“you've painted the walls of your house the colour of silence.
when you did it, you handed me the roller and asked me to help
and I didn't think to say no
because I thought it will just be easier this way
it's not easier this way,"
The Heart That Silence Built, Poetry Anthology
So far, my favorite question about my book has been “What does a heart built by silence look like?”. It’s a complex answer, but I also think that it’s one that deserves some pondering. Consideration for a ‘how did we get here and how can we reduce the possibility of it happening again?”
I don’t have the answers to that. But I do know that we can grow and evolve only when we truly listen to the voices of lived experience. When we sit in the discomfort those voices create and reflect on it, when we humbly accept what our children have to teach us.
Silence was what stifled the relationship with my parents through adoption. It became an environment where my needs became secondary to the comfort of those around me. I was seldom in an environment where I could really be myself. I accepted less than I (and in my opinion everyone) deserves. I published this book as an act of radically unsilencing myself.
In the spirit of silence’s impact on my mental health and identity, here are four conversations we need to be radically unsilencing in adoption and permanency journeys.
Motivations and Intentions
Why are you doing this? Do you WANT this young person in your life or are other things in your life motivating you? Many people come to this journey with altruistic intentions, which is not wrong but if it’s a primary motivating factor – it’s important to reflect on the potential relationship dynamic it might create.
When I have asked my parents why they adopted me, often their first answer is that they wanted to keep siblings together. They adopted my younger sibling first at the age at three. They adopted me a year later at the age of 16. It leaves me wondering what the basis of my relationship with them is. More than anything it makes me feel like a charity case and adds a power dynamic to our relationship where I am the one that just has to grin and bear it because they have ‘done a good thing’.
It reminds me that they adopted because of my sibling – not because of me. If it wasn’t for the fact of having a toddler as a sibling, I never would have even met them because at the time they indicated that they wanted to adopt a ‘low needs’ toddler. They never said anything about a teenager with mental health issues.
Importance of Origins
This is a big one we are beginning to understand as we listen to adoptees, child protection system survivors and families of origin. Every part of our heritage is important to who we are, the journey we took to get here needs to be honoured. The relationships, beliefs, cultural and spiritual practices we come with all need to belong here with us. You cannot ask us to relinquish them and ask us to feel safe at the same time. Show curiosity, make room in your life and heart. Honour old traditions and change them.
Create a life together, but don’t let it be at the expense of who we are.
Joining Families, Not Dividing Them
Providing permanency means providing continuity. The family grows not just by the young person(s), but the significant people they bring with them. This could mean accepting other parents, aunties and uncles, grandparents, community leaders, romantic relationship(s) and or friendships.
Expect this to be hard – and embrace and reflect on that rather than ignoring those feelings. Stifled feelings don’t go away, they just hide in pesky corners where they become harder to get at.
Ask how you can help young people maintain all these relationships. Even if they are not physically present. Engage in active conversation with who was important in the young person’s life and how they want those relationships to look or memories to be maintained. It says ‘we embrace all of you, including those who are important to you”. Be the bridge – not the match.
Death by Thousand Cuts
Perhaps most importantly, take time to feel these things in your heart. It is estimated that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day. When we work on believing these things in our heart, we are better equipped to make decisions and respond to things in ways that demonstrates we believe these things to be true. Without that baseline, we make the easy decisions to ‘talk about that later or not at all’. We make decisions based on not valuing these things.
My parents don’t see their role in cultivating belonging for me. For this reason, it’s the build up of small things that make me feel like I don’t belong. Like when my adoptive Dad says “My wife” when he is angry instead of “your mom”. That’s not the way he talks to his other two children. Or how there is only room for 4 people on a declaration form on a return flight and in a family of 5, I was always the only one filling out my own form.
Feel it in your hearts because either way – that will be the place you will make the day-to-day decisions from.
Above all else, validate emotions regardless of your intentions. Be humble, honest and admit mistakes (that includes giving yourself permission to make them)! Talk about the hard things, because silence never built a relationship worth having.
I am so honoured to be donating a portion of the profits of The Heart That Silence Built to Never Too Late. The community and support that NTL has given me has helped me through some very difficult spots on my journey, helped me heal, and helped give me the courage to publish this work.
About the Author
Wendy is a First Voice Advocate, marketing professional, and NTL team member. The Heart That Silence Built is a collection of poetry written between the ages of 12 and 30 about adoption, trauma, permanency and family.