Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Questions we are asking




I am trying to ask more questions of my children who joined our family through adoption. I then follow with active listening. Note: I suck at active listening, and the first step is to admit you have a problem. So - done!

One thing I know for sure is that adoptees think about their adoption whether or not they talk about it. In fact, what studies continue to show over and over and over again is that they think about it a LOT. They have a lot of unanswered questions and they choose not to speak or question to protect those who are playing an active role in their lives. They are afraid they'll hurt our feelings. They will feel like they are being disloyal to us. As a parent, it is my job to create an environment where my children truly do believe it is safe to ask and to feel ... anything.

There are adoptees who do not have this desire and do not express that they've ever experienced any pain over their adoption. I respect that, but also adamantly remind us all that this is rare. The norm and the reality is that adoption is built on pain and loss. We heal and help that pain and loss when we assume it is there, even when we are not hearing about it.

So, I find time to bring it up and help them talk about it. Sometimes they talk a lot. Sometimes they don't want to talk. Yet, every single time I do it, I'm telling them loud and clear: I accept you - all of you, and every inch of you is safe with me. I can handle it. It is welcome in my ears and my heart.

I have a variety of resources, and then have simply plucked certain questions and discussions. I broach the subject about once a week. I ask a question. I try not to lead at all. I suck at this one, too, as I have a major aversion to silence when I feel uncomfortable for me or anyone else. So, we're all getting something out of it!

Here are some great discussion starters I have used, and wanted to share:



Have you ever felt like someone "gave you away"?

When you feel love for me and Dad, does it make you feel guilty and bad for your first family sometimes?

A lot of people say that if you are adopted, you are a "chosen child." How does that make you feel? Does is remind you that to be "chosen" it also means that an adoption plan had to be made for you?

Do you feel like there is a pain inside of you that no one can see? Or that they ignore?

Has there been a time when it feels like you are crying on the inside but no tears come out on the outside? When does that happen? How long does the feeling last?

Do you ever wish you still lived with your first family?

Think about your adoption. Then, pick one word to describe it.

How do you think your first mother/father felt when you were born?

How do you think I felt the first time I saw you?

When you feel sad and your invisible hurt is very big, what do you need most to feel better?


I'm pulling a lot of these things, right now, from the free resources on Sherrie Eldridge's web site. Most of her free downloads are actual Bible studies. However, if that is something you do not believe or practice in your home, you can still pull many discussion questions from the material to utilize in conversations with your children. That is how we do it.

Sherrie Eldridge is the gal who wrote "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew." The book is not religious and a very easy read (on the eyes - not on the heart). I love it as a resource, and just reread it this past year (had not laid eyes on it since going through our adoption prep back in 2002!). It is the kind of book that teachers, grandparents and even partners/spouses should also read. It will help anyone who is actively involved in the life of a person who was adopted.

Fight the lie that their silence means they have no thoughts about their adoption. Talking about it creates a space for healing, and is active proof that you fully accept every single nook and cranny of them ... especially the parts that make you uncomfortable.

12 comments:

Erika said...

What are the names for all of the feelings you have felt or are feeling about being adopted by us?

Why do you think that it is so difficult to talk about being adopted with kids who haven't been adopted? Why are some of the reasons that you think it is hard for you? What are some reasons that it might be hard for them?

What message(s) / questions would you send to your first family if you could - without concern about how they might feel or react to your message / question?

If you could go back in time to the first time we met, what piece(s) of advice would you give to yourself? To us (adoptive parents)? What else would you tell yourself/us?

What are your hopes - for your whole family (first, and adoptive)?

Michelle, Dave & Babes said...

I want to ask more questions, but in all honesty it scares me. What if I make things worse? What he'd never thought of these things on his own? What if I put a block between us and our relationship worsens? What if I end up being seen as the "bad guy"?

Yes, I know it's my problem, not his.

RasJane said...

These are great! Thanks so much. My 7yo is starting to be able to verbalize some of his hurt and I'm trying to learn how to support him. Man, I knew it would be tough as we hit these milestones, but it is certainly one of those things you can't appreciate until you live it! I know he's heard the message (as have I) that his life will be so easy because he was adopted at birth. And ya know what? He still hurts.
I'm with Michelle above though, in that I often have to overcome my own fears and hangups to open the dialog. He'll seem so content and I don't want to shatter the peace. My problem for sure. Thanks again for the reminder.

Tova said...

We are doing lots of this these days with my 6 year old daughter, and while the pain and grief that may bubble out is hard and sometimes messy, the peace and connection she feels after is BIG. Her thoughts, not mine. :) So to the mama's who are concerned about making it worse, it usually looks worse, but actually is healing and creates connection, trust, and healing. I have to remind myself this about eleventy hundred times a day. :)

a Tonggu Momma said...

Tova said it well - the pain and grief is messy, but healing comes from acknowledging it all. I was part of an adoptive parents book club last year. We did both of Sherri Eldridge's books, a chapter a week.

