This post is dedicated to all my fellow unorphaned orphans. Some of you a friends. Some of you are strangers. You are all in my heart.
Unorphaned orphans. We are a small segment of society and one many people don’t realise exists. We are the children of parents who no longer have contact with us. We are the children who had to walk away from familial relationships. We are the children who were pushed out of our families. We all have different stories of how we got to where we are, but we all share some common characteristics. It is uncommonly hard to talk about being an unorphaned orphan, or the things that hurt us unintentionally by well meaning people, but I want to give it a go. On behalf of all my UO’s, this post is to help educate and enlighten others as to what it is like being us:
1. We don’t necessarily hate our parents
I put this one as number one for a reason. When I talk about how I don’t have contact with my parents anymore, people usually assume it is because I hate them and want nothing to do with them. This is so far from the truth that I have to make it clear here. Not being in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you hate them. You can hate what they do, you can hate what they say, you can be angry and hurt, but you can still love them deeply and still wish you could have a ‘normal’ relationship with them. Sometimes relatioships just don’t work out. I didn’t choose to be made the way I am, they didn’t choose to have me as a child. It was luck of the draw and sometimes that means you get personalities that clash and problems that can’t just be solved by talking it out. I, and many others like me (though not all), still desperately want our parents in our lives, but we realise the impossibility of that.
If you meet someone who isn’t in a relationship with their parents, don’t assume they hate their family. Don’t immediately start bad mouthing parents and blaming them for everything. Don’t tell us how we just need to forgive and make up. Accept that maybe the situation is far more complicated than you can possibly realise and simply say “I’m sorry, that must suck.” Giving advice on a situation that you have no idea about is the worst things that you can do. We will often be very reluctant to talk about what we actually went through as it is hard to describe a tone of voice, a look, or other things that made our lives difficult. It is hard to explain the effect of the culmination of so many small and big events. We often can’t articulate it well and, when we fail to make others understand, it is awful to have them say “that doesn’t sound that bad” and negate everything we are feeling (and yes, I have had this said to me on multiple occasions). We are also aware that you may know or meet our parents at some point in the future and, as we don’t hate them, we don’t want to destroy their reputation. Our relationship with them wasn’t good, but that doesn’t mean we want everyone thinking they are horrible people. So if we do choose to tell you about our pain, don’t minimise it, belittle it, or try and fix it. Simply accept that this is our story and, whether it sounds like it to you or not, it was a big enough deal for us to walk away.
2. Holidays can be painful
Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, Birthdays, Easter - all of these days are really painful to live through as an UO. Not only is the whole happy family thing shoved down your throat from every shop window, TV ad, and in every church, but we also miss the traditions we grew up with and the family unit we knew as children (dysfunctional though it may have been). It can be an acutely lonely experience, particularly if you do not have an adopted family to take you in and love you. I remember my first Christmas after I ‘broke’ with my parents. I cried because I missed them, I missed the traditions, because I knew they were probably hurting as well and it was my fault.
I have had people say to me before “but you choose to walk away, so why does it upset you so much?” Because walking away was the last option I would have chosen. Because when something is so broken that you have to leave it behind it doesn’t mean all the guilt and pain and love doesn’t go with you. Because I would much rather have a functioning family than spend these moments without them. But it is also because I miss the ‘idea’ of family (as opposed to the reality of what our family is). Society has built up family as and end in itself, and holidays are used to push this message home from every side. I miss the idea of a family that can be happy and loving with no issues, and the fact that it doesn’t exist will always hurt.
3. We are scared of love
I have found that across the board UO are scared of love. We don’t know how to accept love or how to give it. We are afraid of accepting love from someone as we are convinced that they will leave us. We are so convinced that we will get hurt, that we will subconsciously sabotage relationships in order to push away the person before they can hurt us or leave us. Even though doing that hurts us and leaves us lonely, the fear of abandonment means all rationality goes out the window. It took me three years of marriage before I realised he wasn’t going to get sick of me and leave. Not because he is an ass, but because my mind kept telling me that that was what people did to me.
We also don’t know how to give love well. We are either too distant or too clingy. We smother people or we leave them feeling like we don’t care. We have been hurt by the people who were meant to care and love us the most and this leaves a crap load of baggage that needs to be worked through. It can take a long time and only people with a lot of patience can handle it. When an UO meets another UO it is like we can suddenly talk the same language to someone - they understand and we don’t need to translate our own feelings. This means we value or friendships with people who understand and/or are patient enough to wait us out more than anything. Once we have found those people, they become life long friends.
4. We treasure our ‘adopted’ families and family members that stood by us
I started this list with how I don’t hate my own parents. I want to end it with a shout out to all the adopted parents, aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers, children that I have had in my life. Those people who opened their arms, hearts and homes to me. That held me when I cried and let me run away and then come back. Those people who never asked too much of me and understood that I couldn’t always give everything of myself. To the people who have defended me and laughed with me and screamed with me. You are as close to me as family and I am so grateful for you.
I am also so grateful for all the family members that stood by me. To my siblings and many others, who haven’t always understood my decisions but loved me anyway, thank you for accepting me for who I am and not trying to force me into decisions I am not willing to make. Your support is so important to me.
I know many other UO’s who have people like this in their lives. We treasure you more than we can possibly say. You fill such a major hole in our lives and remind us that we are worth loving. You help heal our hearts and minds and keep us sane. Without you are world’s would be so much smaller and lonelier.
So to you who is reading this - ADOPTED AN UNORPHANED ORPHAN TODAY!
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