Category Archives: adoption search

An Adoptee’s Search for the Missing Face

Finding the MIssing FAce

An adoptee searches for a face in a crowd that resembles her own.

If we could only see the face of the lost birth mother/father, the hurt would magically disappear. The grief would be resolved and the life-long repercussions of traumatic adoption loss would be mitigated.

Oops…adoptee fantasy.

True, those who have found the missing face through reunion have experienced much healing. Seeing that missing face brings validation and healing.

But, there is more.

There is still that deep searching within the adoptee heart.

Ask any who have found the missing face if the healing is complete.

Does an adoptee automatically feel “unadopted?”

No, the adoptee is just red-faced when asked.

Though we may search, reunite, and even enjoy one another, there is still an ache within for another missing face.

Ecclesiastes 3: 11 says, “He has put eternity into mans’s heart.”

It is the face of the One in whose image we were created. The face of the One who loved us so much that He died for us. It is the face of Jesus Christ.

The moment we see Him face to face in heaven, every need will be satisfied, every tear wiped away.

Perhaps, David was referring to this when he penned the words of Psalm 17:15?

“And I–in righteousness will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Exodus 33:11 says there was only one person in the course of history who didn’t have to wait until heaven to see God face to face.

How interesting that the person was Moses, an adoptee.

 

Thinking Logically Seems Impossible for Attachment Disordered Kids

Are you kidding? Logical thinking.

For years, I have struggled with what I believed was a character disorder. I can’t make up my mind because I can’t think logically. It affects every relationship in life. But, there is hope if we can identify and work on it together.

Dear friends through adoption…

Last week, Bob and I were painting my office. I got all the color chips and showed him the best colors.

Within two hours, I changed my mind, and by the next morning, again. The following day, other colors and then back to the first.

“I just can’t track with you!” Bob said, leaving the room, shaking his head. This tendency has been a huge stress between us over our 51 years of marriage. Yes, adoption is surely a lifelong journey.

Then, I proceeded to hit myself over the head with a Bible verse….let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”

Why couldn’t I do that? Was I a wimpy Christian? What would God think about my spinelessness, not only on paint colors, but lifelong choices? Would he reject me like my birth mother did at reunion?

For the first time I realize that this inability to think logically is symptomatic of reactive attachment disorder.

Later, with paint colors strewn over the floor, Bob and I talked about attachment disorder and reached a new understanding. Shame rolled off me, like water over Niagra Falls.

Just before choosing the paint, Bob held up different colors repeatedly and so patiently to help me decide.

I felt understood.

No shame.

We can work on attachment disorder as a team now…at least this symptom of it.

Oh, and by the way, God has a special place in his heart for those of us who struggle.

Love to all…

 

One Adoptee’s 69th Birthday Reflections

Surprise blessings come when from the Gift-Giver Himself.

Surprise blessings come when least expected.

“Look!” the people around the campfire called out, pointing to the cypress trees that lined the famous Monterrey, California grill.

Suddenly, a bagpiper came out of the woods, playing a melancholy tune.
She wore authentic bagpiper regalia, walking through the field toward us.

It was a special touch to an evening that we didn’t think could be any better.

That’s the way I look at my life touched by adoption, today on my 69th birthday. I am grateful that God has given me these years and been with me every step of the way, comforting, guiding, teaching, nurturing.

Like many who thank their birth mothers for life, I thank her for the gift of birth. However, the One responsible for creating and sustaining my life is Father God himself.

Just when I think life couldn’t be any better, he surprises me with things like:

-a real, forgiving attitude toward my birth mother
-showing me the flip side of the profound wound
-dismantling misplaced anger and learning the innate beauty of anger
-a life that is chocked full of passion and purpose

Seeing the bagpiper at Monterrey Bay was fabulous. I will never forget it, as I will never forget the God who constantly reminds me in surprising ways that I am his idea.

SherrieEldridge.com

SherrieEldridge.com

What Reuniting Adoptees Need to Hear from Birth Relatives

Experts say that when birth mothers and their children reunite, it is like one thousand emotions all at once. Supposedly, both return to the place of separation.

Yikes, talk about vulnerability!

Everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing, for we all know that words can hurt or heal. We tiptoe around “on eggshells.”

Thus, it is helpful for all if to craft “first words” before meeting one another. It might even be a good idea to role play before the actual reunion.

Looking back, I’m sharing some of the words and phrases my birth family members said to me that built me up.

Edifying Words

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1. Rejection is not in my vocabulary.
2. I don’t do “half” anything–“You’re my sis and that’s it.”
3. You can try to get rid of us, but we won’t go away.
4. You’re a (last name of birth family) now and we’ll never disown you.
5. Your voice sounds just like your mother’s.
6. Sis, you are so beautiful.
7. Giving every bit of genealogy possible.
8. Your grandparents would have been so proud of you. They would have loved you so much.

