Tag Archives: relationships

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and have been out of the office, lazing around watching Netflix and drinking hot tea. There is much value in slowing down, although I don’t recommend getting sick in order to do so. When you do get that down time, you sometimes realize how fast life is going and that you’ve been rather spinning.  In those moments, I try to slow down and look for things that bring comfort. So, this morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring. The song list included: 1) John Denver: “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” 2) Tom Adams: “In Darkness,” 3) Sharon Van Etten: “Come Back Kid,” 4: SOAK: “Everybody Loves You,” 5: Miya Folick: “THingaming,” 6) Jason Lytle: “Color of Dirt,” 7) J.S. Ondara: “American Dream.” I loved all of the songs, but the song that stood out to me this morning was John Denver’s, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Talk about a song that just hits you right in the middle of the heart.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Maybe it has to do with getting older, but lately, I’ve given much thought to the days of old, reflecting on raising my daughter, going to graduate school, and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about easier times. When my daughter was growing up, I taught piano to mostly young kids, but a few adults, so I could be home with her. I felt pressure to get a full-time job to supplement our household income, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It was a slower life back then, characterized primarily by being a mom, my most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college, and I’m working full-time, trying to achieve clinical licensure. The chapters related to raising a family have closed, and new ones have opened. I’m not particularly enjoying the new chapters as much as the older ones.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that after all of the graduate school, student loans, ambition, and achievements, I’m pretty tired. And more importantly, I realize that it was primarily to gain a sense of self worth and significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying every minute of it and letting go of *!@# that brings you down. I wish that I could impress that upon my daughter, who is just starting her life as a grown up. She is doing so well, despite many challenges in her beautiful, young life. Motherhood taught me a lot about life and love and ease. I guess that’s why I miss it so much, not that I don’t continue to mother, it’s just different now. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. That is why I need to get back to Taiwan. To see my birth family. Yes, there is something to be said and learned from achieving and making a difference. But, life is short, and you cannot go back. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let naysayers dissuade you. Surround yourself with others who support you and your dreams because God knows, life is not always easy. I wish that someone had told me these things when I was a young woman.

So, I’ll continue marching on toward achieving clinical licensure, and we’ll see what lanes open up. I truly hope that it has not all been in vain, as things that are most valuable do not come by way of a diploma or a degree or clinical hours. There are moments in time I wish I could redo; nevertheless, life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

 

 

attachment and attachment styles

In this post, I’ll discuss attachment and attachment styles, including adult attachment styles. This will be a very broad discussion of attachment because it’s such a complex subject!

We know that children who are in foster care and/or have been adopted experience disruption in primary attachment relationships due to relinquishment, abuse, neglect, multiple placements, etc. The separation of a child from his/her first or natural mother is the most significant disruption. The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton-Verrier is a great resource for learning more about the significance of this initial disruption in an adoptee’s life.

Attachment can be described as “a reciprocal process by which an emotional connection develops between an infant and his/her primary caregiver.”2 It influences the child’s physical, neurological, cognitive and psychological development and becomes the basis for development of basic trust or mistrust.” It shapes how the child will learn and relate to the world and others. In other words, attachment is the give and take relationship between the child and parent primary caregiver. It is critical to a child’s healthy behavioral, social, emotional and neurological development. Healthy attachment teaches a child to trust and to form healthy relationships throughout his/her life.

I will not discuss attachment theory fully, as there are a plethora of textbooks and articles written specifically on that. Suffice it to say that key researchers include John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Mary Main, and Vera Fahlberg. Bowlby believed that a child’s healthy psychological development was dependent upon a safe and functional relationship with a parent or caregiver. Bowlby theorized that attachment begins in infancy via a bond between the child and the most present, attentive caregiver. This first relationship forms the basis of the internal working models for the child, influencing his or her thoughts, feelings, and expectations with regard to future relationships. Mary Main developed the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), which is widely recognized as the tool for assessing adult attachment. And Vera Fahlberg is a doctor who formalized the arousal-relaxation cycle, the positive interaction cycle and claiming behaviors in the early 1990s. She wrote A Child’s Journey through Placement, which is a standard training textbook for child welfare workers. Many others have stepped forward and contributed to attachment theory over the years.

