Paying Attention to the Details

Phewwww, it’s been awhile. In an effort to take care of me, I took some much needed time off from things across the board and focused on my children and family. The overarching anxiety this pandemic has brought from all different directions has been so very real. But that is not what brought me back to my blog.

I have so many topics that come to my mind at different times, that I write down as something I want to cover and talk about. Topics I want to write a workshop on or have inspired me to create a resource to help other adoptees and adoptive parents. However, it is through a calling and almost a 6th sense that I decide to choose one specific topic over the other and decide that is the next blog post.

This evening I took this picture of my daughter and I. She came out past bedtime as both my children do 50 bazillion times after they are tucked in and settled down and every time I tell them to go back to bed. However, tonight I thought, let me take a picture. My daughter was obviously ecstatic because it gave her a little extra time to avoid her bed. This picture made my heart smile. Every time I see my children next to me, side by side, I revel at our similarities. Seeing someone who looks like me, who mirrors me, who is apart of me. That never gets old, ever.

Seeing myself in my children has always been a gift I never had. As an adoptee, I didn’t look like anyone. When I found my birth parents, I still didn’t look like anyone. I never looked like my one biological sibling growing up (who was adopted into the same family). I just looked like, me. I felt disconnected. That was actually harder then you might think.

This brings me to genetic mirroring. In an effort to help those understand, who may not know what genetic mirroring is, here is the definition:

——Oh wait. There is no formal definition. (That should probably change).

Well let me explain. Genetic mirroring is the phenomena of seeing yourself through the people you are genetically related to. This is most often in the form of physical characteristics but is not limited to that. In fact this can be seen through mannerisms, likes and dislikes and a number of other ways. However, I would say physical characteristics has always been something big for me. This is something I find people, specifically non-adopted, like to dispute with saying things like “well, I don’t look like my parents either”, or “Yea I understand, people always thought I was adopted because I always looked different then the rest of my family”. Let’s just not ever do this, ok? Not resembling family you are related to is much different, because your are still related. You are still genetically linked. You can still hear stories that link you to your family such as “you look like your great great grandmother reincarnated”. So PSA, do not bring that up in a conversation if an adoptee ever reveals their feelings around this topic to you.

Growing up I had a fascination, almost an obsession with details. I gravitated towards pictures and as an adult, I have found myself enamored with sites like and 23andme. Not just the DNA piece, but the family tree and digging through archived records and newspapers, piece.

I always paid attention to details as a child. In fact I always paid close attention to details, in the entire sense of that word. Whether it was my clothes, the food I was eating, the promise you made (and then forgot), I remembered and scrutinized everything. I wrote with detail, described with details, drew pictures with details, TOOK pictures with detail. My favorite classes in high school were art and photography, not that I was very good at either, but because I controlled the details.

I remember as a child looking at families in movies and thinking about how bad the casting was because the families didn’t look related. How does a mom with blond hair and a dad with brown hair end up with a child with red hair?! (In my childlike mind). It didn’t matter if this was a live action or a cartoon. I would also pick out the similarities between family members when looking at pictures of my adoptive family (obviously between them and not me). “You have her nose”, that “curve in your jaw comes from mom”, “that dimple is from dad”. My adoptive mother always used to say (and still does), “I don’t see it but then again you have always been better at picking out the details”. Looking back now, I realize that was my attempt at filling a void, that “otherness”, that feeling of never quite fitting. I couldn’t even pretend to blend in because I am a transracial adoptee. I hated sticking out. I think another key facet with the details was the fact that I could never control it. I couldn’t change the way I looked, I couldn’t change the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb in public with my family, I couldn’t make people not notice, I couldn’t make myself blend in. That was difficult.

A huge turning point in my life, and in most, was motherhood. However, it took on a whole other meaning for me. It began what was many firsts, not only in the form of motherhood, but in relation to the pieces of my adoption. The first time I saw myself in someone else was through my daughter and it was the most amazing feeling. I take so many pictures, it might even look a little obsessive at times. Sometimes I wonder if the idea of taking a picture, is also a physical piece of proof. I know my children will always be my children, they will always look like me in different ways, but its almost hard to believe sometimes and I have to make sure I don’t lose that. It’s a weird notion, but that’s the best way to describe it.

When my daughter was born, I caught myself comparing every detail of her to me. Later, I rummaged through pictures and found the earliest one I could find and placed them side by side; and then I cried (picture below). I still cry sometimes when I look at my children.

I am the top picture, My daughter is the bottom two.

It’s so important to talk about this. To acknowledge this. To feel this and allow yourself the space to grieve this. Genetic mirroring and the lack of it, is a real thing. It is important for adoptive parents to understand this, to be aware of this, to look at the subtle nuances and unsaid words that are filling an adoptee’s mind. It is important to provide encouragement and love and space. It is important to think about your child sitting in the room when you are at a family reunion. When the topic of the “Smith” family physical traits and genes being passed down from generation to generation turns into an hour long discussion. When your child is sitting right there. It is important to remember, that not many adoptees will make these things known because the idea of offending or hurting your feelings outweighs the pain and complex feelings that they are experiencing (at least in our mind). It is important to know that your child should never have to tell you what they are feeling, instead, you should be probing, discussing and creating a space that makes the conversations around adoption fluid and not taboo; that it would come up naturally and not forced. A continuous space of safety and love.

I bring all of that into my work now. I pay attention to the children I work with, the children and families I counsel, the families who are struggling to connect. I pay attention to the details because the details matter. Acknowledging the details of being different are just as important as acknowledging those details that make us similar.

Published by Stephanie Oyler

Stephanie is a Licensed MSW professional who specializes in the area of adoption and foster care. She is also an adoptee herself. Adoptee LIT is a space created for education, advocacy, personal insight/experience and guidance in the sphere of Adoption.

One thought on “Paying Attention to the Details

  1. Thank you for this article.. I believe in gave me a glimpse into what my children may one day think and feel. You have described my 4 year old son who is the most detailed oriented child I have ever met.


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