Which statement do you like the best?
Is there one that doesn’t set right with you? Tell us why.
Add some of your faves.

SherrieEldridge.com

SherrieEldridge.com

I Need to Know the Truth About My Conception, Birth, and Family History, No Matter How Painful the Details May Be

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The late Betty Jean Lifton, author of Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, describes the adoptee’s growing awareness of his desire to know more about his biological family as an awakening: “The act of adoption puts us under a spell that numbs our consciousness. When we awaken it startles us to realize we might have slept our lives away, floating and uprooted…The adoptee awakens when he or she realizes that not to know (who gave them birth) would be to live life without meaning. The curiosity has always been there, waiting to be released.”

Awakenings happen at various times for adoptees, sometimes and to some degree during childhood, often to a greater degree as the adoptee grows older. My greatest awakening was at mid-life, when I enrolled in a college writing class and was assigned to take a few facts, weave them together with historical data, and create a story. Since I only knew a few details about my birth family, I chose that as my topic.

This blog piece is drawn from Chapter 10 of Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh Their Adoptive Parents Knew

This blog piece is drawn from Chapter 10 of Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh Their Adoptive Parents Knew

I remember sitting for hours in the library, my head buried in the study cubicle, pouring over tattered, musty books describing maternity homes in the 1940’s. I learned of the awful stigma and shame society laid upon women experiencing untimely pregnancies. I learned about the vulnerability of married women whose husbands were off at war. Dark thoughts and emotions stirred in me and my heart began to weep for the birth mother I never knew.

For many adoptees, the need to find the birth family becomes all-consuming and an actual search begins. I grew relentless in my search for more information. I interviewed elderly nurses and found out what procedures were used during births. “What was my birth like for my mother…and for me?” “Was anyone there for my birth mother?” “Did she ever get to see me or hold me?”

I thought for the first time of the excruciating pain of having to give up a child, leave the hospital with empty arms, and go on with life as if nothing had happened. I longed to tell my birth mother that she had done the right thing. I wanted to let her know that I was all right.

Little by little, my birth family was coming to life in my psyche. Finally I realized what I had been searching for all my life: a connection to my “real” life–the real me–before I was adopted, and the whole truth about my past that would enable me to live my present more honestly and fully.

Going Through Home Again

As a parent you may be wondering, Why is it so important that our adopted child know the truth about her origins? What good will that do? Why put her through all that?

Author Carlye Marney, in Achieving Family Togetherness, once suggested that there are at least 80,000 generations behind each one of us, and that we are incapable of blessing ourselves or giving blessing to others until we are first able to bless our origins. Marney terms this process of blessing one’s origins “going through home again.”

Going through home again is no easy process for an adoptee, for her origins are often shrouded in secrecy. Secrecy about her conception, secrecy about her birth, and secrecy about her family history. How can she bless her origins if she doesn’t know what they are?

Webster’s says to bless means:
• to bestow good of any kind
• to honor, to beautify
• to be in favor of
• to endorse
• to smile upon
• to pardon.

Think about these words in regard to your child. I know you would agree on every point that this is what you want for her. You want her to be able to smile upon herself…to be in favor of herself…and ultimately to pardon others who may have given her a painful beginning. In other words, you want to implant in her a healthy self-esteem, regardless of her past history.

The saying, “When you know the truth, the truth will set you free,” is applicable here. I am reminded of a poster with the above verse and picture of a rag doll being pushed through an old-fashioned wringer. A good reminder that the truth is often painful.For example, when Cathy found out that she had been conceived in rape, her heart sunk at the sound of the words. She was one who therapist Dr. Randolph Severson, in To Bless Him Unaware, described as a “child whose life leapt into being through a degrading, terrifying act of sexual violation.” Cathy never imagined in her darkest fantasies that this could be a possibility. Yet it was her truth, and it led her to a greater truth: that something good came out of that terrible violation of her birth mother. That good thing was her. It also helped her learn about her birth mother and all that she had been through in order to give her life.

There may be many truths that will be difficult to tell your adopted child. Perhaps the birth mother was a crack addict. Perhaps there is a history of mental illness, neglect, or sexual abuse in the family.

Jeanine Jones, MSW, CCSW, and adoptive mother of seven said in an article appearing in Jewel Among Jewels Adoption News: “No, it is not a joyous time when your child wants to see all his information and you’re concerned that what he reads will hurt him. This is a time for honesty, compassion, and relationship building.”

