Disclaimer: These are the confessions of an adoptee through the eyes of a private, closed infant adoption and Arms Wide employee. Arms Wide Adoption Services exclusively works with children in the Texas foster care system who have experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment and are in need of safe and nurturing forever families. If families are willing to take a risk with Emergency Foster Care, they can foster an infant at birth, although adoption is not a guarantee.
Part 3: Parental Advisory Warning
Week three. Part three. Here we go…
What’s Up With The Musical References?
If you’ve tuned in the last two weeks, you’ll notice I pretty much always start with a musical reference. I’m not sure if music is in my nature, but I know it was definitely included in my nurture. My parents love music! On weekends, you can often find them at concerts – from legends like Elton John, Billy Joel, Celine Dion and Rod Stewart to artists they’ve never heard of playing at the Strawberry Festival or Busch Gardens in Florida.
Despite part of me thinking I should have grown up in a different time period (thanks, Mom and Dad), I’m so grateful music has been such a large part of my life. In addition to the great legends I mentioned, you can find me listening to The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor. I was the high school senior who begged for suite tickets to see a duel Billy Joel and Elton John concert as a graduation present (thanks Amor family). And cried during the first song, because they opened with “Piano Man” on dueling pianos. Come on, how great is that?!
Here goes nothing…
My parents, my sister, my family mean the world to me. I’d literally do anything for them. I’ve been given the best childhood and life because of them, because of who they are. They’ve ingrained so much in me, and not just music. So in an attempt to give advice to adoptive parents, I want mine to know (my personal Parental Advisory Warning): You did great. The best job! I wouldn’t change a thing. I just want to give adoptive parents – and people who know adoptees – some advice that they can have in their back pocket. If you need to catch up, you can find Part 1: My Adoption Story here and Part 2: These Are My Confessions here. Now, here goes nothing…
Advice 1: Never hold back your love.
I honestly cannot personally relate to this one as much, because I think my parents did an excellent job. (I promise I’m not brown nosing, but being real.) They primed my extended family for my arrival. As soon as they picked me up from the hospital, they never looked back. Even though, my adoption wasn’t technically final yet. They accepted me as theirs before I even was.
Being in the adoption and foster care space for a year now, I’ve picked up on the opposite existing. Some potential adoptive parents will not allow themselves to love a child fully until the adoption is final. From their perspective, I get it. They are guarding their heart, making sure they don’t get burned by the system, and easing into the idea of being a parent to a stranger. I mean this in no offense to future adoptive or foster parents (because you’re doing a great thing), but guarding your heart is a lot less important than guarding your child’s heart – even if he or she isn’t yours yet.
Foster and adoptive children, young or old, already believe they weren’t wanted. Some believe they were never even loved, because they experienced the opposite of love, ranging from neglect, abuse and abandonment to a wide variety of other traumas. As parents, you have to get over yourself. You have to dive in, offering all the love you can, even if it means heartache for you later on. You are stronger than you think. And if you do everything in your power to put your child’s heart before yours, no matter the outcome, you will be better than you were before.
Advice 2: Talk things to death.
This is something my parents were great about early on. From the moment I could talk, I knew I was adopted – even though I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. The conversations continued until I was fully versed in being adopted.
But this conversation has to continue through an adoptee’s life. As I mentioned in Part 2: These Are My Confessions, being an adoptee means constant, internal battles with yourself. One big battle is not wanting to hurt your family by asking questions about your biological family. I stayed silent – so silent that at 18 years old, my parents sat me down and said, “You never really asked questions about your adoption. Here’s everything we have.”
Included were the letters written between my biological mom and adoptive parents, hospital records that explain my allergies and asthma, and lastly, a picture of my biological mother with my half-sister and a letter she wrote me when I was just three months old. I was shell shocked. My parents had a lot of the answers I wanted, and all I had to do was ask. But I was so afraid of offending them that I didn’t.
I take a lot of responsibility for this, but as an adoptive parent, it never hurts to talk things to death. I checked in with my parents while writing this blog series, and here’s an overview of what they said…
We (I’m paraphrasing):
- Wish someone had told us to keep communication more open.
- Thought we communicated it well enough, and even had discussions between us as parents about it, but maybe had we been more specific with you in our questions and communications, we could have gotten you to open up more.
- Were mostly just focused on raising you like our child – not our “adopted child.”
So my advice to you is to check in with your adopted child. Make sure they don’t have any questions. Open the floor to show them you won’t be hurt if they ask questions. Tell them you understand their biological need to know where they came from (even if you don’t, but you’re trying). And if you know nothing about their history, my advice is to offer help in finding it out, if that’s the road the adoptee wants to take. But make sure you talk it death, so they understand the pros and cons of what it means to know more. I talk about some of my fears in learning the unknown in last week’s blog, Part 2: These Are My Confessions.
Advice 3: Roll with the punches.
