Mirror Mirror

By Patricia Ann Knight Meyer | Adoption

Apr 25

Having just spent a long weekend with my 22-year-old daughter Victoria I came home with a bag of great memories and a few mixed emotions. Although my brain knows my daughter works three jobs and pays for her own apartment, the Mom in me can’t process that she is not still my little girl; while I am proud to see her so determined, my heart hurts to watch the hurdles she climbs in her daily life.

We drove around Dallas in her non-air conditioned car,  music turned up on the radio, as she gave me the tour of her demanding life, 3-9 pm admin for Lennox, 5 am to Noon Front Desk for Lifetime and 10:30 pm to 2 am Shot Girl for Gator’s, a local bar. In addition she belongs on a softball team and has found time to work out and lose 60 pounds on her tremendous weight loss journey.

I remember this life. When I was 22 I lived it too, long hours, hard work, hot cars, little to no food in the fridge and it all seemed bearable back then, sometimes it was even fun. I got through it with a super-woman-can-do attitude that I realize today I may have somehow lost along the road to middle age. 

I have always thought I had my daughter to thank for the passion and drive of my youth. She was just past two years old when I was 22 and she was just past 4  when I stepped out into the world as a single mom at 24. It was knowing I had to succeed so she would succeed that got me through the most challenging times. I have often wondered what I would have ended up doing with my life if I had not had her when I did, my inspiration – my compass to stay focused and get somewhere and do something, to be successful enough to give her the moon. 

Today buying a giant stack of TP at Walmart for her bathroom, while fighting the urge to buy the numerous things on the list in my brain that she needs (a microwave, a new bra, food for the fridge, an air conditioner for her car), I don’t feel like I gave her the moon. I feel the weight she bears because she was born to a single mother who tried her best but had her own set of limitations.

Today just the thought of the pace Victoria keeps exhausts me, and I wonder where she finds her motivation. I hope it is just a natural drive to succeed. I hope she is excited by the possibility of tomorrow and not overwhelmed by the difficult path to get there. Maybe having been there I see the difficultly a bit more clearly, maybe not. 

Although I was a single mom, which some could argue would have made my life harder, it was being a single mom that ironically made my life a bit easier than my daughter’s. As a single mom I qualified for student loans and grants and scholarships that my daughter does not.

Today, the government says I make too much money for them to lend her any to go to school. That I should be able to pay for my daughter’s college, and if I can’t then she must work and go to school and figure out how to live on her own, or with me and pay for college at the same time. She says she does not want to live with me and is willing to do whatever it takes to do this on her own. She will qualify for student loans once she gets married, joins the military, has a child or turns 25.

This is why right now she is out of school and working, hard. Having earned her Associates Degree, she has taken time off from school to examine her life and explore her options. Degrees are not cheap, so she hopes to get it right the first time. Do any of us get it right the first time?

She is looking at psychology and photography and has considered architecture and law. However, having recently found a passion for health, Victoria is now hoping she can build a degree plan around health and psychology, nutrition and business to enable her to become a professional life coach.

Somehow the irony is not lost on me, as a matter of fact it inspires me. Here she is, my daughter deep in her demanding life, no air conditioner in her car, working her butt off at three jobs, out of TP in her bath, and rather than see her life as a struggle, she sees it as training for her future career – so one day she can sit down with a person she is coaching and say “Hey, do you think my life was easy? Let me tell you how I got here.”

She is finding herself as well. She is learning the fine art of truthful self-evaluation, she is learning about healthy boundaries in relationships and no excuses, personal responsibility, co-dependency,  finding her own voice, staking her claim, owning herself — I am so very proud.

We had a talk while I was there about what kind of parent I was – I hoped she understood what it was like for me as a teen parent trying to learn all those things and raise my daughter by myself. She answers me, “Mom you were the best. You did the very best you knew how to do.”

We both agree I was a distracted and lax parent, and despite the surviving aspect, I wonder how much that had to do with my being adopted, my fears of being rejected by own daughter, my lack of understanding how powerful the biological bond really is – one of my greatest fears raising my daughter was that she would become so angry at me that she would run away or disown me.