Your child, at the appropriate age, can actually benefit from hearing painful information about his past because he will know that finally you are telling him the honest, gut-level truth. Kids are geniuses at detecting untruths. This giving of information doesn’t have so much to do with the truth about his past as it does with his relationship with you and with himself. He is learning to trust you at a deeper level and he is also developing self-esteem. He is possibly having some of the ugliest and most painful information about his past revealed by you, yet at the same time you are demonstrating that you love him just as he is.

As this relationship of trust and love deepens, he can decide what he wants to do about the option of searching for more facts or for birth family members. Whether or not he goes ahead with an actual search, the relationship between you and him will have grown tremendously.

How to Know When Your Child Is Searching

Now I am beginning to see the necessity of the adoptee going through home again, as well as the challenge, you may be thinking. Are there any behaviors I can look for in my child to know if he is wanting to go through home again?

Yes, there will be behaviors that will help you know if your child is inwardly heading in that direction. Learn to listen, as you have been, with your heart. Keep in mind the wise words of Drs. Brodzinsky and Schecter from their book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self. These doctors have thirty years combined experience in dealing with adopted children. When asked what percent of adoptees search for their birth parents, their answer was one hundred percent. “In our experience,” they said, “all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search nonetheless.”
Sometimes the adoptee’s desire to go through home again is subtle or masked. Following are some ways adoptees may express their unspoken need.

For children:

• The search begins in their imagination, through the telling of fairy tales and stories.
• Can show up as early as three years old through play. (Look particularly for themes of loss and rescue–lost animals, lost children, etc.)
• After you tell her about her adoption, she asks, “Why did it happen?”
• She may wonder where her birth parents are now. “Where are they?” “Will she come and see me someday?”

For adults:

• “You can take a dog to a vet and find out what kind he is, but I can’t even find out what my heritage is.”
• “I wish I could tell her (birth mother) how much I love her for bringing me into the world.”
• “Meeting my birth father was validating for who I am.”
• “Now that I have met her (birth mother), I know how to be.”
• “Knowing your birth family gives you a point of reference.”
The truth can and probably will be painful for the adoptee, but most of us want it all. We want truth on every level–physical, emotional, and spiritual.

What Parents Can Do

At the earliest age possible, introduce information about the birth family. The words “birth mother” and “birth family” shouldn’t be some strange term imposed on the child later in life. Instead, the child’s history should be presented in terms which even the pre-schooler can understand. I am so glad your birth mommy gave you to us to love. Maybe it was your birth mommy who gave you that beautiful curly hair!
Vicky remembers her mother’s anxiety about the subject of her birth mother. On the night before she was married, her mother nervously revealed her birth mother’s name and the few facts she knew about the birth family’s history. “Not only did it seem awkward and out of place, but it felt like a betrayal,” Vicky said. “Why didn’t she tell me earlier? Why did she withhold something so vital to my well-being? It also created feelings of shame. Was there something awful about my past or me that made her so nervous?”

It wasn’t until many years later that Vicky learned that her birth mother had been raped. She was confident am sure her adoptive mother was aware of this because her grandmother was the social worker who handled her private adoption.
“If my mother had shared that information with me earlier in life, I am sure I could have handled it,” Vicky said. “Yes, it would have been painful. Yes, it probably would have created more questions about my history, but it would have empowered me to be able to trust and love my adoptive mother more.”

Vicky realizes the toll it took on her. “Because I was not given the painful details of my conception until I was forty-three years old, it took me a lot of time and energy to be able to separate the circumstances of my conception from who I am as a person. For years after finding out the circumstances, I said that ‘I was conceived in rape.’ Whenever I said those words, my soul flooded with shame and sadness. One day I realized that I was carrying the pain and shame of my birthmother. After that I learned to simply say ‘my mother was raped.’ That removed the incessant shame from me and enabled me to love my birth mother more.”

What a gift you would be giving to your child by sharing all of his history with him as the time arises. You would be able to help him work through the complex task of separating the painful circumstances from his who he is as a person.
I am not advocating that you sit down with your four-year-old child and share the negative aspects of his conception and birth, but I am advocating answering his questions honestly whenever the opportunity arises.
Let the child lead. You will know when the time is right because he will begin to ask questions. Expect questions about his birth mother as early as age three. Adoption may seem like a wonderful thing to your pre-school child, but when he reaches school age, he will begin to realize that to be chosen means that he was first rejected by someone. Why didn’t my birthmother want me? Where is my birthmother now? Did you ever meet her? Do you think that she would like me if she knew me now?

I cringe when saying the word “rejection” because it sheds an unfavorable light on the birthmother and her decision to relinquish. This is not my intent. However, it is important to realize that relinquishment translates to the adoptee as rejection no matter how much the birth mother loved him. This is the adoptee’s emotional reality and probably the point at which his questioning will occur.

