Today’s article is written by Tilly. She’s an adoptee and shares an extremely honest account of her childhood. As an adoptive mum, I found it difficult to read about the lack of support Tilly had from her parents to help her understand her birth history. It’s so important adopters understand the importance of history and identity for our children. It’s part of who they are and being able to ask questions freely and have them answered appropriately is so important.
A big thank you to Tilly for letting me share her experience. I’m sure reading her article will help adopters and adoptees.
Hi. I’m Tilly, a 21 year old adoptee. I’m mum to two beautiful girls and a part-time support worker for mental health and learning disabilities. I’m also the person behind the Instagram account @adoptiontraumauk.
I’ll start with some background about my birth family and reasons for adoption. I don’t have a lot of information but know I was around 5/6 years old when I was adopted with my half-brother who is 3 years younger than me. He has ADHD and autism.
My adoptive parents didn’t tell me much about my birth history. I understand I was taken into care because of abuse and neglect. I do have some memories and have been told a few stories which back this up. Certain triggers suggest I have things in my subconscious memory but my mind has blacked the full details out. I hope that makes sense.
My adoptive mom was very much the main parent. She gave up her job for us so we were with her 24/7. She was a closed book and was quite controlling and uptight. I hardly knew anything about her life, only things that accidentally slipped out which I know now, must have been traumatic events for her.
My dad worked 5 days a week and would come home in the evenings. He didn’t really have a say in any parenting decisions. He was laidback and funny. He just wanted a happy and easy life and would often tell us stories about his life and what he’d get up to. I could relate to him.
Relationship with my adoptive mother
A lot of my story is about my adoptive mother. My dad and I had a good relationship initially which was full of mutual respect. But as I became a teenager and issues started to arise with me and my mom, he took more of a back seat and I avoided everyone which led to us becoming distant.
My adoptive mom and I clashed. I don’t think the first few years were too bad, but things slowly went downhill the more I became my own person. I was 5 years old when I was adopted and was probably more aware of what I’d been through than perhaps other people or even myself thought.
I don’t believe me and my adoptive mother ever got to truly bond. I was a daddy’s girl. As we grew up, my brother was always a mommy’s boy. My brother would have been about 2 when we were adopted which is still quite a babyish age. So the bonding with him may have been easier. Also, because of his ADHD and Autism, he needed a lot more one-to-one time.
I think when I was a child, I had something against a mother figure. I would lie to my adoptive mom and only ever tell her literally the tiniest of things. I knew she didn’t like liars and was told by her I’d have no friends if I lied. But I carried on because I knew she didn’t like it. This made her have trust issues that affected our relationship for many years. That started early on and our relationship got worse from there.
I wasn’t allowed to do anything my friends and other people my age were allowed to do. All down to not being trusted by my mom. But I was also never given the chance to prove myself, even after the lying had died down. I was bullied at school because of this which was really difficult for me.
My friends stopped asking me to do things so I wasn’t involved in anything and got into the wrong crowd. I had no way of contacting friends outside of school for many years. Even when I did, everything was read and checked. I couldn’t have social media and wasn’t allowed to go out with friends or have anybody round.
I had no social life, no independence and no privacy whatsoever. I felt isolated and lonely for all of my teenage years and began to resent my parents. There was no mutual respect. They tried to demand it because they were the adults, but that made me rebel.
I tried to do everything they told me I couldn’t do. I made social media accounts which were deleted whenever they found out about them. To get extra time with my friends, I’d come out of school really late, knowing my mom was waiting in the school car park. I got myself into situations I knew she would hate. I would act out by doing the opposite of everything they would say to spite them.
How I felt
A lot of the things I did ended up being really self-destructive rather than affecting them. I became numb to everything because I just didn’t care about anyone anymore and saw no way out of how trapped I felt. I did everything I could to disrupt that, with no feelings towards myself or the repercussions.
My anger and frustration exploded in outbursts I felt I couldn’t control. I hated the world and everything in it. If I tried to talk about my feelings, I was seen as feeling sorry for myself or playing the victim. If I disagreed with my adoptive mom and gave a different opinion in a discussion or conversation, I was shut down. Told she wasn’t listening anymore and I was being argumentative. The not listening part got to me the most. I had to have the last word and try to explain myself.
Every now and then I’d have questions about my birth family. The response I got was, “I’ll tell you when you’re emotionally ready”. It felt like a taboo subject and that she had all the information and control of my life that I wasn’t allowed to know.
Looking in on our family life from the outside, we probably seemed picture perfect. We had nice things, family days out and lovely holidays. I was regularly told to be grateful for having food and a place to live. That I should be thankful I was no longer with my birth family. This is not what an adoptee needs.
