This guest post is by Mariette Williams, an adoptee.
One of my favorite quotes is Mary Oliver’s “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
We all grow up with big dreams and aspirations, but for some, those aspirations feel more like obligations.
As a transracial adoptee from Haiti, I grew up with the idea that my life had to mean something, that I had to do something great or my life would be a waste.
This idea may have been self imposed, but nevertheless, it drove me to succeed.
My siblings and I were constantly reminded about the plight of the Haitian people. Children went to bed hungry and here we were complaining that we had to eat leftovers again.
In Haiti, children would not complain if their parents did not buy them Nikes for gym class.
And so we were reminded that we had been given something special. And in a way we were.
But I often felt that my adoption was something I had to pay back.
I didn’t start feeling this way until my last few years of high school. Before that, I had average grades; one year I managed to barely escape going to summer school for math.
But something kicked in, and I got serious. What was I going to do with my life? It had to mean something.
My Haitian family didn’t place me for adoption to muddle through life with a minimum wage job – I had to go to college.
So I did. Ironically, I was the first person in my adoptive family to attend college, and I chose to teach.
I worked my way through school on a volleyball scholarship, and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
But it still didn’t seem enough. There was always a feeling that I had to do more.
I taught for three years before I returned to school for a Masters Degree.
I graduated with a Master’s Degree in English Education with a 4.0 GPA. I don’t say this to brag, but to say that the entire time I was motivated to make my family proud.
My Haitian family, wherever they were, would somehow know that their sacrifice meant something. My adoptive family would also know that I didn’t squander the opportunity they gave me.
And while I don’t regret working hard, I only now realize the pressure I was putting on myself. I felt that anything less than stellar was disappointing everyone.
I’m not alone in my story.
I know other adoptees who are driven to over the top success. Their self worth is tied to their accomplishments.
Because if they fail, who are they? Two families are depending on the success of one child to prove that adoption was the best option.
For international adoptees, the need to prove their worth through their accomplishments is quite common.
Growing up, I was urged on several occasions to “go back and save my country.” I also grew up hearing that God had placed me for adoption to go back and help Haiti.
And while there is nothing wrong with doing those things, I felt that my life did not have any value if I didn’t do these things.
I would say to adoptees that your adoption should not feel like a gift with strings attached.
It’s not something that you need to work off or a contract that you need to fulfill.
An adoptee has no control over their adoption, and they should, at the very least, be given the freedom to decide their life path.
Today if someone asked me, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I would say, “Anything I want.”
Mariette Williams grew up in Vancouver and currently lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. She writes about adoption and focuses specifically on the Haitian adoptee community. To learn more, visit her homepage at www.mariettewilliams.com or follow her on twitter @mariettewrites.
Help raise awareness about adoption. Like us on Facebook.