Think through possible scenarios of how you will answer your child’s questions before he becomes curious. When the time comes, your confidence and serenity will let him know that it is okay to ask questions and express his true feelings.

You probably will not have all the answers to his questions, especially if you adopted internationally. Nevertheless, he can learn to have a settled peace about his origins knowing that in this life there will always be unanswered questions.
Learn to listen to your child’s spoken and unspoken messages. This will clue you in to what part of the information upsets him. “You’ve got to be kidding?” “Oh, no way.” “That is horrible.” “I don’t want to hear any more.” These are indications that he has digested all the information he can at this particular time. What are the non-verbals? Remember that this is your first avenue of communication before words. Does he throw up his hands in utter disbelief? Does he get a far-away look in his eyes or drift off into a catatonic stare? Does he swallow hard? Does his body stiffen? If so, pay close attention. If he stares, he is likely frozen in fear. If he is swallowing hard, he may be overwhelmed. If his body stiffens, he may be communicating that he just can’t tolerate any more.

Remember that adoption is a life-long journey. Questions about his birth and birth family will surface at each developmental stage of life. Times of change–going to high school, leaving home for college, getting married and having children of his own, mid-life, old age–will often be the precursor to history issues resurfacing. However, the information you have already given him will not be a millstone around his neck; rather, it will provide him with a context to learn deeper lessons about what it means to be adopted. Ultimately, growth will occur.

You probably would agree that “going through home again” by learning birth history is not an easy task for most adoptees. Some adoptees have no desire to learn anything beyond the adoption story. However, when your child expresses his need to go through home and learn what he can about his past, no matter how painful the details, trust his instincts. The end result may well be that he will finally be able to look back on his past with pardon and upon himself with favor.

Copyright 1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Random House Publishing. No reprinting without permission of author.

Mother’s Day Tips for Rejected Adoptees

My birth mother

My birth mother

When I returned from my reunion with my birth mother twenty years ago and called to thank her for the visit, she announced to me that she wanted no more contact. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t anything written about this experience and I felt so ashamed and was sure the rejection was because of something I did.
So, for fellow adoptees who are struggling with rejection, here are a few tips:

• Know that you are not alone.
• Rejection by birth mothers is common amongst adoptees even though the media doesn’t report
• You didn’t do anything wrong.
• You didn’t cause your birth mother to reject you. No one can make another person do anything!
• You are not her. Just because she closed her heart doesn’t mean your personality and character are like her. Your are your own person.
• Get connected with other adoptees who will support you (all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com)
• Give your broken, disappointed heart to God and ask him to glue your soul back together.
• Walk with your head high on Mother’s Day, knowing that you faced and experienced your greatest fear and came through whole.

Adoption Pearls from the All-Adoptee ICU

PEARLS AND VELEVET BAG

A lesson from nature teaches us that pain is the catalyst that makes the precious pearl. Through all the tough issues adoptees work through in the All-Adoptee ICU, pearls of wisdom are formed. Here is my “take” on the pearls. How about yours?

1. Anyone can make love, but only God can create a life.
2. Even though my birth parents didn’t plan my life, God did. I am no mistake.
3. Every day of my life was planned before any one of them ever came to be—no coincidences!
4. I was removed me from the care of my birth parents for their good and mine.
5. Even though hospital workers called me “Baby X” after birth, my mom and dad had already picked out a name for me.
6. I am not a reject or second class–I am a jewel among jewels.
7. I have a unique place in human history that no one else can fill.
8. Even though my birth mother experienced a painful conception, good came out of evil–me!
9. The desire in my heart for a reunion with my birth family is innate. I need not feel guilty for wanting to meet them.
10. Searching and reunion bring growth, no matter what the outcome, for I have faced my greatest fear.
11. There is a time to search for answers to adoption questions and a time to give up as lost.
12. Some of my adoption questions will never be answered this side of heaven.

If you want to check out the All-Adoptee Growth Group: all-adoptees@yahoogroups.co,

SherrieEldridge.com

SherrieEldridge.com

All-Adoptee ICU Signs of Recovery

Pam Kroskie, Sherrie, Beth Willis Miller, and Lisa Floyd at the All-Adoptee Boot Camp Live.sm

Here are a few of the signs that adoptees have healed:
• “I have a unique life purpose…I can see how God is working in my life!”
• “I can now take rejection in stride!”
• “I can now see my adoption experience through God’s eyes!”

The link for the All-Adoptee Online Group is: all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com. This is valuable to adoptees, ages nine and up.

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All-Adoptee ICU Success Stories

There’s nothing defective about adoptees! We just need a special kind of help.

Here is an amazing woman, Lisa Floyd. I included her interview last week in comments but it got buried. So, here it is again!

Here is an amazing woman, Lisa Floyd. I included her interview last week in comments but it got buried. So, here it is again!

