Family camps can be highly motivating and empowering experiences for families (Lewicki, Goyette, & Marr 1996) and can act as a tremendous catalyst for forming healthy attachments in a family system.
My five-year-old son, Victor, has known his birth parents his entire life, and he’s met all of his birth aunts, uncles and grandparents.
We go to adoption gatherings and meetups, and he knows umpteen kids who were adopted. We talk about adoption, we read about adoption, and we stand out as an adoptive family. Sometimes, I feel like we are adoption. The problem is we’ve done such a great job of normalizing adoption that Victor thinks all kids were adopted.
I grew up in and out of foster care, where sometimes it felt like no one cared. All I wanted was a family and a home that was mine, but that wasn’t in the cards for me.
Instead I got a system that moved me from home to home more times than I can count and certainly more than I care to remember. When I aged out of the guardianship of the system that was my parent, I found myself homeless. I was still struggling to overcome abuse and neglect.
Lisa Gunderson is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who focuses on multicultural issues. She is an award-winning educator and inclusivity consultant for educational and organizational institutions. During her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she specialized in issues for minoritized youth, including ethnic identity. We asked Dr. Gunderson your questions about identity.
Back in the early 1970’s, there wasn’t much support for adoptive parents. My adopted brother and I were raised just like my sister, my parent’s only biological child.
It didn’t matter that we all had different birth parents. We were three peas in a single pod. That was the story, and I believed it, because I believed in my mother. She did the best she could with the resources that were available to her. I didn’t think I was different because I was adopted. Yet, my mom was sometimes confused by my behaviour and I was confused by her reactions.
Decades ago, when my parents found out they couldn’t have children, adoption was less complex than it is now.
With more adoptable infants available in the region, they were able to have their “dream” family of one boy and one girl relatively quickly. My brother was adopted first in the mid 1960s, and I followed a little less than four years later. The application for my adoption included a photo of my dad, my mom, and my brother, Brent, in matching shirts hand-made by my mom.
Our son, River, was three weeks old when he was taken from the Xi’an Social Welfare Institute (SWI) in China and given a new start at the Starfish Foster Home.
Starfish cared for Xi’an’s most sick and vulnerable children, and was started in 2005 by Amanda de Lange, a native of South Africa. River was there until we came to adopt him on June 20, 2011; although, for the most part, he lived at night with foster parents, Zhou and BaoRong Zhang, and their daughter Christy.
My son Gabriel has been talking about tattoos since he was about 14 or 15. He has always talked about wanting the tattoos to have some meaning for him, as opposed to just being a picture he likes. His first tattoo, which he got at age 18, was of the Liberty bell. It was representative of where he was born (Philadelphia) and says “circa 1993,” which is his birth year.
At the beginning of our adoption, emotions were high, birth family visits were frequent, and roles were unclear. Well-meaning friends and family members suggested that it might just be “a whole lot easier if our adoption was closed.” We could bond with our baby without interference, and the birth parents could “get on with their lives.”
Britta West is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Clinical Traumatologist located in Burnaby, BC. She completed her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University in 2009. In 2012, Britta completed the Clinical Traumatologist specialization from the Traumatology Institute. Her areas of expertise include attachment, trauma, mental health and behavioural health diagnoses and parenting. Britta provides therapeutic interventions to address these issues in the context of the family system.