Adoptees and Boundaries

photo credit: cyc-net.org
One of my favorite books is called Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Growing up with really blurry boundaries, I have had to spend a lot of time repairing boundary wounds and learning new ways to live my life that respect the boundaries of myself and those around me.

Don't we all struggle with boundaries, almost daily?  We all know people who have no boundaries which make it difficult to be around them and then there are others who have such rigid boundaries, you can't ever get to know them.

It's a difficult balance -- one that is amplified when you are adopted.  Here's why:

When a person is adopted, there are a lot of outside forces that are in the adoptee's business.  First, there is the State who determines for the child who they will grow up with.  Then, it is the State that seals the original birth certificate of the child, thereby hiding his/her true identity.

These acts, which are deemed helpful by most governing authorities, occur when most adoptees are still infants and vulnerable.  Although necessary for safety and obligatory to follow law, these acts, in my opinion, are violations of a child's personal boundaries (no matter how positive the intent and necessary for safety).  Protecting a child from harm is paramount and also protects their boundaries. However, in protecting a child's boundaries by placing them with a new family, the child's original identity is then violated by the State.  (Hence, the set-up of believing that adoption cures the whole problem, when truly, in helping, it also hurts by introducing new problems).

These two boundary violations by the State are the beginning of future boundary violations that will occur as the adopted child grows up.  Some of these violations will happen during school years when the child is singled out for being adopted, potentially bullied, and told that their "real parents" didn't love them and "gave them away".  If the child is not the race of the dominant culture, this is amplified. Other boundary violations include family and friends knowing the child's history without revealing that history to the child.

As the child grows up, the adoptive parents may, usually unknowingly, violate the boundaries of the child's original identity by denying it, minimizing it, or at best, keeping it in a box that makes them comfortable.  Again, this is a violation of a child's boundaries in the sense that in order for a child to be feel whole, they must be able to accept all parts of themselves, including their biological origins.

By making this statement, I am not blaming adoptive parents for this boundary violation.  It is inherent in adoption because of the denial by the entire system that a) blood does not change just because of a legal ruling and b) the child has more than one set of parents.

In addition, there is a denial within U.S. adoption law that children's rights should be considered before adults' rights.  If childrens' rights were the utmost importance in the U.S. adoption system, the following would be occurring:

1.  An acknowledgement that a child's biology is sacred and is to be protected at all costs (backed up by law).
2.  A removal of an amended birth certificate.  The original would be accepted as valid.
3.  Adoptive families would be accepted as equal to blood-created families and would not be singled out in obituaries or media articles with the word "adopted".
4.  Proper training and education of adoption professionals, therapists, ministers, attorneys and teachers that removes the need for secrecy and helps combat mythology and stereotypes in adoption.
5.  The glamorization of adoption would end and we would celebrate all families, regardless of how they came to be.

Boundary violations continue into the adulthood of the adoptee when they learn that the State is withholding files and legal documents pertaining to them.  In addition, further boundary wounds occur when the adoptee learns that others inside and outside of their family have kept secrets.  These boundary violations could include any of the following or more:

1.  Never telling the child they are adopted
2.  Telling the child they were adopted when they really were not (one example is when a legal name change occurs but no adoption).
3.  Withholding important documents from the adult adoptee that the adoptive parents received from attorneys, agencies, etc. (i.e. burning them in a fire or "losing" them).
4.   Lying to the adoptee about who the father is (or allowing them to believe a different father is theirs because of legal documents with that father's name)
5.   Failing to advocate for an adoptee by hiding behind rules/laws or over-identifying with adoption agency policies to the detriment of the child (If I had a nickel for every time I heard my mother praise the adoption agency who handled my adoption, I would be a rich lady!)

In addition to boundary violations, adoptees experience micro-aggressions within society.  I was asked at church one day by an educated man, "I bet you are grateful you weren't aborted". I was eating a donut and it almost fell out of my mouth.  I have had people try to "prove me wrong" by stating that their cousin's sister's aunt didn't want to search and is "perfectly content" with being adopted (when people feel free to try to call you out in public, that is usually a sure sign a boundary violation is going on).

We cannot keep on doing adoption the same old way and expect different results.  If we truly care about a child's best interest, then many things need to change in the system of adoption to protect a child's right to his/her original identity and ensure they grow up happy, healthy and whole.






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