Having just spent a long weekend with my 22-year-old daughter Victoria I came home with a bag of great memories and a few mixed emotions. Although my brain knows my daughter works three jobs and pays for her own apartment, the Mom in me can't process that she is not still my little girl; while I am proud to see her so determined, my heart hurts to watch the hurdles she climbs in her daily life.
We drove around Dallas in her non-air conditioned car, music turned up on the radio, as she gave me the tour of her demanding life, 3-9 pm admin for Lennox, 5 am to Noon Front Desk for Lifetime and 10:30 pm to 2 am Shot Girl for Gator's, a local bar. In addition she belongs on a softball team and has found time to work out and lose 60 pounds on her tremendous weight loss journey.
I remember this life. When I was 22 I lived it too, long hours, hard work, hot cars, little to no food in the fridge and it all seemed bearable back then, sometimes it was even fun. I got through it with a super-woman-can-do attitude that I realize today I may have somehow lost along the road to middle age.
I have always thought I had my daughter to thank for the passion and drive of my youth. She was just past two years old when I was 22 and she was just past 4 when I stepped out into the world as a single mom at 24. It was knowing I had to succeed so she would succeed that got me through the most challenging times. I have often wondered what I would have ended up doing with my life if I had not had her when I did, my inspiration - my compass to stay focused and get somewhere and do something, to be successful enough to give her the moon.
Today buying a giant stack of TP at Walmart for her bathroom, while fighting the urge to buy the numerous things on the list in my brain that she needs (a microwave, a new bra, food for the fridge, an air conditioner for her car), I don't feel like I gave her the moon. I feel the weight she bears because she was born to a single mother who tried her best but had her own set of limitations.
Today just the thought of the pace Victoria keeps exhausts me, and I wonder where she finds her motivation. I hope it is just a natural drive to succeed. I hope she is excited by the possibility of tomorrow and not overwhelmed by the difficult path to get there. Maybe having been there I see the difficultly a bit more clearly, maybe not.
Although I was a single mom, which some could argue would have made my life harder, it was being a single mom that ironically made my life a bit easier than my daughter's. As a single mom I qualified for student loans and grants and scholarships that my daughter does not.
Today, the government says I make too much money for them to lend her any to go to school. That I should be able to pay for my daughter's college, and if I can't then she must work and go to school and figure out how to live on her own, or with me and pay for college at the same time. She says she does not want to live with me and is willing to do whatever it takes to do this on her own. She will qualify for student loans once she gets married, joins the military, has a child or turns 25.
This is why right now she is out of school and working, hard. Having earned her Associates Degree, she has taken time off from school to examine her life and explore her options. Degrees are not cheap, so she hopes to get it right the first time. Do any of us get it right the first time?
She is looking at psychology and photography and has considered architecture and law. However, having recently found a passion for health, Victoria is now hoping she can build a degree plan around health and psychology, nutrition and business to enable her to become a professional life coach.
Somehow the irony is not lost on me, as a matter of fact it inspires me. Here she is, my daughter deep in her demanding life, no air conditioner in her car, working her butt off at three jobs, out of TP in her bath, and rather than see her life as a struggle, she sees it as training for her future career - so one day she can sit down with a person she is coaching and say "Hey, do you think my life was easy? Let me tell you how I got here."
She is finding herself as well. She is learning the fine art of truthful self-evaluation, she is learning about healthy boundaries in relationships and no excuses, personal responsibility, co-dependency, finding her own voice, staking her claim, owning herself -- I am so very proud.
We had a talk while I was there about what kind of parent I was - I hoped she understood what it was like for me as a teen parent trying to learn all those things and raise my daughter by myself. She answers me, "Mom you were the best. You did the very best you knew how to do."
We both agree I was a distracted and lax parent, and despite the surviving aspect, I wonder how much that had to do with my being adopted, my fears of being rejected by own daughter, my lack of understanding how powerful the biological bond really is - one of my greatest fears raising my daughter was that she would become so angry at me that she would run away or disown me.
Thus while reading "Parenting Style and It's Correlates" on Adoption.com, I identified myself as an Indulgent parent (also referred to as "permissive" or "nondirective"). The article describes this type of parent as "more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation." It also notes that there are two sub-types: "democratic parents, who, though lenient, are more conscientious, engaged, and committed to the child, and nondirective parents."
Thus I was an indulgent, lenient, yet democratic parent. I like being described as "more responsive" than demanding, and I confess I certainly feared confrontation. Again I think this related directly to my fear of my daughter disowning me as a mom. Perhaps something in my psyche felt if a mother could leave a child certainly a child could leave their mother.
