It’s been a long while since I have felt like THE adoptee at an adoption conference. The ones I tend to go to now have adopted people numbering in the double digits! That place of privilege and confidence is something I lean toward and after so long in this profession, I feel really fortunate to have the protective bubble of others like me, some with bigger personalities and others with bigger voices so I can feel supported and righteous. It feels I have earned the right and paid the time to no longer put myself in that place of being a child, the amateur.
There is this thing that happens at adoption conferences that I wonder if it happens anywhere else? As one adoptee said, “I have to sit down and stay seated, I feel like I am a walking consultation.” I get it, completely. If it is known you are an adoptee, you will be stopped – often – by an adoptive parent who has fashioned herself as a professional but wants to talk to you about her kid. If you are presenting, you will not get asked about your paper or your research first…you will be asked by an adoptive parent professional about how to handle the behaviors of his adolescent…usually chased with a wonder if you went through similar feelings growing up. If you are at all revealing of your adoptee status, you will be asked your “opinion” not your researched/evidence based/clinical experienced thoughts.
You will then go to your car feeling dirty, spent, exhausted.
What I wish I could say out loud, but will do cowardly in print instead, is to express the desire to respond in kind…”So, my adoptive mother read everything under the sun about attachment and diagnosed me with reactive attachment disorder. Is this normal? What can I do about her intense anxiety that I will never form a solid attachment to her?”
There is a fine line between getting educated and devouring. I get the thirst for more. When you raise a child, you want to be able to pre-empt everything. I just attended my kids’ school PTA fundraiser. Teachers come and are always welcome. It would never occur to me to sit with them and ponder my child and assess their skills as a teacher based on an exchange over drinks. In fact, it’s kind of frowned upon to spend too much time hanging around them or the school superintendent, even though I KNOW there were plenty of parents who would have loved to talk Common Core and their issues about testing.
When I speak on a panel, I get prepared. I am ready for anything. I know how I will deflect the very personal and intimate questions to a hungry audience waiting for that checklist of things they should and should not do as the “very good” adoptive parent. When I come to talk about the work I do, perhaps I am less prepared or perhaps I am just weary of having to own that other preparation I have to do in addition to the presentation at hand.
So here I am with that icky feeling I get when at one of these adoption conferences pondering my options as to what I need to do to arm myself and be better prepared.
My dear friend M suggested posting a sign at every adoption related conference or gathering that reads, “PLEASE DO NOT EAT THE ADOPTEES!” I thought this was funny but now I am seriously considering it.
I feel so consumed by the firing squad adoption conferences require me to withstand. It’s nerve-wracking enough to make sure my presentation is good, that my case summaries make sense, that I have met the ethical standards of disclosure…I don’t really want to be doing free consultations and cheerleading for anxious parents. I don’t think I was invited to validate their choice to adopt but to discuss the very real issues adoptees struggle with. I do love bringing up my adoption identity in the context of the work I do, but it’s on my terms and how I believe it is at times, the most necessary tool in my box to engage a young client. It is not lost on me that I value and do use my adoption status. But it’s mine. It’s all mine to use at my discretion, just as it is for all those adoptive parents. It is not all of me though. When I speak about attachment or trust or empathy, it’s not because I am unfinished in my adoption. It’s because I have most clearly done a ton of thought and work around it. I don’t come up with an understanding of a client based on how I see my adoption or the nature of my relationship with my adoptive parents. It’s because I have sat for hours and hours, years and years listening and reflecting, seeking and translating patterns of thoughts and behaviors joining my clients in their quest for more insight to themselves.
Do I sound defensive? Yup. I suppose I am. First we have to identify ourselves as “adult” adoptees, emphasizing very literally that we are adults. Now we have to prove our professionalism. Not sure if this is adultism or adoptionism, but it’s one -ism too many.
My new script has become this..
Adoption is different. It has it’s own developmental sine curve. At times it overlaps with what others typically know as a milestone and then there are times we adoptees hit those marks earlier or later or higher or lower. What I have come to believe is that this is all normal. If it doesn’t make sense to you, get informed but please please do not consume the adoptees in the room, they need to be treated with respect and viewed as complete, whole human beings. Please engage with kindness.