The struggle for identity – An adoptee’s search

A post in the ‘Adopted from India’ facebook group inspired this post.  As a disclaimer, every person’s experience about adoption is totally different; please take this note as simply my thoughts on the subject. I will say though, if my clarity about adoption and identity can help just one person, I feel that my duty to give back to the world has been fulfilled for today. So, yes, enough stalling, here we go…

Being an adoptee, I spent many years struggling in a search for belonging.  It’s a subtle thing, this struggle for belonging, but it occurs deep within one’s day-to-day life and often does not attach itself to tangible ideas. For me the struggle was a deep desire for identity.  The problem was that I didn’t have to vocabulary to describe why I was so confused.  I guess the best example I can give is this: imagine if if you were grieving over the loss of a dear friend but couldn’t figure out why you were sad.  You might constantly feel that your emotions had no root cause.  Like all of a sudden you would start crying but couldn’t figure out why.  That’s kind of how it is.  It is my experience that if something is confusing, such as emotions without a cause, people often feel helpless, vulnerable and often, stupid.

During my 20s, through a number of experiences, I was able to realize that my feeling of foundation-less existence was not anyone’s fault, especially not my own.  Phew.  A friend named Hollee McGinnis shared with me an analogy that I think explains the position of adoptees in the world perfectly. I realized that as an adoptee, my position in this world is like being on the S curve of a yin/yang symbol.  If you view this symbol you see that the S curve divides the two different sides.  The two most comforting things for me, as an adoptee, are that a) there are thousands of others on that S curve with me and b) when you spin a yin/yang, it all becomes the same color.

I am resolved to share my continuing journey with those who are questioning who they are and how they fit in this world.

An adoptee’s quest for identity does not, in any way, have to cause pain in their life.  As adoptees we are uniquely positioned to give back to this world through our blended and non-conflicting backgrounds that ARE our identity.  Every person has their own set of skills they can offer the world.  Adoptees are no different.  🙂

Easy Stress Reduction in a Crazy Busy World

Stress is EVERYWHERE, and if truth be told, most of us would rate high on the scale. (My dog Molly just jumped on the coffee table, took a drink out of my water glass almost as to if to prove my point.)

My solution isn’t the only solution, but it’s a good one and provides immediate results.

I have become “endorphin motivated. ”  Endorphins are those really cool things your body produces naturally that calm you, boost positive feelings, and make you much less stressed about your dog sleeping next to your water glass on the coffee table!

How do you get them? Well, there’s the prescription form and for some people, it is a beginning. But if you want to feel better, really better naturally, wean yourself from the pharmaceutical version, and ramp up the natural ones. It’s not as hard as you think.

My niece Melissa and my friend Karen created the perfect storm that got me going. Melissa called to say, “Aunt Becca, I just ran two miles!!!”  She’d worked for weeks to get there.  She started by running only until her body and brain screamed “Stop!” And then she gave herself permission to stop. For a week she ran only that far, and only every other day. On her alternate days, she picked something else that got her body moving and her “endorphin factory” working. On the 7th day, she took a rest.

In week two, she ran twice as far, gave herself permission to stop, alternated days with another type of workout, and on the seventh day, she took her rest. It sounded like a plan I could do.

At about the same time, my friend Karen told me about a book called Food & Mood. It’s a great book, with lots of interesting information, including lots of important info on my new favorite topic—endorphins.

So, I got running clothes out, and made it to the corner of our block. “STOP!” And I did. Next step—what to do on alternate days? I tried jumping rope, but decided the rope was weighted incorrectly. I’m sure it wasn’t that I just couldn’t get my body over the rope. 🙂

I thought about swimming—very bad for the hair. Thoughts of me playing racquet ball made a brief (very brief) appearance in my head.

And then it struck me—I love to dance. So I headed to the library to look for a dance video, and to my shock came home with a Boot Camp DVD.  I was ready! It’s a great, all-body workout, that cranks out the endorphins. I finish a bit sore, but refreshed, and most importantly calm.

I’m now in week 5, and ready to announce to the world, that like my dear niece, I am running two mile stretches and look forward to boot camp. With each step, I quietly say, “Making endorphins, making endorphins” and I visualize them all around me.

My reading has taught me that exercise creates lots of endorphins but also toxins that need to be washed out with lots and lots of water. I believe that, and reach for my glass. It’s empty. Molly has had a good drink, and I’m not the least bit upset.

How do you reduce stress?

