Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Michelle Madrid-Branch Answers Your Parenting Adoptee Situations

She's back!

I'm so excited to have adoptee, mom-by-adoption and birth, and truth-teller Michelle Madrid-Branch here today. She's offering some heartfelt, experienced advice on what adoptive parents should do in certain situations they encounter with their adoptees.

And after you read, check out Michelle's brand new children's adoption book: Coco and Olive. You can also catch some riveting adoption essays over at the Quilt of Life and listen to her podcast.

Situation: An adoptee is questioned/made fun of by his/her peers for being in an adoptive multi-racial family.

MMB: This happened to my daughter just about three years ago. She was in 1st grade when another student told her that it was “awful” that she was adopted and that her “real” parents had left her. After speaking with my daughter, I went directly to the school principal. Not in anger, but out of concern. I saw this as an opportunity for awareness and education. The principal had both my daughter and her classmate to his office where he explained the heart of adoption and the beauty of family from all kinds of places and all different situations (multi-racial / multi-cultural). Each child also got to listen to the other as they shared their hearts and their feelings about what had occurred. There was forgiving and hugging. I then spoke to the mother of my daughter’s classmate. She cried on the phone. I told her that all was forgiven. I stressed how much we love her child and that the growth displayed in both our children far outweighed the moment that initiated it all. My daughter, through this hard moment, grew a stronger voice and a deeper awareness for adoption advocacy. She was only in 1st grade, but her wisdom was beyond her years. I learned in this moment, the power and importance of community. Young adoptees need to feel safe to express their feelings: at home, at school, and all points in between. Communication is key. This is a community-wide effort as we raise children who live within the skin of adoption, and within adoptive multi-racial, multi-cultural families. My biggest piece of advice: stay calm and look for the education opportunity. Make sure your child is okay and be the example of how to move through difficult conversations with empathy and grace. 

Situation: An adoptee is triggered by a particular adoption-themed (or simply an adoption topic that comes up in) book or movie.

MMB: This question triggers a distinct memory in me of being in my home country of Great Britain and taking my then five-year old son to a stage performance of The Lion King, in London’s West End. Ian (now 14) had been asking to see the live musical for quite some time. We were delighting in the performance when a song between Mufasa and Simba ignited a strong emotional response in my little boy. He started to cry from the deepest place within him. I gently picked him up and carried him into a quiet area of the theatre's lobby. I said, “Ian, can you tell me what you’re feeling, son?” He shook his head, no. “Ian, I am going to hold you in my arms and I want you to know that you are safe to cry as long as you need to. I love you. And, I love all those you are crying for inside of yourself, even if you cannot speak their names. They are with you and within you, son. And, it’s okay to feel and to cry. I’m not leaving. And, I’m proud of your incredible, sensitive heart.” I held Ian and let him move through what was obvious grief triggered by a song between a father and son in The Lion King. Adoptees will be triggered by so many things that they experience in the world. What’s most important is that they are heard and that we make the effort to understand, so that every adoptee can feel understood. My biggest piece of advice: you won’t always be able to foresee the things that may trigger an emotional response in your child-of-adoption. Just be ready to respond when the reaction occurs. Don’t make your child feel guilty, or ashamed, or bad for feeling what needs to be felt. Just listen. Hold them. And, let them know that you’ll always be there. 

Situation: An adoptee asks that parents refer to the child by the child’s BIRTH name vs. their current/legal name.

MMB: I have intimate experience with this question. My legal name is Michelle. It was the name given to me upon my adoption. My BIRTH name was JuliΓ© Dawn. Many times, growing up, I mourned my birth name. It was as if a part of me had been erased—taken without my consent. I never went back to JuliΓ© Dawn, but I did take back part of my birth father’s surname of Madrid. It was a legal change that, I’m sure, my adoptive parents struggled to understand. For me, it was liberating. It was done out of love for myself and the burning desire to live in my truth. My biggest piece of advice: I urge parents-by-adoption to listen and hear their children if they ask to be referred to by their birth name. Don’t take this personal. It’s not a rejection of you as their parent, or a diminishing of the love they hold for you. Have open and honest conversation and be transparent with each other. It’s my belief that keeping a child’s birth name (along with adding an adoptive name, if you choose) is a healthy approach. I’ve done that with both of my children: I’ve kept their birth names and woven in their adoptive names. I’d be happy and honored to refer to them in any way they feel is best for them. If you, as parent, know your child's birth name—and if you would like to add an adoptive name—please be ready to be open and receptive if your child decides that their birth name feels more “like home” to them. This is about identity. Truth-in-identity, for every adoptee, should be celebrated and embraced—always. 

Situation: An adoptee wants to refer to his/her bio parents as “mom” or “dad” and no longer by their first name or “birth mom” / “birth dad.”

MMB: My first thought in answering this very real and possible situation is to begin with a question: Why has it been acceptable (even encouraged) to use the term "birth mom / birth dad" but unacceptable (even discouraged) to say "adoptive mom / adoptive dad?" No judgment, but this is worthy of real, honest contemplation. I can only speak for myself here, as an adoptee, who has grappled with these terms over the course of my life. There seem to be so many rules that can keep the adoptee from finding his/her own sense of peace within his/her own adoption story. What each adoptee feels comfortable calling a first parent, should be a decision for the adoptee. Every adoptee should feel safe and secure in communicating this comfort level with the adults in their lives. As I coach adult adoptees, today, along the path toward healing, I often witness them struggling with finding a balance between the two worlds that they live in: biology and biography. It’s a struggle, all too often, rooted in guilt. We can help relieve this guilt by giving adoptees the permission to fully claim their stories, even down to the names of those within their stories. Please hear me when I say that birth mom and birth dad ARE mom and dad, and they have names. As an adoptee, referring to my birth mum as “mum,” felt right. She carried me in her womb and gave me life. She is and will always be my very first mother—no matter the circumstance that caused us to part. I don’t hold her in a higher place or with more love than my adoptive mother—my “mom.” I value my mothers equally. For me to lessen either of their value, in my eyes, would be akin to lessening my own sense of self-value. My biggest piece of advice: if the adoptee in your life desires to call a birth mom / birth dad by their first name, or by mom and dad—please, don’t make fists where open hands and open hearts should reside. In other words, don’t fight. Work to understand. Take ego out of the equation and let love rule. 


Say hello to Michelle on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta (whichever is your fave to use!) And catch me on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, too!

Thanks to Michelle for the incredible book review of The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption! ^^^

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