In this review, I’m finishing up my thoughts on Sherrie Eldridge’s Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. I’ve already reviewed Part One and Part Two, Chapters 3 – 10 in another review here. Today I’ll share my thoughts on the last chapters of Part Two, and once again, highlight sections that I think are especially important to adoptees and have changed the way that I view my own adoption journey as a transracial adoptee.
The remaining titles of the chapters in Part Two are as follows…
11. “I am afraid I was “given away” by my birth mother because I was a bad baby. I need you to help me dump my toxic shame.”
12. “I am afraid you will abandon me.”
13. “I may appear more “whole” than I actually am. I need your help to uncover the parts of myself that I keep hidden so I can integrate all the elements of my identity.”
14. “I need to gain a sense of personal power.”
15. “Please don’t say I look or act just like you. I need you to acknowledge and celebrate our differences.”
16. “Let me be my own person… but don’t let me cut myself off from you.”
17. “Please respect my privacy regarding my adoption. Don’t tell other people without my consent.”
18. “Birthdays may be difficult for me.”
19. “Not knowing my full medical history can be distressing at times.”
20. “I am afraid I will be too much for you to handle.”
21. “When I act out my fears in obnoxious ways, please hang in there with me, and respond wisely.”
22. “Even if I decide to search for my birth family, I will always want you to be my parents.”
After finishing the second part of Eldridge’s book, one of the chapters that affected me the most centered around Chapter 11, how adoptees deal with shame. Though many adoptees don’t remember their biological family, the shame they feel at being “given away,” persists though childhood and adulthood. Eldridge writes that “Many adoptees struggle with shame… without intervention they will likely believe the reason for their adoption was because they were a bad baby [or]child.” She then summarizes that, “because of [an adoptee’s] deep-seated fear of rejection, many adoptees try to manage that pain through people-pleasing or rebellion.” After reading the chapter, I was fascinated with this new concept of toxic shame surrounding adoption. As an older adoptee, I’ve been able to process some of my childhood emotions, and reactions to the shame of being adopted and separated from my biological family in a new light.
Growing up, I was a “people-pleaser,” as a way to mask the shame I felt around being adopted. I got good grades, was very mild-mannered, and introverted. I didn’t like to rock the boat, or make a fuss. As the oldest of four other siblings (3 other adoptees), I knew that my parents wanted me to be a loving and mature older sister for my younger siblings. It didn’t feel like I was allowed to have any flaws since I needed to be a positive example for my siblings. As I look back now, I realize that I was hiding a lot of shame and confusion around my adoption. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about adoption since I believed that doing so would cause my parents pain, or confusion for my siblings. However, I internalized a lot of negative feelings around the topic and held my personal shame in. It wasn’t healthy, and I wish I’d known more about how I could express and the shame instead of holding it inside. Instead of acting in accordance with my parents expectations, I wish I’d felt more supported to ask questions about my adoption and dispel the fear, confusion, and shame I had around the topic.
Eldridge’s solution towards combating some of the shame that adoptees feel involves a lot of work between the adoptee and the adoptive parent, something I never had the chance to work through as a child, or a young adult. Eldridge encourages parents to talk openly about some of the shameful misconceptions that adoptees can have and, she gives parents advice on how to counter these negative thoughts. Parents are encouraged to affirm their child’s value, and uplift them with genuine encouragement. Another technique Eldridge proposes is that parents need to “laugh at themselves.” Eldridge encourages families to show their adopted child that adults make mistakes, and that they too have moments where they too feel shame, disappointment, and self-doubt. By showing one’s child a more realistic way of parenting and self-growth, Eldridge believes that some of the shame and negative self-image that adopted children can have may be prevented, or better supported.
Another chapter that spoke to me was Chapter 15, in which Eldridge encourages adoptive parents to celebrate their child’s differences. For adoptive parents, (especially families with transracial adoptees) it can be hard to remedy the fact that their adoptive child is not biologically related to them. Often times, as a way to try to foster a sense of familiarity and love, adoptive parents choose to emphasize the similarities that they have with their adoptive child. However, Eldridge reminds parents that highlighting what makes a child different from them isn’t a bad thing. She cautions parents that by consistently verbalizing “you are just like us,” statements, an adopted child may feel pressure to be just like their adoptive family and not express themselves in a way that feels normal or natural to them.
I found myself relating very strongly to Chapter 15 due to some of the pressure that I felt about “blending in,” as a transracial adoptee. Growing up, my ethnic differences from my adoptive parents were prominent. Even strangers on the street knew that I was not my parent’s biological child due to the obvious difference in skin color. Whenever there were talks in school or at church about the genetic traits that made a child and a parent similar, I would silently sit in pain as other children talked about how members of their family all had the same hair, eye color, or other genetic markers. On the few occasions that I did bring up my discomfort around these discussions with my adoptive mother, she would brush past my pain with excuses like “but you love music, just like your father and I,” or “well, you and your father are both introverts.” Her refusal to acknowledge my pain, and allow me space to understand that I was different, but still a valuable part of the family made me shut down after a few discussion attempts about genetic differences when I was younger. Though I know she was trying to do relieve my discomfort around my differences as a transracial adoptee, it didn’t help me, it just hurt me more. Stories like mine, are what Eldridge cautions against by parents who only validate their child through conversations around shared similarities. She wants parents to acknowledge their child’s differences by having healthy discussions with them, and by “validating…[a child’s] emotional reality,” allowing the child to openly explore what makes them different, things that can help both the parent and child feel heard.
As I close this review of Eldridge’s book, I’d encourage every adoptee and every adoptive parent to purchase this book. I feel like a lot of self-care and healing can be gained by older adoptees who might read this book, and a lot of hurt and misconceptions can be potentially avoided by adoptive families if they choose to read this book. Eldridge’s book is a milestone in adoption literature and I believe it should be required by adoption agencies for families to read before they adopt. Understanding the challenges (even if they aren’t immediately visible) around adopting a child is important, and Eldridge’s book does a wonderful job of explaining complex topics around adoption in a polite and nuanced way. I appreciate that she herself is an adoptee who is using her own experiences to help other adoptees and adoptive families, and because of that allowing many people to learn from her.
Until next time,
2 responses to “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Want Their Parents To Know – Sherrie Eldridge / Part 2”
Reblogged this on Sherrie Eldridge Adoption.Blog and commented:
Hearing how other adoptees are growing by reading Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish is incredibly encouraging to me. Thanks so much, for sharing your impressions and story.
Thanks again for your comprehensive review of my book! For you and for readers, if you’d be so kind as to write an amazon review for it, you can keep it alive and in the hands of fellow adoptees.