In my last post, Healing Childhood TraumaI discussed the arousal-relaxation cycle and how it influences the attachment process in the infant’s first year of life. In a nutshell, an infant expresses a need through crying, fussing, or otherwise raging, which causes her stress response system to become aroused. Her caregiver meets the need, and the infant relaxes. The child’s parasympathetic nervous system helps calm her body once the distress has passed. This dance between infant and caregiver occurs multiple times throughout the first year of life. The signs and symptoms of attachment problems develop as a result of the way a child’s parent/caregiver behaves toward her, environmental factors, and her own particular psychological traits. If a child’s caregiver is unresponsive toward her needs or inconsistent in meeting her needs, she will be at risk for attachment problems. Unattached children have difficulty relating normally to others. For example, it’s common for foster and adoptive parents to report that their child is manipulative, lacks a conscience, or is unable to show genuine affection, when these behaviors are very likely the result of insecure attachment and significant trauma. It’s important to recognize this so that the child is not punished repeatedly for bad behavior, but rather the most appropriate interventions and parenting strategies are sought and learned by the parents. The child does not have it in his wheelhouse to respond in behaviorally/emotionally appropriate ways because brain wiring and neurochemistry have been greatly altered by trauma. Essential areas in the brain that control executive function, common sense, emotional control, etc. are underdeveloped and must be healed in order for change to occur. And this takes time…I’ll say more about trauma and attachment sensitive parenting strategies in another post.

Attachment Styles

Mary Ainsworth pioneered an experiment called the Strange Situation Test. This test was developed and is used to examine the pattern of attachment between a child and the mother or caregiver. The results of the experiment were categorized into four specific types of attachment: Secure, Insecure/Avoidant, Insecure/Ambivalent, and Insecure/Disorganized. Parenting styles are associated with each of these types of attachment. The Insecure/Avoidant and Insecure/Ambivalent attachment styles are interchangeable with or otherwise known as the Anxious/Avoidant and Anxious/Ambivalent attachment styles.

Secure Attachment

Children with a Secure attachment style have a caregiver who consistently responds to them when upset. The infant cries and learns to trust that a caregiver will be available to respond to her needs. Children secure in their attachment go on to have healthy social functioning, have fewer behavioral problems at school, and can become competent leaders within their peer group. They grow up into adults who trust that they are worthy of receiving love, are able to give love/care/nurture, negotiate their needs, and remain autonomous.

Insecure Avoidant Attachment

In Ainsworth’s studies of mothers and infants, observations showed that when some infants became distressed, their bids for comfort were rejected by their mothers. The mothers of these babies were also uncomfortable with close bodily contact. The behaviors exhibited by these infants were later categorized as Insecure/avoidant. Avoidant children do not have caregivers who consistently respond to their needs. When activation of their attachment system leads to painful rejection, infants may develop a strategy where their attachment systems are activated as little as possible.2 These are infants who learn not to cry when they have a need. Avoidant infants and adults appear to suppress activation of their attachment systems, or in other words, have trouble seeking care.

In laboratory studies of babies separated from their mothers, observations revealed that some babies did not seek the mother for comfort or even interaction upon her return as most infants do2. These infants rather actively avoided the mother and became focused on toy play. Avoidant children learn to turn defensively toward self-soothing behaviors, e.g., a play activity, due to past painful rejection when expressing a need.

Evidence demonstrates that avoidant children tend to mask negative affect and replace feelings of sadness with a smile.2 These children often avoid adult eye contact, thus precluding any comfort or reassurance an adult might offer. Although avoidant children may feel and display sadness, they may do so only when there is no child-adult eye contact or when an adult is not present.

Data shows that individuals with an avoidant or Dismissive Adult Attachment style  have trouble seeking or receiving care and giving care. For example, they may fail to share their concerns with others, and may, in fact, withdraw from others as they become more anxious. A number of other studies report that avoidant adults are less likely than secure adults to seek support in response to stress.

