Luckily, today was an in-home-counselor day for the girl, so she had several hours to explore the situation with her therapist. After dinner, the counselor suggested my daughter could share with me what they’d discussed.
She was obviously uncomfortable, so we pulled out a game of Uno and talked while we played. I always try to remain level-headed and objective when she talks about how she sees the world, but sometimes…
My daughter shared that she is jealous of her brother because he gets all the attention and she feels she is entitled to more of the attention because she is older. As the therapist helped her share her feelings (she provokes her brother to get him in trouble because she is jealous of him), it became evident that she’d colored a picture of herself as neglected and ignored, while Hubby and I showered our son with attention.
Photo by Adam Koford
First off, he’s been in hot water for the last several weeks due to trouble at school and ongoing infractions at home. The attention he’s getting is the kind I’m sure he’d prefer to skip.
Second, while he’s had early bedtime almost every night in the last three weeks, she’s had Hubby and me to herself for almost an hour every night. We ask her what she’d like to do and the answer is always, “Watch Girl Meets World.”
I shared this information with the counselor, then advised my girl, “if you’d prefer to play a game or just talk after your brother goes to bed, Daddy and I would be happy to do that. We only watch TV because that’s what you’ve been saying you’d like to do.”
She backpedaled quickly. “No, no, it’s okay, I like Girl Meets World. We can still watch.”
“So…” I say, “in what way do we give your brother more attention?”
She couldn’t answer.
“I think you’re right; he’s definitely had a lot of attention the last few weeks; we can start giving you the same attention. We’ll put you to bed early and make sure to get on your case as soon as you step a hair out of line.” (We’ve been on that boy like grease on a teen’s face: everywhere and all day long.)
And then I went for it.
“Let me tell you about one of my earliest memories. I was probably about two and a half, and my parents had some friends over for dinner. They put me to bed and went to the living room to play games or talk or whatever it was that adults did before HD cable.
I woke up maybe an hour later to hear them all laughing. I hopped out of bed and wandered into the living room to see my mother bouncing
my baby brother
on her knee. He was grinning and drooling all over his blue onesie. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously I was older. Why should HE get to stay up later than I did? I didn’t even drool.
Of course, I didn’t realize that babies need to eat every few hours. He probably woke up and needed a diaper change or something, then feeding, then had to be jostled back to sleep.
they had the nerve to put me
BACK TO BED.
I stayed mad at that drooly little bugger for years. He ruined my fun, got all the attention and nobody put him back to bed early.
All because I didn’t understand the way the world truly works…or that babies can’t wait.
So, here’s what I think. You’re mad at your brother for showing up and ruining your fun.”
Her face stretched in shock. “How could you KNOW that?!?”
“Because I was a 12 year old girl with a younger brother. And also, when you arrived, you told me some stories about things you enjoyed with your birth family.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t remember.”
“Well, you might not have the memory anymore, but you certainly had it when you got here.”
“Sometimes little kids just make stuff up and think they remembered it,” she shrugged.
“Based on the amount of anger you had about it, I don’t think so. I think you are really angry at him and you take it out on him, but it’s not even real. He doesn’t ruin your fun and he doesn’t take your attention. You get just as much and maybe more attention. What’s making you so angry?”
She frowned. “My feelings.”
“Nope. Remember, Counselor Bob talked with you about how your thoughts create feelings and feelings create actions. You THINK you’re getting less than your brother. You THINK you deserve more because you’re the oldest. You THINK Daddy and I are being unfair. Are those thoughts true?”
Shrugging again, she said, “Maybe not.”
“I guarantee you, they’re not true thoughts. Another way to say that is
So what do you need to change so that your feelings will be different?”
I can tell she’s getting it. Reluctant, she sighs, “my…thoughts.”
We finish the game of UNO as she dissolves into hysterical giggles, throwing herself around and almost banging her face on the table’s edge several times. I admonish her to be careful, worried she might end up with a bloody nose. The therapist looks at me, eyes questioning.
“This is what we get when she has to discuss something uncomfortable.”
Or when her worldview lens gets cracked yet again.
One of these days, she’ll knock that spiderwebbed lens right out and see the world the way it really is.
I just know it.
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.