Pam Dixon Kroskie, President of AAC

Pam Dixon Kroskie, President of AAC

Beth Willis Miller, co-author, writing specialist

Beth Willis Miller, co-author, writing specialist

An ICU for Hurting Adoptees?

Where can you take an adoptee for intensive help? If you go to the psych unit at the hospital, they don’t even mention adoption-related trauma as a possible issues of depression, anxiety, or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.

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There is a place, online, where adoptees can go and be with other adoptees who’ve been where they are and who will help them identify what’s going on inside and how to navigate to health.
This group was a 501c3 and founded by Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network.
Order Here!
Here are some of the symptoms that indicate adoptees need an ICU:
• “I feel like something’s missing.”
• “I often feel like I don’t belong.”
• “I blow up easily and hurt others.”
• “I sometimes fantasize about my birth family.”
• “I am confused about my identity.”
• “I push myself to be perfect.”
• “I am terrified of rejection.”
• “I struggle with self-esteem.”
• “I get uptight whenever I think about meeting my birth family.”
To join the group, you must be an adoptee! Here’s the link: all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com.
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Beth Willis Miller is the facilitator and does a wonderful job of reaching out to fellow adoptees. Thank you Beth for all you do!
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Don’t Tell Anybody My Secret….I Was Adopted

“Was I a bad baby, Mom?” young Stephen asked after his parents told him about his adoption.
“Was there something wrong with me?…Is that why they didn’t want me?…Was I a bad baby?”
His parents, startled by Stephen’s poignant questions, gathered their composure and reassured their son that the “giving up” didn’t have anything to do with him. Yet when they explained that his birth mother was only thirteen years old when he was born and not ready to parent, he still silently wondered if there was something wrong with him.
As a teenager, he was filled with guilt and shame over what he imagined his birth mother had gone through because of him. He said, ” I was convinced that my birth mother must have been raped and therefore I was the result of some horrific event–an event that may very well have destroyed the life of a young girl. I felt that I was not worthy of happiness if my pain had caused severe pain for my young mother.”
Later in life when he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, he was convinced that his belief about himself was true after all: he was defective, a mistake.
What Stephen was dealing with was shame. Toxic shame. Shame that shouts deep into the soul, “There is something wrong with you!”
Many adoptees struggle with shame. Without intervention they will likely believe the reason for their adoption was because they were a bad baby/child.
“I hope my child isn’t silently struggling with shame,” I can hear you say. “If he is, how can I intervene and help him resolve it?”
In order to accomplish that task, it is important to understand exactly what shame is, where it originates, how the adoptee’s beliefs are affected by it, how they cope with it, and what can be done about it.

What Is Toxic Shame?

The dictionary defines shame as:
• the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, or ridiculous
• disgrace
• humiliation
• the mortification of being singled out for rebuke
• mortification of being humbled in the sight of others
• devaluation


If your child was relinquished for adoption as an infant, then one of her first experiences in life was being separated from everything safe and familiar: the presence of her mother. An infant cannot process the complex reasons behind this separation, of course, and interprets it as primal abandonment. At a core level, this perceived or actual rejection produces shame.
If your child was removed from her birth family at an older age, she may have put on a brave front and acted as if she could take anything. Her “I can handle it” demeanor, however, may only be a ruse to hide a deep sense of failure: They took me away from my mommy because I was bad. I should have been better. This belief is often tragically true even for children who were clearly victimized by their parents’ physical or sexual abuse and were removed for their own protection.
Because of their deep-seated fear of rejection, many adoptees try to manage that pain through people-pleasing or rebellion. If I do everything right, then they’ll love me and keep me. If I refuse to need their approval, then they can’t hurt me when they reject me.
How about your adopted child? Do you notice her being overly compliant, eager to please? Or does she tend to act out, setting herself up for the rejection she believes she deserves? Perhaps she is a combination of both, like the person who is “sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.”

Warning Signs for Shame

Warning Signs for Shame


If your child is compliant or rebellious, or flips back and forth between the two, consider what she might be trying to tell you in the only way she knows how:

• “I feel overwhelmed.”
• “My cup of fear is brimming over.”
• “I am trying to manage my fear of rejection.”
• “I must prevent further hurt, no matter what it costs me.”
• “I am convinced that it is only a matter of time until you discover there is something wrong with me.”
• “I am afraid there has been something wrong with me all along.”

In other words, the thoughts that motivate your child’s behavior may be shame-based. Unless you can uncover her illegitimate shame and replace it with the truth, she may suffer great psychic pain, live in fear, or create constant chaos in the family. Not all adoptees experience shame to such a degree, of course, but if your child seems more compliant or rebellious than the norm, then you’ll want to consider what may be driving her.

