This week, Richard was kind enough to allow me to interview him about adoption. His candor and willingness to dig deep are impressive. You’re going to love him.
So, tell me a little about your adoption.
I was adopted domestically when I was three days old.
You have an adopted sibling, correct?
My parents adopted my brother when he was about a month old. We’re not biological siblings. We didn’t really get along, growing up, and aren’t very close now. He’s six years older.
How would you describe your parents’ relationship with each other?
They are loyal and loving to each other. My mother has a more dominant personality than my father. I never saw them fight and my father instilled a high standard of patience and love.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
Mostly good. When you grow up you learn how to do deal with people’s personalities in healthier ways. My mom tends to be passive-aggressive and avoid hard things. I discovered it really affected me growing up and I had to grow out of some of these behaviors.
I think our differences have to do with the major personality differences between us. They are introverts, and I am definitely an extrovert. They are completely happy to live simple lives. I need a bit of chaos and want to change the world.
I’m doing my best to learn to nurture these relationships in a healthy way.
What are some of the things they really “got right” as they parented?
I was always loved, always safe, always fed. Most of the time, they listened to me and encouraged me. I think the best things they did in regards to adoption is that my parents told me since I was young that I was adopted but treated me like I was no different than if I was their own son.
What do you wish they’d done differently?
I wish they pushed me a little harder. I really struggled with Anxiety and ADD and I felt like I lost so much time.
As I grew up, I had to discover that I needed distraction and some form of chaos, I am a very passive person, and really know how to hold on to my emotions, but I only felt alive when something was wrong or needed to be fixed.
I also should have been sent to an adoption counselor at a young age. I didn’t seem unhappy and back then we didn’t have studies or people like you addressing these issues I was safe, but I didn’t feel safe. I always had this feeling, “everyone will leave me.” I couldn’t identify where the feelings came from.
This may be more biological but my depression wasn’t everything is awful. More like “everything is boring.” Nothing seemed fun, nothing seemed pretty. Maybe I was a good actor. I never lashed out with it and I tried to be a good kid, but I was really hurting inside.
Are you close with your wife’s family?
My wife’s mom is one of the most amazing and supportive people I’ve ever met. She calls me and tells me she’s proud of me.
Do you want contact with your birth family?
Yes and no. I’d like some closure, but I don’t want to disrupt anyone’s life (more than I did twenty-some years ago). I do look to see if anyone is searching for me, specifically my mother.
I check adoption finder websites about once a year. She knew my name so I don’t think it would be difficult to find me. I found her last name through some people I met on forums who have access to that kind of information I’ve looked up the name on Facebook to see if anyone looked like me. Doing this isn’t very productive. 🙂
What are your thoughts on adoption, in general?
The definition of mercy is: “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” I think this is what adoption is. It’s not always pretty and will be a challenge, but you are doing a thing that most people are not able to do.
My biological mother chose the hard way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and knew she could not care for me. My parents chose to take me in and take care of me.
If you had a magic wand to “fix the system,” what would you do?
Identifying the physiological issues and perhaps behavioral issues that adoptees face. I like what we are seeing in the advancement of identifying of some of the issues involved. I think the adoption process should include mandatory counseling.
How do you define yourself?
I think I have a gift of being both technical and creative. I can identify challenges at work and home and address them. I can think clearly in emotional situations. I thrive in exciting situations.
Did you ever feel different, being adopted?
I felt different because I wasn’t anything like my parents. My example of who I should be was much different then who I was. Growing up I didn’t accept me for me. I needed to be like THEM.
I didn’t link it to adoption, but I never felt like I fit in with my friends, either. I always felt left out. I was surrounded by people but incredibly lonely.
“Surrounded by people but incredibly lonely;” I think that describes my kiddos to a T. In fact, last night, my son told me no one in his class likes him. By their positive reactions when he walks into the room, I know many of them like having him there, but his perception is that they don’t. As a mother, how can I help him?
That’s tough, because you’re the mom. Honestly I’d open up to them. Tell them what you struggle with and how you overcome it. I think all this work you are doing is going to help tremendously. You’re recognizing that adoption isn’t simple.
Do you feel there are struggles specific to adopted children? How can we address those?
Definitely. We need to help adoptees understand who they are to address the issues they’re experiencing. We need to accept that they’re different from their adopted parents. Don’t just assume they’re “okay” and don’t try to force them into a mold.
What do you think you really “got right” as you grew up?
I lived to have fun but tried to stay out of trouble. As a kid, I was hyper, but I was kind.
What do you wish you had done differently?
I wish I treated my ADD and depression earlier in life. I wish I used that time that I wasted on art. I just feel like I lost so much time.
