I Love You No Matter What: Tips For a Well-Adjusted Adoptee
By Shannon Jones
I was in third grade, standing in line for the bus home when an argument with a second-grade neighbor changed my life.
“Stop cutting, Clara. Go to the back of the line.”
“I was here first! I’m not moving.”
“No, you weren’t. You cut. Go to the back of the line.”
“No way! And you know what? My sister said your mom and dad aren’t really your mom and dad. I heard her telling my parents the other day. She said your sister told her that you were adopted.”
And just like that, the argument ended. I was speechless. I wasn’t sure how to react to the news, but at that moment, the puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place for me, and what I thought I had always known was becoming clear.
I cried all the way home, ran up the lane from the bus stop as fast as I could, and told my mom what Clara had told me. I was fully expecting an explanation of the details surrounding an adoption eight years ago. Instead, my mother hugged and comforted me and told me that it wasn’t true. That she was my mother, and that I was not adopted.
I was so confused! I was angry, but not sure who to be angry with: my mother, Clara, or my sister. It had all made so much sense when Clara blurted it out—my feelings of being different than my siblings actually had a basis. But now that my mom was saying it wasn’t true, the real confusion began to set in.
Truth be Told
A few weeks later, my parents sat me down and told me the truth.
I will never forget sitting on my mom’s lap, hugging her neck and telling her that she was my mom and always would be, no matter what.
There was a huge relief in my little eight-year-old mind, but also a stabbing sense of betrayal. Everyone knew, and they had all been keeping it from me: my parents, my three older siblings, my grandparents, my cousins, my entire family, the entire town! Everyone had known, except for me.
I was born in 1977, and thank goodness that the stigma around adoption has changed since then. Today, six in 10 Americans have had a personal experience with adoption, and around 7 million Americans have been adopted. Because adoption today is far more common than it was decades ago, it is more openly talked about. In more recent conversations with my mom, I now understand that it was fear that made her lie to me. Fear that I would feel bad about it, fear that I would want to leave her for my birth mother. She told me she used to have nightmares that my birth mother would come to take me back.
My birth mother is my mom’s younger sister, who got pregnant at age 15. As a child, I didn’t understand the situation in the scope I do now, but even then, I understood that it would have been very difficult for a 15-year-old to care for a baby. When I was 15, I also thought about how difficult it would have been to be a pregnant teen, not to mention a teen mother. When my own daughter was 15, it was unfathomable to me to think that my birth mother was pregnant at that age.
Finding out about my adoption the way I did had some lasting effects. Because it was something my parents had kept hidden and then lied about, trust is something I have struggled with. I had a lot of questions but no one to answer them. Because my birth mother was a family member and I had access to her, I was able to have a few discussions with her about my adoption, but that always left me feeling disloyal to the parents who had done so much for me. Who loved and nurtured me and who was raising me.
History repeats — or does it?
Now as an adult, I have an adopted daughter with eerily similar circumstances. Her birth mother is my sister. However, my daughter has known from day one that she was adopted. We have tried to give her age-appropriate information as questions have come up. She is nine now, and the questions are coming more often as she tries to dial in on her identity. When we made the decision to adopt her, I vowed to help her through the things that were hard for me as an adopted child. Most importantly, that meant talking about her birth parents in an open, honest, non-threatening way. Below are three tips for having healthy discussions on adoption with your adopted child.
I am of the opinion that it is best to be honest and upfront from the very beginning. There is a plethora of research proving that adopted children are more prone to having issues with separation and trust. Don’t contribute to it by keeping secrets about the adoption.
Talk about the birth parents
I grew up feeling like I couldn’t ask questions or talk about my birth parents for fear of making my mom and dad feel bad. I was worried they would feel it was disloyal if I asked questions, and I could clearly sense their discomfort when the subject was broached. I have tried to never make my daughter feel that way, which isn’t always easy. There are times when it tears at my heart, but I decided early on that I didn’t want her to grow up with the same feelings I had. If my daughter brings it up, I discuss any questions or concerns she may be having, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for me.
Let your child lead
Let your child decide how much information she is ready for. If you listen to your child and remain consistently open and honest about the adoption, your child will clue you in on how much they are ready to hear. Each adoption has a unique set of circumstances, and I believe in keeping the conversation age appropriate, but let your child lead the way.
Adoption has changed my life in a myriad of ways, both as a child and now as an adult. I feel so lucky to have the relationship I have with my birth mother and my adopted parents.
I am so lucky to have an adopted daughter that adds so much to our family that we never knew we were missing. I am endlessly indebted to my sister for bringing this little girl into the world and allowing me to be her mother. Adoption has made an impactful difference in my life and the lives of my entire family. I am happy to report that today adoption is something my family and I all talk about in an open, positive light. And you can as well. Be honest, talk about the birth parents, and follow your child’s lead. Adoption is beautiful—we should all treat it that way.
Shannon Jones works in marketing and moonlights as a taxi driver for her kids—she also spends a good amount of time looking for her car keys. She lives with her husband and kids in Huntsville, UT.