By guest contributor, Andrea D. Kessler
It was the night before my son’s baptism in July. Furniture was pushed to one side of the room, as the newly shampooed carpet dried overnight. He and I were up once again, for the middle of the night feeding, even though he was almost 6 months old. In June we traveled from South Korea back to Washington, D.C. Before he joined us, he had been sleeping through the night, then regressed when we turned his life upside down. It was completely understandable-new language, new smells, new tastes, new sounds, new time clock, new sleep routine. In the beginning, it wasn’t just jet lag, his time schedule was flipped with a 13-hour time difference accompanying a sleepless 13-hour direct flight. Since then, we had settled into a routine, but nights were still tough. The smiles he shared in the morning comforted us, reassuring he wasn’t always miserable.
During that bottle feeding that night, my mind went from his current struggles to future challenges-questions around rejection, loss and self-doubt which professionally, I felt were sure to come in the years ahead. I wanted to reassure him of the love that brought him to our family, the love that was present from his beginning, held him every step of his journey to us, and would continue through our relatives and friends. I wanted to bolster him, shield him and love him enough and protect him from this pain, but I feared I could not. It wouldn’t stop me from trying.
Even as he grew and our love surrounded him, he developed his own narrative to explain his story to himself. When he chose to share his insights, we learned of the reasoning he imagined, to explain why his birth father had left his birth mother and why she had placed him for adoption. We had limited details surrounding the circumstances of the adoption and had struggled to know when and how to share them. Each time he shared ‘his story,’ we shared the details we knew and he modified his understanding with the new information.
Our children who are adopted have the right to understand their individual story, however detailed or limited our knowledge. Decisions around putting up a child for adoption are steeped in tough concepts, many too advanced for young minds. Factors of open/closed, domestic/international, foster/institutional care and circumstances around conception further individualize each case. Even so, telling our child his story, in developmentally appropriate terms, and retelling it with a frequency that allows him to internalize it accurately at each stage of his childhood and into adulthood, is critical for his healthy well-being. Also, just as vital is our acceptance of ANY emotional response to the parts of the story our child experiences, expressed either overtly or indirectly; confusion, sadness, relief, anger, or indifference-just to name a few. Relying on the support of professional counselors with experience in the challenges of adoption is an essential tool/resource. No matter how close we are to our child, he may be guarded about sharing his evolving feelings related to his story, not wanting to hurt us. Additionally, understanding this is not a ‘one and done’ conversation, will be a helpful mindset on this journey.
Parenting is hard and we don’t have to manage it alone. You may not have an adopted child. Your child may be struggling in some other way. Skilled counselors can help families navigate challenges and related feelings, then facilitate communication among family members. When we tackle the difficulties of parenting with the support of mental health professionals, we model it is okay to not be perfect and ask for help and it can reduce the stigma related to mental health support for the next generation.
Author bio: Andrea D. Kessler is the mother of three children, ages 23, 18 and 15. Their family came to be through birth and adoption. She and her husband continue to work through adoption related concerns with their college-aged son. She is an elementary school counselor and her parenting experiences regularly support her in her work with children and families.
Until next week, Be Wise!