The journey for adult adoptees seems to be one of learning to be true to ourselves. We begin our lives vulnerable, relying on our caregivers, our adoptive parents – listening to their version of our life beginnings, growing up under their roof with their ideas of adoption, what it means and how we should be. But inevitably, as we grow older, we take steps to break away from our adoptive parent’s influence. Sometimes these steps are painful, sometimes they’re a breath of much needed fresh air. For others, if they are lucky enough to have adoptive parents who have wisdom and insight to fully support their adoptive child, then maybe they never need to fight the hard battle to uncover and find themselves because they never had to be a chameleon to begin with. But it never ceases to surprise me how little adoptive parents know about what’s really going on for their young adopted adults. It’s adoptees who tell me about their thoughts of suicide or deep anger that they’ve never expressed to their adoptive parents that remind me how difficult it is for the adoptee and the adoptive parent to navigate this journey. Perhaps it’s the expectations and feelings adoptees have to be this perfect child their adoptive parents wanted, which can mean being unable to truly be themselves.
Over the years, I’ve informally been like a kind of mentor to many young adult adoptees. Sadly, on the surface, like myself at the same age, many adoptees can appear to have it all together yet beneath the bubble, there lurks the feelings of inadequacy, self hatred, confusion about their identity, anger at the racisms experienced, sadness from the loss of connections. And if the relationship with adoptive parents isn’t one that allows the adoptee to share their feelings without judgement, then this period of life can be a very isolating and lonely experience.
I had hoped over the years of sharing openly here at ICAV that many adoptive parents might be enabled to know and understand more and come to embrace the confronting issues that we intercountry adoptees inevitably have to sift through and work out. Our identity is so inextricably linked with our beginnings but yet I still hear from young 20ish year old intercountry adoptees about how little they are truly supported by their adoptive parents. Being a parent myself to almost teenage aged children, I do wonder how much of this parent-child relationship angst is inevitable regardless of being adopted – but I had hoped that adoptive parents today would be at a far more advanced stage in understanding the complexities of our journey, compared to the generation of my parents. There are so many adoptee voices via websites, blogs, podcasts compared to the 70s when I was adopted. I just wish more adoptive parents could embrace the knowledge we share via the internet.
For each adoptee who finds themselves travelling through this challenging period of life, I encourage them to be true to themselves. We are so often pulled between being loyal and showing gratitude to our adoptive parents but at the expense of ourselves, our true feelings. So many continue to share with me their disappointment at how their adoptive parents just can’t seem to comprehend why it’s so important to ask questions, find answers about their beginnings, or be angry at the microagressions they face on a daily basis. Personally, I have lived the experience where I never fully accepted myself until I navigated these issues myself. But I had to learn not to wait for my adoptive family’s approval or agreement to do any of this, I just had to do it for myself because it was important to me.
I’m now in my mid-40s and I’ve only just realised that the battle I was fighting for legal justice for intercountry adoptees around the world, was really me role playing the battle to fight for my own personal justice – within my own microcosm. Each day, my own journey is a testament to the saying “be true to yourself”. For only when I do this, do I find true peace and live in balance despite the in-betweens of being Australian yet Vietnamese. If that means my adoptive parents hear things that are hard and tough to hear, if they truly want an honest relationship with me, then they can choose or not to hear and respond. But I no longer protect them or side step what I need to do in order to please them or gain their acceptance. Yes I respect and love them, but I have learnt over the years that I must love my own inner child who was abandoned, give to her, protect her and nurture her and not wait for my adoptive parents to do it in the way I needed.
I think so many of us adoptees can get stuck in this limbo, waiting for our adoptive parents to show us the unconditional love we always sought for our inner hurt abandoned child – but .. actually, the answer lies within. It is we who have to be true to ourselves and give the things our inner child needs even if that means putting our adoptive parents needs second. This is probably a really hard statement for most adoptees to hear because we are so conditioned by society to be grateful, to assume our lives are saved by our adoptive parents and country – how dare we not put their expectations or needs first.
In sharing and being honest, I hope to encourage more intercountry adoptees to be true to themselves. I also hope adoptive parents might come to better understand the journey we adoptees have to travel in order to find ourselves, connect our pieces, and find inner peace. Being adopted is truly is a lifelong journey. I am definitely past the crucial and most difficult, tumultous lifestage of separating from my adoptive parent nest and exploring who I am outside their influence. But I’m now in my mid 40s and I find myself constantly saying, there is no arrival or end point in the journey … I am always learning new aspects of who I am at each life stage, as an adopted person.