It is so easy to brainwash our kids into behaving either the way we were raised or the way we want them to be raised. It is even easier to do when they are little kids. We create little mini versions of ourselves who wind up walking, talking, eating and even shitting the way we do.
In adoption however, our kids come to us with both literal and hypothetical suitcases. They come to us already with a way of doing things whether that means from an orphanage, a group home, another foster home, or straight from their first parents. So trying to “force” them into little mini molds of ourselves can lead to some serious consequences.
I was adopted into a very strange household. My adoptive mother had a husband and also a lover living under the same roof. I came to the home and was immediately made to become a mini version of how they wanted me to be;their white biological kids. But I couldn’t for the fact that my skin color gave me away. I could not fit into the mold they carved for me. I just could not pretend that everything was fine and dandy and that my black skin would not affect my every day life.
See, upon adoption, they carved out a space for me and then expected me to fit into that space. The problem was, the mold they created for me did not take into consideration anything about who I am as a person, the trauma I had suffered, the trauma I was suffering. The carved out space was not big enough for my first family to fit into with me. It was only big enough for their idea of a little me.
As I grew and matured, that mold didn’t grow, that carved out space did not stretch. It remained small, like how they wanted and expected me to be. Quiet, thankful, appreciative, and “happy.”
The space they carved out for me did not resemble the space I carved out for them. Because I didn’t carve out a space for complete strangers. It is not natural to carve out a space in your heart to complete strangers who would later force you to become somewhat part of them. I didn’t carve out a space for their biological kids. I was born to my first family and that is the space I had carved out.
But this new family wanted to fit into the spaces I had created for my first family. Non of them fit because they were not supposed. It was not “meant to be” and it was not supposed to be the case.
As I grew and matured however, the space I had carved out for my first family began to get smaller and smaller. The space I had carved out for my language and culture got so small it was barely visible. It got to a point where I no longer could really remember where I came from, what my language was, or who I was supposed to be. Everything I was meant to be disappeared and everything I was expected to be started to appear more and more clearly.
At one point I decided that speaking Creole was pointless so I moved the language to another part of my brain. I knew that if I spoke creole, it would make me feel even more different than my family. It was already clear that I was different, but at least I could hide behind my impeccable English language acquisition. That space that I had carved out at birth for language was now closed, like a cavity that was filled in by a dentist.
I learned that expressing any pain when it came to adoption was not allowed. How dare I not love the people who were raising me especially since they spent 50000 dollars on my adoption. How dare I not show some appreciation. So like a dentist with a drill and resin, that space I had carved out for pain and hurt was filled in with fake joy, fake happiness, and real confusion.
As I watch the child I am raising, I think about the spaces she has carved out in her life for me, and the spaces I have carved out for her. I ask myself whether the carving is too big or too small, or just right. I wonder whether me carving out spaces forced her spaces to be filled.
The way I was raised has been likened to a cult. The cult leader has always been my adoptive mother who believed that if we are idle, we are not doing the work of God and if we are idle we are being lazy. So leaving the home and NOT putting that mentality on the child I am raising has been like learning a new language where once carved out space was available.
As a parent to an adopted child, I need to consider how the spaces I carve out affects the ones she has created or closed up. Are my carved out spaces competing with her carved out spaces. Are my beliefs and feelings of inadequacies impacting her perception of herself, and who she is and who she was and who she wants to be in the future?
What does it mean to put my belief systems (morals and ethics) onto a child who brought her own suitcases with her name labeled on them. When she came to live with me, who took off the labels from the suitcase? Was it me? Was it her? Are the labels still there?
As I opened my heart to her, did she close her heart to her first family, culture, language, religion-everything that made her…her?
One of the things I’ve had to learn as a parent of an adopted child is that sometimes I have to shut the fuck up. Sometimes I have to hit the mute button on my life experience to let her experience life.
There are times I have to hit pause on how I feel about a certain situation, language, and mentality in order for her to have her own situations, language and mentalities. There are days I need to let her carved out spaces be bigger and also smaller than mine. She can embrace more, and leave me out.
A few weeks back I noticed that her conversations over the phone were getting strange. She used language that I was never allowed to use as a kid and she expressed herself in a way that would have landed me grounded for several weeks at her age. I had to catch myself because I could not and would NEVER be my adoptive parents. But I did wonder whether allowing this kind of language was going to benefit her or not.
I think most adoptive parents are for freedom of expression but as long as it fits into this carved out space they created and was influenced by their upbringing. So a child is able to say things and do things as long as it fits this guideline or handbook.
Parents in general are obsessed with kid’s morals, and ethics, and how they represent the family. But in adoption, adoptees didn’t choose the family they are in so why are they being expected to represent strangers?
As I sat back in my chair and wondered how I would approach the conversations she was having (and yes, we do check), I began to feel a bit jealous that she was not being yelled at for not being “polite.” I was jealous that my daughter was being raised in a manner that would help her learn to fully express herself. There was a sense of jealousy because I was not her.
My nurture instincts told me I should pull her aside, yell at her and demean her. I was supposed to be mad at her for representing the family in a “dark” light. Everything in me told me that I was supposed to tell her how rude she was being, how disrespectful she was being and how ungodly she was behaving. But my nurture instincts were wrong here.
If I teach my child that she always has to be good, respectful, and loving, then I am making her into a doormat. I was a doormat as a child. Being a doormat led me to being abused in more ways than one. Was this what I wanted for my child?
So after thinking about how to respond to this, I decided I would side with her to help her open up. Clearly in this instance she was upset about something, someone had treated her poorly and said mean things to her. Someone had failed to respect her and her feelings.
Sometimes it is time to side with our kids even if it breaks our own ethics and morals. It is OK to express anger and turn the tables, in fact, it is even Biblical. Sometimes it is good to carve out space for our adopted kids but we must make sure the space we carve out is adoptee-led. Make sure the space we carve out is not too big or too small. Make sure the space we carve out does not require the dentist to come in and fill in the carved space because we adoptive parents created a situation where the space needs to be repaired.
Does your carved space match that of your adoptee or does it require resin to repair the space?
When was the last time you Shut The Fuck Up and just listened to the child you are raising?
Reblogged this on Dream Big, Dream Often.
I absolutely loved your article. As an adoptee and a parent it helped me see clearer the sensitivity of a child, and the need for them to be their own person. Like you, I will NEVER be my adoptive parents but I struggle daily to handle things better than they did. It is a constant internal battle to always be aware, to not damage the child because that is what I was taught as a child. I plan to adopt a child as well one day, thank you for sharing your experience and words of guidance. I hope your daughter and you will have an amazing relationship.