Adoption and connection: The healing power of being known

Written by Carol Strychalski

For more than two decades, Austin has been home to an annual gathering of adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and adults who had been adopted as children. I recently had the privilege of attending this year’s Adoption Knowledge Affiliates Conference, where a wonderful mix of people provided rich discussion about the complexities of adoption, the great joy, great grief, and the power of connection.

Connecting is everything

This year’s keynote speaker was Robyn Gobbel, an Austin-based child and family therapist specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She emphasized how adoption is the work of connection.

“You can be a really amazing parent, and your kid can still not be OK. In fact, the really amazing parent gives space for that.” — Robyn Gobbel

Throughout her talk, Gobbel shared about how our brains are shaped through connection, and how we all desire to be known — when we feel understood and accepted, this connection soothes us. However, we are often afraid to share our emotions, especially strong emotions, with each other, which is actually the exact thing we need. We need to connect.

This could not be truer for the adoptee. Often, the joy of finding their forever family is intertwined with the complicated grief and loss of their birth family and their identity as a member of that family.

Safety is part of connection

When we are sad, overwhelmed, or scared, we move toward someone who is safe. So as the adoptive parent becomes that safe person for their child, their child can share their grief and experience the connection they really need.

Quoting a colleague, Gobbel offered this advice: “It’s not grief that’s the problem. It’s everything that gets in the way of the grief getting expressed.” For in grief and loss, there is opportunity for deep connection.