Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: Matt Cleary

This is the last of our guest bloggers on the topic of adoption.  Matt is our friend and brother-in-law. He was adopted as an infant. He is married to Tara's little sister Tina and they have two sons and recently their daughter joined them through adoption.

The Cleary Family of five have experienced all three parts of the adoption triangle. Matt is adopted.  Tina lovingly placed a baby for adoption many years ago.  Matt and Tina have adopted transracially/internationally.  It has been helpful to Troy and I to have them to check our thoughts with and talk through things.  We are incredibly concerned that we treat our children's first-mothers with respect. Because of things we learned from Matt and Tina we have always made photos and contact an option for the birth-moms. (And yes I know some birth-moms are not safe enough to share info with but respecting them is still a loving thing to do.) We asked Matt to speak honestly about his thoughts on adoption.

For the sake of back-ground, Matt was adopted by a same-race family in the 70's and it was a closed adoption. It is good for those of us that have adopted or are considering it to hear the voices and experiences of others, the more we understand the experiences of others, the more sensitive we become.


Adoption is a challenging concept that has evolved over the years.  For the most part, I like where the evolution has taken us.  We have gone from a culture that was hush-hush about adoption to one that writes books (and blogs) about the topic hoping to make all sides more comfortable with the process. 

I was adopted.  I was "given up" for adoption when I was a baby and adopted into my "adoptive" family when I was about a month old.  I put those words in quotes because they are words that are thrown around a lot, but they also have a tremendous psychological impact on the adopted child.   We need to carefully choose our words.  Given up, real family, adoptive family, etc all have an impact on a young child.  Is this not my real family?  If not, then who is?  These are questions that young children will ask themselves.

I think one of the most challenging concepts of adoption is the explaining to a child why they were given away.  We give old clothes away, we give to charity, and we give advice.  The concept of being given up or given away was always a challenging one for me.  Was something wrong with me?  Can I be given back if this family doesn't like me or if I do something wrong?  The challenge is for the adoptive parents.  Saying 'it was for the best' does not make it so.  Saying that 'your mom loved you so much she wanted something better for you' is better, but still difficult for a child to understand.  This is probably the most vital thing a parent can do for their adoptive child:  Learn and talk about why they are in that family.  ('BTW, God wanted us to adopt' doesn't work either).  Remember, you're explaining it to a child, not your friends at work.

There is a lot that I have to say about adoption, but I really want to focus on the concept of abandonment. Abandonment is a powerful feeling that needs to be dealt with.  The feeling of being abandoned is a feeling I had as long as I can remember.  It is a horrible feeling.  It is a feeling of worthlessness.  It is a feeling of being unwanted.  It is a feeling of being lost, even though you are in the midst of your family.  Nothing looks familiar as you look around.  When the going gets tough, you're left to wonder what another life would have been like.  Its always wondering if you're being treated differently because you aren't their "real" kids.  I always felt as if there was something missing in my life. (The long version of the story would include a not so pleasant reunion with my birth-mom and the realization that what I was missing was Jesus). 

As an adopted child, we hear the comments, "you look so much like your dad" or "you have your mom's smile."  We nod our heads not knowing what to say.  When I was a little bit older and unruly, I would sometimes counter with, "well, that's odd -because I was adopted."  Sometimes I got satisfaction in making others squirm.  Adopted children need to be emotionally equipped to deal with comments like this.  The best way I can describe the feeling of the way an adopted child feels is that of an identity crisis.  Who do I look like?  Why am I good at sports?  I so wanted to identify with someone.  This is where families can create identities.  I loved Tara and Troy's 'gotcha day/adoption day parties' for Isaac and Hope and Phoebe.  What a tremendous way to identify with the situation. 

I'm sure there are other people who were adopted that have a different story, but this is some of my story.  Identity and abandonment are two major issues that need to be addressed as children are growing up.  This will help and equip them to deal with the emotions involved in being an adopted child.