Complexities: No one knows where the road leads

Until we are “living the moment,” it is impossible to know what will unfold.  There are times when a file is opened, for example, and information is shared that is inconsistent with what the family was told at the time of adoption.  Sometimes there is a change in the child’s birth date, or perhaps a different spelling of a name, or the notation of siblings.  Sometimes the new information goes well beyond that. Even “minor” changes tend to be major changes for kids because “changing their story” can be deeply unsettling.

Sometimes the road goes in a different direction all together—families sometimes find the orphanage, or the child’s file no longer exists, or the “keeper” of the file is unwilling to share information. Occasionally, caregivers or others who are scheduled to meet the family don’t show up for a variety of reasons, all of them very difficult for a child of any age to understand.

Sometimes a lot more information suddenly becomes available. Many years ago, a fourteen-year-old girl and her family were traveling on a Ties Program.  Her file read that she had been found on the doorstep of an orphanage, nothing more.  The family visited the orphanage expecting to “be” in the place their daughter lived prior to her adoption.  When they arrived, a worker opened her file and said, “What was in your records was incorrect.  In fact, your birth father brought you here, and he still lives here.  Would you like me to call him?”  You can imagine the excitement and anxiety the family felt.

This story is uncommon, but not uniqueOne of the hardest things we do is to try to help families understand that they may learn nothing new, or everything they have ever wondered about. This level of uncertainty can be very hard for children and parents to deal with. It’s complicated!

Complexities: Birth Country Travel

More and more families who have adopted internationally are embarking on heritage journeys with their children, raising important questions and issues about children visiting their birth countries.  As the founder of The Ties Program, I’ve spent eighteen years traveling with thousands of families as they explore their child’s country of birth. As I observe and listen to the kids, and witness the profound changes a homeland journey brings, these issues are always front and center for me. While I obviously believe in the homeland journey experience, I don’t approach the subject with rose-colored glasses. There are things, hard things, families need to consider.

The Complexities
No journey as emotionally charged as this one can come without complexities that families need to carefully consider.

Complexity # 1:

Preparation We spend a great deal of time talking with families about the need for deliberate preparation. Here are some ideas, along with some practical ideas. There are oodles of other practical ideas. Please share yours in the comment section.

  • Encourage kids to “dream within their comfort zone” about the things they would like to do in their birth country; don’t discourage anything.  Start a “dream list” on your fridge and add let everyone traveling add to it. Some kids will say, “I want to travel to my birth country because I want to buy a hat.”  The reason: A hat may be the only “safe thing” your child can think of to indicate his or her interest in what you are planning. We’ll talk about why in another post. On the other hand, your child may jump into the big issues, saying “I want to meet my foster mom or birth family.” Whatever response you get, we suggest you embrace the ideas, and assure your child you will do everything possible to meet their needs.
  • Families need to be deliberate about exposing their children to poverty, discussing it, and disassociating it with people of color. Without that step, kids may arrive in their birth country and decide the only place poverty is an issue is in their birth country, and the pain of that goes to the core of the child’s being. PRACTICAL IDEAS: 1. Most of us live within driving distance of a major metropolitian area, or a rural area where people live in poverty. Spend some time in those areas, find a meaningful way to become part of the community by helping, and listen as conversation and insight flows.. 2. Help kids visualize global poverty via Peter Mendel’s book Material World.  The book shows pictures of people in front of their homes, each with EVERYTHING they own. The message of the book is that people are proud and happy despite how much “stuff” they have because happiness is not about “stuff.”  A great message for all of us.
  • Each family member’s coping mechanisms need to be explored, enhanced and incorporated into the journey. Travel can be stressful, even when it is not as emotionally loaded as birth country travel. Talk as a family about what calms each of you. For some it may be quiet time, others calm with loud music or the oh-so-dreaded video games. If your child is in that last category, better to set some limits and bring it along than to be traveling with a child without his or her coping mechanism. I fondly remember an email I sent to the Cambodia Ties families that included that last statement–one of the moms called me and said, “My daughter thinks you are a god!” If only her daughter knew how often I wanted to pull a video game out of my own kids’ hands and throw it all away!
  • Families need to be knowledgeable about cultural similarities and differences, and help their children understand them.  Without this step, serious misunderstandings can arise that feel very hurtful to your child. To learn, take the time and energy to be involved in culture camp, read and watch videos, and connect with ethnic communities in your area in meaningful ways. The Ties Program Adoptive Family Homeland Journeys