Authoritative is supposedly the best, these parents are both demanding and responsive. "They monitor and impart clear standards for their children's conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive....."
The article goes on to say "Children and adolescents whose parents are authoritative rate themselves and are rated by objective measures as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents are nonauthoritative."
Sorry Victoria, but it also states that while indulgent parenting can lead to problem behavior and poor grades, it has it's pluses too, "Children and adolescents from indulgent homes ... have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression."
And so it is I wonder what effect being an adoptee has had on my parenting style?
My daughter asked me this weekend if I thought all adoptees "have issues." She said she knows many adoptees who say adoption had no effect on them, so how could it affect their parenting. I told her I would have said the same thing before my search.
To say being adopted had no impact on my life to me would be like an African American or Asian American or Mexican American saying their race had no effect on their life or who they grew up to be. The circumstances of your birth shape your life and your world view. This impacts every relationship you have, the one you have with yourself, your parents (birth and adoptive), your siblings and yes even your children.
What did being raised by an adopted mom mean for Victoria. It meant she lived as my only mirror for the first 2O years of her life. It meant she was raised by a woman whose fear of rejection often outweighed her parental common sense. It meant, out of my fear of abandoning my adoptive mother who saved me, I often chose being a better daughter to my own mother than being the best mother to my own daughter. It meant also meant she learned she was not blood related to her grand parents on my side, she had only half her genetic code as well.
I wonder also if it meant that in some quasi narcissistic way if I did not subconsciously push her to become as much like me as possible. Perhaps driven by my desire to deeply connect to someone just like myself, I gave her less room and permission to individuate, wanting to keep my mirror image as intact as possible. While I always encouraged her be herself and become something very unique in the world. Did my words and my actions send her different messages?
Two days ago my daughter got a tattoo and despite my knowledge that I support her commitment to herself, her journey to finding herself, her ownership of her life and her body, the Mom in me who looked to my daughter as my only mirror for so many years, cried out, "Why? What are you doing? This is not you. This is not US."
My reaction was fast and furious, it came from my gut, and it made no sense to my brain. And then I realized my reaction was about ME. This is not ME...my daughter is not ME...SHE is not ME.
I believe this is a hard thing for many parents to get past - separating their selves from their children. I would argue that for an adoptee it is even more difficult.
For so long - as I believed she was all I had to see myself in - I believe I got lost in her mirror. Through the healing of my recent reunion - the finding of my many mirrors - the adoptive mother in me is beginning to accept that while my daughter does mirror me, she is not my reflection. We are two different women. One who would wear tattoos and one who would not. I am so very proud of her. Every day she teaches me something more about myself, actually about both of us.
For so many years she has said over and over again, "I am NOT YOU Mom!"
And I finally understand what she means. I am a blessed mother to have her love and understanding and insight. She has watched me grow up almost as much as I have watched her, and sometimes she is way ahead of me.
PS. Please check out Victoria's blog Vibrantly Victoria.
How does/did being an adoptive or sinlge parent affect your relationships and parenting of your children? I would love to hear comments about it!
SEX. It fed my low self-esteem and proved to me I was wanted at least temporarily. I used it over and over again and when I got the boy, I chased him away before he could leave me. I lied or I cheated or I just put up walls.
Beginning in middle school and ending somewhere in my 20’s this was my modus operandi: The highschool quarterback, my boyfriend, then his best friend, the older man, the coworker, the pro-ball player, the pilot, the millionaire. And for the ones who would not go away on their own, well the game became to see how many times you can take ‘em back and leave‘em before they finally give up and realize you won’t let them be the heart breaker.
It was a text book example of a young adopted woman struggling with attachment, intimacy, and abandonment issues. I had one exception during those years, one I had hope for and had tried very hard to make work. He was my daughter’s father.
At 19 years old, I created the same circumstances to put myself squarely in my own birth mother’s shoes. Do I keep my unplanned baby? The moment the plus sign appeared I knew what I would do. I could never leave or abort my baby. In an instant it dawned on me, ‘inside me now is my first known living blood relative.’ I was scared and elated.
I did not know then that adoption statics predicted this event; that four out of five adopted females become unwed mothers in some desperate effort to either identify with their birthmothers or to repair or redo the wrong they perceived was done to them. Perhaps it is a subconscious drive to create and connect to someone you can know and who can know you on a level that up to that point you could only dream of from watching others share that special biological connection.
In my adoptive family it was common knowledge the Potters had lots of blondes with prominent chins, they talked A LOT and had hot tempers. The McIntyres had blondes and red heads, a few hot tempers, a prominent family nose and beautiful white silky hair in old age. The Meyers had olive skin, moles here and there, dark curly hair and a tendency to put on weight. I had me -- light skin, turned up nose, dark hair and freckles.