One other thing that I think is very important is to ask questions about racism. Many of our adopted children are transracial adoptees, and I think it's important to let them know they can talk with us about race and culture just as they can talk about all things adoption.

Steph, G's Mom said...

Sometimes I worry that to ask things like "does it feel like someone gave you away" would introduce a way of looking at it that she might not otherwise have thought of. Or maybe she already feels this but never says so. And there is no way to know for sure :( But I think this kind of talk needs to happen. She has always seemed very very okay with all of it.

Ten Beautiful Years said...

This post made me smile really wide!

I have fond memories of these kinds of talks with our kids as they were growing up!!!

Von said...

I have to say that some of these questions make me cringe as an adult adoptee.I do not believe adopters are necessarily the right or only people adoptees can usefully talk to about adoption and their adoption. Neither do I believe raising the topic of adoption once week is a good idea, far too often and how the adoptees must inwardly groan! You have acknowledged the loss, the hurt and pain you don't have to keep doing it over and over! Let them be kids first and have a childhood.Sherrie although an adoptee is a self-appointed expert, her advice is not the be all and end all but it is what is marketed to adopters.Have you read Brodzinzky's book on the adopted life and the life long search for self? Essential reading to get an idea of the stages of adopted life.And not too many of those dreaded books on adoption for kids either, such over-emphasis!

Christine said...

Von, thank you so much for your insight. I do appreciate it, and I can see how you might read that we do these heavy hitting questions weekly. These are mere examples, representing the most difficult topics adoptive parents tend to avoid with their children. And these examples, and the reason we keep the discussion open in our home, is based on resources from adoptees. That is the crux of where I lean my ear. Those who have lived this life, not just experts who provide therapy to people who have experienced adoption.

I believe adoptees are the experts. And I hear, by far, from adoptees that we are hurting our children when we see their silence as not thinking about it. They feel alone in their pain and live it out silently.

We talk to each of our children differently based on how they are feeling, acting and developing. Adoption is always a constant topic because our children have connection with their first families. They want that contact and for some of them it is weekly. For some of them, they want more contact than they are able to have. When a sibling has a phone call or visit, the others sometimes want to talk about their feelings of loss, and sometimes they just want a hug.

We provide the opportunity for them to express what they want in each situation. I say "weekly" as an average. Some weeks it's daily and their hurt is intense. Other times we may go 2-3 weeks and they are "just living life."

The key I've been taught is to know your kid. Hear what they are saying with their behavior. Stay tuned in to their ways of drawing your attention when it's just too tough to use words. I will work to do a follow-up post, to expand on this in more detail.

oneinchofgrace said...

What is the right age to do this? My kids are 6 and 3 and while they know that adoption is an acceptable topic, they are also emotionally very young and I think these questions might be too overwhelming for them.

Christine said...

Great question, B. Obviously, I have teens and my kids have been a part of our lives for years (not to mentions years of therapy, etc.). So, you have to know your kid! You have to know what they have already expressed. You have to know their behavior, and if they are speaking through it currently ... or do they seem to be in a less "big feeling" stage of processing.

When my kids were younger, we read books on adoption together. We made them lifebooks that explained their entire life history. You can google search "lifebooks" and get a ton of information. That was always our starting ground, no matter how or at what age our children joined our family.

They kept a copy at all times and we read it anytime they asked (which was a LOT at certain stages). If I realized a few weeks had passed and they hadn't asked to read it, I'd just say, "Hey, let me know if you want to read your lifebook again."

Amazing how it would almost always be brought out that next week. Once of my kids can now tell me that they always had these feelings. Always had these questions. And sometimes they didn't bring it up on purpose - maybe to test me and see if I really did care or noticed they were hurting. Sometimes just to shame themselves and see everyone else walking around just fine, not knowing or caring that they had their own questions and pain that were going unanswered.

:(

Justine said...

I have to tell you something that happened because of reading this post. My daughter does not talk about her past. Her mother has been spoken of in general terms, but no emotion. Today, 3.5 years after she was adopted, I asked her if she ever felt she was given away. She spoke of her mother. I asked her what she felt about that. Her reply? "She's not a mother!"

That was the beginning of two hours of agonizing crying, sobbing, talking, anger, throwing her doll (that represented her mother) across the room, and the beginning of healing. At the end of it all she turned from lying in my arms and said she wanted to hug me. She hugged me for another 20 minutes. After, that night, she wrote something for the first time. First, she wrote to her mother and asked her WHY!!! She cried while she wrote this. A little later I came in again and saw her in a lighter mood. She had now written a beautiful note about how she had anger, but her anger did not stop her from loving her and she would always be her mother. She had then circled the beautiful things her mother had written in her letter she wrote her two years ago.

Thank you for helping my daughter begin to heal. It has been a long, closed-in road. I shall continue with the questions, bit by bit. Blessings, Justine