mother took my brother Scott and I to the pool.  I ate a lot of red shoestring licorice, listened to a lot of Eagles blaring from the pool speaker system, and practiced my dives on the diving board. We weren't wealthy, but I never saw myself as "in need" of any material things.

I spent every weekend at home.  I wasn't "visiting" another parent in some strange house or apartment. I didn't have to watch my parents date,  re-marry or have other children.  I didn't have to worry or wonder if mom or dad didn't pay child support, it meant we wouldn't have food that week or gas for our car.  In short, I had very few worries as a child growing up.  I felt safe and secure.

My now adult stepdaughter was not as fortunate as I was.  Her parents divorced before she could even remember them being together.  Being a young and naive step-mom, I didn't fully grasp at the time exactly what my stepdaughter was truly dealing with at her home.  The conflicting loyalties, the never-ending schedule changes, activities every night of the week it seemed, the traveling to different cities.  I noticed she was always under stress her entire childhood and I felt helpless to fix it.

It seemed so unfair that she could never just be allowed to love all the members of her family. She struggled with guilt, trying to appease family members and lived with a lot of anxiety throughout her childhood.  If she spent time "here", someone "there" would be upset.  It even got so bad for her that she wasn't allowed to discuss her younger brother at home because it upset certain family members. Being a stepmother was probably the hardest education I ever received about family loyalties.

All was calm and peaceful in my adult life with my adoptive family for the most part until adoption reunion entered the scene. My father died of lung cancer in 1989 so for the majority of my adult years, it was only my mom and I (my brother is somewhat distant from the family).  My mother and I were never close, however we got along enough to get by. We spent time together, with my son always being the bridge between us during times of tension.  We had our disagreements mainly because my mother and I are complete opposites in almost every way.  However, we managed to have a decent working relationship as adults.  I would never describe her as my friend and confidante, but she was a strong support system for my husband and I and usually privy to what was going on in our personal lives most of the time.

That all changed for me after I met my birth family.  It was not a sudden change, but a gradual one.  Once I knew the truth of my early life and met the woman who gave me life, I began to see that the mother who raised me could not handle it. She couldn't handle sharing me. She didn't like this intrusion into her life and she certainly didn't want to hear the details of my reunion, unless there was some negative aspect of it she could latch onto.

Basically without directly tell me so, she didn't want another woman in my life -- even in my middle adulthood. Especially in my middle adulthood, when in her mind, all signs pointed to me never wanting to seek my birth family.  Many adoptees seek their birth parents after their adoptive parents are deceased. However, I wasn't waiting around for my birth mother to die before I had the chance to meet her.

The signs of a breakdown between my mom and I were all there but I was trying to ignore them.  Her slights about my birth mother that she would drop into conversations. Her non-acceptance of my cousin at a family function.  Her rationalizations in support of the adoption agency that lied in the record about my background. Her childish behavior during a vacation we took together where she met my birth mother (who thanked her for raising me).  Her lack of support in finding my birth father.

Slowly but surely I was morphing into a child of divorce as an adult.  Suddenly I was living the loyalty confusions, the guilt, the withholding of information about who I was in this delicate dance I was doing with my mother.  I began to tell my mother less and less about my life and about my search for my father (which she made clear she did not approve of).  She began to fall outside the "circle of trust" and I realized for the first time that we were operating in two different realities.   I thought I had walked into the twilight zone. How could she change like this?

What I failed to recognize is that she had never changed.  I had.  I was a different person post-reunion.  I was no longer willing to twist myself into the person my mother wanted me to be.  I was no longer willing to hold back who I was to please her or anybody, really.  Like the fears described in Rebecca's An Adoptee Confession, I am living proof that fears of "being oneself" can come to fruition.  There is a price for being true to oneself.   I was naive in my thinking that my mother would be willing to adjust to this new reality in my life.

We adoptees fear there is much to lose in our relationships, which is why we twist ourselves into pretzels trying not to face any new losses.  We know how painful it is to lose family members, because we already experienced it at least once.  Facing it again can be too much to bear.

I would be lying if I didn't say that it deeply saddens me to realize that the woman who loved and protected me and gave me such a happy childhood is the same woman who refuses to accept who I have become. Like a child of divorce, I felt I had to choose between families in order to survive.  But I am not a child.  I knew that being true to myself was the only choice I could make.

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