I was on the phone with my mom for about forty-five minutes the other night. She has some new developments in her life that I have mixed feelings about and we were hashing it out like the pals we are. Baby J tuned up about halfway through our conversation, needing a tummy rub and restored binky, and Andrew quickly abandoned his RT homework to take care of it. He knows better than to interrupt one of my long talks with my mother.
Sometimes I feel like the stuff that makes my mom such a wonderful mother works against her just a bit. She is such a big hearted person, such a passionate nurturer that I feel concerned she will be taken advantage of. She won't, of course. My mom is many things, but one of them is wicked smart. Still, I feel overprotective and I worry. Also, I don't like to share, and I just don't have the sort of mother who I will ever get to have all to myself. I wouldn't want that sort, of course, but that doesn't prevent me from getting a little worked up about it now and again.
I was thinking about all this stuff when the latest Open Adoption Roundtable came across the pipeline. Here is the question:
Imagine your child as an adult describing their open adoption experience. What do you hope they will be able to say about you? How did you view their other parents? In what ways did you support their relationship with them?
This is such an important question, and one I haven't really considered deeply. The few times I have cast my mind toward the hazy future in which my daughter is all grown up I guess I've pictured her and I having a relationship that is a lot like the one I have with my own mom. I have just assumed that she will be independent, smart, and self-sufficient but that we will be such good friends. Sometimes when I am changing J or playing with her I'll make a mental note about something I want to tell her when she's older, maybe during a late night phone conversation, about what it was like to be her mom. But I haven't thought a ton about what I hope she will have to say about what it was like for her to be my daughter.
Now, that's not really the question being asked. Heather was careful to note that this OA Roundtable question is not about relationships as much as it is about adoption. She was careful to add that "This is an exercise in thinking about our actions and choices from another's perspective."
I hope that when J describes her life in a semi-open or open adoption she will be able to say that she was raised to love and respect her first family, whether she had the option of knowing and meeting them as a child or not. I hope she will know that Andrew and I wanted openness, were willing to work for it. (I hope, of course, that we will have that opportunity.) I hope that she will be able to say that while she had a lot of feelings about being adopted, whatever her feelings were her mom was there to hear them and did her best to understand. I want J to always know that it is okay for her to walk roads that I haven't traveled, that a real and honest exploration of her heritage and identity is a good thing, and will never be a betrayal of her father or I, or of the family that we make together the three (or more) of us. I hope that she knows her first family, that she doesn't have to ever do a search. But if there comes a time when she does need or want to search I hope that she will be able to say that her adoptive mom was completely behind her, totally supported her, and helped her feel like that work was important and valuable.
There is an underlying principle to my approach to parenting, and to other ways of being in relationship, one I hope J is one day able to articulate and understand.
You see, I don't have the sort of daughter who I will ever get to have all to myself. (I wouldn't want that sort.) The baseline reality is that we all have to share the people we love. We share them with other people, with their first families, with their friends and jobs, vocations and passions. In a very real way no other person, ultimately, belongs to anyone but herself. In another very real way, we all belong to multiple and myriad others: to the family who births us and the one who raises us, to the communities that shape us, the friends and lovers who take and hold pieces of our hearts and dreams and hurts for us, and the partners who we build lives for and with in the most precious, intimate, and precarious ways. Children are no exception to this. We have a different role in the lives of our children than we do our other family or our peers, but the joy and responsibility of parenting is part and parcel with the joy and responsibility of knowing that my child is also a part of this web of belonging. The gossamer threads that join me to her are not at risk simply because she is also connected in deep and important ways to other people. In fact, one of my primary responsibilities is to open up in her the capacity to build those connections to others, the capacity to both know and own herself and to share that self with other people. I hope that when J describes her experience growing up as our adopted daughter she is able to say that she was encouraged to both find herself and connect that self to her whole family, that despite everything that may be working against her she was raised to truly belong to herself and in the world.