Here’s the dilemma: how does a parent be supportive when an adopted child spreads his or her wings and grows up? When looked at in the course of human events—…well, one can make an “about face”, parent to child. Even adoptive parent to birth parent.
Liberating one’s child and encouraging them to “be who you are” and “be who you are meant to be” is daunting! When the child is age five or seven or even twelve, the parental controls are much more front and center in the lives of both parent and child. But it is through the teenage years (and especially beyond) that the real “about face” starts.
A child’s about face is more about shifting their gaze from their parent’s face to those of their friends or perhaps a mentor—be that at church, through sports, the arts, or school. Though we may fight against it, they start to listen to voices other than their parents’ and this becomes more their norm. A parent’s voice might still be strong, but it isn’t quite as deafening or impressive or perhaps thought of as necessary to listen to as it once was.
What about a child adopted as a teenager? He or she could make a huge about face and, instead, begin to listen to the voices of love they had not heard before, or for a very long time. Their about face could be life-changing in an instant! And that about face is life-giving and powerful for both sides.
The beauty of the legacy forged in an adoptive home—no matter the child’s age—I’d say is mostly all about face! Face to face, an adopted child might be loved in ways they never would have had the adoption not taken place. Face to face, had they not adopted adoptive parents might never opened their own reservoir of care or grown in their ways of loving.
An adoptive parent surely does not want to lose face by hearing, “You’re not my real parents,” particularly if this involves an about face by a child one has loved and raised. This is the vulnerability adoptive parents face by taking the risk to adopt. So, again, it is most all about facing this monumental choice.
Such words—whether spoken verbally or conveyed through an adopted child’s facial expression—might cause an adoptive parent’s face to turn slightly from their child—yes, hurt, but encouraging them to grow up, while keeping the memories of their together times.
I was once asked in a job interview, “What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?” I answered something about a job-related activity. In retrospect, I should absolutely have answered the hardest thing I've had to do in life was to allow my child to grow up! To make a change from parenting with tighter reigns to parenting with faith in my child as she faced forward in her own life.
Doing so has taken an about face made in slow and painful degrees. I have come to think about birth parents. They did their about face when giving up their child. Not being able to live face to face with their child, they walked in a different direction. How many of them ponder “What if…?” and “I wonder what my child is like?”
I see how wholly courageous that was and continues to be! My own about face—allowing our child to grow up by living through them turning their face from us to their own new world—has been hard. Yet it has given me a new respect of how birth parents feel.
Could I have been so idealistic or naïve about how very tough this stage of life would be? I marvel at how strong birth parents have been—whatever the reason—in doing their about face. You might wonder, if given the chance to do it again, would I? That I could face you, I would hope my eyes could convince you that being an adoptive parent has been the most blessed event ever.
Still vulnerable? Yes. Truly. To be a parent—birth or adoptive—is full of lessons of facing one’s self, of loving, of being human—and humane! Being an adoptive parent might be an “about face” from one’s childhood dreams and wishes. But take it from one who knows: it is no less important, no less amazing. It is just one way of facing and living life!