People who don’t believe in adoption trauma didn’t see my three-and-a-half year old’s son reaction when I angrily told him
I’m ashamed, I am. It was an unusually difficult day, with him home from school sick with the sort of illness that spontaneously resolves an hour after drop-off. I’d hopefully began my day, intending to write and do the other invisible things mothers do while children are busy growing.
By evening and before my writing workshop, I’d had it with L’s* “failure to listen.” He, along with the dog, ran sprints around my first floor, screaming and barking in a way that made it difficult to determine which noise was coming from what temporary monstrosity. My husband was almost home and I was putting on my coat so I could escape.
L lunged down the narrow hallway, screaming a preschooler’s typical gibberish. I screamroared
Mommy’s leaving you because you never listen.
The dog stopped.
The air in the house, previously made of shaking atoms and vibrating sound waves, became a paralytic poison.
L’s face held none of the smiling glee from the seconds before I swiped at his confidence. He looked at me with a primal vulnerability. He considered my threat and said
You can’t leave. We family.
And in that moment I realized exactly what I said and what adoption trauma did to me. It transformed mothering into an option, a threat, a weapon. A powerful tool to wield at misbehaving children because I believed myself unwanted. A five-second declaration laid bare my fractured attitude toward family.
I share this shameful moment as proof of a child’s awareness of a mother’s presence. And that a threat to leave—not just to leave to run errands but to leave, forever—is understood in a child’s abstract way. My voice, a tool used for sharing my own adoption trauma, issued forth the same threat adoptees received from their relinquishments.
I hope readers struggling to accept the reality of adoption trauma read my words and finally believe. Believe babies and children are equipped with survival instincts so heightened that those intuitions remain at the forefront of their innocent defense; and, believe, for once, this trauma manifests itself throughout an adoptee’s lifetime.
I am not proud of my behavior. I am working conscientiously to correct my words and understand my actions. I have since apologized to my sweet son, but I want my example to ring forth as a warning:
Adoption trauma exists. Overcoming trauma takes years of dedicated work. Adults possess a power over children that deserves mindful awareness. Please remember: Children are listening.
*Name abbreviated to protect the (literal) innocent. And to prevent him from, years from now, yelling “MOOOMMM!” when he finds my writings.
5 thoughts on ““we family”: a message on adoption trauma, from my son”
There are some very powerful statements in this post. Good read
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One thing I know for sure is that Moms are human beings, too. There is always time for rupture and repair
I’m sorry I missed replying to this comment. Thank you for your encouraging words. It’s so hard. I feel like I have to be perfect all the time.
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Such a raw, honest piece. *Of course* adoption trauma is real and lifelong. I’m the mom of a 32yo daughter adopted from Korea at 7 mo. Her loss & grief is as much a part — a tender, valuable part — as any other aspect of the constellation of personality & experiences that make up who she is in the world. (As the mother of a lively 4yo boy, I think she will totally relate to this post, which I’ll be passing on to her.)
Perhaps adoptive parents fail to honor the truth of this trauma out of fear. Of course we want to protect our children, and it’s scary to think they have a hurt we can’t “fix.” But wishing it weren’t there doesn’t make it go away. When we deny its existence, we force our children to carry it alone.
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Oh my gosh, I love your comment and honesty and wish I could plaster it all over. We NEED more transracial adoptive parents like you speaking out like this, not because you see your adoption/parenting as a “failure” but because it is the truth. Every parent, adoptive, foster, or not, has limits and accepting them instead of demonizing those who highlight those weaknesses is crucial.
Thank you so much for doing so much good…and for listening <3.