With hindsight, I think the things they were so hard, pushy and strict about were for my benefit. I think they were trying to achieve tough love. They were older parents and I suspect they were parenting how they were parented. Perhaps they didn’t realise how society was changing.
My adoptive parents would have had training but they didn’t seem to know how to put into practice the things they learned. I don’t know the details but they either didn’t have enough support from services after adoption, or just didn’t use whatever was available.
If I’d been given the space and support to deal with my past and understand it, the hate inside me wouldn’t have built up to the level it did. I think if I’d been told I was loved and the reasons for my adoption explained to me gently and openly, that would’ve helped me handle my emotions in a much better way than I did.
As a child I needed a calm, safe and loving space which is obviously not what I was used to with my birth family. The shouting, threats and punishments didn’t ever work for me. It pushed me away even more. I felt I wasn’t worthy anyway so why would I try and better myself? I needed love and support to be able to make mistakes and actually learn from them in a healthy environment.
I don’t believe my adoptive parents set out to hurt me. I think they thought they were doing what was best. But their parenting style wasn’t what I needed as a child who’d experienced trauma.
The breakdown of our relationship
Ultimately, my parents cut off our relationship completely and to this day, I can’t make sense of it.
When I was around 16, I studied public services at college. I always wanted to be a police officer but that course opened up the RAF as you could join at 16. I saw this as a way to independence. I told my mom and she loved the idea and pushed me to do it, even when I had doubts.
I met a boy when I was in the process of joining but that didn’t stop me going in. When I went away and started my training, I sustained an injury. Shin splints were discovered and my right knee was withering away because of the amount of exercise I was doing. I was given options but the best one to protect my career was to voluntarily withdraw. That would mean I could get treatment and then join back with no time restrictions.
As a result of my decision, my parents said some not nice things. We talked and I suggested moving out to better our relationship. My plan was we could meet for meals together and go out on weekends which would give us all the chance to bond without being so on top of each other.
My time away in the RAF was so good for us so my mom signed a parental permission form (due to me being under 18) to come out to my boyfriend’s address. I was optimistic that this was going to be good for the whole family.
When I went home to pick up a few bits which was the plan, everything I owned was packed up in boxes. I’ve never be able to see them or my brother since. This was in 2017. I was 17 years old and I’m 21 now.
To this day, I don’t understand it. I get the disappointment. But to disown your daughter completely is something I could never do. I’ve tried to contact them. I’ve sent birthday, Mother’s/Father’s Day cards but got no response. They know about their grandchildren but have no interest.
It feels like me going into the RAF was their opportunity to get rid of me. The fact that I got injured initially meant I was going home which is why they weren’t happy. The RAF was a good opportunity for me and I worked really hard to get there. All I ever wanted was for them to be proud of me.
Adoption will always have an aspect of trauma for the child. However, I think it can be beautiful too, with the right support for everyone.
If I was to give advice to prospective adopters, based on my experience, I would say be the best people you can be to your children. Be open and honest with them about your own lives and theirs if they want.
Be supportive and loving every day. If they ever have questions about their birth history, don’t shut them down. Explain things in an age-appropriate way. Listen to them! Nurture them through their history. Acknowledging it and never shaming it is key.
Please don’t ever tell your child to be grateful for your parenting. And don’t, no matter what their situation was, talk badly about it. Remember that their past is not their fault but it will always be a part of them and their history.
For years I blamed myself for losing both my families. I now have my own my 2 beautiful girls and a supportive partner who is the boy, now man, I met before the RAF. It’s only because of them that I knew I had to heal. Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve realised how I was parented wasn’t right. But when you’re in it, experiencing it every day, you think it’s normal.
If you’ve experienced something similar, know that it is not normal and you are worthy of love!!!
Now I’m out of that toxic situation, I’m a completely different person. I have a lot of empathy with people and am the most understanding person who will do anything for anyone. I accept I may not have dealt with things in the best way in the past. Nor did my parents. But I’m determined to make sure history isn’t repeated.
I want to be the best mother I can be to my 2 amazing girls. To be the woman to them that I needed growing, up but didn’t have.
I’m currently trying to learn and heal from my adoption traumas. I believe one day I will be truly happy, embracing who I am and where I’ve come from. I’m not ashamed anymore.
I’ve set up my Instagram account for anybody involved in adoption who wants to hear things from an adoptee point of view. And for those on a trauma healing journey. I want people in similar situations to know they’re not alone.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story.
Tilly – Adoption Trauma UK
If you’d like to read more adoption stories from adoptees, birth parents and adopters, click here