At no time am I more mindful of the emotional complexities of adoption than as Mother’s Day approaches. Traditionally it is a day full of celebration, love and appreciation. For adoptive families however the reality of a child losing its biological mother can often be over looked. A couple of years ago my son, adopted from Romania at the age of 16 months, wrote beautifully about this in an essay when he simply expressed that he had been “….born in the spring of 1989 to a mother I would never know.” Wow. This is so revealing and insightful about the circumstances and truth of an adopted child’s birth as well as about the emotions they inevitably struggle to make sense of.
In his work and writings, my innovative and inspiring teacher Dan Siegel, M.D. talks at length about the importance of making sense of your own life story. In his most recent book, Mindsight, Dr. Siegel stresses that: “This is such a crucial point that I’ll repeat it…having difficult experiences early in life is less important than whether we’ve found a way to make sense of how those experiences have effected us. Making sense is a source of strength and resilience.”(p.172) He goes on to say that in his vast professional experience he has “…come to believe that making sense is essential to our well being and happiness.”
As an adoptive parent and family therapist helping adoptive families, I find this an incredibly hopeful message: making sense of difficult early experiences can liberate us from their constraints. In order to make sense though, the difficulty of early experiences must first be acknowledged and embraced. For the adopted child the difficulty of being given up by their biological mother must not be diminished. Under any other circumstances a child’s loss of its mother at an early age is a tragedy. Yet with adoption, it is often the case that the joy of the adoptive parents having a child blurs the reality of this early trauma for the child.
This Mother’s Day I encourage adoptive families to embrace the love and joy they feel for their child, and at the same time reflect on what it means for their child to, as my son expressed, have a mother they may never know. Reflect within yourselves and with your child the meaning of this. Acknowledge your child’s early loss and the sorrow it may create for them. Let the child you adopted in love know that loving the mother they may never know does not diminish their love for you. Develop openness and acceptance for your child’s emotions whatever they may be. Strive to help your child make sense of how their life began and how you came to be a family. Allow them to know their full story, even the difficult parts.
Remember, it is in the knowing and making sense of our story that liberates us from the difficulties of it. As Dan Siegel points out, knowing and understanding the truth creates strength and resilience. Celebrate this Mother’s Day by acknowledging your child’s full history. What a wonderful gift of happiness and well being for a parent to give.