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!
P atricia Long Legs is running and playing out in the meadow with her adopted goat siblings at my birth father Jerry's farm. The farm is named Camelot, after his last name of Knight, but everyone calls him Pop. It's a sunny Spring day, and I am standing along a barb-wire fence watching the baby calf take on a new day. I realize it's been 7 months since Pop and I met and that this must mean Patricia is 7 months old.
The day I arrived at Camelot, Patricia's mother, in what seemed a symbolic gesture of her appreciation for life and Pop's new-found daughter, gave birth to her own, a beautiful female calf. Pop and his wife Susan observed how long the little calf's legs were, how shiny the coat, how quickly she stood and tried to walk, so they named her after me. Even with an adoptive father who worked as a meat inspector at slaughter houses, never did I dream I would have a cow named after me, but somehow it certainly fits.
Now those who know me are asking themselves,'but Patricia doesn't have long legs?' And they would be right, I don't. It was just that in one of the first pictures Pop and Susan ever saw of me, I was sitting in such a way that my crossed legs looked a mile long. Similarly the pictures I had seen of Pop, standing next to an unnaturally low to the ground bird bath, had set into my mind that he was one Tall Texan.
So chewing these thoughts, while Patricia trims the fence line, I realize Pop and I both erroneously expected to meet someone tall at the top of his long driveway. Instead I think upon laying eyes on the other we thought, 'Hey this person is short' and here is the kicker, 'just like me.'
Having already met my birth mother Lana, it was a second dose for me of 'Wow this person looks like me,' but it was none the less potent. Lana and I had found we share matching smiles, almost identical hands and feet, even an inflexibility with how we handle the world, as well as each other.
I saw things between us that I knew to be true about myself, but not all of what I saw were things I necessarily liked about myself. A simple truth I had never considered - a mirror reflects all parts of yourself. While I discovered so much in meeting her, I still had not found the person with my eyes, my skin tone, and perhaps most importantly, the person who could mirror my personality and disposition.
True to my adoptee tendencies I felt guilty for my disjointed feelings; that I had not found in Lana the profound reflection and connection for which I had so dreamed. This of course was not to her discredit, it just was what it was.
Furthermore, had I unfairly expected her to complete me, without realizing that half the equation was missing? After meeting her I both longed for, yet also feared, my complete picture. It was as if seeing half of my reflection had made the remaining mystery parts feel even more foreign and somehow more threatening.
What if I find him and he does not match as much as I would hope either? Would that not mean that I just really don't have a clue about myself? What if I meet them both and see nothing I recognize as my own? What if I see things in that mirror that I don't like? Where does that leave me? Those were my fears, steeped in a mixture of insecurity and the unknown, driving up that long driveway to meet my birth father.
Not far from the driveway where we stood that day, Patricia Long Legs is now romping around in the sun with her buddies. In the last few months she and I have come to have more in common than you might expect; and this is really what this post is about. Note the title does say "the importance of genetic markers in the adoptee's world."
Well, Patricia the long-legged calf, you see was born into a world of short-legged goats. She had no sibling calves or cousin calves. She was the only calf on the farm, to be specific she and her parents, Mama Cow and Daddy Bull, were the only cows on the farm, period. They lived among a world of goats, and life in general was good for Patricia playing with the goats and watching the cars drive by the fence line with Mama Cow and Daddy Bull. But one day, not long after Patricia could do her own thing, Mama Cow and Daddy Bull went on let's say a "permanent vacation" from the farm.
This of course left little Patricia sitting alone out there in a field of goats. Did she keep to herself? No. Like any good abandoned calf knows, she knew she must assimilate to survive. And this is why now several months later, Patricia can be found running and playing in the field kicking up her heals right along with the others. This is why she raises her long snout up into the tree branches looking longingly like she wishes to follow her adotped siblings up the leaning trucks to chew on the highest leaves; why she comes when you call "Billie Billie."
Here she is with her family:
The day that Pop and I witness her standing guard over the little lifeless body of a baby goat that died just after birth, my suspicions are confirmed - Patricia truly believes herself to be a Billie. Patricia stands protectively next to her sister the grieving Mama Goat. She charges the buzzards that seek to steal the carcass away. She won't leave her spot protecting her goat family.
Even in the more jovial times in the pasture, Pop worries that with her big feet she might accidentally stomp one of the newest little baby goats dead just trying to play with it, or that her coming horns maybe be no match for the curly ones on the other goats' heads.
"In time she will figure it out," says Pop, "and so will they." He has no idea how much I understand that statement, in time you certainly do.
Watching her out there, the biggest prettiest goat of them all, I am reminded of my favorite childhood story ever, The Ugly Duckling. As a child I never realized the reason I was so drawn to the poor baby duck was because it did not fit in. In 1990 Hallmark released a video version of the story that my daughter Victoria loved and that made us both cry every time we watched it.
In one scene the sibling ducks gang up on the Ugly Duckling in the pond and they all sing, "You're not one of us, it's plain to see when it comes to ducks you're just ugly! Why don't you just swim away." It's well worth a watch if you wish to experience what most any adoptee has felt at least once in their life, and what some have felt quite often, the pain of not fitting in.
Start playing at 6:30 and end at 8:26 for the mean pond scene ;-(:
I hope in Patricia's special case that she is just as happy being a goat as a cow. It does not look like her sibling goats are calling her ugly, all they do is want to play. Pop has promised me Patricia won't meet a fate similar to that of her parents. I hope that when her mirror does finally come along, as I know he will, that she sees herself for the first time in his deep brown eyes, in his dark shiny coat, in his long swatty tail and hefty mooooo!
Nancy Newton Verrier writes in her book, The Adopted Child Grows Up (listed in Ten I Recommend on my side bar) about the need for these genetic markers:
Was the little "duckling" right? Was he in fact an ugly duckling? No. of course not! He was a cygnet, a baby swan...When the ugly duckling finally saw his grownup reflection in the water and noticed a flock of swans nearby, he knew that he was alright. He was beautiful and fit in somewhere.
Some of you have felt that kind of tremendous relief when you have met your birth family. The lesson here is living without any genetic markers can make you feel like an outcast, like the ugly duckling. Whether you have been acting like the ugly duckling or the chameleon or anyone but yourself, no one can really get to know and love you unless you become more real.
This is one good reason to find that lost family of swans to whom you belong. Not only may it answer some questions about how you got put into the duck family, but it may make you realize how beautiful you are. Ducks are beautiful, too. But they don't look like swans. You may have to find someone who looks and acts like you to feel all right about yourself.
Standing in Pop's driveway looking into my own eyes, I beheld the other side of my mirror. I found my eyes and my chin and my skin, but I also found the person with a nature uncommonly like my own. In finally meeting Pop, I could clearly see all my parts for the first time - everything came into focus - a beautiful honest mosaic of my adoptive parents and family, my birth parents, and my self.
Today I realize that knowing both my birth parents is like holding a double-sided hand mirror. On my birth mother's side I hold it up and can see myself at a distance, a reflection perhaps of where I fit into the world; I turn it over to my birth father's side and I can see myself magnified, very much as though I am looking at where I fit inside myself - the two sides of myself, my natures, those that make me whole. For me the image is finally complete.