Beginnings and Endings

When adoptees become teens, they find themselves in the midst of an ending of sorts—their childhood. But, they may also continue to grapple with another ending from their past—the dissolving of their birth or biological family. At times, adoptive parents lose sight of the power of those endings, especially during significant life transitions.

Example (names changed):

Jack, foster parent of twelve-year-old Dorian, had been coming in for family therapy for over a year. From the beginning, Jack planned to adopt Dorian and that is what came to pass. Their day in court made it official. The visits, the therapy, the time and effort were all worth it.

I saw them later that afternoon for their appointment, and inquired about their momentous day in court.

His father answered, glowing, “Best day of my life. I’m the happiest guy in the world.”

I looked at his son who looked away.

“Dorian? What about you?” Still not looking at me, he shrugged, as if he wanted to join in but couldn’t.

For Jack, this was everything he’d always wanted, but in that moment, what Dorian felt was the loss of his biological family, which had become permanent. They were in two very different places.

In the midst of his joy, Jack had inadvertently lost sight of Dorian’s pain. Beginnings and endings are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. My goal was to help Dorian’s dad lean into his vulnerability, without sacrificing his joy.

I asked Jack how he decided to adopt. His initial answer wasn’t surprising. He wasn’t getting any younger. Wasn’t in a relationship, running out of time and wanted to have a family. But, I pushed him to go deeper…for his son.

I leaned forward. My voice intensified, “What about that moment, though, before you decided? Before you knew you were going to adopt? Why then? Tell me about that moment.”

He looked directly at me and said, “My father died. I didn’t want to be the end of the line.”

Dorian turned to look at him, engaged again.

“So, you felt alone, lost.” I continued. “It was hard to imagine how you were going to move forward.”

“Yes.”

“It was an extremely difficult time for you.”

“Yes, it was.”

Adoptive parents and adopted teens are at risk of getting polarized. I wanted Jack to access that experience of feeling vulnerable.   Suddenly, Dorian wasn’t the only one. When his father was able to access his own feelings of loss, Dorian to felt less alone. I could see the change in his body language, and the way that he became more engaged. I didn’t want them to be on opposite sides of the same coin. It’s easy to feel alone in loss. That shared moment of vulnerability enabled this father and son to come together, not for a fresh start, but a beginning of something special, nonetheless — the family that they’ve always wanted.

(Online class to learn about parenting adopted teens, this fall, and adoption webinar to support the Korean-American Adoptee Network Conference. Learn more at http://adoptiontherapyma.com/groupswebinars/)