I believe that one person does not just “adjust”, they give up on what was once something they became familiar with. They stop trying to hold onto something they remember, or felt comfortable in. They may temporarily relinquish the desire to be part of the past and the way things were done in the past in order to start over in this new life that is handed to them.
This is a hard piece to write because I know for one I will receive emails and messages telling me how wrong I am. However, if you are able to read past the title of this post, you will probably find that what I have to say makes a bit of sense.
A family is created in many different ways. I am not going to go into the ethicalness of adoption, foster care, step parenting, blended families, fertilization, surrogacy and the many other ways a family is created. But I do want to talk about what a family is and how a new member of the family learns to adjust.
When you adjust, you “fit” in. But you can’t really fit in unless you are comfortable with who you are as a person, as an individual. This comfort comes from being surrounded by people who are not just looking for you to fit into their mold, but who want to fit into yours.
In adoption, children do not know who they are so they attempt to be someone else. Because they do not know who they are, true adjustment is almost impossible. They try to be the person the people around them expect/want them to be. They try so hard to be the success story that they often relinquish their right to hold onto their past. This feeling of needing to be a success trumps their internal and innate need to connect with their past.
My family moved to the US a few years back and my wife and I talk about how we feel our daughter is adjusting to the new culture, weather and way of doing things here. We like to think that her adjustment came quite quickly. We frequently ask her questions about how she feels and what she would like to see change so that we can continue to keep ties with our not-so-long-ago past.
We spend a lot of time talking about where we came from, we have stories and memories and we laugh and cry and take time out to reflect on the existence that was the near past. We think about instances and scenarios that pulled us together as a family, and we also explore times when our family went through hardships which created emotional separation.
You see, adjusting is a team effort. This is a family thing. Adjustment can’t just happen by one person. It has to be a joint effort. Everyone in the family needs to be on the same page when it comes to having a positive outcome in adjustment.
According to the online dictionary, the synonyms for adjust are many. Let’s break them down and ask ourselves as adoptive parents if we somehow impose these synonyms on the adoptees living in our home. Ask yourself which words are being used emotionally to explain that our kids are “doing well” even though they may not be.
- modify–What are we changing? What are they being forced to change? What are they being asked to change? What do they feel has to change?
- alter–What needs changing?
- regulate–What something irregular? What is being regulated?
- tune–Were they somehow out of tune?
- fine-tune–Who is fine-tuning and why is it needed?
- calibrate–Was there something in the child that was not working/dead?
- balance–Why as adoptive parents are we supposedly the balance.
- adapt–This should be what we use instead of adoption. We should use adaptation.
- arrange–What was out of order?
- rearrange–What was disorganized?
- change–What needs to be changed? In the child? In you?
- rework–Aren’t they perfect in God’s sight?
- remodel–Was the old model not good enough?
- convert-What are we converting our kids into?
- improve–Was there something that needs improvement? It’s not like this is a test grade they failed.
- enhance-Bigger and better for whom?
- customize-To fit whom?
- repair–What was damaged?
- fix–What is broken?
- correct–Was something incorrect?
- rectify–Were they somehow not straight?
- put right-Were they somehow wrong?
- tweak–What needed improvement?
Adjustment should not be about not dealing with the pains the child is feeling. It should not be about rejoicing because the child no longer has night terrors, or wets the bed, or hits his friend, or cries at night.
Adjustment should be about understanding why the child is or is not doing the above things and walking the journey with them. Adjustment should come from the adoptive parent and also the child because it should never be one-sided.
I hear way too many adoptive parents saying “yeah, he’s fit right in. He’s adjusted” and then they have not taken the steps to adjust to the child. They have not taken the step forward to try and fit into their culture, race, language or people group.
I feel that adjustment is so much more than a smile in a picture. I feel that adjustment is so much more than a child calling me “mom” though I didn’t birth the child.
Adjustment is so much more than “getting along.” Because it is way too common that children who appeared well adjusted as kids, regress as adults. Sometimes adjustment can be coated with being the “good” adoptee and that coat of paint becomes too heavy once they reach adulthood.
Should we hope for adjustment?
See, children when they are born to parents who raise them, trust their parents to understand them. They have faith that their parents will understand why they are crying, when they will want to eat, and what it means to be present. The child learns that the parents will adjust to them.
In adoption, things are a bit different. And too often in adoption, adoptive parents wait for the child to “come around” when from a child’s perspective, they may be waiting for the adoptive parents to come around.
Adjustment is like a Salsa dance.
It’s syncopated, it’s rhythmic and it always takes two people to make the dance truly beautiful.
Salsa is a partner dance. So is adoption. If you don’t know how to dance salsa, you learn with a partner and teach each other how to move with the music; you create a rhythm that can seldom be forgotten. The adoption dance is often messy, but both sides need to work together in order to adjust in a healthy manner.
Unfortunately, often in adoption, it is the adoptee’s job to make the adoptive parents happy, to fulfill their desire to have a family, to be the gift God apparently gave, to be the blessing, to be the replacement, to be the object of obsession. In all these cases, adoption is one sided. The dance is not complete, and the choiceless partnership is broken.
Adjustment is a partnership. So unless you have dedicated your entire life to adjusting to your adopted child, to learning how to dance salsa, to asking the important and thought-provoking questions, to not trying to fix a child who is not broken; unless you have decided that it is time to be fully a part of them as you want them to be fully a part of you, then NO, your adopted child has never been “well adjusted”. And no, your adopted child will never be fully well adjusted.
This piece 1000% nails why I’ve never felt like I’ve fit in anywhere, even in secure, long-term relationships. I always feel like people are about to leave, just like I feel I need to have an escape hatch, just in case. Trusting myself has been almost impossible to figure out, trusting others has been similarly difficult – therapy has helped me get much better but I don’t think I’ll ever quite feel completely secure with anyone. Thank you so much for putting words where I didn’t have any, thank you for making this clear for adoptive parents and families.
Very well said and very relatable. I’m so glad you wrote this piece and titled it the way you did. Thank you!
I agree . I’ve never known any adoptive parents to make any radical changes to accommodate their adopted children . The reason we try to fit in is because our only chance of survival is to mold ourselves to strangers ..
This hit hard. Never really fitting in. Knowing that you are different, whether by color, looks, interests, by knowing you’re adopted, by never knowing why… It’s hard to discuss my adoption with my parents, my brother because they all have different feelings on the matter, but what about the adoptees feelings? You wrote about the need to fulfill some one else’s needs. Yes. To be good, to be theirs, to be a part of theie life, to somehow – single handedly be the poster child for adoption. It’s often too much. I’d love to read more, I hope you have the opportunity to delve deeper into this subject. Because, you really outlined the truth here. But the nail on the head, so to speak.
This is the best thing I have ever read!I cried through the whole thing.You said everything I would have and how I feel.The one thing that I HATED was to call 2 woman mom or mommy!!!I was adopted 2 times because the first family I wasn’t a good “fit” and was adopted again (another fail)Those women weren’t my mom!! Just a couple months ago I found the daughter of candy he lady that adopted me,I asked why they didn’t keep me she said you weren’t a good fit because you were always angry. Yeah no shit I was angry your family took away my life and on top of that one of her brothers was sexually molesting me! I wish both families were educated about raising an adoptee.
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You absolutely nailed it. As a child of closed adoption, I could literally relate to everything you wrote.
Thank you boo
This is the best writen piece on adoption from the perspective of the adoptive parents. You are able to capture the experience of the adoptee well. I’m going to share. Thank you. An adoptee not adjusted.
Thank you! Please share as much as possible
Good post, saying what too often goes unsaid in adoption.