To Adoptive and Prospective Adoptive Parents

by Luanne (adoptive mother and adoptive sister)

After learning how it is in some other families, I feel compelled to mention a subject I hadn’t really thought about in the past: gratitude in adoption.

I find the whole subject kind of flabbergasting. Even as I say that, I’m not holding up my family as a perfect family. We’re far from that. Hahahaha.

But when I was growing up, learning how some adoptive parents view this subject would have blown my mind. And now, having raised two kids who were adopted, it blows my mind. In fact, to use an expression my British friends use, I’m gobsmacked.

As I’ve written in the past, my brother was adopted 50 years ago, so the household I grew up in had its own way of experiencing the adoption issue. My parents were on the vanguard of telling an adoptee–my brother, in this case– from the beginning that he was adopted. There was no secrecy, no trying to “pass him off” as a biological member of the family.

And, like my kids after him, my parents never told my brother he should be grateful that he was adopted.

WHAT??????

Here’s a video that begins to explain:

Some of you are probably applauding the specialist on the video.

If you skipped the video and are just wondering why I think gratitude and adoption don’t mix, let me explain that I think it’s great to teach children to be grateful and to foster gratitude whenever it makes sense.

But what is important to remember is that an adoptee should NEVER (and I mean NEVER EVER EVER) be expected to be grateful for having been adopted. Why should a child be grateful for being ripped out of their birth family, which includes cultural and genetic history, just so you, the adoptive parent, can adopt him and “save” him? And just because you happen to be one of the privileged minority of humans in the world and can give them the sort of life that having more resources can provide?

If the idea of telling an adoptee to be grateful pops up in your head, I am begging you to uproot it! A child should never be expected to be grateful for feelings of abandonment and loss and discontinuity. She ought to feel free to be glad, relieved, and even grateful that you are her adoptive parent and not someone else . . . if that is what she feels inside. She should never be required or demanded to have certain feelings.

If you haven’t yet adopted and don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reconsider the idea of adopting. Honestly, there are enough other challenges in adoptive families and, indeed, all families without causing more dysfunction.

Comments

  1. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Luanne, thank you for saying what needs to be said — and, said a lot!

  2. I think most mainstream parents understand this now, or grow uncomfortable over the continual referencing by John Q Public. I am not sure just turning the “she’s lucky” to “no we are the lucky ones” is enough for clueless people saying it, some will need the reality check.

    I worry greatly over those through this new segment of adopting parents – the ones going to “save” the orphans (even those domestic infant orphans…). They themselves may not expect it, but the culture surrounding it – just look at all the words – the expectation is firmly entrenched. Words like “paid the ransom”, “rescued”, “orphan” and on and on.

    Good post!

    • Thanks, Tao. I agree about those terms and the underlying thinking that lurks behind them and worry too. What shocked me was finding out that many parents I would not have guessed would hold those beliefs do in fact hold them. It gave me such a sick feeling.

      • Oh that’s not a good thing at all – with PC perhaps I just don’t see it. Difference between feeling thankful for what you have, and being made to feel indebted (as in indentured) and people just don’t seem to understand the difference. Perhaps because they don’t care to dig deep. No wonder you were gobsmacked – isn’t that a great word?

  3. Yes, that idea ‘flabbergasts’ me as well Luanne. I don’t think our situation is quite like that. But I think adoptive parents should worry about loving thier child and making shure their adopted child feels loved, and part of a loving family. If any gratitude ever pops up it has to be organic. If adoptive parents are considering this I think they should be satisfied with intrinsic gratitude. …and love that child.

  4. So interested to read this blog, my mother was adopted way back in the 1920s, when things were a lot different, and it gave her so many problems. I shall enjoy following you here.

    • Hi Jackie, you’ve now found me everywhere there is to find me, I think ;). Yes, I know your mom was adopted, and I’m sorry to hear that it gave her a lot of problems. So happy you’re here now though.

      • Hope you don’t think I’m stalking you, we just share a lot of interests – genealogy, writing, adoption issues – and I really enjoy the way you write, you have a good ‘voice’. I’ve noticed that whenever I find an author I enjoy reading I have to collect as many of their books as I can! Keep up the good work 🙂

        • Hah, nope, I didn’t think you were stalking me, Jackie! We do share a lot of issues. I was thinking about that before when you have mentioned issues with researching the adoption in your family. Thank you so much for your kind words!!!

  5. Fred Ziffel says:

    Thanks for this, Luanne. As an adoptive parent, I am the one who is grateful for my kids. They have given my life a meaning and a purpose that it wouldn’t have had without them. When they were little and strangers would approach to say how lucky they are (we are a trans-racial family), I would always correct them, “No, I am the lucky one.” For anyone to expect my kids to be grateful to me for adopting them seems twisted and sick.

    • Fred, so beautifully put: “They have given my life a meaning and a purpose that it wouldn’t have had without them.” And, yes, “twisted and sick” to expect gratitude. I wonder if some people who feel that way never even consider the child pre-adoption or the birth right that the child has to biology and cultural history.

  6. Despite being gladdened that this subject is even being considered by “adoptors”, I join Tao relative to voicing concern about this narrative. I suggest that control of the narrative by that self-same group will result in side-stepping a number of fundamental and discomfiting issues. Since the commonly accepted narrative has long suggested that we, “the adopted-ones”, should be/will be so very grateful for the munificence of the saviors’ purported love and compassion that we will repay them in kind, I doubt that a few “enlightened” comments sprinkled here and there will result in any significant shift (although it is a start).

