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In the 1950’s it wasn’t unusual to hear exasperated parents ask “Who Do You Think You Are?” This question was not posed as an invitation to explore possibilities and blaze personal    pathways. Rather it was intended to rein in an out of control child or to deflate big dreams that the parents deemed unreachable or inappropriate.

Today “Who Do You Think You Are?” is the title of a hit show that debuted in 2010 on NBC. Each segment follows one celebrity as his ancestry is traced back through the generations. Family secrets, struggles, accomplishments, and scandals are uncovered. The celebrity’s personal journey through their ancestor’s footsteps highlights the heroism in ordinary lives. Without exception, the experience evokes a spiritual depth that transforms their understanding of who they are. It burns an appreciation of the generations of shoulders from which their lives sprouted.

The program is actually a reworking of a BBC show first produced in 2004. Millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic tune in to watch every week. Mesmerized by the adventure of the hunt for information, viewers identify with the celebrity. They share the pain of dead ends and the joy of unexpected discoveries. They understand the value and power of knowing one’s personal story.

I found myself with a conflicted reaction as the story unfolded during a recent episode. Empathetic tears welled in response to the celebrity’s visceral reaction to the unfolding story of his family. I experienced an equally strong dose of anger. This wasn’t directed at the concept or this particular actor.

What bothered me? As an adoptive parent, I’m familiar with a common response people have when adoptees voice an interest in learning about their birth heritage or in exploring a reunion with their birth families. The child’s interest is judged to be unnecessary or ungrateful. Some adoptive parents are offended by their child’s need to know and interpret it as an indication that they’ve failed as parents. 

But an adoptee’s interest in knowing their story is not driven by idle curiosity. It’s a soul deep need to know the answers to the questions of their story. It is unfair to judge them for this desire to climb their family tree. For many adoptees, this journey is essential to piecing together the fragmented elements of their life journey. Other adoptees lack this yearning for facts and reconnection. All adoptees must be allowed to follow their hearts and walk their self-designed path to wholeness.

When asked “Who Do You Think You Are?” adoptees share the same answer as non-adopted persons: “I am the sum of all elements of my story—the events and people—who are part of the mosaic of pieces that have become “Me.” I am the product of my experiences, relationships, strivings and dreams. I am an evolving possibility.”

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Comments on: "“Who Do You Think You Are?”" (4)

  1. At least two of the participants have been adoptive parents – it bothered me because one has said things that lead me to believe her children would “not have her blessing” to do the same.

    Great post!

    • There is a lot of education to be done in the adoption arena. Too often the adoptee is assumed to have magically transitioned from birth family to adoptive family without any personal “cost” and minus any memories or attachments to their roots. This absurd assumption permeates our cultural attitude. It is naive and hurtful. Adoptees experience a deep and painful loss that reverberates through their lives.
      Adoption is an important well-intentioned option but it is not without emotional cost. It is essential to educate adoptive parents so that they can adequately recognize and tune in to their children’s feelings/challenges about their adoptions.

  2. I can understand the insecurities of the adoptive parent. Maybe they don’t feel like they did a good enough job as a parent or they’ve lacked in some way that causes the adopted child to want to search for their biological parents. However, I believe it’s natural that the adopted child would want to make that connection and maybe necessary on a physiological or psychological basis.

    Feel free to join and/or comment on my blogs: http://nowmotivated.blogspot.com and http://funwithmrwrong.wordpress.com. I think there may be some synergies we can gain with sharing.

    Good luck in your endeavors to educate on the adoption process and promote the rights of adoptive children and their adoptive parents.

    • I agree that the desire to connect with our origins is universal whether one is adopted or was raised in one’s birth family. The child’s best interest must always trump parental insecurities.

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