I was creative. I wrote poetry. I drew pictures. My Mommy played Scrabble, played the piano and worked on crossword puzzles. She could also do math in her head. Daddy’s nature was more in line with mine – he was the creative one. But no matter how much I felt accepted and part of my family, there was no way around the absence of my genetic mirrors.
At the time of my decision to keep my child, I knew nothing of genetic mirrors. I had never considered how I was physically or emotionally different from those around me or how it affected me. I only knew in this moment that I had to keep my baby. It was also in this moment that I thought of my birthmother and realized she had to have let me go with either a tremendous selfless love or a complete indifference to the matter. I believed no one could have forced my hand with this, no one.
Looking back I realize it was easy for me to think that – I was one of the lucky ones. A teen mom in the 1980’s, not the 1960’s. My odd-ball adoptive family would be supportive. The father of the child was a grown man and he would be around. Yes this would change my world, but I knew how I would feed, clothe and provide for my child. I had let some family down, worried them about my future, but I would not be shamed publicly or disowned, told to pack my bags and leave. Never!
My pregnancy evolved from a relationship with my 32-year-old boss. He was a wheeling dealing, small-town rough neck, seeking fame and fortune in the oil industry, and man was he slick! I was his personal assistant in more ways than one and I travelled around Texas with him a young pretty thing on his arm, a symbol of his success.
A month before the news of my pregnancy we had discussed the benefits of open relationships and were considering sharing an apartment together no holds barred. Two weeks before the pregnancy his apartment got robbed and among the things they stole was my birth control. One hour after the pregnancy test showed positive, and I stated I was keeping the baby, he was asking me to marry him. I told him I had to ask my mom first.
I was surprised that my mother was thrilled I was pregnant. She was relieved I had what appeared to be a wealthy man to help with the child, but I doubt that would have changed her feelings about it either way. She was not so excited about my idea of getting married. To this day I am not sure why she so embraced my pregnancy. I suppose since she adopted at 32 her chances at being a grandmother were slim. My young pregnancy meant she would enjoy her grandchild while my father was still alive, as he too could not have waited for me to play by the rules.
My father was more practical about it but none-the-less supportive and overjoyed at the idea of being a grandfather. I believe my parents both believed that there was not a problem in the world that showering a child with love could not solve.
Telling my extended family, especially on Daddy’s side, was a bigger deal. Yet there in my Aunt Tweeter’s living room, the very living room I had been brought straight home to from the hospital some 19 years before, I sat readying myself to tell my two female cousin’s, both who were more like big sisters, my Aunt Louise and my Grandmother Mom that I was pregnant.
I remember being very embarrassed to confess to my Aunt and Grandmother that I had been having sex, let alone telling them I was so good at it I made a baby. Yet I also remember being very surprised at how upset they all were with the news. Like my mother and father everyone was crying, but these were no tears of joy.
They were disappointed, saddened and in shock. My grandmother seemed angry at me and could not look at me. Tweeter was kind and supportive as usual and played the gentle referee, as I tried to answer my cousin’s questions about how this could happen and what my plan was. Of course they were worried, I was only 19.
I remember how my cousins implored me to think about how I had my whole life ahead of me, how much things would change if I kept the baby. One suggested I consider adoption and mentioned that I of all people should understand why adoption would be a better choice for me and my unborn child. I tried to explain that that was the main reason I could never consider adoption. Interestingly it is these two cousins, those who took the news of my pregnancy the hardest, that recently took my adoption reunion the hardest as well.
I explained to them that I could not imagine having a mother and daughter lost out there in the world. Perhaps keeping the baby would be a selfish thing, but I of all people also knew what it felt like to be adopted. I would not and could not put my baby on that course -- or cope with a compounded loss.
In the end my family of course accepted my decision and was supportive no matter what, but I have never forgotten that talk we had there in Tweeter’s living room. The memory of it took on new meaning for me when I met Lana and heard her talk of the devastation and shame her family had rained down upon her, how she was never given a choice, let alone understanding and support.
Giving birth would later illuminate for me exactly what my adoptive mother and I had lost through adoption. For the first time I felt inside me what had been missing between us all these years. It is still today almost indescribable, but it is what I later understood when I held my baby for the first time as the birth bond, an almost physical connection that begins in the womb, is nurtured in the hours days and weeks after birth and endures for a lifetime.
