As a reunited adoptee, I have the opportunity to draw on both my adoptive and biological parents for parenting lessons – and both sets of parents have influenced how I parent and even grandparent. Unfortunately, reunification with my biological family didn’t occur until I was in my mid 40’s – but even then, parents still impact their children. Even from negative events, I learned positive lessons.
Don’t Ruin Achievements
My adoptive mother frequently drove home the point that I wasn’t of much value as a child. She used any failures (real or perceived) as proof that I was an inferior person, meant to be subservient to anyone around me. One year, I competed as a flute soloist, winning medals for “above average” performance. My pride in this small achievement lifted my self-esteem – until I got home, where my failure to win top medals was used as proof that I had no talent.
To me, this was the one of the first definitive moments in my life proving to me that I wasn’t a talentless child of little worth. But it was also a lesson in learning to pick my battles and swallow my anger; I had to admit to her that I couldn’t play that well in order to be permitted to play the following year. I also learned that if I wanted to better myself, I couldn’t depend on anyone else to help me. As a parent and grandparent, I try to remember any achievement should be praised, not stepped on.
Place Blame Fairly and Apologize When You Make a Mistake
As a girl, it was instilled upon me that my job was to ensure that I kept up with an ever-growing list of chores – and to keep everyone around me happy. I remember one night, as a 7 or 8 year old, that I was supposed to do the dishes while our parents were out. I did them, but Jeff, my older brother, dirtied more dishes after I had gone to sleep.
Around 2:30 am, my parents came home, saw the dishes, dragged me out of bed, down the stairs and stood me in front of the sink, yelling at me for being lazy. I cried that I had done them, which only made it worse, because now I was branded a liar too. Sobbing, I washed the dishes until a glass, slick with soap suds, slipped from my hands and broke. More yelling for being a klutz and then I was sent to bed, lest more dishes or glasses might get broken. I went back to bed, wishing that someone would just kill me so I wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.
The next morning, Jeff off-handedly mentioned that he had made more dishes after I’d gone to sleep. I thought surely I deserved an apology, for wrongly being accused of being lazy, a liar and a klutz. There was no apology. One lesson that I took from that was to try to avoid snap judgments based on appearances or to judge without getting the entire story from every angle.
Never Give Up; Encourage, Don’t Discourage
As a child, I liked to write. For a sixth-grade writing assignment, I turned in a lengthy short-story; handwritten, as we didn’t have computers at home in the early 1970’s. The teacher liked it enough that he gave it an “A+” and told me to have my parents read it – he felt he could get it published. I brought it home, told my adoptive mother and left the 30+ pages in her care.
A week later, my teacher asked for me to bring it back so he could submit it for publication. I asked my mom if she’d read it yet and if I could bring it back. My heart fell when she informed me that she hadn’t read it, she didn’t think it could have been that good and in fact, she’d thrown it out in the trash the day after I’d given it to her. I wanted to hunt it down in the landfill; she told me if I really had any talent, I’d just rewrite it all from scratch.
Heartbroken, I had to tell my teacher what happened and that I didn’t feel able to rewrite it the same way. My creative spark had literally been crushed. It was decades before I began to consider writing again – and only after I had found my biological mother and related this event to her. She gave me the encouragement to try to find my creative side and to start writing again after a thirty-five year shut-down. I’ve since written over 250 articles and ghost-wrote an e-book. Lesson: Don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do; if you think you can, give it a try.
Better Late Than Never
I spent my entire life trying, one way or another, to prove to my biological mother that I wasn’t as worthless as she thought; I earned two undergraduate degrees and one graduate degree, had a good career and still, I was viewed as being inferior.
It took the untimely death of my adoptive brother and the unrelenting storm of terminal cancer – with me overseeing my mother’s care for over a year – for my adoptive mother to finally see me for who I was.
Two weeks before she passed away, with a look of sadness on her face, she made a comment I only half-heard: “We backed the wrong horse”. I asked her what she meant – and she merely said, “We always put everything we had into Jeffrey. We thought he was the one that would achieve something. We never thought it would be you.” And with that, she stopped talking. That was as close to an apology, and as close to her admitting that I hadn’t been such a worthless child, that I would ever get from her. It took her forty-five years to finally see me. It will have to be enough.