In adoption training there’s this notion of “claiming”. You want to show your child, from day one, that they are your child now, and you are their parent. They are your child just as much as their friend is their biological parents’ child. This is meant to help the child feel that the adoption is permanent and that they are accepted.
However, with older children this is more complicated. An older child might have memories from their birth family, and have a sense of identity independent of the adoptive parents. Unlike a baby or a toddler, they can remember a time when you weren’t in their lives. That time is a part of them just as much as the time they have been with you. In the early days of your life together, that time will be a much bigger part.
In that case, insisting that this situation is just like that of a biological child might send the wrong message to the child. It might convey to them that you only accept the part of them that relates to you. It might mean to them that it’s not okay to feel conflicted about their “loyalties” and feelings towards you or their birth parents. Ultimately, it means that you are rejecting a part of them.
Lately, we started discussing the adoption order with D and what it would mean. And as I mentioned in a previous post, she’s having issues with the fact that she’ll need to change her surname. We’ve been exploring it with her and have come up with a couple of insights.
First of all, her surname is a part of her identity. For a while now she’s known herself to be D Smith, and this is her, and changing her surname means parting with that part of her identity and taking on a new identity, which she doesn’t want. Once we, as adopters, take our own feelings of rejection by her of our name out of it, it suddenly seems so clear that of course she wouldn’t want to do it.
Another insight relates to the complex emotions she has towards her birth family. Although she knows they didn’t keep her safe and it wasn’t good for her to live there, she wishes they could’ve cared for her. And of course she would! This is such a messed up situation, with so many conflicts, so many goodbyes and rejections, who would wish for this?
Changing the surname is the final nail in that dream’s coffin. Once she changes her surname, in her eyes she’s no longer part of her family. She’s never going back, and this situation of split loyalties and rejection is going to be her life, now and forever.
We can try and explain to her that she doesn’t need a piece of paper to know that she’s a Smith. That all she has to do is look in the mirror to see her mummy and daddy, that they are all in her heart and nobody could take that away from her. Ultimately, the best we can do for her is acknowledge that this is really messed up. That we all would’ve wished for her to grow up with birth parents who could care for her, and not have to go through all of this.
Because only this way will she understand that we accept all of her, and we get her, and we love her and we will love her forever.
* Names in this post and all other posts have been changed to protect the identity of all involved.