Thoughts on Becoming an Adoptee Ally

Parenting is scary. Adoptive parenting has actually scared the crap out of me on many a day during the last year. It’s been scary for me because as much as I wanted to be a mom, my worse fear was somehow screwing things up for Hope after she’d already been through so much stuff. It’s all a lot, or as Hope would say, “a lot, a lot!”

I found the adoption process to be stressful, really stressful thanks to lots of paperwork, home visits and feeling judged by so many people: social workers, adoption agency folks, family and friends who could not understand why I needed to parent the way I do, the way that Hope needs me to because I need to help her heal. It’s the heaviest responsibility I’ve ever taken on, and because I’m a ridiculous overachiever, the fear of failure when the stakes seem so high has worn on me a great deal in the last year. I started looking for a new fur baby recently and the rescue agency requirements to adopt a new dog have actually triggered emotional flashbacks of sorts of the adoption process [I’ll be writing about this soon]. It was hard. It is hard. And I fret that it will never get easier, even though it does and it has in many ways.

When I first saw the #FlipTheScript hashtag, I honestly felt some kind of way about it. I thought, “Gosh these adoptees are sooooo pissed!” “Do they hate their adoptive parents?” “Is Hope going to be this angry? Is she going to hate me?” “Holy, ish, this hurts. This scares me. “ “Gosh after everything, I’m going to be judged by adoptees I don’t know [insert pursed lips and a neck roll for good measure]?” Based on some of the posts and tweets, I was terrified that I was already screwing up and maybe effing Hope’s life up royally.

I didn’t get it. I wasn’t that adoptive parent who wished the hashtag and all the stuff behind it went away, as Tao writes about in “Dear Adoptive Parents who are tired of Adoptees speaking up…,” but I sure as heck didn’t know how to reconcile my fear of failure and possibly being rejected by Hope down the line and the need of the adoptee, and Hope specifically, to have a voice in her story. In those first few days, I couldn’t tell the difference between frustration and anger in the expressions. I could barely sort through my own emotions after reading the expressions.

I feel like I kind of beat myself up a bit trying to figure it out.

But, I kept reading tweets, kept trying to wrap my head around what they meant and what adoptees were trying to say to me as an individual, as a part of the adoption community, as a parent, and as an adoptive parent. I started to understand that the voice of the adoptee wasn’t necessarily angry, but frustrated by the reality that they lacked any sort of real power and privilege in the adoption narrative. The story about adoption is all about the parents and not the adoptees, that adoption is complicated, that they couldn’t always learn about themselves because of a whole host of reasons that sometimes don’t make sense under the light of scrutiny, that adoption is messy for adoptees too and that being adopted isn’t the end of a story, but the start of a new chapter fraught with its own plot twists.

I noticed that much of the discussion seemed to focus on infant or very young child adoption and I wondered where me and Hope fit into these new scripts. I wondered what Hope would say about her life experience if she was on Twitter (not for a few years yet!). I wondered about what flipped scripts must look like for foster kids, especially after she spent so much of her young years moving through the system.

I also noticed that very few adoptive parents were weighing in; maybe they were just being voyeurs and trying to figure out where or whether we adoptive parents fit into this new version of the story anywhere. Maybe they were scared of all of the expressed emotions that can be crammed into 140 characters.

So here I was a couple of weeks ago looking at these tweets, and the new, sensitive, scared of judgment, adoptive mom in me was taking all of this so personally.

And then I had a moment where I told myself to get over myself, at least for a spell and think about why these voices are ssential. And  what would I  and could I do to ensure that Hope could flip all the damn scripts she wants?

#Ibetyouthinkthissongisaboutyou

#itsnot

Gosh the thing about privilege is that you always, always, always think everything is about you! So on that rare occasion when someone else creates a narrative that’s not about you, you get all in your feelings and cry that your feelings are hurt or that they just don’t understand that you’re not the enemy or that if they just let you talk, you can explain everything and everything can then return to normal; normal being that you are once again in charge of the narrative.

I struggled with the notion of looking at these tweets through a power and privilege framework. It fit and I was soooo convicted.

Ouch.

The recognition that the framework fit also meant that I needed to hush up, have several seats and continue to listen and learn. I’d love to say I’m evolved enough to get it, but even now with Hope, I struggle to understand what the loss that surrounds adoption is like for the her; it’s hard to imagine. I see how hard it is for Hope. I see the toll that it takes on her. How could I not be an ally for adoptees when I have a beautiful, amazing, resilient kid who has a voice too?

My commitment to learning from the adoptee voice and amplifying it is purely motivated by my need to figure out how to be the best ally mom I can be to Hope. I want her to have every birthright of knowledge or stuff that she’s entitled to, and I am working hard to make sure she gets them. She is an older adoptee and she has lived a life of countless experiences, good and bad, before I ever entered the picture. I don’t replace all of that, nor does ny presence just erase all of that. This isn’t an add water and stir event. And it isn’t easy figuring out what she can handle, how to provide access with age appropriate boundaries, how to deal with the meltdowns that follow the availability of new information or artifacts provided by her family. I realize that perhaps I don’t have the same kind of power and privilege held by adoptive parents of very young children—Hope engages me at a whole different level and her family coming on the scene with all of their fears, hopes, dreams, memories, expectations have set me back on my heels trying figure out how to make all of this work. I lay awake at night trying to figure it out…often.

But that’s what it means for me to be a parent, to be this type of parent. I didn’t know I was signing up for some of this voice stuff; I suppose I was naïve about it. I didn’t realize that having a chat about sex with my daughter would be sooo much easier than telling her about my recent phone call with her aunt.  It is and it was.  There was no sobbing and dis-regulated behavior after the sex chat.

