According to the dictionary am·biv·a·lence is defined as “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone;” it is also described as “having simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action.” Feelings of ambivalence can be found throughout the adoption circle. Children adopted at an older age may feel angry, yet thrilled with finally finding a “forever” family. Birth parents may simultaneously feel a sense of resentment and gratitude towards the adoptive parents they have chosen for their child. Adoptive parents may feel both joy and sorrow when that baby they have longed for is placed into their arms. Adoptees may feel both connected and disconnected to the birth family that they have not yet met.
We live in a society where people are expected to fit into one category or the other, where black and white is preferred and grey is often misunderstood. When people whose family has been built through adoption are forced to define their familial connections and to identify who their “real” family members are, the authenticity of these important relationships can be challenged, sometimes leading to latent feelings of ambivalence being amplified. So, what do we do when we don’t fit? When our life cannot be summarized neatly into a check box?
During the Summer Olympics of 2016, as gymnast Simone Biles was dominating her sport, the adoption world was shaken by NBC anchor Al Trautwig who tweeted this about her parents: “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” Rather than celebrating Simone’s unique and powerful adoption story (a story that highlights the power of love, and the importance of kinship care), Mr. Trautwig, who later apologized for the tweet, was trying to force Simone’s family into his “box” and “definition” of parents. Simone’s reply, “I personally don’t have a comment. My parents are my parents and that’s it,” was perfect, and reinforced everyone’s right and ability to define their family in their own way.
As we follow the lifelong journey of adoption, often, like Simone, we grow more comfortable defining our own relationships and choosing our own titles. Building meaningful relationships becomes paramount, and the importance of fitting into boxes fades. In some cases, birth and adoptive moms may both come to be known as “mom,” while in others the loss of a hoped for connection must be grieved. Every journey and path is different and each person must define “family” for themselves. Ambivalent feelings shift as you discover the power to choose your own definitions and your own relationships. Choice opens the door for acceptance. Your family is your family and you can define it any way you like. Children’s author Todd Parr says it best in his book titled “The Family Book.” Todd writes, “There are lots of different ways to be a family. Your family is special no matter what kind it is.” So simple, yet so true.
I A. You’ve Got Mail: The New Realities of Adoption Reunion - Historically, adoption reunions have been facilitated through official channels by third parties including social workers and state officials, and involved counseling both before and during the search process to assist all parties with the emotional complexities associated with reconnection. In recent years, many adoptees and birth family members have found each other directly using the internet and genetic testing services. This session will explore how these developments have changed the reunion process, and steps all members of the adoption circle can take to ensure a healthy and beneficial reconnection process, regardless of how a reunion occurred. Presenter: Varda Makovsky
I B. Therapeutic Writing for the Adoption Constellation - Being a member of the adoption constellation – adoptee, birth parent, adoptive parent – can sometimes be hard to wrap your head and heart around. Putting words to complex and amorphous thoughts and feelings can be challenging. In this integrated group, we will explore our internal experiences around adoption through short writing exercises – such as a letter to your child or your child’s birth parent, or an imagining of your reunion or visit to your host country – complemented by discussion and optional sharing (submitting your writing and reading aloud are not required). You will have the opportunity to explore these issues with other members of the constellation, and learn from one another’s varying experiences, perspectives, and wisdom. Presenter: Sarah Saffian
I C. What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Older Child - Parents considering older child adoption do not always know what to expect after placement. Through her own experience as an adoptee and adoptive parent, Ashley will help attendees “see” into the mind of a young person who is joining a family at an older age. During this session, Ashley will share with parents some of the emotions and behaviors that they may experience while their child is working through their understandably ambivalent feelings about adoption, and will provide tips for helpful ways to make their child/children feel supported as they adjust to their new family. Presenter: Ashley Rhodes-Courter
II A. Insights into Blended Families: A Dialogue with Sibs by Birth and Adoption - Families formed by adoption and by birth deal with challenges unique to such families. The panelists – sibling sets from both international and domestic adoptive families – reflect on how parents and youth might best deal with the issues that arise. The young adults will also provide insights into how their sensibilities and world views were enlarged by growing up in a blended family. Moderator: Marilyn Regier
II B. Rough Roads can lead to Great Destinations - During this session participants will learn about healthy formation of identity in adoptees. Parents will be provided with a unique view into the hearts, minds and souls of the adopted person experience. Participants will also learn more about the often unresolved questions surrounding their birth family, the decision to place them for adoption and how much of whom they are is related to their DNA vs. their upbringing. Parents will be offered practical tips for navigating and negotiating a family journey rooted/routed in finding the balance between profound losses, and, hopefully, bigger gains. Presenter: Tara Linh Leaman
II C. I Choose Whom I Call Family - It is important for many adoptees to of have a relationship with both adoptive and birth family. Adoptive parents have a significant role in being proactive in helping their child navigate these relationships. This workshop will walk attendees through a personal journey of adoption and the process of reconnecting with birth family. Through both his personal and professional experience, the presenter will explore the importance of maintaining or developing connections (when possible) to both birth and adoptive family members. We will also discuss the ambivalence, challenges and successes adoptees may face when choosing whom they call family. Presenter: Chauncey Strong
Breakout Sessions III
III A. My Not-So Perfect, Perfect Family - “It was meant to be.” “We were made to be together.” “It was divine intervention.” These and other phrases are often used to describe how adoptive parents and their children became matched with one another. But what if your child doesn’t always feel that way? What if your child expresses ambivalence about being a part of your family? What if your child expresses anger at their birth parents or a greater sense of love for their birth parents? A panel of adoptees will share their personal journeys from ambivalence to acceptance and how their adoptive and birth parents supported them along the way. Moderator: Sue Hollar
III B. Embracing Open Adoption: A Panel of Birth and Adoptive Parent Perspectives - Let’s face it. When it comes to parenting, open adoption is an added layer of the unknown. Many families have read the literature and attended workshops. They understand the benefits, and they want to embrace their children's birth family, but have natural questions surrounding how to navigate this new relationship. In this unique panel, you will hear from adoptive parents and birth parents who will candidly share their experiences. They will reflect on how they their relationship has evolved with one another for their child. Moderator: Lisa Hughes
III C. Finding “Identity” in a Conspicuous Family - No matter how “color-blind” adoptive parents may feel, the race, culture and ethnicity of their transracially adopted children are integral parts of their respective identities. Being part of a conspicuous family often results in others making assumptions and comments about race and adoption. This workshop will explore some of the unique dynamics involved in parenting a child of another race. Participants will walk away with tools that can be used to help build a healthy transracial adoptive family, and will also learn ways to support their children in developing a positive view of their identity as an individual. Presenter: Michelle Hughes