by Nancy, our database administrator
I have learned—okay, granted, I am learning—what to do about drawing and crossing lines when it comes to being an adoptive parent.
As the mother of an adopted child who is in her twenties, I am learning that in defining an adoptive family’s borders, a parent’s and a child’s line choices might be wholly different, raising an eyebrow as to whether they even define the same “box”.
Ever go into the borders options in a software program? Impressive what one can do to compartmentalize text, picture or section of a document! Tons of options, right? Lines can be dashed or straight. Curved or wavy. Narrow or thick. Then comes a choice about the thickness—from double to hairline—not to mention coloring those lines! Or whether to get fancy and use an art border—with options of little birds, push pins, globes and more.
An adoptive parent for more than two decades, I have always been about creating large borders to define our adoptive family—neat, but thick, drawn intentionally with broad brushstrokes of epic proportion—simply because these worked for me. They are, granted, symbolic of how I wish our family would live—inside the lines of my definition of family.
I have not, though, been unwilling to use color or even art in making those borders. I’d be okay with hot air balloons. Or maybe birds in flight! And I’ve considered whether a peacock blue, emerald green or a line of light lemon is more representative of us. But whatever I am willing to concede in design, I never thought of decreasing the size of the line from the standard 36 point (although, admittedly, I was ready to do a double line border, for extra measure.) To me, these borders formed a fortress—a protective gate, of sorts—to keep our family safe, albeit encased. And, in my way of thinking, this was a good thing.
Our daughter, however, has quite a different idea about her family’s borders. Ever the artist, she selected the finest brush tip available when crafting the lines of her life/our family beyond the growing up years. Quite majestically, and with purpose, she began producing her creation—rounded edges, with the narrowest possible border. Barely discernible. At least when one looks from certain angles.
With panache and perhaps a bit of gouache (or maybe Witeout), she ever-so-carefully first erased some of the line thickness I had painstakingly drawn. Not only is she one of the freest spirits you’d ever meet, coming to know her birth family members opened her heart and steeled her resolve to re-making the borders.
As a result, her lines defined not a box as much as a container with an open top—much like a fishbowl—which she could swim in and out of, at will. This is a lovely concept in many ways but, nonetheless, still stirs up emotions in me.
This can be an extremely sensitive issue for adoptive parents who, more than likely, struggle with the element of feeling worthy to be parent in the first place. (Okay, I speak for myself.) Perhaps it goes with the territory. What does an adoptive parent do when confronted with an unspoken of invisible tug-of-war with birth family members? For the sake of their child I can’t imagine either side wants to make parenting a competition—adoptive vs. birth family members. But, the adoptive family wants to still be considered a place for their adopted children to continue to swim—at least some of the time. (Hence, the the thick, safe borders!)
Yet when an adopted child finds another bowl to swim in, the adoptive parents will feel something about it. Maybe wondering what to say. What not to say. Adoptive parents still want to be on their child’s radar screen for they are raising their child(ren)—protecting them, caring for them and doing their best for them. Yet they can surely understand that an adopted child has natural curiosity to discover their roots. Seeing their genes and mannerisms in siblings and birth mothers/fathers might give them a much needed sense of fullness as they discover their own life journey. At the very least, it might quell their inquisitiveness.
Not that adoptive or birth parents wish to totally displace or usurp each other’s positions, but feelings can get raw—on both sides. No parent wants to be rejected. Sensitivity in the adoptive process is par for the course. And it doesn’t necessarily end when the adopted child turns 18, 21, or—who knows—maybe even 40. It is natural for adoptive parents to preserve the family unit they created. And with a legacy of caring for and raising their child, adoptive parents don’t want to be left with only memories.
Since there is a great amount of searching going on these days through the internet and social media options and more adoptive parents might find themselves in similar circumstances, perhaps I can offer some perspective—
Adoptive parents who watch erasure of the thick lines of their family’s borders because of search and reunion will most likely experience a sense of loss—however long it lasts. Whether verbalized or not, there can be outrage or jealousy or deep sadness, none of which is necessarily helpful to voice to their child. But I think it is okay to acknowledge these feelings.
Should you see it happen, consider joining that revolution! That apron strings will be cut aside, you can serve yourself and your child by doing the same: thin the lines! Let go of the need for fortress thick borders. For by refusing to take this lead, you might be crossing a fine line.
I realize that our daughter needs this freedom to swim in and out, at will. As much as it scares me, I have willingly begun erasing some of the thickness of our borders in concert with her. Admittedly, this is a big step for me. It isn’t without some tears, some loneliness and wondering. It isn’t without mustering a whole lot of faith. Yet, to me, it is the heart of any parent to do the best for their child—no matter what it takes in sacrifice on our part.
Learning what our child needs at any age is part of the parenting process, even when they get older. Perhaps especially when they are older. To insist on “because I say so” might mar the future, barricading one in their fortress, and making it hard for their child to find a way to swim in.
After all, depending upon the angle, fine lines (even those thinned by the noblest of intentions) –however faint—still do exist!