Insecure Ambivalent Attachment

Ainsworth observed that mothers of Insecure/Ambivalent infants were inconsistent in providing care. Sometimes these caregivers were loving and responsive, but only when they could manage, not in response to the infant’s signals. An infant whose mother is sometimes responsive, but at other times, preoccupied or overwhelmed, may develop a strategy to stay near the mother at all times.2 The infant cannot count on her mother to monitor her needs. She may cling and vigilantly monitor her mother’s availability in case some need arises. The infant/child takes on a disproportionate share of the burden in maintaining the connection. As a result, hyperactivation of the attachment system occurs.2 These infants/children may show extreme distress on separation and difficulty in calming upon reunion. They may display angry, resistant behavior toward the parent. The negative emotionality of the ambivalent child may be exaggerated and chronic, as the child recognizes that to relax and allow herself to be soothed by the presence of the attachment figure is risky – she may very well lose contact with the inconsistently available caregiver.2 The child may have trouble maintaining boundaries between another person’s distress and his own. Furthermore, the child may feel that the only way to gain care is by sending exaggerated signals of need.

This hyperactivation in adults with an ambivalent or Entangled Adult Attachment style manifests as an insatiability for closeness to others.2 These adults may have a desire to merge with a significant other. They portray themselves in relationships as ‘preoccupied’ and may be particularly upset by relationship breakups. The heightened desire for closeness reflects an impairment of the attachment system. Ambivalent adults may expect others to fill all their needs; thus, they have difficulty negotiating needs and remaining autonomous. They may be codependent or threatened by another’s desire for autonomy. Obviously, this behavior can lead to ambivalence and resentment in both the individual and the significant others in his life.

Insecure/Disorganized Attachment

Children with an Insecure/Disorganized Attachment style have had experiences of maternal/caregiver behavior that is so frightening or unpredictable that they are incapable of developing an organized, strategic response to it.2 Their attachment systems are behaviorally disorganized. The child has no pattern for how to relate to her caregiver. She may behave erratically with toys and might prefer a stranger over her caregiver. These infants may demonstrate a high-pitched cry and/or shriek.

Children with a disorganized attachment style may have the most severe difficulties related to seeking care. Frightening behavior by a caregiver activates simultaneous competing tendencies: to flee to the parent as a safe haven, and to flee from the parent in response to alarm. In this paradoxical situation, there is no organized behavioral strategy available.2 The infant/child is in a terrible position, as neither proximity-seeking nor proximity-avoiding is a solution, and the resulting behavioral responses become freezing, disorientation, and/or disorganization. The adult with a disorganized, or Unresolved Adult Attachment style, has difficulty giving and receiving care/love/nurture, negotiating needs, and remaining autonomous.

In Summary

It’s important to know that these attachment styles are fluid. You may see features of yourself in each of the attachment styles, or may notice that you lean toward one attachment style with one person, e.g., your spouse, and a different attachment style with another, e.g., your mother. This is normal, the point really is to notice and gain awareness.

None of us has a perfect attachment style. Learning and understanding which style I lean toward has given me incredible insight into why I behave as I do and why some of my relationships are more difficult than others. As a younger adult, I was often told that I seemed aloof, that other’s did not feel connected to me, and that I lacked facial expression. Can you guess what my attachment style is?

Upon reflection, I recognized that I did not have a strong attachment, if any at all, to any one person during infancy, as I was in an orphanage for the first four months of my life. My relationship with my adoptive parents was not emotionally close. They provided for all of my physical needs, but I did not feel connected to either of my parents. I loved them, but I had great difficulty expressing my needs and showing affection. My adoptive parents were ill-equipped to nurture a strong attachment. They did the best they could with the knowledge they had, which was pretty minimal. This insight has empowered me to be more intentional in how I interact with certain others in my life. It’s also helped me to understand how important it is for fost/adoptive parents to understand attachment, and furthermore, to get appropriate training and education. I hope that this very brief overview of attachment and attachment styles is of benefit to you and gives you some insight into your own particular style.