Exposing Toxic Shame

Many adult adoptees I’ve spoken with now realize that they were saying to themselves as children: “My birth mother gave me up because I was a bad baby, so I must do whatever I can to be good. If I don’t, my adoptive parents will reject me too.”
Their belief manifested in these “pleasing” behaviors:

• “I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in me. I worked overtime at being the model child.”
• “I felt compelled to pay back kindness when others gave to me.”
• “I acted shy.”
• “I was ultra-sensitive to other people’s feelings.”
• “I was afraid of being seen as bad or selfish.”
• “I tried to be perfect.”
• “I let others push me around.”
• “I made it a point to find out what others expected and then to adjust my behavior accordingly. When they said ‘jump,’ I asked ‘how high?’”
• “I beat myself up constantly.”
The compliant aspect of the adoptee’s behavior is often difficult for parents to discern, for it can seem like everything is fine outwardly, when in reality there is emotional turmoil inside. As mentioned in a previous chapter, you must discern whether your child’s “strength” is coming from a place of health or hurt.

Why is she stealing from the neighbor's house? We've given her everything.

Why is she stealing from the neighbor’s house? We’ve given her everything.

In contrast, adult adoptees looking back on their rebellion said they once reasoned: “My birth mother gave me up because I was a bad baby, therefore, I will act like the loser I really am.”
Behaviors that indicate these beliefs are:

• stealing
• wanting to run away, or actually doing it
• rage
• setting fires
• physically attacking adoptive parents
• promiscuity
• becoming pregnant out of wedlock
• rejecting others (“I won’t be the one rejected first.”)
• hurting others (“I’ll hurt you before you can hurt me.”)
• acting tough (“I can take anything life dishes out.”)
• eating disorders
• suicide. (Contact abcofohio.org for clinical help)

If your child displays both compliance and rebellion, then she may be popular at school, voted prom queen by her peers, but come home with the statement every parent dreads: “Mom, Dad…I’m pregnant.” Or she may be winsome and charming with others while impossible to live with at home.

What Parents Can Do

Learning about your child’s toxic shame might feel overwhelming and unconquerable, but that is not the case. Here are some things you can do to bring your child’s illegitimate beliefs about himself out into the light of day and then help him dump his toxic shame where it belongs: in the garbage, far, far away from his precious soul.

Teach Him How to Detect Shameful Thoughts

When your child is young, you can challenge declarations of toxic shame on your child’s behalf.
“Me bad baby, Mom? Is that why they gave me away?”
“No, sweetheart, they gave you away because they weren’t able to be parents. It’s hard to understand, isn’t it?”
As your child grows older, it’s not enough for you to know the symptoms of toxic shame; you must teach your child how to identify them as well. Thus, when you hear a shameful thought, challenge it.
“Mom, I am such a loser.”
“I detect shame in that view of yourself, do you? Remember what shame is? It is believing there is something bad about you as a person. Those are the kind of thoughts you must challenge within yourself. I hope when these kinds of thoughts come to mind, you will say to yourself, ‘That thought is not true. I am an incredible person.'”

Write a Welcome Letter

Another way you can help heal your child’s toxic shame is to write her a letter, affirming her “welcomeness” into the world and into your family. Your child needs to hear again and again “You are/were welcome. Even though we weren’t there on the day you were born, our hearts were saying, ‘Welcome to the world, little one.’ We longed to have you as our child long before you were born. You are a gift to us.”
You could make this letter the first entry in your child’s life book, reminding her whenever her birth or adoption story is told of her place in the world and specifically in your family.

Affirm Your Child’s Value

I remember one time in the midst of my counseling process, when my counselor put an arm around me as I was walking out after a session and said, “You really are wonderful, you know.” Her declaration took me by surprise. I had never heard those specific words directly applied to me.
Your child needs to hear your specific affirmations of his value. “You are an awesome guy.” “You are wonderful!”
If you are a person of faith, you will also want to teach your child that she is part of God’s creation and that God doesn’t make mistakes. “God created you and loves you just as you are. So do we.”

Laugh at Yourself
Renowned author and speaker John Bradshaw says in Homecoming: “Toxic shame forces us to be more than human (perfect) or less than human (a slob). Healthy shame allows you us to make mistakes, which are an integral part of being human.”
The best way you as an adoptive parent can help free your child from toxic shame is to learn to laugh at your own foibles and mistakes. Because your child may believe she is a mistake, she needs you to model for her that being human is okay. Show her your humanity. Tell her when you blow it. Help her see that people don’t deserve to be rejected just because they’re alive. Teach her the joy of forgiving, being forgiven, and forgiving herself. Before you know it, she will be following suit.

Copyright,1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Chapter 11 Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.

Adoptees Ready to Launch?

