When the kids were really young, we used to attend a local group for families brought together by international adoption. I remember one group potluck, seated at one of those very long banquet tables covered with paper, and hearing, but not really listening to, a guest.
He’d been asked to attend our group because he was a therapist experienced at dealing with kids who were adopted, particularly through international adoptions. Most of the kids in our group had been adopted from Korea, although there were a few from other countries. This therapist happened to be Asian. He sat next to our family and that of a close friend and rather awkwardly tried to start conversation.
We were absorbed in our beautiful children and their immediate needs.
Remember: we were absorbed in their immediate needs
“I want to tell you a story,” he said. I nodded politely at him, then went back to wiping chins, pulling Marc back into his chair, and so on.
“I want to tell you a story about one of my patients. She was adopted as a 3-year-old from Korea. Adopted by an American couple.” I divided my attention between being respectful to this stranger and watching the kids.
He continued. “This girl grew up to be a beautiful young woman, but unfortunately, she became extremely promiscuous.”
Why is he telling us this sad story? My family was young and beautiful and perfect. I really didn’t need to listen, but his expression showed that he felt that he was imparting a great wisdom to us. Something that had to do with all our children.
As he continued telling his story, he tied the girl’s promiscuity to her lack of self-esteem and her adoption. When he finished his story, we murmured our thanks and smiled at him. He picked up his paper plate and fork and moved to the next table.
After all this time I’m grateful to this man for his sad story
My first mistake was thinking that love conquers all. When my kids were little, we didn’t have the internet. It wasn’t easy to do any kind of research and when you did it, you had to have an idea of what you were looking for. Research was time-consuming, tedious, and frequently didn’t yield the results that would have been most helpful.
I say this because I admit that I was a typical adoptive parent of the era—somewhat clueless.
My second mistake was not understanding that it wasn’t the behavior that I needed to focus on, but the underlying cause for the girl’s behavior. That having been adopted is a big deal and the feelings that arise from it can’t be erased away with the felt eraser of love.
All these years out, I wish I had understood what he was getting at and had found a way to do more valuable research earlier on.
While the behavior this therapist’s patient had exhibited wasn’t something that cropped up in our family, I needed to understand more about the emotional issues that adoptees often face. These include a sense of abandonment and low self-esteem and how they play out, sometimes subtly and sometimes extravagantly, in their lives.
Something to read up on
If you’re an adoptive parent, one subject that I think is valuable to consider early on is that of “love addiction.” This subject came up the other day in my interview of Elaine Pinkerton, writer of The Goodbye Baby. Love addiction is actually a very common disorder and certainly not confined to adoptees, but it’s an area for research for adoptive parents.
If your child doesn’t suffer from an attachment disorder, it’s possible that he or she is at or near the other end of the spectrum: craving love and attention and friendships to satisfy that “hole” inside. Sometimes what can seem to be a positive trait, like popularity or a desire to please, can even be too much of a good thing. Some people respond by becoming love avoidant, but it’s all part of the same problem.
One book which can get you started in learning about the subject of “love addiction” is Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody. There are many more out there. Our adoption agency did give us some great advice at the beginning, all of which I took to heart. But it seems to me that all adoptive parents can benefit from educating ourselves as much as possible about adoption issues.