By Deborah Brennan
My experience of being an adoptive parent for 18 years has been many things, not the least of which, a journey of self-reflection, humility and objectivity. It has required me to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, in situations from the mundane to the complex, in an attempt to imagine how she feels about it all. I can never know.
There are of course, the days during every year that punctuate her “adoptee-ness“; all the statutory holidays and special occasions, but probably none more than this relatively new one called “Family Day”. As with many prescribed celebratory events, we are flung into the quandary of how to commemorate the day, when in fact we should be doing that every day, with those we call family.
In an open adoption, this day brings many emotions to the surface for everyone. Our daughter knew, and has spent time with her birth mother from the very beginning, but only met her birth father and his extended family when she was 16. These two scenarios are separate and very different from each other, and from our family. One cannot compare this dynamic, for example, to families who have been joined by marriage. It is a unique and complicated circumstance to find oneself in… purely by chance; it’s a family that perhaps fate has dealt us all. How are we to relate to, interact with, or comprehend one another? It is an incomparable challenge and one that cannot be prepared for.
This is where humility becomes very important as the basis for understanding. We must be willing to put aside our own preconceived definitions of family, as well as our emotions, and prioritize our daughter’s perspectives. I cannot imagine juggling all of the personalities and characters she has come to know as her “family”. It surely must be overwhelming.
On one hand, she may think, “well I have this adoptive family, who I have known to be my family, who have taken care of me and have loved me since the day I was born”. Then she thinks, “there are these two people who actually created me, but who are not a family together. They have their own families… and those people are also my families. But who really is MY family?” Can you imagine?
To characterize this scenario as overwhelming is an understatement.
Over the years, there has never been any one answer for supporting our daughter while she navigates this emotional maze. It is an ever-changing landscape of circumstances to manage, while trying to keep grounded. Thankfully, there is one foundation upon which our family has been built…and that is... truth. As cliché as it seems… if families formed by adoption can find the courage to seek and openly share truth, the answers naturally reveal themselves. Only in discovering ones truth, despite the likelihood of pain, can there be understanding and therefore healing.
My hope for all parents, who have found immeasurable joy in their families through adoption, is that they will acknowledge and be inclusive of their children’s families of origin, as much as possible. This Family Day, encourage your children to talk about what being part of a family means to them now, and as they grow. If we can continue this conversation throughout the years, we will be a part of creating stronger families in the future, a perpetual gift that will be passed on for generations to come.
Deborah Brennan lives in Oakville with her family and a dog named Darcie. Her book, “Labours of Love—Canadian’s Talk About Adoption” can be found in your favourite bookstore. Visit Deborah’s website, www.laboursoflove.ca, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org