Eaglet--"I don't like this nest anymore. I wanna be me. I know I can fly."

Adoptee Eaglet–“I don’t like this nest anymore. I wanna be me. I know I can fly.”

Children want and need to become their own persons. Adopted kids seek autonomy, too, while at the same time needing a safe place to verbalize the conflicting emotions that being adopted often evokes.
The task of individuating for the adopted child is unique as well as complex, for it involves the dual-identity once again. With each step the adoptee takes toward independence, she becomes more conscious of her pre-adoption past. For her to “separate” from you might feel more traumatic because she has already been separated against her will from her birth parents and they never came back (unless is was an open adoption, of course). That initial shock predisposed her to struggle with healthy separation more than the non-adopted child does.

The Struggle Toward Autonomy

There are various signs along the way that will alert you to the fact that your child is trying to take another step toward becoming his own person, different from you. He may make challenging statements like, “My real mother would let me do this.” He may begin to think more about his birth family: “I wonder if they are still alive.” “I wonder if they would like me.” “I am interested in finding out more about them.” “I wish I could meet them.”
Fundamental questions about his identity may surface. “Who am I?” “Who am I in relation to adoption?” “Is there a purpose to my life? If so, what is it?” Emotions may surge. Robin, sixteen, said, “When I became a teenager, my need for independence arrived overnight and I withdrew from my family and became promiscuous. I was irate at the curfews my parents set.” Teens may launch out and try different friendships (other than the kind you would desire), in search of the kind of relationships they really want.

Is it scary out in the big world?

Is it scary out in the big world?

Prepare yourself for other comments that indicate your child’s movement toward autonomy:
• “Why is my skin different than yours?”
• “People in a real family match.”
• “You are not my real family.”
• “You are just my adoptive mother.”
• “You are sort of my daddy.”
• “I wonder what my real parents look like.”
• “Real families are defined by blood ties.”
• “I’m pregnant.”
Sometimes statements like these are hurled in anger because anger is usually part of an adopted child’s process of facing the parts of her life and herself that she has lost. If your child becomes hostile at times, you may be tempted to doubt yourself and your parenting capabilities, but resist the temptation! Remember that the upheaval has nothing to do with you or your parenting, but everything to do with your child coming to know herself more completely.

What the Adoptee Is Trying to Communicate

Realize that beneath surging emotions, startling statements, and identity issues are questions related to your child’s pre-adoption past. He is trying to integrate it with his present-day life. He has a multifaceted identity to weave, and he oftentimes has trouble communicating that.
Here are a few examples of what your child might be trying to communicate when he makes comments like the ones above:

• Families are defined by blood ties./Where do I belong?
• You are just my adoptive mother./Who is my birth mother?
• You are not my real family./ I am realizing I have a dual heritage.
• I wonder what my birth family looks like./ Do I look like anybody?
• My real mother would let me do that./I have a fantasy mother.
• My birth mommy gave me up because she loved me./ Will you give me up too? Is it really good to be loved?
• My other mommy gave me away because I was a bad baby./ Did my birth mother love me?
• You are sort of my daddy./I am realizing I have two daddies.
• I don’t want to tell my adoption story at school this year./I want to be “normal”–not adopted. I feel sad.
• I’m pregnant./I am trying to connect with my birth mother in the only way I know how./I have unresolved feelings of loss.

If only parents could be so confident in their parenting that they could let these statements roll like water off a duck’s back. But the truth is that these bold declarations often hit them in their most vulnerable spot. Fisher and Watkins, in Talking with Young Children About Adoption, describe this vulnerability: “For many adoptive parents this vulnerable spot is the fear that, lacking the tie of blood, the child will not merely differentiate from the parents but will leave them in some final way. The parents fear being orphaned by the child.”
Could this fear somehow describe you? If you did some honest soul searching, would you have to admit that you are scared to death of losing your beloved child?
Let me assure you that your fear is normal. Understanding this about yourself is vital if you are to be that emotional haven for your child and encourage his healthy and necessary movement toward individuation.

What Parents Can Do

Reassure Your Child

Because the normal childhood process of individuating might be rocky for your child at times, she needs added reassurance from you that you will be there for her if she feels overwhelmed. Just a few words that will acknowledge her emotional reality will comfort her: “We know new situations are often difficult for you. We just want to remind you that you can call us whenever you feel overwhelmed or lonely. We will be there for you.”
Reassuring words can be communicated in less direct ways as well. When our daughters were growing up, our family used to leave notes on one another’s pillows when there was a special message to be communicated.
Touch can be another way of demonstrating your understanding. An arm around her waist, a touch on his shoulder, a wink of the eye will communicate what words sometimes cannot.

