Point of fact: Saturday was National Adoption Day. This is a day where adoptive families are celebrated for opening their hearts and sharing their lives with children who needed someone – or lots of someones – to care about them. To be their family – and it’s a family that was chosen… voluntarily created and responsibility taken on. They also push through hundreds of new adoptions on this day across the US – in a very well-organized, concerted effort. At any rate, the whole adoption thing is something that hits home with me on the most personal of levels as I’m adopted.
My parents are not my ‘adopted parents’ – they’re just my Parents, just as if I’d been born into the family, rather than legally added. They have been since I was four; so I’ve never really celebrated or observed this day. Until this year.
I didn’t make a big deal of it; but this year was different for me because this is the first year that my Sister has been a part of my life. You see, I was adopted within my family; but my maternal birth parent had another child, a girl named Tangi. For a whole host of personal circumstances/family dynamics going on at the time; she was adopted outside of our family, into another one. We didn’t have significant contact growing up, really; it was just this year that she made a point of searching me out. At first, I didn’t have interest in bringing her into my world; adding her into the trusted rank of my established family. Our dynamics were set, we’d worked hard to have the relationships we did and I didn’t want anything tipping the scales. After months and at the repeated encouragement (1) of my now ex-boyfriend, I finally opened up and let her in.
Best.Decision.Ever. So, it just made sense that we spend this celebrated day, this year, together. My Mother & Father were here with us… and I got to meet her husband, eldest son, and part of her adopted family… her Mother, who is perfectly wonderful. And now? Can’t really imagine my family without her in it.
Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard associated with being part of the HR world; but it got me thinking about a different kind of adopted family: our ‘work family.’ When you think about it, workplace dynamics and relationships can often simulate that of a family. A lot of that is due to ‘Transactional Analysis’ – the psychology behind how we relate to other people… which occurs in one of three ways: Child, Parent, or Adult. With our peers, we take on the equal ‘sibling’ relationship – either in the child (dysfunctional) or adult (healthy, functional) role. With Supervisors/Report relationships; there’s often the Parent/Child hierarchical differential that comes into play. Put it all together and you have a family melting pot of sorts; which, given how much time we spend at work, that makes sense.
Now, think about the new hire… the new ‘adopted kid’ in the family. There’s “siblings” to get to know, this whole ‘familial’ backstory/history they hadn’t been part of; and all the little nuances and intricacies are unknown to them. And like any relationship, it takes time to learn that your brother will beat you down if you drink the last coke in the fridge before you buy replacements; or that ‘Mom’ spazzes out if you “go outside to play” before you do your chores. In the dysfunctional work ‘family,’ you see the “sibling rivalry” as co-workers compete for attention or are jealous of recognition from their ‘parental’ Supervisors to others.
Without concerted effort and deliberate care, new ‘adoptees’ can feel more like castaway foster-children; the kind you see on “Law & Order” episodes where they’re neglected, pushed around & met with apprehension. Which, when you think about the amount of money, time, and effort that went into choosing them in the recruitment process, is a shame. But it doesn’t have to be that way – neglect is also a choice… even in the professional ‘world of work.’
Within a functional culture, such as the one at Zappos, for example, working to build a positive, healthy environment & “work family” is etched into the cultural DNA. I suggest we take a page from their ‘family law book:’ Cheer for each other’s victories; pick up the slack in support of each other when a family member is sick.. and when there’s a new adoption in the family? Celebrate it for the exciting event that it is… take the time to wrap the new, adopted ‘family member’ in a positive blanket of concerted effort to teach the team dynamics and help them find their functional place in the professional family… showing them that you & your team were exactly what they needed, and were looking for.
And to all Parents & Children who have participated in Adoption …
Bless You. Happy National Adoption Day.
(1) and slight admonishment at times, if truth be told