If you have the opportunity to adopt, do you think you’ll do it?
Perhaps. I don’t know. I won’t walk into it blindly.
What advice would you give adoptive parents and adopted children?
Parents, you should definitely love your children as your own, but also accept that they are different. Encourage them to follow their interests. Pay attention to them, but don’t smother them. Don’t keep adoption information from your child.
Adoptees, it’s okay to feel different. Explore your gifts. Seek help when you need it. Don’t act out in anger. You’re going to be angry at some point, but you need to identify why. Use that emotion to fuel your gifts. Learning who you are may be challenging, but remember that you’re never alone.
Richard is in his late twenties and works in digital media. He and his lovely wife have been married almost three years. They live in California with their pets, a dog and a cat.
I’ve written an adoptive version of the alphabet song. Sing with me, now: O-C-D-P-T-S-D, A-D-D-M-R-ADHD. F A S, R A D, got a new I E P, now it’s time for therapy, next time won’t you come with me?
Our kids came with baggage, and each tote is packed with letters.
Our son has such severe ADHD that initially, several different therapists thought he was on the Autism spectrum, on the Asperger’s end. His PTSD caused night terrors, inability to sleep and unwillingness to leave me. His main concern: that Hubby and I, like all other adults who previously claimed to love him, would disappear.
Our girl also has PTSD and ADHD. Her hallmark, though, is RAD, or Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD can occur when a child is denied early bonding experience with a caregiver. Children with RAD often fail to thrive, aim direct defiance at main caregivers, are awkward in social interaction and form very quick and superficial attachments to peripheral caregivers (teachers, Sunday School teachers, counselors). They may also act inappropriately close with acquaintances and strangers. The benefit to this disorder: she will never, ever, ever EVER be anything but an angel in public. Her number one goal, with almost pathological precision, is to be seen as “sweet.” I know this because she told me. The drawback: she has a love-hate relationship with anyone called “Mama.”
RAD has colored our relationship from the very beginning. She called Hubby “Daddy” almost immediately, but made a point of not calling me anything at all. Once, I reprimanded her and she said nastily, “You’re not my real mom.” I was actually prepared for that one, so while the disrespect was unattractive, the actual statement wasn’t a big deal. I wanted to say, “Wow, that’s the best you can come up with? Every adopted kid says that. Come on, I know you can find a more creative insult!” But, since she was seven at the time, snarky comments just weren’t appropriate. Lately, she’s been very obviously doing the exact opposite of everything I say. In general, if Hubby, her teacher, her coach, her therapist, or even a total stranger gives her a directive, she obeys with little push-back. If I, on the other hand, ask her to do something, she uses one of the following tactics:
1. Ignores me completely.
2. Does the polar opposite.
3. Completes the task as slowly as humanly possible.
She watches to see if I’ve noticed, which our in-home counselor pointed out. “She (does whatever it is) and then looks at you from the corner of her eye to gauge your reaction.” Since she mentioned this, it’s become something of a game. I pretend not to notice, because any attention to the bad behavior makes it exponentially worse, but I’m actually watching her watch me. The “game” makes things a little more bearable…she thinks she’s sly, and it’s actually pretty funny sometimes. It’s also a little heartbreaking.
Parenting a RAD child is exhausting. Talking with Hubby this evening, I noted that her mama-targeted disobedience is getting really, really annoying, but assured him that I’m not taking it personally. His response: “If you’re annoyed, you’re taking it personally.” As usual, he sees and understands. I should just be honest. Sometimes, I just want her to give me a break.
Earlier today, I picked up Thriving Family, a free magazine sent by Focus on the Family. The words, “Why Don’t You Love Me Back? Understanding why some adopted kids reject Mom…” leaped out at me. The article, by Paula Freeman, notes that what I’m feeling isn’t uncommon among adoptive mothers. In an effort to avoid more hurt, adopted children who have experienced a rift or loss of their birth mother may reject anyone in the Mama role. “The thought of losing another mother is simply too much to bear. Thus Mom becomes the target of her child’s rejection because she is the greatest emotional threat.”
Maybe it’s time for a mental shift. This kid isn’t going out of her way to make my life miserable; she’s keeping me at a distance (likely subconsciously) to guard her heart from being broken again. I need to find ways to connect with her (she’s girly, so…painting nails, window shopping, making crafts) and reinforce that THIS Mama isn’t going anywhere. Where she is, mentally and psychologically, happened over the course of seven years. Expecting her to be “fixed” in a few short months is ridiculous bordering on insanity. It’s going to take a lot of time, and about six tons of patience.
And eventually, hopefully, our girl will no longer be defined by RAD. Unless, of course, it’s the 1980’s definition.