I am not saying my mother and I were not as close as we could possibly be – we absolutely were – but I could not share her DNA and she could not share mine no matter how much we wanted it be otherwise. And the time I spent in the hospital before being placed in her arms meant we missed a critical time for bonding that came much later than it should have.
My daughter was born a c-section and this meant I did not hold her until after my recovery. I was wheeled out of surgery and into the hall where I was met by my mother and my new baby’s father, “Look what I did Mommy! Isn’t she beautiful! I knew she was a girl!”
“She is darling. She is so beautiful, you did a terrific job,” she assured me. “The nurses say she got the highest scores on all her tests, they can tell you took care of yourself,” Mommy gushed beside my gurney.
I was rolled away sooner than I wanted, and once in recovery was told to lay on my right side. It was explained that when my blood pressure came down I would be released to my room and then I would hold her, my baby girl. I believed that if they would just let me hold my baby my blood pressure would come down a lot sooner. They disagreed, so I laid there as told and cried for my baby.
As the epidural wore off, the pain increased, but it did not compare to the agony I felt when I thought of her being alone in a world of strangers. She should not be away, not for a second, not with strangers, not away from me. Too many minutes between her birth and my arms and we might miss the birth bond. This miracle I had studied and anticipated. But it was not just this. I was tortured by the idea of her there solitary and helpless in a hospital crib. It was heart wrenching to picture it. I did not realize then why this troubled me so, but I do today.
At last I was returned to my room, a trip during which I did not shut up about “bringing me my baby as soon as humanly possible.” Shortly the nurse returned wheeling her bassinette close to my bed. And as my daughter was placed in my arms, I had three distinct thoughts that seemed to come all at once.
My first thought was how amazingly beautiful she was. I knew she was the most beautiful thing I had or would ever see in my life. My second thought was that I could not believe two people, especially if I was one of them, could truly create such a wondrous being, and my third was that I was meeting my first known living blood relative. I was no longer alone in a world of blood kin.
As I held her close, I could never imagine letting her go. I demanded she be kept in my room at all times and only be taken away for tests. With my mother there I could rest with the baby in the room. I would not rest if she were not. She was mine and I was hers. I named her Victoria, I suppose she was and still is in many ways my victory in life.
I never married my daughter’s father but we lived together until Victoria was 4 years old. Then I moved out. He was a passionate man with a talent for making a deal materialize from nowhere but sadly not the world’s best businessman. His passion for his work and his dream to be wealthy beyond all things drove his every action and ruled his world. He desperately chased fortune while longing for the love of a true family. Yet he could not assimilate both into his world.
Additionally he refused to believe a 20 something could dedicate her life to him and not “twist off to sow her youthful oats.” He never fully trusted me and it seems he created exactly what he feared. Perhaps I would have “twisted off” even if he had been totally emotionally invested.
In the last 20 years I have watched replacements come and go from his arm, he is a better visionary and deal maker, but no better with managing his money than the day I met him.
No matter who he is, he gave me my beautiful daughter and a greater understanding of what it is to be a mother. It was having Victoria that taught me the deepest meaning of unconditional love, which set my heart right with my adoptive parents, which later helped me understand the choice my birth mother made and which put me on the path to fully and freely love myself and those around me again.
Reader's Note: As borrowed from, http://www.terrylarimore.com , excerpts from Nancy Verrier’s Primal Wound will appear in italics throughout the following blog post:
I wake up this morning and I feel it again, the wave of sickness in my gut, a dirty tide lapping in the depth of my belly, a hot sun rising in my throat, stealing my breath, burning my chest a bright angry red. My heart beats hard like it thinks I am asleep trying to wake me up. “Do something about this,” it shouts. My skin seems electrified and everything is amplified, and I remember what day it is.
Today is the day, like the many before, which my husband, a first degree blackbelt, will test for his next rank in Taekwondo (TKD). This used to be a special night where we would all head down to the school to watch him punch and kick his way to the next rank. “Bravo! Good job!” But now, at least for me, it is my worst nightmare.
... the severing of that connection between the child and biological mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound which often manifests in a sense of loss (depression), basic mistrust (anxiety), emotional and/or behavioral problems and difficulties in relationships with significant others….
You see a year ago my husband was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy, a genetic heart condition that affects heart rhythm. After suffering loss of breath during his TKD practice, he went to the heart doc who then told him to wear a monitor. The monitor clocked his heart while sparring at 280 beats a minute, quivering was all it was doing. The next day the phone rang,”Mr. McDonald, how soon can you get to the doctor’s office?”
Within a week they had placed an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) in his chest. They told him things would change, he would not be working on cars, or mowing the yard, or using cordless tools – all those things could mimic a heart rhythm and confuse the device into pushing 700 volts through his chest -- stopping his heart, so it could start itself again and hopefully pick up a proper rhythm.