                                                                                                                                               

1 The Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (ATTACh). Retrieved from http://www.attach.org/about-us/attach-accepted-definitions/.

2 Cassidy, J. (2001). Truth, lies, and intimacy: An attachment perspective. Attachment & Human Development, 3(2), 121-155.

Featured Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

as the world turns

slava-bowman-161206Do you remember that old soap opera, “As the World Turns?” I wasn’t a fan of the show, but do vividly remember the opening credits, a globe of the earth spinning round and round in space. My favorite soap was “Santa Barbara.” My mom and Grandma Bushmiller got me hooked on that one. When I was in high school, Grandma bought the house next door to us, the same one that our family friends, the Reynolds, lived in for years. I would walk next door to Grandma’s house, and she would have her old RCA turned up so loud that the floors literally shook. Grandma was hard of hearing. She didn’t wear hearing aids, but she sure could have used them. We lived in Bossier City, Louisiana at that time. One weekend, I went to the annual Peach Festival in Ruston, Louisiana, just to meet the actor (A. Martinez) who played the character, Cruz, in “Santa Barbara.” I waited patiently in line that hot summer afternoon to get an autographed headshot. Apparently, A Martinez went to school with some official who lived in Ruston, and that’s how he came to visit the Peach Festival. When it was my turn to get my signed headshot, I told the actor of my dream to pursue acting. He looked at me, not even a hint of a smile crossed his face, and told me not to do it. I don’t remember his exact words, but that was it in a nutshell. Of course, I didn’t take his advice, and after graduating college, I moved to Florida then LA to pursue acting after I’d gotten my SAG card for some bit part I had in a movie. Seems like that time in my life was somebody else’s. I was so young and naive, yet thought I knew it all. I had a lot to learn and, unfortunately, it came the hard way.

Three decades later, I’m still learning. Most people my age have settled into a career and have been at it for years. I’m starting another new job and am feeling the steep climb necessary to learn a new skill set and get familiar with a new role and agency. I do not want to experience anymore transition for a very long time. Speaking of transition, I was in the company of some good friends last night whose son just graduated from high school. I felt for my friends, as I remember the heartache I felt when our daughter left for college. Pure agony. Our kids used to play together, and my friend and I would watch Jane Austen movies while they played. My family and I were in San Diego to celebrate and reconnected with some other families we hadn’t seen in years. We all attended the same church a long time ago. One of the moms said that she was considering pursuing an MSW or Master’s in Education so she could teach. She worked in social services at one time and was familiar with the agency I currently work for. I shared with her the challenges of the social work profession and hoped that I didn’t come across too negative, but felt I had to be honest.

It was really good to see our old friends and their kids. I said that I missed having a school aged child at home. I missed feeling grounded, despite all of the running around for extracurricular activities, our daughter’s friends in our home, teaching piano, etc. I taught piano on and off for years while our daughter was growing up so that I could be at home with her. Maybe I should have just stuck with teaching. I went to graduate school for social work because I’ve always wanted to help people, especially adoptees. But even more so, I had something to prove to myself, which is probably not the best reason to spend an exorbitant amount of money. In any case, it is what it is. I’m in a tough profession. I’d like to believe that over the last few years, I’ve ruled out what I don’t want to do in the profession. It’s taken a pretty big toll on my physical health, but I’m finally in a place where the pace is slower and I may be able to stick it out. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that it’s taken nearly two years following graduate school to figure it out – it follows the pattern of my life – it appears, a late bloomer I will always be

So, here’s to new, new beginnings. Ugh, just saying that makes me tired. I hope that it’s the last one for awhile, perhaps forever. Good news, once we get through this month and September, cooler weather and my favorite time of the year, Autumn, will arrive. My oh my, a lot has happened. I’m beginning to love the area we live in though and finding new stomping grounds. Still commuting to work, so that hasn’t changed. Well, at least there’s one constant…

Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

saving grace

I always wonder how much to divulge of a personal nature on my blog. Sometimes, I think I go a little too far and later regret it. This may be one of those times, but here goes. As I have expressed before, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most as an adoptee is identity. I was adopted during an era when adoptive parents were discouraged from talking to their children about their own adoption. What little my adoptive parents did share with me was related to their own experience– in other words their joy in adopting me, never any information about my birthfamily or birth heritage. Growing up, I was extremely shy and painfully insecure. To what degree adoption vs. personality played a role in that, I’m not sure. As I got older, my adoptive parents did not see through the smokescreen of rebellious behavior to the identity confusion I struggled with and offered little emotional support. The happily ever after bubble burst somewhere around pre-adolescence. My adoptive mother exasperated it all by becoming more authoritarian while my father remained mostly passive. I became extremely fearful of her angry antics. This did very little to foster any sense of self and largely crippled the growth of independence. Instead it lead to a passivity in my character and a fear of anger that to this day make me cringe. I was inept at displaying emotion, and bonding with others was difficult. Those who did not know me well perceived me as aloof.

Around my mid-twenties, I moved to CA to pursue a career in acting, a passion I’d had since college. I was full of zeal at the prospect of becoming an actress, but terribly naive. The zeal quickly deflated as I realized the difficulty in getting past an audition and securing an actual part. It had been much easier in Florida. With the lack of social support and a few crazy roommates along the way, I quickly became depressed. That’s when I moved to Orange Co. with some friends from college. One day, I was approached by a very friendly young woman who invited me to dinner. I was a little surprised at her friendliness, but happily accepted. When I showed up to dinner, I found myself in the midst of a group of college girls. What I didn’t know was that they were holding a bible talk after dinner. That totally freaked me out, and I left promptly hoping to never see them again. The young woman for weeks called me to invite me to her church. One Sunday, I accepted for no other reason than to prevent her from calling me anymore. The service was held at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. I was shocked at how many people were there and how loud everyone was. We went to a music club afterwards where a band performed and members of the church congregated. This appealed to me because I loved music. The next week, I found myself in a series of bible studies led by a woman whose goal was to help me become a Christian. Soon after, I did. I was elated. I found the emotional and social support I longed for. I had a relationship with God. It was almost too good to be true. In fact, it was. The fairy tale became a nightmare as I took on a greater role within the church as a leader in the singles ministry.

For the next 14 years of my life, I endured psychological abuse at the hand of many of the church’s leaders. The church itself was a hierarchy. The top leader exerted power from above through complete control of the church and its leaders. No one questioned his authority. It was all for the purpose of growing the church and making as many disciples as possible. I remember the first leaders meeting that I went to with my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband. We had begun a Vietnamese ministry, and my boyfriend was being considered to lead a mission team to Vietnam to build a church there. I resisted strongly to having any part of  this ministry, as I felt about as Vietnamese as the man in the moon, but was pressured and felt guilty about not co-leading with my boyfriend. At this meeting, the region leader asked for specific information that helped predict future growth or decline in membership. When I was asked how many bible studies I was in and how many predictions for baptisms I wanted to make, I was beyond perplexed. I had no idea what that meant and no one bothered to tell me. So I made a guess. Of course, none of my predictions came through the following week. What I quickly learned was that if your predictions failed, there was something wrong with you and your leadership. You were in some type of sin or not taking enough initiative as a leader. Soon our particular region went through a change in leaders, which happened ever so often. This group of leaders was particularly harsh. Because of my passive and quiet nature, the women’s region leader saw fit to put me through leadership boot camp via verbal rebukes, intimidation, and pressure tactics. For a woman who already had identity issues, this was extremely painful and fear inducing, which caused me to feel even more insecure about myself. I was called “vanilla” because I lacked personality. I was rebuked for bad planning when the church planned a luncheon after service and we ran out of food. I did not compare to my boyfriend who was baptizing people left and right. This particular leader called me at work one afternoon to rebuke me over the phone on my lack of bible studies. After hanging up, I went into the bathroom and cried. I just never measured up. This went on for years. What strikes me now is that I never stood up for myself, nor did anyone else.

