Being the parent of teenagers is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they are more independent. They can take care of their own hygiene, wash their own clothes, cleanup their messes (in an ideal world), manage their schoolwork, etc. On the other hand, they are more independent in their opinions and willingness to go along with the “family plan.” It is sometimes hard to find the right balance between letting them have their way and insisting they go along.
Being the parent of teenagers who are adopted makes this independence even more challenging. “Why?” you may ask.
Just the other day, Emily, our 19-year-old, said to me, “I want to spend more time with my sisters in Nebraska when it’s warmer and we can do other things outside…” Emily has recently spent five days, on her own, visiting her biological half-sisters and a multitude of other relatives in Nebraska. Her request made sense to me. They are her family too. She has a connection to them that is in her blood.
This point was made even clearer to me just yesterday. After several years of not seeing Skye’s birth mother, we made the trip to Kimberly’s home in Northwest Georgia. My younger kids did not want to go, but I bribed them with the promise of fast food on the way. And I said to them: “This is what we do. This is who we are. We visit each kid’s birth family. You can decide what you want to do when you are 18. But, today, you go.” K.J. also grumbled, but went along. Thank goodness for Emily. She is such a good sport. She drove an extra car because I knew I would need to leave with Journey and Becton to get back for the Christmas Eve service rehearsal at 6 p.m. Emily stayed with K.J. and Skye so they could have a longer visit and see other members of the family who had been at work.
Kimberly was very easy to be with. She and I did most of the talking at first. But, Skye, who had not been sure she would feel comfortable with Kim, warmed up as the visit progressed. Kimberly made several comments about how much Skye looks like her. Clearly, it is important to Kim that Skye look like her. She would say things like “We have the same lips and aren’t they the best lips?” I noticed that they played with their hair the same way. When Billy, Kim’s fiancé, came home, her first words were: “Did you bring me something?” Skye laughed and said to me, “She sounds just like me!” This is so true.
As I sat in the sanctuary at church last night, waiting for Journey to finish her rehearsal, Skye sent this text message to me: “I wanna stay with Kim and Billy for a weekend sometime. I REALLY like it up there! I saw Angie [her aunt] and met Matt her boyfriend. Saw Cindy [her grandmother] and saw Sissy’s [another aunt] kids Troy and Karry. Karry’s the craziest little girl ever! She makes the evil Skye face. Haha.”
I’ve listened to adult adoptees and birth parents report on their reunions with biological relatives after years apart. Some reunions are difficult or disappointing. But many reports include statements that reflect a discovering of oneself in the other person. I’ve come to appreciate this as more than a statement about similarities of appearance or mannerisms. It’s more than “filling in the blanks” of a life story as well. The connection is chemical or magnetic, I think. There is something about being with the people who are related to you by blood that defies logical explanation. And whether the relationship is good or bad, it is compelling.
This is what I am experiencing with my teenage children. Each one is drawn to “their people.” I could be sad or defensive about this. I could push back or hold tighter. (If they were in danger, I would muster my “protective mama” to safeguard them, you can be sure.) Instead, I am choosing to let them go.
In February, K.J. will spend his winter break from school with his birth mother and brothers in Nebraska. Skye will probably spend more time with Kim and her relatives in north Georgia without me. Emily will travel to Kentucky where her brother and birth mom live or back to Nebraska for a warmer visit with relatives there. Journey will, in-the-not-too-distant-future, spend more time in Oklahoma with her birth relatives. And, someday, Becton will reconnect with his biological family.
Will they come back? I think so. I hope so. But, you see, the thing about love is that you can’t force it. If you love someone, you have to give him/her the freedom to choose for him/herself.
We may not have entered the adoption world with eyes completely open to the complexities. But because we entered the adoption world as parents through open adoption, we knew we were not alone on this parenting journey. I have long said to the kids, “We have six mothers in this family.” I tell this to them, but I also tell it to remind myself.
There will be a Christmas present from me under the tree this year that no one will see with their eyes or open with their hands. But it will be there in the room with us. It is the gift of “letting go” to find out who you are and where you belong. It’s a gift we all need and deserve. On this Christmas Eve, I am grateful to be an adoptive parent because my children have enabled me to see this so clearly.