Remain Calm

When surging emotions and startling stat are hurled, try to keep your cool. This will communicate unspoken strength to your child and will help him gravitate toward wholeness instead of rage. If he can draw you into the cyclone of emotions, the chaos has won.
I am reminded of the illustration of one person trying to help another that is in a deep pit. The helper doesn’t get down in the pit. Instead he holds onto something strong, reaches down to the one in the pit, and gradually helps him out. “I realize you are having a difficult time right now. If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.” “How might I help you? Remember, I’m on your team.”

(Adapted from Chapter 7: Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

Changing Adoptee’s Name? Yay or Nay?

"Should I ask my child if he/she wants a name change? What if the birth mother has already specified a name? I already had a name picked out."

“Should I ask my child if he/she wants a name change? What if the birth mother has already specified a name? I already had a name picked out.”

Changing an adopted child’s name is of great concern to parents of internationally and domestically adopted children. One mother wrote, “When a child is adopted at age five or six, or later, do you feel it’s appropriate to change the child’s name? Should we ask our child? Doesn’t changing the name give the message that the birth family is bad, or something that that must be hidden?
There is core adoptee issue in this mother’s questions about names.
A Name Establishes a Sense of Connection
Adoptees have a deep need for a sense of connection. Adoption experts Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter say in their best-selling book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self that an adoptee’s need for connection can be compared to a starving man’s need for food.
Because the adoptee’s connection with the birth parents severs at birth, unless it is an open adoption, there is a deep need for a sense of connection to them. In fact, with international adoptions, knowing the original name may be impossible. However, there are other ways of establishing a sense of connection, such as visiting the country of origin or attending a heritage camp.
Another aspect of connection needs to happen with you! We need to know that even though “we aren’t bone of your bone or flesh of your flesh” that we grew in your hearts instead of under them. We need to hear our adoption stories, repeatedly. My dad delighted in saying, “You were so small, I could hold you in the palms of my hands,” until his dying day. In addition, I delighted in hearing it just as much as he did telling it.
Bottom Line about Changing Names
Should an adoptee’s name be changed? Personally, I believe it should be preserved and honored at all costs. It IS the link to the “past” portion of our dual identity. For parents to wipe it out would be one more severing and loss for the adoptee. It is something we can be proud of—something that proves we aren’t “aliens,” as many adoptees secretly believe. If it is changed, it likely will cast an unfavorable light on the birth family, instead of honoring them. Birth parents deserve much honor, even though their history may be negative or missing, for they gave you the gift of a beautiful child.
Our grand daughter who joined our family through adoption was named “Gracie” by her birth family. Our adult children have honored her birth mother and the heritage she gave by preserving the designated name as her middle name and adding their own first name—“Megan.” By the way, Megan means “pearl.” She’s our pearl of a girl!

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How Adoptees Think About Their Birth Mothers

All children, adopted or not, have secret places within where they can fantasize about perfect parents. They travel to these places when disillusioned with their own parents. Freud called this the family romance theory. When the non-adopted child learns around age seven or eight that his parents have both negative and positive characteristics, their fantasies dissipate.

"I think about my birth mother every day, do you?"

“I think about my birth mother every day, do you?”


It’s not that simple for the adopted child. The adoptee really does have another set of parents out there somewhere. Fantasies can continue throughout adulthood, unless recognized and dealt with. The birth mother can either be envisioned as a queen or a bag lady. The birth father, a king or a beggar.
You may not be aware that your child fantasizes like this, and perhaps not all adopted children do, but listen to the words of adoption specialists Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter in Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self: “In our experience, all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search, nonetheless. It begins when the child first asks, ‘Why did it happen? Who are they? Where are they now?’”
I learned this concept quite surprisingly one day while caring for my two-year-old twin grandsons. Whenever I have the privilege of spending a day with them, they often bring up the names of all the people in their extended family. Their minds turn often to those people who love them. “Papau, Sheia? Koa? Mimi? Gompa?” they ask, as if to say “Where are they now? What are they doing?” My grandsons have no trouble blending the two sides of their extended family. To them, there are no walls of preference, only people who love them and whom they love.
So it is with the adopted child. Somewhere, deep within her heart are the questions “Where is my birth mother right now? Where is my birth father? I wonder what they are doing.”
It is vital to keep in mind that there is no “we and they” mentality in the adopted child’s world. Birth parents have always been and will always be a part of her world, whether acknowledged or not. It is we, the adults, who sometimes erect walls of competitveness and possessiveness in relating to our child.
I realize this is difficult information for some parents of closed and semi-closed adoptions. You may find it threatening to open conversations about the birth family. However, it is essential if you are to be in tune with your child’s secret world. For specific help on adoptee fantasy, purchase a copy of Dr. Ronald J. Nydam’s book Adoptees Come of Age (Westminster John Knox Press).
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