Friday, June 15, 2007

Do Looks Really Matter?

Do looks really matter to adopted children? What can parents do to ensure that their adopted children feel comfortable regardless of how their looks blend with the family? Is this even possible?

My answer to the first question is a resounding "YES"! I looked very different from my a-parents. My a-Dad had several stereotypical Native American attributes including jet black hair, brown (almost black) eyes, a large, hook-shaped nose, and red skin. My a-Mom had dark brown hair, blue eyes, very pale skin with freckles, and a petite, thin build. Both my a-parents were average height. I, on the other hand, have red hair, green eyes, light skin tone with freckles and a more medium build. I never grew to be even close to the same height as either of my a-parents. When I was little strangers would always ask me where I got my red hair. As modeled and encouraged by my a-Mom, a simple "From God" accompanied by a little tilt of the head, angelic smile, and twinkle in the eye was all that sufficed. The result? Oh, those inqisitive (er...dare I say nosey?) people would respond right on cue! They would "ooh" and "aah" as they beamed from ear to ear and would walk away cooing to one another, "Well, isn't that just the cutest thing?"! Ah...from the mouths of babes!

But you see, there arose a problem in this grand scheme of a-Mom's and mine. It was only cute for so long. Once I got to be 14, 15, 16...that little head tilt, angelic smile, blah blah blah, just didn't seem to work anymore. I had to get smarter. Time passed, and while my a-parents seemed to reach an impasse on how to answer this question without stating the obvious, I became a high school student who for a very short period in my life absolutely loved BIOLOGY. Yes, I said BIOLOGY! I most particularly found myself interested in the study of genetics. I quickly learned that although red hair is a recessive gene 2 parents with dark hair might have the red hair gene but it is dominated by the dark gene, so they themselves might not have red hair but they can produce a child with red hair. AHA!!!! There was my answer. Only, do you notice something about this new explanation? Without even realizing it I found a way to cover the fact that I was adopted. I found an explanation that would make it reasonable for any normal person to assume that my a-parents were actually my b-parents. And it wasn't until just this week that I realized that's what I was doing, or at least it certainly appears to be what I was doing! W-O-W! What a startling realization! All this time I never thought looks mattered, yet there I was, as a teenager in high school looking for a way to make it appear as if my family was "normal"! As if I was normal! So, do looks really matter to the adopted child? You bet! But how can a-parents help in making their children feel comfortable in a family that looks so different from them? Tough question...

  • I believe you need to be honest with your children and share with them their adoption story from day one.
  • You need to ensure that your children have pictures of their b-parents so they know the origin of their hair color, eye color, and the shape of their nose, chin, and mouth.
  • You need to allow your children to ask questions about their b-parents and if you don't have the answers be honest about not knowing and together look for ways to obtain those answers.
  • You should not fabricate a cute anecdote for your children to use in explaining to others why they look different from the rest of the family. Allow them to be honest with those curious enough to ask and allow them to provide as much or as little information as they wish to disclose. It is their information to do with as they choose, but you must provide them with that information in the first place. Should people ask before the child is old enough to respond you must be willing and able to share a very small part of the truth, which is that you adopted them. Nothing more...nothing less. No big hoopla about the why or where or how of the story. Just a simple..."our child is adopted".
  • You must not allow your own fears and inadequacies to get in the way of what is best for your children!
  • If at all possible you must allow your children to have a relationship with their b-parents. While looks might be reflected through photos all other personality traits can only be revealed through direct, personal contact.
  • Finally, you must ALLOW your children to feel uncomfortable. It's not a reflection on the quality of parenting. It's allowing your child to feel what is inevitable. You cannot change your children's physical appearance and you cannot change the fact that YOU chose FOR THEM to join your family. It is what it is. They look different because they are different and no amount of wishing OR love will change that. The only thing you can do is empathize with them and be there for them when they come to you. If you are honest with your children from the begininng they will learn to trust you and they WILL come to you when they are ready! No matter how hard you try, you cannot force the relationship to happen. All you can do is nurture it and then stand back and allow it to grow freely!

A Journey of Discovery

As I have already written, I entered the realm of adoption research with very little knowledge of the AA world. I never defined my adulthood by my adoption. I certainly told people I was adopted, especially when discussing unique characteristics or personality traits. However, when introducing myself to someone or even having a conversation with someone who already knew I was adopted, I NEVER thought to refer to myself as an "Adult Adoptee". In fact, I never heard the term "Adult Adoptee" until I began my adoption research. I was one of those "politically incorrect" adoptees who referred to my b-parents as my "real" parents or "bio" parents and my a-parents simply as my parents. Before now, if I chose to talk about myself as being adopted I would refer to myself as an "adopted child" (gasp....horror, I know)! I never thought to connect any of my personality traits to my adoption. I never assessed my behavior or attitude enough to wonder why I might behave or act the way I did. Nor did I ever question my reactions (or lack thereof) to the different aspects of my adoption experience. That is...until now!

I am beginning to wonder if there are thoughts and feelings that perhaps I have always felt deep inside but never allowed to surface. Even within some of my posts on this blog I see an evolution of thought and emotion as I begin to express my feelings about my own adoption. I am finding that I will start a post or blog entry with one opinion before ending almost 180 degrees from where I started. Usually I don't bother going back to change my original statement because I like to see my own metamorphosis as it occurs. I will often begin by stating that something never bothered me or that I never even thought of such a thing and then by the time I conclude my post I'm writing in a way that reveals to me that I actually have been affected by the very thing I said wasn't an issue. I find this whole process very interesting while at the same time somewhat frustrating. I like to have control of my emotions, yet when I begin sharing information about a particular event or circumstance that occurred in my life I feel as if I am losing control of that emotion, writing things that I never even knew were part of me.

Ultimately, I have discovered a lot about myself in the 6 short months that I have been on this journey. Some things I already knew and have just validated. Other things are completely foreign and I am just beginning to figure out how to express them and deal with them. No matter what, I will continue to view my adoption as a positive experience. I am learning that there are some things that could have been done differently yet I will never question that all parties involved, including my b-parents, my a-parents, and even the adoption agency had my best interest at heart. And for that I will always be thankful!