Monday, March 8, 2010

Openness Is a State of Mind

I think something's missing from the collective "openness in adoption" discussion, and I think it's something we can't afford to miss. It's this: before it's anything else, openness is a state of mind.

True openness is acknowledging and respecting the whole of the adoption experience. It's inviting in the entirety of adoption and really meaning it.

For adoptive parents it means so much more than pictures and letters and annual visits with birth family.

It means not just listening, but being genuinely interested in what your adopted child has to say about adoption.

It means believing that your child's experience is (and will always be) different than yours, and accepting that even though you love them, even though they love you, even though they wouldn't want any parents other than you, they have lost people, places and things that matter.

For some adoptive parents, it means accepting that even though you love them, they may not love you the same way, and they may want parents other than you, and as difficult as that is for you, they don't "owe" you anything anymore than biological children "owe" their parents anything. Really not.

It means embracing your child as who they are and celebrating everyone and everything that shapes them - your personal feelings aside.

It means showing (not just telling) your child from day 1 that family is a safe place. It means showing (not just telling) your child how how to explore deep, confusing feelings without falling apart. It means showing (not just telling)your child that you're not threatened by their feelings for anyone else.

It means encouraging your child to think and feel whatever, whenever, however they need to as long as it's not destructive.

It means being mature enough to understand that whatever thoughts, feelings, wishes, fantasies, and experiences there are between your child and their birth family is about them, not you.

It means wanting more than anything for your child to live fully and authentically and always with the certainty of being loved.

It means seeking out other voices - other adoptive parents, adoptees, birth mothers, birth fathers, birth family - and really listening to what they have to say, especially if it's uncomfortable or painful. It means being secure enough to thoughtfully consider their perspective without scurrying into the emotional safety zone of "Oh, that's not going to happen to my child." or "Well, they're just that group of bitter, victims-by-choice."

It means accepting that at some point your precious darling child may self-identify as a bastard.

It means never taking responsibility for your child's feelings and never expecting them to take responsibility for yours.

It means having the confidence that children need their parents to have. It means being very clear about your role as Mom or Dad and very clear about the permanence of your family, because sometimes your child won't be, and if you're not either, it's going to freak them out and do some serious damage.

It means recognizing that everyone experiences life differently. Everyone experiences adoption differently. Everyone experiences parenthood differently. It means getting very comfortable with the fact that you don't speak for anyone but yourself. No one does.

Which is why after thinking a lot about what an open state of mind means for adoptees or birth family, I conclude that I really haven't a clue.

Purchase Sally's , What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
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Jeanine said...

Thank you for this wonderful pep talk. I concur.

rainer said...

You're right. Don't know if it will change any A-parents but you're right.