self esteem

Adoptee Speakers; Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard. Impertinence Is Not.

In my public speeches, I often incorporate a photocopy of a memo written by the adoption agency to my parents, where the agency offered me at a discounted and negotiable rate since I am black and had/have special needs (AKA, a "failure to thrive" in adoption lingo). I share this sensitive information for the purpose of educating on the topic of the fragility of adoptees and the possible origins of a fragile sense of worth.  Inevitably, this tangible document asserting my monetary worth has crept into my subconscious, making it difficult to gauge my conceptual self worth.   Psychological studies, or a simple look at the correlation between American greed and US depression rates tell us that a genuine positive self-esteem cannot be obtained by outside goods or materialism, but self esteem can be damaged by external forces. I know this to be true by experience. Let me explain.

I recently fulfilled my contractual obligation to speak at a culture camp specifically for transracial adoptive families. Over two days, I gave the keynote speech, led my Transracial Adoption 101 workshop, and joined another well renown speaker on the topic of birthparent relationships. In a nutshell, I bled emotionally on stage, offering a behind the scenes, deeper look at Closure, sharing many truths typically reserved for a behind closed doors, confidential session in a therapists office. I enter in to these spaces willingly and excitedly as it is my desire to educate others for the sake of the spurning powerful and necessary conversations. My emotional weight lifting and vulnerability resulted in countless thanks from the participants for helping to expand their worldview. The weekend was fatiguing, but overall, it felt to be a wild success, a victory in the name of adoption education!  Well, not quite...

On the final day, I met with the director to settle up before heading back to the airport. To my surprise, I was not met with my payment, but rather a blank check that she dangled like a candy bribe in front of a misbehaving child and her cutting words; "I haven't made your check out yet, because you weren't available enough to the families during downtime. The families wanted more from you. I'd like to know what you think you're worth?" I felt immediately triggered for obvious reasons. Her words have proven to aid in the external demotion of my self worth.

There seems to be an expectation for us adoptees to either shell out our private, potentially traumatic life story whenever anyone asks, or to speak for free as a sort of restitution for having been given a "better life." In my case, there was an unknown and thus unmet expectation for me to be 100% available to all of the guests, foregoing sleep, rest or simple rejuvenation after a challenging educational session and a red-eye cross country flight.

Adoptee speakers - I understand the wearying drain of constantly needing to stave off  feelings of inferiority, or to spend time (as I have) justifying the plausibility of their claims, but please be careful with this. Intentionally placing ourselves in triggering environments for the sake of adoption reform shan't lead to a days of internal conversations and external retreat from the world. This is counter-productive. Together, we can demand that our vulnerable offerings are not only met with the agreed upon payment, but also kindness and an upstanding integrity. If this is not the case, reach out to your community for support. Adoptees learned at an early age that society views us as commodities, and that in some senses we were bought. Adoptee speakers, let's #FliptheScript and demand it be known that we are commodities no more.


A Worthy Voice: Trans-racial adoptee; Susan Harris O'Connor


As a trans-racial adoptee, adopted in 1964, I think one of trickiest things I've had to navigate over my lifetime is holding on to my respect and love of self, family and others, while being bombarded by messages that overtime are really attempting to psychologically erase me and my family from being. It's been done in so many ways;

'would you have preferred to have a Black mother?'; 'do you think you wouldn't have struggled if you had a Black mother?'; 'you're just a White girl, you don't have a Black girls body'; 'do your parents really love you?'; 'why are you hanging out with her?'; 'how do you know her?'; 'why is she here?' etc. etc.

Negative comments and gestures about me and my connection to my White parents have played themselves out in so many ways for so long that quite frankly I'm so surprised I am left with strong self-esteem.

So, what are the things that helped me with my self-esteem? Although I was raised in a White environment, later to make friends with African Americans and other people of various racial backgrounds; my parents were incredible. A couple of lessons they taught me as a child and things they demonstrated that have stayed with me a lifetime...

1. Never apologize for who you are, for there is nothing wrong with you or this family.

2. Judge a person by actions not by what they say.

3. Choose your close friends by how they treat you not by what they look like.

4. My parents clearly and consistently demonstrated to me that if companies were known not to hire people based on race then we were not to spend money there.

5. There was not a piece of gold or a diamond in our home due to 'blood' money'. My parents led by example. They showed me what it meant to be respectful of myself and my Black adopted brothers who were all adopted from foster care.

6. As a young adult, I remember when my white sister began dating a man who would eventually become her husband/father of their two bi-racial children. Both my mother and father didn't even blink at the racial difference. Powerful message!

I truly believe these ways of conducting self as parents really contributed to how I view myself and why I can be proud of my family, regardless of what others may think. And, when asked whether white people can raise children of color it's pretty easy for me to say... 'yes, I would not have traded my parents in for anyone.'

How are others attempting to instill a positive sense of self within their child(ren)?

Susan Harris O'Connor, MSW.  Author, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee  all rights reserved by author of post 1/2014