While my friends were reading the newspapers and glowing as they saw their children’s names listed on the school honor rolls, I was hoping that my daughter’s name wasn’t listed in the police blotter. Truth be told, it was.
While my friends’ kids were worrying about what to wear to the school dances, my daughter was drinking and smoking at the “Notch.”
While my friends’ kids were filling out college applications, I was crossing my fingers, hoping my son would make it through high school.
And while my sister’s children have graduated from college, married and have children I am just hoping that my kids are healthy and happy. And if they are, then life is darn good. If they are not, I just want to know what I can do to help them out.
The early years were easy, well maybe not easy, but relatively sane. Most days we were like any other family with children…the first tooth, the first step, the first day of school, the dance classes, the baseball games, the snowboarding lessons, and the holiday get togethers with the grandparents and cousins. The years flew by and I had two teenagers on my hands—and they became strangers to me. I challenged every word my parents said when I was a teen so I thought that I was well prepared for what lay ahead. I was not!
The first speeding ticket did not faze me…I had been there and done that and survived. The first time busted for drinking beer…no big deal…been there, done that and survived. The first time caught smoking pot…that was familiar, been there, done that and survived.
The first DUI and call from the police station…not so familiar. I survived but I was scared.
The second call in the middle of the night saying curfew was broken because the car was at the bottom of a pond…. panic and not at all familiar. Frightened to death!
A drug induced, hysterical, out of control child in the living room….I grabbed her, held on to her as tightly as I could and repeated “I love you and won’t let you go” until the room became silent…I was completely lost and totally unprepared.
A sound no parent should ever have to hear while vacationing in Provincetown with my kids…my son saying with such pain that it hurt to hear him talk, “I just want to know that she is okay and loves me.”… I felt helpless knowing that I would never know my son’s birthfamily and knowing nothing I could say would ease his pain.
No child is perfect but are adopted children less perfect… and what about their parents?
What impacts a life more – genetics or environment?
What part does the adoption piece play in the outcome of our lives, whether as adoptive parents, as birth parents or as an adopted person?
There have been many studies completed addressing these questions. I can only speak or write from my heart and my observations. All children want to be loved – most children are loved from the minute they are conceived and that love continues throughout their life and beyond. But children who are placed for adoption, while most often loved by their family of birth, are disconnected when they are placed with an adoptive family – no matter how lovingly planned for. I believe that some children feel this disconnect deeply and grapple with it all of their lives. For others it seems it is just another day in the timeline of their life.
For families whose children seemingly sail through life on calm lakes, I am happy for you—stand proud and count your blessings.
For families whose children seem to have been born to sail the rough seas, never having seemed to have healed from the disconnect of their birth, I am with you. Know that you are not alone. We too have a lot to be proud of even if our kids don’t always follow the straight course, instead choosing to take many detours often resulting in trauma for them and their families. They are our kids, with good hearts, strong character and we love them fiercely. I can remember my parents saying to me, and then Joel and I saying to our kids – it is the days that you make poor decisions and the days that you test the limits of our patience that we have to love you the most!
I believe that dysfunction creates adoption. I believe that is it our responsibility as adoptive parents to integrate our children’s birth histories – medical and social – into the lives of our children. If heart disease runs in the birth history then it is best for your child and his/her doctor to be aware of this. If addiction runs in your child’s birth history then it is important to appropriately make your child aware of this. Maybe your child’s best friend can go to the back field and drink a six pack of beer and realize that all that results is a bad hangover, but for your child the six pack might lead to another six pack and another and, possibly, over time an addiction.
On a lighter note, my daughter’s birthmother was belly dancing when she went into labor so when my daughter would dance her way through the grocery store I would tell her that she got her beautiful dancing ability from her birthmother. Our children have two families – it is our responsibility to make sure that they reap all of the benefits from both!
And as to being perfect parents…stop worrying…they don’t exist. But what does exist is our commitment to do our best to raise our children. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we have regrets, but at all times our love is steadfast. And when things get tough we need not be afraid or embarrassed to seek out help. And when the seas are calm we need to replenish ourselves and be thankful that we are together.
Perfect parents…perfect kids….no. Resilient parents…resilient kids…we can only hope that we all find our way through the ups and downs of our life journeys.
“Food for Thought” Reading:
The World of the Adopted Child by Christopher J. Alexander, PhD.
Finding Help for Struggling Teens: A Guide for Parents and the Professionals Who Work With Them, by Frederic G. Reamer and Deborah H. Siegel
Dawn Smith-Pliner is the adoptive mother of Aura and Isaac and the Founder and Director of Post Adoption Services of Friends in Adoption in Middletown