LORI: I’m realizing that if a child is going to have issues around his/her adoption (some will, some won’t -- the determining factors are an unpredictable mix of nature and nurture) these issues will likely be there whether or not you have openness.
By “openness” I mean not only possible contact, but also the way we parent, how open and vulnerable we make ourselves to our child. As you know, I have separated those two measures of contact and openness. It’s only partly true when you say you’re in an “open adoption” because you have identifying information and/or contact with birth family. Openness also refers to the degree to which you’re open to your child when she comes to you with questions, and how open you can be when responding in those moments.
If I were to update The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, I would be more in tune with the notion that for some kids (not all), there may be issues that stem from the adoption itself, no matter how much openness there is. Openness prepares the family to deal better with the issues that arise, but it doesn’t solve or prevent all issues. Openness is better than closed, but adoption can still be really rough at times.
LORI: The image that I have is of the doctor checking you out with one of those reflex hammers, which she uses to tap you right below your kneecap. You don’t think about reacting, you just automatically kick – the original knee-jerk reaction. We see this both in relationships between adoptive and birth parents and in online exchanges that are emotionally charged by its participants, by adoptive parents, by birth parents, by adoptees.
In knee-jerk reactions, people react instead of respond. Information and processing isn’t going on in the higher levels of the brain, but rather we give a more visceral, un-thoughtful reaction, which is very different from a considered and chosen response.
When you find this happening to you, stop and breathe. Breathing is always there for you, and it’s the thing that takes you back into your thinking mind. Breathing helps you realize, “I can tell by my reaction there’s something here for me. Why did I get triggered by this?” Such introspection can help you see into your own psyche – and begin to heal your own wounds. This wouldn’t trigger me if I weren’t afraid it was true. If you’re triggered by something you’re reading online, there’s probably something in you that needs to be dealt with -- and not just in the other person.
For example, if somebody tells me I have stinky hair, and I don’t have stinky hair, I’m not going to respond to it because it doesn’t make my knee jerk. But if someone tells me, “You don’t spend enough time with your kids,” I may feel like lashing out at the person who dared to point that out. Deep down, I do feel guilty for not spending more time with my kids and for being on the computer. Maybe I should be interacting more with my children, but HOW DARE YOU TELL ME. And I WILL MAKE YOU PAY FOR DOING SO!
ADDISON: It sounds like the stuff that resonates within us either matches something we know to be true about ourselves, or something that we fear to be true about ourselves.
LORI: Exactly right. For example, let's say your child says, “You’re not my real mom.” If you’ve already worked that through within yourself, then that is not going to stick to you. You’ll be able to say, “I understand that you feel that way, but I’m here and you’re stuck with me and I’m never going away.”
If you haven't acknowledged your own hurt place, you may knee-jerk instead, focusing on your own feelings and deflecting your child’s. You may blurt out something defensive like, “I have a legal document TELLING YOU I’m your real mom!”
Which is the opposite of helpful to your child.
You can address your child’s feelings better when you’re not triggered. When I examine myself and realize that I DO spend time on the computer, but I also talk with my kids a lot and am present for them, I have neutralized the fear and the accusation won’t stick to me. Or, maybe when I evaluate myself I find that something I read online DOES stick to me, it can serve as a call to re-balance where my attention goes. It’s important to think about the things that we react to, and look behind the feelings.
That’s what the breathing does. It gives me that pause, that bit of space to turn a reaction into a response.
For a portion of this interview dealing with common fears in open adoption, see MileHighMamas.com.
Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of Adoption at the Movies, where he has reviewed over a hundred films for foster and adoptive families. He has also written for Adoptive Families, Foster Focus, Focus on Adoption, Fostering Families Today, The New Social Worker, and Adoption Today magazines. Addison is a supervising social worker for a foster care/adoption agency, and lives in Southern California. Find him on Facebook and on Twitter @AddisonCooper.
Lori Holden, MA blogs at LavenderLuz.com and is the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, a guide that tops the suggested/required reading lists at adoption agencies around the country. Lori writes at the Huffington Post and is a regular columnist at the Denver Post’s MileHighMamas.com. Parenting Magazine calls her blog a Must Read and Adoptive Families magazine has named her a Top Blogger. She has written about open adoption for Still Standing magazine, The American Fertility Association and others, and has guested on many radio and TV shows. Lori appeared in the inaugural cast of Denver’s Listen to Your Mother Show. She's involved in planning this summer's Domestic Adoption Camp through Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, located in Denver. Lori is mom to 14 year old Tessa and 12 year old Reed, which may explain her frequent need for yoga. And maybe red wine.
Lori is also available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.
Join us at our next POST adoption meeting on May 29, 2015
Join us at our next PRE/POST General meeting on June 5, 2015