When I was in my twenties, my mum told me over dinner that she was separating from my father. She said they had had a lovely marriage and that raising their two biological sons and me, their adopted daughter, was the best part of their lives, but that in the past few years, they had grown apart.
No matter how common it may be, and no matter how old the children are, divorce is painful. As a young adult, I tried to accept their decision as rationally as possible. I considered their perspectives and their needs.
But their decision prompted self-reflection, too. My sense of security resides in my family. It provides the ultimate sense of belonging. How could I redefine my own sense of belonging and where I come from?
Belonging, of course, has always been an issue for me, since my skin color sets me apart from my family. I was adopted as an infant from Viet Nam in 1972 by a white Australian couple. Now, I had to expand my view of my adoptive family to account for my parents living separate lives in separate locations, in new homes, and with new partners.
My selfish side indulged briefly in thoughts of broken promises. Not my parents’ promise to stay married to each other, but the idea that I was adopted into a stable home. This contract, of course, is sentimental and unrealistic. My adoptive parents would always be mum and dad. Just separated.
I also worried about how my new stepparents would treat me, a foreigner. Beneath their pleasant exterior, were they xenophobic? Or would they accept me unconditionally, as my parents had?
I guess all children face questions of trust when they meet their stepparents. I had the doubts that children commonly feel when their parents divorce and find new partners. But, living in a society that saw me as different, I also worried that my feeling of being different would carry over to my new family members.
Having dealt with the loss of my biological parents, I feared losing my parents all over again. I worried about being alone in the world. The fear of being rejected by stepparents stirred up the idea that I had been rejected before.
Of course, the way to deal with parental divorce is to put things into perspective and remember other people’s needs. My parents needed to separate, and they needed to be loved and accepted by new people. They had the same fears everyone has of being rejected and alone. Looking at things in this way helped me see that love cannot always follow tradition—which is what adoption is about, too.
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