Bert Ballard edited this ^^ anthology of voices that share thoughts and feelings just for adopted teens and the parents who love them.
Find out more here

Pieces of Me parent guide can be downloaded by following this link...

If your child is younger
and trying to figure out where they fit, Jean MacLeod has penned a great guide for parents to help them help their children. Find it here.

I Don't Know

By Bert Ballard, PhD

I think I’m going to start a mantra. I want everyone to say it with me. I don’t know. Good. Say it again. I don’t know. One more time. I don’t know.

I’m in my mid-thirties, an adopted person from Vietnam, evacuated during Operation Babylift. So I’ve been told, but I can never verify this. I might have been at an orphanage called An Lac in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). I might have been left on their doorstep by my older sister. I might have been handed over on the tarmac before the plane took off. But . . .

I don’t know.

Many times growing up I asked my mother, “Why was I at the orphanage?” “Why was I born in Vietnam?” “What time was I born?” “What did my birth parents look like?” “Do I have family somewhere I’ve never met?” “Why am I so small . . . so skinny . . . a different color than all the other kids?” My mother did the best she could. She answered,

I don’t know.

Today, I am a married father of two. I struggle with an inner ear disorder and anxiety. I see my children exhibit aspects of the latter. Maybe it’s genetic? Maybe it’s social and I’ve modeled it.

I don’t know.

I am expecting a referral for an adopted son from Vietnam. I have been waiting over two years. My wife and I had to start the process in two different countries. I wonder who my son will be. I wonder if he will struggle with the same things I will. I wonder if I will be a good father . . . a good role model . . . a good person. I wonder how this will affect me. Will it bring up issues? Fears? Worries? Things I thought were dealt with long ago? Things I never knew I would even struggle with?

I don’t know.

An adoptive parent asks me how to tell her transracially adopted child how to deal with racism. The look on the parent’s face when I encourage her to be vulnerable with her child, to sit with the child as the child struggles and cries, and to seek out help and know her limitations tells me she is disappointed in my answer. It isn’t a formula. It doesn’t remove her child’s pain. It asks the parent to open up, to risk, to share. It says,

I don’t know.

An adoptive parent tells me it is hard to parent an older adopted child. He tells me it wasn’t what he expected. He says his child isn’t acting normal, can be a danger to himself and others. He tells me he is grieving. He tells me he doesn’t know what to do. I have no answers, but to love the child. To struggle with the child. To let the child go and pray the child comes back. I have no guarantees.

I don’t know.

An adoptive parent tells me her child has a hard time believing in God. She says her child questions why a supposedly loving God would separate her (the child) from her first family, her first parents. Why God would put her in a country where she doesn’t look like anyone her age and they would make fun of her. The parent tears up. She asks me, “What do I tell her?” I tell her to say these words:

I don’t know.

There is a pattern here. A pattern in my life that has become my mantra. I don’t know.

I think it needs to become your mantra, too. I don’t know. We want to protect and shield our children. We want to shield them from pain. We want to overcome their primal wound, their original separation. We want to have our perfect family. We want to have all the answers.

But we can’t. We can’t know everything about our children’s past. About the circumstances of their birth. About why they were adopted. About why their birth country is the way it is. We can’t know everything about their genetic makeup.

We can’t know if every tear, every struggle is about being adopted. Or just normal growing up. And even if we do know, we can’t know how best to respond, because it changes every moment, each time it rears its ugly head. And we can’t know if our response will aid or hinder . . . or draw us closer or push us away.

We can’t know if our kids will turn out okay. If they’ll be safe for themselves or others. If they’ll make good spouses or life partners or parents. If they’ll make us proud or cause us more strife. If adoption will dominate their identity or if they will come to terms with it. If they will become educated, have successful careers, and look back on life and say they were happy and content.

Here’s what I do know. Love means loving in spite of not knowing the answers, the reasons, the causes, the future. No, scratch that. I don’t like that.

Love means loving BECAUSE of not knowing the answers, the reasons, the causes, the future.

Love means embracing the unknowns because what we don’t know will turn out to be better than anything we ever can know.

Love means not knowing is sometimes better than knowing, that even out of not knowing comes a healthy, productive, functioning individual who is a blessing to society and who has wonderful relationships and families.

Love means sometimes saying, “I don’t know” because sometimes that is the best and only thing to say.

Say it again.

I don’t know.

Bert Ballard, PhD, is an adoptee, adoption researcher, and future adoptive parent. He is passionate about providing adoptees a space where they can share their stories and experiences, and he has helped form two adoptee-led organizations, the Vietnamese Adoptee Network and the International Adoptee Congress to that end. He has been published in Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections and Adoption Today magazine and has spoken across the U.S. and Canada to numerous adoptive parents and adoption professionals sharing his experiences as an adoptive person. Bert has a PhD in communication and conducts research on adoption identity and adoptive families.

Bert was one of the "Operation Babylift" orphans evacuated at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. He currently lives in Waterloo, Ontario where he is an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo. He is married with two daughters and awaiting the arrival of their adopted son from Vietnam.

Pieces of Me, Who do I Want to Be is an anthology for adopted teens edited by Bert Ballard
Find out more here.



Please contact Carrie Kitze for information on obtaining reprints of this article for pre and post adoption kits and seminars.



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