Probably every parent in general has heard the dreaded: “I wish you weren’t my mom/dad/parents!” As a child, I’m sorry. As an adopted child, I’m even sorrier. I know being an adoptive parent isn’t easy. I know that’s why our agency makes potential adoptive and foster parents sit through weeks of training to try and make it a little bit easier. But when it comes down to it, try to roll with the punches.
I know the “I wish you weren’t my mom/dad/parents!” phrase stings a little more when you’re an adoptive parent, because at one point in your child’s life, you weren’t their parent. But know, we don’t mean it. We’re internally frustrated – fighting our own battles that we hide from you – and lash out, saying things we don’t mean, doing things we wish we could take back. Instead of lashing back out at us, try to hone in on our internal struggles, try to figure out what’s bothering us. We still deserve punishments, but know we’re punishing ourselves on the inside all the time, too.
Advice 4: Don’t be afraid to punish us.
Although I just talked about understanding where we’re coming from as adoptees when we lash out, because we’re already punishing ourselves on the inside, know that even though we’re adopted and special, we want to be treated like your biological kid(s).
This advice stems from something I’ve noticed while at Arms Wide. Parents of children from foster care know all the trauma their child has experienced, and sometimes tend to “go easy on them” when disciplining. Biological children in your home will notice this. They will fear they are losing you to this stranger you’ve brought home, and know they are receiving different punishments for acting out in the same way. Your adopted child may also pick up on this, and 1) feel enabled and entitled – like they can get away with anything or 2) feel out of place, because they are not being disciplined in the same way as your biological child.
Bringing a new child into your home, adopted or not, means adjustment for everyone. Learn what works for your family. Disciplining your children is hard, and it took me a long time to figure this out, but it’s one of the ultimate forms of love. It showed me my parents wanted to ground me as a person (literally and figuratively – LOL), keep me safe, and help me grow by instilling the concepts of right and wrong. (Sorry I fought you so much on it, Mom and Dad.)
Advice 5: Learn to let go of your insecurities.
As an adoptive parent, you might find yourself shielding your adopted child more. There are so many fears as an adoptive parent…
- They love me the same?
- Their biological family come back into the picture?
- I be enough for them?
- They be who I want them to be?
When it comes down to it, your child is going to be who they want to be. You can help mold and shape them, but you can’t change them. You have to learn to get over your insecurities and visions for your child. Some of the best biological and adoptive parents raise children who end up in terrible situations because of their child’s own personal decisions, unrelated to how they were raised.
All you can do is show your adopted child love and give them support. Be there for them in the good and the bad. All they want is for you to show up because their biological parents couldn’t/wouldn’t, whatever the case may be. They’re banking on you to dive in, step up, be there, and love them unconditionally.
Sorry Not Sorry
I’ve said it multiple times in this article: “Being an adoptive parent is hard, too.” I try not to ever take that for granted as an adult adoptee. But you, as an adoptive parent, should NEVER let that excuse trump your adoptive child’s needs, fears, wants. I want to reiterate this: Protecting your child’s heart is more important than protecting yours. Signing up to be an adoptive parent means getting out of your comfort zone for your child and accepting them for who they are. I’m hoping not to offend anyone by being so firm, but really, sorry not sorry (#AdopteeAdvocate).
Thank Arianne For This
After reading the draft of this week’s blog, our Director of Adoption and Foster Care Programs, Arianne Riebel, commented, “Now… you know after hearing that your parents gave you a picture and letters, as a reader (and who am I kidding as me in general!) I want to know more!” I talk about how overwhelming the questions are in Part 2: “These Are My Confessions,” but I’m happy to answer them, so thank Arianne for encouraging me to elaborate more.
Did you read it right away or did it take you some time to work up the courage to read it?
- I read it right away. My mom was holding my hand, and my dad and sister were there to wipe my tears. It was important for me to be surrounded by my support system.
After you read the letters what did you do?
- I digested and wrote. Writing is how I process things. I wrote an essay called “The Black Sheep.” It was my first piece on being adopted. After consulting with my family and friends, I ended up entering the essay into a last minute, county-wide, high school English scholarship competition. I won for the “Senior Non-Fiction” category, and my processing ended up paying for some of my first semester of college (#HumbleBrag).
How did you feel about it?
- It’s hard to explain, but I can tell you I felt more love than ever before. The letter told me I was loved before I was even born. That my biological mother was doing what she had to do to give me a better life. She told me a day would never go by that she wouldn’t think of me. And I believe her. Because I think of her often too.
Did it make you want to find her?
- A piece of me has always wanted to find her even before the letter. I think the letter validated that I can when I’m ready. That I shouldn’t be as afraid.
Next Week’s Agenda
I hope you’ll join me next week for my last blog! Next week, I’m going to try to wrap up everything I’ve brain dumped on you these past three weeks. As always, thanks for being a part of this journey with me.
Melissa Daigneault Neeley
Update: Read Part Four here.
About The Author
As the Development and Marketing Coordinator, Melissa Daigneault Neeley tracks donations, creates communication pieces, and brings awareness to the mission of Arms Wide Adoption Services. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she discovered her passion for nonprofit work.
Learn more about Melissa here.