Huge strides have been made in the adoption community over the last 30 years. Thanks to research, and the voices of many adoptees and birth/first parents, education is readily available and understandings and perspectives have grown exponentially. This is not to say things are perfect, but the adoption triad has become a focal point within most training for future adoptive parents, and the community as a whole has moved forward.
Many of the improvements in the community have included information on word choice, ethical adoptions, supporting first families, culture, race, trauma, openness, identity, and the firsthand experiences of adoptees. While no adoption is perfect, and every adoption is unique with its own journey and characteristics, we have begun to shift the idea from adoption as centered around finding a child for a family, to adoption as finding a family for a child.
However, as it so commonly occurs, particularly in today’s atmosphere, I fear the pendulum has swung too far. And if not too far, at the very least, the structure of the triangle has begun to degrade and the strength of the triad is compromised. A triangle is the most stable shape and can withstand great pressure. In the adoption triad, each point (the adoptee, the birth/first family, and the adoptive parent) all play an integral role. What I have noticed, however, is that a shift has now occurred stating that one point is more important than another. Phrases such as “the adoptee’s voice is the only one that matters” have popped up across the adoption community. Other claims pop up stating that only the adoptee and birth mothers should have any say on all adoption-related topics.
Adoptee and birth family voices matter SO MUCH. But I began seeing a trend. One day as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post by Sherrie Eldridge.
Now I want to say this in the most sensitive and gentle way possible because my intention is not to hurt but to support. The responses to her post were quite harsh. Sherrie, to be clear, is an adoptee herself, and advocates on behalf of adoptees all the time. But she also provides an education that supports adoptive parents. The responses to her post referenced her reader’s struggling with seeing adoptive parents as the victims. Referencing adoptive parents as hurting, struggling, or not doing well seems to be a trigger. I don’t believe her quote was saying they were victims, however, it was merely a discussion point on a very real struggle adoptive parents face. Adoptees and birth families have come a long way to have their voices included from a historically adoptive parent/professional-led sector. But this doesn’t mean those voices don’t still matter.
Now here is where I want to bring the pendulum back or rebuild the triangle. Each point is important. No one person is more important than another, instead, they each bring their own unique and distinct perspectives that provide different insights. Unfortunately, our world is broken, and adoption will always be needed. But adoption has many different aspects. Not only do adoptions differ between domestic adoption, international adoption, and legally free children from the foster system (among a few others), but there are ethical adoptions and unethical adoptions too. Some birth parents choose open adoptions while others do not. It is easy to make blanket statements about adoption that may only coincide with certain aspects of adoption. But many aspects of adoption include children who have experienced trauma. Sometimes this is the trauma of losing their first family, and sometimes it is trauma from neglect or abuse early in their life (by any number of people). I can tell you firsthand, that parenting kids from trauma is HARD. Like the hardest thing I have ever done.
But here is the kicker: Just because it is hard, does not in any way negate the pain or suffering adoptees have experienced, or the pain and suffering birth/first families have experienced. One is not more important than another, and by voicing the pain of one, it doesn’t mean another is less important or doesn’t undergo the same or greater challenges. It just means that pain, or suffering, or challenges, exist across the board. Imagine an AA meeting where everyone introduces themselves and shares a bit about their journey. Some members may have walked through losing their family and friends, while others may be struggling with health-related challenges. It doesn’t mean one story is more important than another, but al stories need to be shared so each person can find their own healing. And while we need to hear the voices of adoptees and birth parents, we also need to hear the voices of adoptive parents. I can’t tell you how much it soothes my soul to know I am not battling something alone. Seeing, reading, or hearing that others before me have walked the same journey, provides encouragement and nourishment to my own journey. I can tell you firsthand and as a social worker supporting families, that adoptive parents undergo their own trauma, PTSD, depression, and mental exhaustion. Often this relates to special needs associated with repeated moves, orphanage living, or early/prenatal trauma, but it is there. It exists. And as humans, we want to reach out and comfort those suffering. We want to see healing for anyone experiencing pain.
My issue with the comments on Sherrie’s post, and ones I have seen repeatedly throughout the adoption community, is the isolation that is created by shaming adoptive parents for seeking help or bringing challenges to light. And I want to mention that it is not the child causing the suffering, it is just the circumstance. But we do need to find a way to each have the opportunity to share our challenges and seek support, without assuming it means we are claiming other challenges as insignificant. The triangle is a singular shape, and the triad is strongest when each point is secured and at its best. If one corner of a triangle breaks, the triangle becomes compromised and no longer withstands outside pressure. Adoptees can speak to aspects of adoption that birth families and adoptive parents cannot, but adoptive parents can speak to aspects that adoptees and birth parents cannot, etc.
Without space and support to find like-minded individuals, to gain hope, understanding, or even just solidarity, we run the risk of having adoptive parents moving beyond burnout and into mental breakdowns. We risk moving from families that are struggling to families that are breaking down. I am going to be talking more about the challenges in adoptive parenting, but want the community to know that it will be just one focus at one point in time. I don’t pretend to know or be an expert on the experiences adoptees go through, or first families, but I am an adoptive parent/social worker and want to share what I know. So I encourage everyone to make space for all voices in the adoption community and know that they are all important, they all serve a purpose, and we can all learn from each of them. Adoptive parents, I want you to feel comfortable and safe to share your struggles. Adoptees and birth families, I want the same for you. Adoption can be hard for a multitude of reasons. so let us support everyone involved to reach their full capacity and continue our learning journey together.
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