Friday, April 27, 2007

The Adoptive Identity

As an adoptive parent, I have heard about the adoptive child identity crisis. This is when an adopted child comes to an age where they understand identity and start to explore their own, within the context of their personal story. This usually happens in the pre-teen or early teen years, and can be quite an extensive crisis. I think this crisis has an added dimention when the adopted child is of a different race from their adoptive parents. 'Who am I?' is more complex when you are raised by parents whose skin and cultural origin is different from your own, because you can't look to them for answers or experiential understanding. Some children deal with this identity crisis remarkably well, while others feel a profound sense of loss and cope by turning to destructive behaviours and negative life choices, either for a time, or forever.
Somewhere in the back recesses of my mind, I decided that this would not be the case for my child. I would know enough, network enough, be honest enough, love enough, and my child would not need to go through this identity crisis. I didn't even really admit this decision to myself. Maybe because I knew if I was fully aware of my decision, I would tell myself I was being rediculous. I wanted to create an environment for Matthew that was so perfect and loving that he would never have to go through an identity crisis. Somehow, I would love him enough to anticipate every need or thought or feeling, meet him the way he needed, and guarantee against crisis. What I realized this week while running (a great time to think) is that you can't guarantee against crisis. You have to have a plan for managing times of crisis, but you cannot guarantee its absence. In fact, you can almost guarantee crisis is going to hit your family at some time or another, which is why developing good coping skills as a family NOW is so essential. Who am I to say Matthew's pain is not going to be overwhelming for him? Who am I to try and take away his identity search; isn't it worth a crisis to know yourself? Who do I think I am setting myself (and him!) up for failure with this unrealistic expectation? In order to take away Matthew's future pain while sifting through his identity and life experience, I would have to take away his history. His history is what made him who he is. He owns it. It is not something to be denied out of existance or covered over. I can't control his identity or how he will feel about it, or about being adopted. He will feel pain. Who am I to take that away from him or try to control it? Why do I try so hard to create "perfect" instead of just creating "normal"?
I felt this way about his transition into our family, too. I felt that if I could just ease his transition enough, by following all the recommeded steps and being really responsive and affectionate, and keeping his routine, and his favourite toys, and his nighttime music, and dressing him in warm fuzzy jammies, and loving him enough, he wouldn't feel much pain during his transition from Momma Lisa's family to ours. Why did I want to control this so badly? I think part of me felt that I was a great mom if his transition was smooth. I was good if he felt no pain. Well, he felt a great deal of pain, and it lasted for a long time. Consequently, I felt that when he cried, I had failed. I took responsibility for his pain, when really it had nothing to do with me. Who did I think I was, trying to create an environment where a painful process would incorporate no pain? No wonder I was angry, and depressed. I had set up impossible expectations for myself and my son. All parents love their children and want them to experience the joys of life without the sorrows, but how did I think I was going to control the process of becoming and adoptive family to the point of erasing all pain? Oh, life. Why are you so tooth grindingly difficult? Nothing grows you up like having children.


Jen & Andrey said...

Wow Mel. Good stuff. I love your honesty. I love reading how you process these things. You're a great mom.

Roboseyo said...

"isn't it worth a crisis to know yourself?"

thanks for knowing that. (have you been

i love that you said this. i'd say it's worth six crises to know yourself well. i'm just reading the dalai lama, and he says we should even thank our oppressor for giving us the chance to attain to real compassion and self-understanding.

you've read a few of my poems about this.

love you mel.