Placed for adoption at the age of five weeks, Simon Benn grew up in a loving adoptive home. The fact he had been adopted was never kept secret from him. From an early age, Simon’s parents talked to him about his background. In fact, this information was so accepted he cannot even remember the specific time when they revealed to him that he was adopted.
In Simon’s eyes, his adoptive parents were simply his parents. His sister once asked him if he wanted to find his “real parents.” He responded that his mum and dad were his real parents.
But Simon’s happy world hit a wall later in life. A teddy bear was the culprit. Finding out who had given it to him caused anger to erupt in him like a volcano. At age forty, Simon learned Ted, the toy he’d had for as long as he could remember, was a gift from his biological mother. My mum didn’t love me enough to keep me and gave me this teddy as a “consolation prize,” he fumed.
The revelation of the gift’s donor resulted from Simon’s fortieth birthday celebration. His parents brought some of his things from their house to give him, including Ted. Simon’s father confided to Simon’s wife, Lynn, that the teddy bear had been a gift from his biological mother. Lynn, of course, relayed this information to her husband. His initial reaction was mild curiosity, but Simon boiled with anger about the adoption while discussing the news with a friend. She gently questioned his thinking, and the truth she helped him see, that his mother really did care about him, was a “pin in the anger balloon.”
Despite releasing his initial anger over the gift of Ted as a perceived “consolation prize,” Simon became troubled about his adoption. The jarring episode changed his life and ultimately the lives of other adoptees for the better. His concern led to big changes for him. For years he had worked in the educational publishing business, a family business. Achieving success in business had not made him happy. Perhaps his status as an adoptee was causing his unhappiness, he thought. Simon decided to sell his business and focus on other pursuits.
Benn ended up going back to school, but not as a student. He translated the lessons he’d learned from adult interactions into helping children. For six years, Simon worked with elementary school students; he focused on anti-bullying and other topics to help kids be happy. Additionally, he participated in some online training for adoption agencies.
Eventually. a creative spark as to how to specifically help adoptees hit Simon. He says it was about “thirty seconds” from having this idea to getting started to make it a reality. His creative baby is Thriving Adoptees. Its website, https://www.thrivingadoptees.com/,. in addition to offering articles and information, provides access to podcasts Simon has hosted and produced. To date he has recorded approximately 120 podcasts and has an international audience of around 10,000. Podcast guests include adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals, among others.
Creating Thriving Adoptees provides a double benefit to Benn. He loves the conversations he has for the podcast. It means “everything” to him because it has helped him as well as others. His personal experiences as well as his interactions with others touched by adoption has led him to advocate for finding “meaning in the mess.”
To what “mess” does Benn refer? One of the common themes he’s found in his podcasts is that adoptees tend to lose themselves in the drama of their stories. He himself didn’t feel “wounded” until he read The Primal Wound. This book, published in 1993, posited that separating a baby from his biological mother via adoption was a trauma, “a primal wound,” leading to lifelong feelings of abandonment and lack of belonging. Reading this book merely increased Simon’s unhappiness as it placed his focus on the wounding of perceived rejection.
As Simon explains, books on adoption “enlarged my trauma bowl,” and he became trauma obsessed. Since what we focus on grows, Benn’s grief expanded, and his world grew darker. Fortunately, he sought professional help. He “turned around 180 degrees and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.” He recognized the voice in his head telling him he was worthless was not him. Likewise, the anger he felt wasn’t him.
A famous quote by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sums up what Simon has come to realize about the effect of his adoption on him. He believes, as does the Frenchman, that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; instead, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Benn notes that a spirit cannot be wounded because “it’s not a thing.” He says, “I felt wounded, but we are not our feelings. The essence of who I am, my true identity, wasn’t wounded.” Viewing adoption in this light took Benn a long time to see. He understands it is a radical concept which each person must see for himself. “There’s no such thing as a secondhand epiphany,” he points out.
Benn firmly believes all individuals thrive by seeing the truth that they are not forever damaged by what has happened to them in their past. He adheres to this belief despite all the things adoptees say in Facebook groups where anger and grief are expressed.
An adoptive parent’s keeping their child’s status as an adoptee from them is also traumatic. He wholeheartedly encourages parents to be honest with an adopted child about how they joined the family in which they are being raised. People do not like surprises, especially ones about their own story. No one likes to be lied to.
Other than being honest about a child’s adoptive status, how can adoptive parents help adoptees thrive? Adoptive parents need help in understanding how adoptees feel according to Simon. The single most important thing they must grasp is that the crux of the matter is that they are a parent; they are no less a parent simply because they have adopted. It is not about parenting techniques, he says. Rather, Simon believes it is about the adoptive parent’s point of view—how they see their role. Unsurprisingly, post-adoption support is a common theme discussed in Thriving Adoptees’ podcasts.
According to the dictionary definition of “thrive,” growing well and vigorously indicates something, such as a plant or a person, is thriving. Nothing thrives without intentional attention and care. Plants must be watered, and children, including adoptees, need to be showered with love and understanding. Simon Benn is tending the adoption garden by developing personal connections to those in the adoption area, producing podcasts to share the stories and insights of others, and modeling what it looks like to be a thriving adoptee.