My Add Water co-host, Mimi (ComplicatedMelodi.com) recently wondered if we, as adoptive parents, were somehow co-opting the Flip The Script movement. I don’t think so. I think that it is important for adoptive parents to weigh in and to be seen as allies. We talk a lot about power and privilege in adoption, in parenting and as women of color on our show; talking about power and privilege in the adoption narrative seems to be a natural extension. And well, I don’t see a lot of parents talking about it in positive terms, and I think we should use our power and privilege to echo the voice of adoptees.  It’s important.

So, that’s how I got to this place of being an adoptee cheerleader. I’ve learned so much, and there’s still so much more to learn.

I’m going to shut up now and go read some tweets and learn some more stuff that I hope will help me be a better mom to my most favorite girl.

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About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted tween a few years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2017. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

5 responses to “Thoughts on Becoming an Adoptee Ally

  • TAO

    “how to deal with the meltdowns that follow” – I was thinking about this last night and wondered if yoga could be something that would help. I was amazed at how much it helped me rid my mind and body of stress when I was working. It really helped me because you have to focus on how to do it properly including breathing…

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Actually we do yoga most nights. I started her on it a couple of months ago more to help her settle down in the evening and to get some balance control over her super lanky body (5’7″ at 13!!). It has helped with those things but no noticeable difference on the emotional capacity front, at least not yet. We also do separate breathing exercises to help with anxiety. But in the moment when the meltdown is happening…sigh! I’m hopeful that we will settle down as we head into year 2 of our life together.

  • Beth

    Thanks for writing this Mom.
    It helps me try to understand the fear so many moms find in adoption. I know the mom worry and fear and it’s not much fun at all, I don’t know the adoptive mom worry and fear, except for what I see in my mom and others. It’s rare when I hear anyone talk about it much. So I am guessing it’s scary to talk about it too. I never thought about how hard it would be to swallow that privilege and power that you might not even recognize. Thanks for being a brave Mom 🙂

    I have tried to change the way I say things or explain things to help ease the fear for the moms and dads, find new wording. The sad thing is as hard as I try, stuff I say still sounds scary to many, and I don’t really know why. Often I am shocked at what people get upset by, especially when someone is simply stating hard and proven facts.

    I know TAO has tried very hard, and has spent much time trying to choose words and thoughts that might not scare people off. So that people will be able to hear the messages, to find the common ground, to see the need to be an ally. Like you did.

    ps. brushing or playing with their hair, neck rub, or some kind of touching like that while sitting and looking in the mirror usually helped me and mine when difficult stuff came up. It’s different when you are looking at each other in the mirror, when they are looking at themselves in the mirror. Sort of like sitting side by side instead of facing each other while talking difficult stuff – just makes it easier to talk somehow, and you can see your facial reactions while you talk, look deep inside your own eyes. I don’t know what it is really! I’ve just seen it help us comfort ourselves.
    My daughter will hand me the brush (no words needed) when she is upset and needs her mommy to help with comfort, even now that she is 30.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Wow! Thanks so much for your message. I think it’s easy to forget that we are all on the “same side.” We want what’s best for our families. What that looks like sometimes depends on your frame of reference. This process is humbling and it has made me a lot more empathetic to the journey of first families.

      Emotions are a messy business, and as I parse through mine in my post, sometimes you don’t know the difference between anger, fear and frustration. When grief is involved the emotions are a brutal mix of some icky stuff sometimes and it’s nearly impossible to parse through. And describing it all is hard for the speaker and hard to hear for the listener.

      I’m still listening, reading, learning and trying to imagine what Hope wants and needs in this life experience. 🙂 While sometimes hard to hear some messages, I know it’s not about me. 🙂

      Hope and I do our best talking, straight up no chaser, on the couch and on the car. If I know that there’s a possibility that she will be sad, the couch is our best bet–ease of hugging. We hug it out after a good cry. Other controversial stuff but won’t be cry worthy, I will just take her for a drive. The lack of eye contact makes it a really safe space. Ohhhhhh, the teen questions that get asked in the car! OMG! 😀

      Thanks so much for the mirror suggestion! We might try that too. 🙂 And super thanks for the the thoughtful response. ❤

  • Beth

    “When grief is involved the emotions are a brutal mix of some icky stuff sometimes and it’s nearly impossible to parse through. And describing it all is hard for the speaker and hard to hear for the listener.”

    I love the way you worded that, it’s so true for me. So often I find others who find the words to say what I am trying to say. I know many of us adopted ones stick around typing online about it all, because we do find others that manage to find the words to explain it. It’s such a relief when found. And it’s a joy to find new allies who search for new words, new ways to explain things. For many years I have watched us twist the already twisted words around until they are straight. Of the millions of lines I have typed, probably about a dozen lines truly expressed what I was trying to share.

    I have had the very most difficult and/or deep discussions sitting side by side in the car! With my mom, and with my kids, lots of people. Plus it’s sort of difficult to get away LOL I do worry sometimes now when someone says to me “Let’s take a ride.” yikes.

    Be careful tho, I almost wrecked one time while away in my mind trying to process the difficult thing that was revealed. I even hit the rumbly bumps on the side of the interstate and didn’t notice. It went like this… mom, mom, mom, mom, Mom, Mom, MOM! 🙂 We were fine. We tried it and found out you can still talk while parked somewhere scenic! I think anywhere you can find to comfortably talk and touch could be a good spot to share and shed some grief. And then go find some fun 🙂

    There is something different about the mirror thing tho, still not sure what. But it sort of makes you (me anyway) toughen up looking into your own eyes, finding the strength in there, seeing your spirit, your real self ?or whatever is in there. Maybe there is confidence or determination to want better, to want change, in that mirror? I dunno, I can’t find the words, if you get a chance go look in there and maybe tell me what you see today! ❤

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