Thus while reading “Parenting Style and It’s Correlates” on Adoption.com, I identified myself as an Indulgent parent (also referred to as “permissive” or “nondirective”). The article describes this type of parent as “more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.” It also notes that there are two sub-types: “democratic parents, who, though lenient, are more conscientious, engaged, and committed to the child, and nondirective parents.”

Thus I was an indulgent, lenient, yet democratic parent. I like being described as “more responsive” than demanding, and I confess I certainly feared confrontation. Again I think this related directly to my fear of my daughter disowning me as a mom. Perhaps something in my psyche felt if a mother could leave a child certainly a child could leave their mother.

Authoritative is supposedly the best, these parents are both demanding and responsive. “They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive…..”

The article goes on to say “Children and adolescents whose parents are authoritative rate themselves and are rated by objective measures as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents are nonauthoritative.”

Sorry Victoria, but it also states that while indulgent parenting can lead to problem behavior and poor grades, it has it’s pluses too, “Children and adolescents from indulgent homes … have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression.”

And so it is I wonder what effect being an adoptee has had on my parenting style?

My daughter asked me this weekend if I thought all adoptees “have issues.” She said she knows many adoptees who say adoption had no effect on them, so how could it affect their parenting. I told her I would have said the same thing before my search.

To say being adopted had no impact on my life to me would be like an African American or Asian American or Mexican American saying their race had no effect on their life or who they grew up to be. The circumstances of your birth shape your life and your world view. This impacts every relationship you have, the one you have with yourself, your parents (birth and adoptive), your siblings and yes even your children.

What did being raised by an adopted mom mean for Victoria. It meant she lived as my only mirror for the first 2O years of her life. It meant she was raised by a woman whose fear of rejection often outweighed her parental common sense. It meant, out of my fear of abandoning my adoptive mother who saved me, I often chose being a better daughter to my own mother than being the best mother to my own daughter. It meant also meant she learned she was not blood related to her grand parents on my side, she had only half her genetic code as well.

I wonder also if it meant that in some quasi narcissistic way if I did not subconsciously push her to become as much like me as possible. Perhaps driven by my desire to deeply connect to someone just like myself, I gave her less room and permission to individuate, wanting to keep my mirror image as intact as possible. While I always encouraged her be herself and become something very unique in the world. Did my words and my actions send her different messages?

Two days ago my daughter got a tattoo and despite my knowledge that I support her commitment to herself, her journey to finding herself, her ownership of her life and her body, the Mom in me who looked to my daughter as my only mirror for so many years, cried out, “Why? What are you doing? This is not you. This is not US.”

My reaction was fast and furious, it came from my gut, and it made no sense to my brain. And then I realized my reaction was about ME. This is not ME…my daughter is not ME…SHE is not ME.

I believe this is a hard thing for many parents to get past – separating their selves from their children. I would argue that for an adoptee it is even more difficult.

For so long – as I believed she was all I had to see myself in – I believe I got lost in her mirror. Through the healing of my recent reunion – the finding of my many mirrors – the adoptive mother in me is beginning to accept that while my daughter does mirror me, she is not my reflection. We are two different women. One who would wear tattoos and one who would not. I am so very proud of her. Every day she teaches me something more about  myself, actually about both of us.

For so many years she has said over and over again, “I am NOT YOU Mom!”

And I finally understand what she means. I am a blessed mother to have her love and understanding and insight. She has watched me grow up almost as much as I have watched her, and sometimes she is way ahead of me.

PS. Please check out Victoria’s blog Vibrantly Victoria. 

How does/did being an adoptive or sinlge parent affect your relationships and parenting of your children? I would love to hear comments about it!

About the Author

~ “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland I am this: Reunited Adoptee/Daughter, Inspired Writer/Author, Wanna Be Yogi/Techie, Advocating Adoption Reform/Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Walker, Hungry Organic/Optimist, Lover of Coffee/Wine/Cheese, that’s me.

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