Eventually, my boyfriend and I got married. Three years later, I became pregnant. We were working for the church at that time, paid ministry leaders. It was the worst year of my life. The higher up in leadership you were, the more subject to scrutiny and abuse you became. I dreaded every week going to those leaders meetings. The insecurity among all the leaders at our level was thick. Who would receive a rebuke this week? Who would be singled out? I hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t be me. I continued to receive comments from other leaders on my “vanilla personality” and lack of friendship building skills with other women in our sector. It was hard for me to feel any sense of identity because we were all forced to conform. We had one collective identity, and anything outside of that was quickly squashed. I was miserable.

Finally, our daughter arrived. I had a difficult delivery, and our daughter had a rather traumatic entry into this world. It took me several months afterward to regain my strength. It was worth it as they say, as the birth of our daughter was truly my saving grace. I cannot tell you how much having a baby changed my life. She became my everything and the one thing that kept me going. Other women in our sector noticed a difference in my personality. I’d become more genuine, more loving, softer. I had never experienced that kind of love before– the kind of love a mother feels for her child. I understood how much God loved me. Lexie was a fussy baby, and I often worried about leaving her with another member from the church as I went off to leaders meetings. I wonder if some of it had to do with the stress that I felt. A year after going on staff at the church, my husband and I were asked to step out. We obviously had not measured up. I have never been more relieved than I was at that moment.

Years later, another leader in the church stood up to the top leader, and the top leader and his wife were forced to step down. He and his wife eventually left the church to build another of their own. My husband and I very soon afterwards decided to move to Arizona, which was highly disapproved by the leaders above us. It was after moving here that I began to get in touch with and heal from all of the trauma caused by the church. I went through several stages during this period– depression, anger, grief. I felt invisible for a long time, but I was heading toward recovery. I went back to school and became a music therapist. Slowly, my self esteem grew and I began to build a stronger sense of self. I look back on that period in the church as a time of growth, even though it was quite painful. It forced me to gain a sense of responsibility and independence that I’d never had before. It’s given me a deeper sense of compassion for people. I know that the leaders who abused me were themselves being abused by leaders above them. In many ways, although you might think the opposite to be true, I learned to serve others. Of course, the light that shone the brightest then still beams the brightest today– my daughter, who continues to teach me how to love. Of all of her many virtues, her ability to extend grace towards others even when they disappoint or hurt her amazes me. Grace always wins.

Why do I share all of this? First, I had some discussions with someone recently that stirred up some painful memories that I thought  had been laid to rest. Second, if I had had a stronger sense of self and identity, perhaps I would have been bolder and confronted some of those abusive leaders or just left. Lastly, I urge adoptive parents to take seriously the huge responsibility given to you in guiding and shaping your adopted child’s identity, self-esteem, and general well-being in a positive way. Whether your child takes interest in his/her cultural roots and identity at one stage or not doesn’t mean that it will remain that way forever. We all question who we are at different points in our lives. Adoptees’ feelings and thoughts about adoption change with time and life experience. Foster open communication with them about their adoption. Adoption is not a happily ever after fairy tale. It is a traumatic event for the adoptee no matter how loving and supportive you are, especially in those first few years of adjustment– even if your child seems well-adjusted. I don’t want to pathologize adoption, but as an adoptee, I feel it only right to talk about such critical issues. Adoptive parents today are certainly more aware of some of the challenges that present in transracial adoption. This is a good thing. Let’s keep things moving in that direction.

After 40-something years of struggling with identity, I am at peace with who I am. I have learned to say what I think, even though it still feels uncomfortable at times. Reuniting with my birthfamily brought me back to my cultural roots. I can’t imagine never having met them in this lifetime. I don’t carry around any malice towards those who hurt me. On the contrary, I feel sad about the aftermath that followed many of them, as well as other members of the church. I’m stronger as a result of all that’s happened, and that’s what counts. I realize now that God is much more gracious than I ever made Him out to be, and grace always wins.

forgiveness

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

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

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!