They told him he probably ought to consider a different sport, as contact sports were not advisable. Sports like football, basketball, TKD had an increased risk of impact, the device could be hit and dislodged causing his arteries to tear and bleed, or the wires could move from his heart muscle and puncture the sac of fluid around the heart. Also any hard impact could just stop his heart period.
But he did not stop doing TKD. And less than a year with the device, during a TKD tournament I watched my husband’s body take the jolt and fall to the floor during his Free Form routine. I was sitting in front of him minutes later as it shocked him again. I was standing alone in the street as the ambulance took him away. I will be at the hospital again in a few months as they perform a cardiac ablation to try to control the bad heart rhythms that medicines won’t fix.
... although we may call the fear of being abandoned by the adoptive parents a fantasy, there is precedent for that fear in the original separation experience, which may be felt only unconsciously. What the adoptee is fearing isn't a fantasy, it is a memory trace which at any time can be repeated … Is it any wonder that adoptees go through life feeling as if at any time the other shoe could drop? To what extent does this fear of abandonment affect their development?
And this is why I am now sitting on the couch crying. I don’t understand why he is beside me telling me he will be OK, when he really has no idea if he will or won’t . I can handle him taking classes. I have come to the point that I can drink a glass of wine and watch TV and sit by my phone and get through it twice a week. But the testing scares me, terrifies me, sends me into a panic attack every time. It’s hell.
Heart disease and I are no strangers. My grandmother had heart disease and numerous heart attacks during my young life. My Daddy dropped dead at 58 with congestive heart failure. My mother too suffered with her heart, and we endured several heart attacks. Even my Uncle, the man who was supposed to walk me down the aisle died after bi-pass surgery two weeks before my wedding. Now my husband has this heart problem, and as if all that was not enough – I learn my birth father has a stint and a failing heart valve, and the worries continue.
Because of their experience with abandonment, is it possible that this threat is one which hangs over the heads of all adoptees like the sword of Damocles all their lives, but about which they might not be consciously aware?
But truly my prior experience with heart disease is only a part of this terror – all those deaths and heart attacks and threats of death only serve to fire up the adoption-based fears of loss and abandonment that have burned like somber coals in my chest my whole life.
All of this anxiety, my tears on my husband’s shirt as he holds me and makes himself late for work, is significantly magnified by the fact that I was adopted, that at the very beginning of life I experienced primal loss, rejection and abandonment.
…it is this threat which causes the generalized anxiety so often found in adoptees. Anxiety is different from fear …Children who have been abandoned have an early awareness that they need to be cautious, alert and watchful--a response which is called hyper-vigilance. This gives them the means by which to try to avoid another abandonment…
This is why my reaction is so raw, so hard, so gut wrenching. Since I have started studying adoption I have learned so much about myself. Why I react to things the way I do? Why no matter how much I don’t want to be I am a worrier, I am. Why the worst case always seems to sit at the front of my mind in any situation. Why I fear for the security of my family on a daily basis. Why I am hyper-vigilant and waiting for the worst to happen.
Think about it – on day one in my life the worst happened. I was rejected by the one person who is supposed to be there no matter what. It did not matter to the infant that I was that she was forced, it did not matter that I would get wonderful adoptive parents. For two weeks alone in the hospital I experienced significant pain and loss and fear as I searched for her, cried out for her and found her not there. And even then, after my adoptive mother took me into her arms and rocked and soothed me, adoption studies say I knew she was not her - and this meant attachment and trust and bonding would be made that much harder.
Additionally doctors say this early experience imprints into the developing psyche altering the physical wiring of the developing brain, meaning these babies become basically wired for stress and anxiety.
This was my Day 1 - "What else can life take away from me?" is always at the back of my mind – remains with me and it never goes away.
My husband says he needs TKD in his life to be happy. I suppose many wives, like those of servicemen, race car drivers, stunt men, or snake handlers, support their husband's risky decisions, out of nothing but love and wanting their spouse to be happy and fulfilled. Still I am still struggling with understanding how my husband weighs such risk and deems it worth it.
I will get through his testing although I can’t watch it. The last time I watched him test my heart rate rose to 150 and I thought I would pass out. Tonight I will go have diner and margaritas with a new friend. The margaritas should help, but my phone will be on high, the ringer will be on, and my heart will be racing until I see him again.
PS. I invite you to read Core of Love – the story I wrote of my husband’s collapse on the eve of our first wedding anniversary. We did not know about his condition at the time of the event. Now that I know the truth the story is that much more visceral.