On the way home from dropping my daughter off at school this morning, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West. I was captivated because Matthew played it acoustically on guitar. For me, there’s nothing like an acoustic performance with just the artist’s voice and his instrument. As I listened to the song, a wave of grief struck me. I thought about a particularly painful time in my life. My adolescent years. I thought about my adoptive mom and the difficulties in our relationship when I was a teen. Our conflicts were rooted in a serious lack of understanding. We didn’t know how to work through our misunderstandings and differences. My mom also had an angry streak that scared me to death. She often lost control of her anger when upset or stressed.
One of the earliest memories I have of that anger is when I was in the first grade. I struggled with severe separation anxiety as a youngster. One day at school, like many others before, I had a stomachache and pleaded with my teacher to have my mom called. Mrs. Dent was the sweetest teacher, and I liked her very much, but I’m sure I was her most perplexing student. I watched as she whispered into the ear of another teacher, no doubt about me. The stomachaches had become somewhat of a routine. Finally, my mom was called and she came to pick me up from work. When we got home, she was very upset and disciplined me. I was so confused and cried for a long time. At that age, I had no idea what was going on inside– I just panicked everyday at school when she dropped me off. As I got older, the panic subsided, but the feelings of being a misfit and all alone never went away.
Somewhere during my teen years, everything changed. No longer was I the shy, docile and compliant child. I began rebelling against my mom’s authority and controlling nature. The friends that I wanted so much to fit in with, the “popular” crowd,” had parents that were much more lenient than mine. When I wanted to hang out with them late at night, my mom put her foot down. She could be very domineering and often made decisions for me that I hated, i.e., participating in the marching band at school, forbidding me from participating in clubs I was interested in, etc, etc. I started drinking with my friends during my freshman year in high school. Drinking gave me a false sense of confidence. When my mom found a liquor bottle at the bottom of one of my bags, she was enraged. I often feared her erratic and angry reactions, which only fueled my resentment toward her.
I couldn’t wait for college and to move out of my parents’ home. It was liberating to get out from under my mom’s control and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I would purposely stay in the dorms during the holidays (although I’d show up for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals) because I didn’t want to be around Mom. After college graduation, I couldn’t wait to move out of Louisiana. I moved to Florida the following year.
When I moved, I knew that it hurt and worried both of my parents, especially my mom. My dad didn’t say a whole lot, but Mom made it clear that she didn’t approve. I know that it left a gaping hole in her heart. Again, I purposely avoided going home for the holidays. At the same time, I felt very conflicted inside, guilty for hurting both my parents. Getting away from home was more important to me at the time, however.
When I look back, I realize that the underlying cause of all the conflict stemmed from my struggle for identity. My adoptive parents were ill-equipped to help me face the social pressures of fitting in with my peers, racism, insecurity and acceptance. There was little communication between my parents and I about real issues. I knew that they loved me, but it was rarely expressed in words by any of us.
A turning point came after I became a Christian and had my own daughter. By then, my dad had passed away. I soon learned what it was like to work full-time, have a marriage and family, come home and cook dinner and try to keep a household together (my mom worked full-time as a registered nurse). I understand now what it’s like for your teen to make a remark or cop an attitude that slices right through your heart. Somewhere along the line I realized that my adoptive parents did the best they could with very little knowledge or support on how to raise a transracially adopted kid. I understand the struggle that they must have felt, too, especially my mom, in the inability to reach me. I’ve come to understand that transracial adoption is challenging, and adoptive parents are faced with a difficult task.
Sometimes people ask me if I’m angry at my adoptive parents for telling me that I was Vietnamese and Japanese and then learning that I’m actually Taiwanese. I might have been 20 something years ago. Actually, I’m sorry that I can’t share with my parents what I’ve learned about myself and transracial adoption. I regret that I did not spend more time with them when they were still alive and that we never had the chance to resolve all the hurts. I know there was an unspoken forgiveness, but there are things that I wish that I’d expressed to my parents that I did not, most of all that I loved them.
As the song ended, I reminded myself of all the good and right things my adoptive parents did. As a mom and adult in mid-life, I see them in such a different way. I remember their generosity, their love, their sacrifice, their desire to see me happy and successful. Despite that painful period, I have many happy memories of my family. I appreciate these lyrics from the song,”Forgiveness”:
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
It took a long time for me to let go of the resentment I had towards my mom. I understand her more today than ever before, and I forgive her as I hope she did me. Life is so short. I truly wish that I had realized that years ago.
To hear the amazing story behind the song, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West, watch the video below. And have some Kleenex nearby!