Last week I celebrated the one month birthday of my new daughter Maggie. The rewards have been immense and I’ve cried more tears of gratitude than I should probably admit. However, one of the biggest gifts Little Maggie — my first biological child — has brought is something you may not expect. For most people, the miracle of childbirth itself or the relief that Mom and baby are safe are the biggest rewards. These were important to me too but something else of great significance happened.
The experience of my daughter’s birth has given me the gift of being able to remove a myth that runs strong in the minds and hearts of many people (including in myself a long time ago).
I call it, “The 2nd Place Myth of Adoption.”
This is something no one wants to talk about, but now standing on both sides I feel I finally have the right to do so.
Here’s what we say in our heads about the 2nd Place Myth of Adoption but are too polite to say out loud:
“Of course you can love an adopted child but let’s be brutally honest, it’s the second place choice to having a family. Since it’s not your child biologically, and you didn’t go through the birthing process with them, the love and connection you experience with them cannot be as strong as what you experience with a biological child.”
Sounds harsh but if we don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, how can we dismiss it?
One of the strongest indicators of the 2nd place myth of adoption was the innocent dialogue I received from other parents.
“Wait until you have your own child,” was a phrase repeated to me many, many times even before my wife was pregnant.
“I already have my own children,” my inner voice would immediately react, thinking of my two adopted sons.
Maybe the puzzled look on my face gave my thoughts away because a lot of people who knew my family situation would immediately back peddle their statement with a follow up of “Well, of course you have the boys already…but this will be different.”
Let me be clear: I don’t fault anyone for saying this. I used to share the exact same sentiment so how could I fault anyone?
However, I also realized no one who has adopted a child would ever say this to me.
This forced me to stop and think.
Deep down, what if there might be an underlying belief that discounts the love and bonding experience for an adopted child compared to a biological child? And if this was the case, could this myth be preventing new families from forming? Could it preventing existing families from growing? Could this 2nd place myth be holding scores of children back from receiving the love they so need?
I wanted to write about this someday, but I first had to go through it and be sure 100% that the myth is just that, a myth.
Sitting in the hospital alone with my wife the evening after my daughter’s birth she asked me very directly “what are you feeling?” She had no idea what was on my mind, but she always seems to know when there’s something going on in my head. I explained to her that the birthing process was an incredible gift and something I will always cherish. However, it left me feeling no different for Maggie than I do for Alden and Leland, my adopted sons. In fact, I felt like I had already experienced this gift before.
My conviction has only grown as the weeks have gone by. Watching Maggie and her big brothers interact has been priceless. The big brothers are already having fun with her and acting as her protectors. Their first job has been to push Dad away when trying to pinch her cheeks during nap time (I have a cheek squeezing problem I’m working on).
It’s been a great relief to practically laugh off the myth along with any guilt or concerns. It was simply a waste of mind and heart space, like most fears.
Loving Maggie is easy and she will never know anything different than my consistency and love. But with my sons, when you start at the ages of 5 and 7, the vulnerability felt more awkward than asking a girl to dance for the first time. Connection truly had to be earned. I had to take to the first steps, risking that they would not respond in-kind. I’ve never been concerned that Maggie might not love me back.
What people don’t realize is that regardless of whether your children are biological or adopted, you go through a distinct birthing process and concrete memories will form from each experience.
For Maggie’s birthing, I will always remember the first ultrasound and the long labor my wife endured. I’ll remember cutting the cord and holding her against my bare chest to stop her crying. She looked up at me with her curious gentle eyes for the first time and I melted. I’ll remember walking her over to my wife and the two of us holding her together. I’ll remember bringing her home from hospital.
These are the moments that solidified my role of being Maggie’s Dad. They brought me a feeling of deep connection and a desire to be the best Dad I could.
For my sons, their birthing memories are quite different.
With Alden I remember the first night we met. He was too shy to look up from the ground at first but when he finally did, his expression quickly changed to a big smile and he said “oh…hi!” as if he had always known me. My wife and I still marvel over this moment.
I also remember spending a day together, just the two of us on St. Augustine beach. By the time we left, a certain feeling of distance between us was gone forever.
With Leland, I have a clear memory of him taking my hand for the first time and walking me down the beach. All the while telling one of his wildly creative stories like only a five year old can. I also remember a long conversation the two of us had at “Tropical Smoothie” talking about my grandfathers and the importance of family.
I remember the first time each of the boys decided to call me Dad instead of Jim. Alden was out in the ocean behind our house. It was about three years after meeting him. Leland’s decision came a bit earlier. It was a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning with him leaving clues all over the house. All the clues lead back to a little box behind the Christmas tree and in that box that was a note that simply read “From this day forward I will always call you Dad.”
I remember sitting in the kitchen when both boys asked me to be their Dad. And finally, standing in front of the judge giving a sworn testimony to my new responsibilities.
These are the moments that solidified the role of being Alden and Leland’s Dad. They brought me a feeling of deep connection and a desire to be the best Dad I could be.
Different experiences, same end result.
The biological birthing experience was a miracle, but for me, it was no more a miracle than two little boys who asked me to be their Dad.
What’s the difference in love and connection for biological and adopted children?
The answer is: absolutely nothing.
Without going into too many supporting stories or discussing certain laws of Quantum Physics here’s the simple reason why:
When you decide to love a child and go all in, the imaginary line between biological and adoptive disappears and there becomes no difference.
Standing on both sides I know this is absolute truth.
If you’re a parent of adoption without any biological children and you secretly wondered what it might be like to “have your own,” know this: You are already there.
And if you are a child of adoption and if you have ever had any doubts or a belief in this 2nd place myth, please take heart. You never have and never will be 2nd place. Your birthing experience may have been different than the biological with your parents, but that does not make it any less memorable or meaningful.
If we can choose this for adopted children, where else can we choose to love?
Jim Sheils is co–founder of the popular “Board Meetings” strategy that is now helping parents worldwide reconnect with their children in fun & experiential ways. His talk “3 Steps To Connection” has received standing ovations on some of the biggest stages for business, wealth creation and personal development. Jim’s company, Board Meetings International LLC, specializes in parent/child retreats that use ocean activities (like surfing) along with the principles of experiential education to teach the lessons not taught in school and strengthen the relationship between successful entrepreneurs & their children. He and his business partner have been best friends since the age of 3 and also run a multi-million dollar business venture that has done over 500 Real Estate deals. Jim is an avid surfer, enjoys traveling and spending quality time with family and friends, especially his beautiful wife Jamie and two boys, Alden & Leland. Jim’s most recent adventures led him to donate a kidney to the greatest guy on the planet, his father.