    I was never a Cabbage Patch Kid, a commodity to be purchased (whether on monetary or other bases) as property subject to being owned, controlled and/or possessed. I am, nevertheless grateful for: Being fed; Being clothed (albeit hand-me-downs or donated hand-me-downs); and, Being ‘educated’.

    To provide a “whack on the side of the head” (à la Roger von Oech), I suggest that one fundamental issue to be considered is why some individuals feel compelled to adopt as opposed to either changing social structures that result in “unwanted” babies or providing support directly to birth parents. Rather than pathologize the “others”, whether they be ‘irresponsible’ birth parents or unruly/angry adoptees, perhaps the adoptors might be scrutinized. Another issue of interest might relate to infertile couples who (again, apparently) feel compelled to “have a child of their own”. What pathology underlies their desire(s)?

    Yes. I am being outrageous, unreasonable, rude and perhaps even cruel… But —

    There is one basic question adopters or adopter-wannabes might ask themselves: Do they expect the object(s) of their desire to be (exclude the judgmental “should be”) so very grateful for the purported love and compassion that the object(s) repay it in kind? If the answer be “Yes”, I would suggest they select a pet rock rather than a human being.

  7. Hi Brent, you bring up a lot of points here and definitely start the wheels turning. However, I’m not quite sure what you mean. what does “control of the narrative by that self-same group” mean? Also, I’m unclear on if you are against all adoption? I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me, saying I, as an adoptive parent, shouldn’t be talking about this, or what, in all honesty.

    • @Luanne

      I had merely provided a viewpoint that diverges from what is commonly expressed and practiced in the multi-billion dollar adoption industry, and would only hope that my comments stimulated some out-of-the-box thinking.

      As previously indicated, I am heartened that this subject has been raised by an “adoptor”. My concern is that the discussion may become something of a mantra, with soothing words repeated without any substantive changes to actions carried out by those who have, or will, adopt, and because of this, I referenced control of the narrative. This is parallel to my concern about the narrative on race, and as to which a rather instructive article has been written by Jona Olosson. While that narrative is not identical to adoption, there are similarities since what lies at the heart of the matter is the exercise of power, and as a precursor to that exercise is the authority/standing to speak and thus set the narrative framework and the normative parameters of the discussion. (The article I referenced is, “Detour Spotting For White Anti Racists”, which can be accessed through this link: http://www.culturalbridgestojustice.org/resources/written )

      If you must have a label to apply to me, you can apply “anti-adoption” in the USA except in situations involving true orphans, the termination of parental rights due to full-blown abuse or neglect, and life issues that otherwise preclude parents from raising their children on their own. Just so you know, the last situation is a tricky one because the time, effort and money spent on “adoption” would probably be more than sufficient to enable parents to raise their own children. My half-brother by blood (who was adopted by folks I never met) and I both wish someone had given this some thought years ago. My also-adopted brother (by law, only) and I don’t talk about it.

      As far as adoptions from foreign nation-states goes, put an unrestricted “anti-adoption” sticker on me. I am unable to conceive of a sound rationale for those in the USA importing children when their are plenty right here at home — just an aside based on two decades of legal work, my past work as a cop and a paramedic, and 50-something years of interacting with others in a world viewed through the lenses of an “adoptee”.

      • Yes, that makes sense. Your viewpoint is somewhat “overall” or “general” for lack of a better word, whereas I am more a thinker of details and specifics–therefore, individual stories. Also, I probably believe there are more times that adoption is necessary than you do–particularly in the land of foster children who are ready to be adopted and in need of a stable life (drugs and mental illness are powerful deterrents to providing that life for children). I also don’t think all adoptive parents ought to be held to standards which are unreasonable for the public in general–such as being saints that give up the desire to have children in order to help communities with long range goals of keeping children in place. YES, that should be our priority as a culture, but individuals shouldn’t be expected to do more than others. That has to come from the heart and the mind with education. So it’s appropriate to make that an important goal, but not to chastise individual people for adopting when they thought it was the right thing to do.
        In general, the more I learn about adoption the more I agree that there has to be a better situation in many cases, but there is no one answer–as I said, people all have their own unique stories.

  8. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Brent, I, too am interested in having you expound a bit on the questions Luanne brings up in her reply above. I also am a little confused about what you mean by this:”Another issue of interest might relate to infertile couples who (again, apparently) feel compelled to “have a child of their own”. What pathology underlies their desire(s)?” Do you think that people who want to get pregnant and have families are pathological for some reason? I think there is probably pretty good evidence that our brains are hardwired to want to procreate. (By the way, in the name of full disclosure, my family did not experience infertility. Adoption was our first choice to expand our family from one to two children. And no, we are not religious people motivated to “save” a child. We were a family of three who wanted another child and read about all the girls abandoned in China, and decided that was the way to add to our family. )

    • @ Lisa

      @ Lisa

      I suggested an underlying “pathology” on the part of adoptors since it is (a) jarring and (b) the adopted-ones are the ones who are usually pathologized. Since it is quite clear that the normative approach has been to focus on the adopted ones who are labeled “maladjusted”, described as “inappropriately acting out” or otherwise labeling them in an adverse fashion, I merely inverted the perspective so as to prompt some critical thinking.

      Because of the control of narrative I spoke of, I point out that It seems you tried to pull the “pathology stunt” on me even though you are not part of the “infertile couple” framework. We both know infertile couples are unable to procreate — that’s what “infertility” is all about. I’m pretty sure you do not think me unaware of basic biological drives, and suggested, whether by intuition or intent, that something was wrong with me for “not getting it” so as to avoid dealing with some of the more difficult issues surrounding adoption.

      I know a number of adoptees who were adopted by infertile couples who seemed far more interested in satisfying their “need for a child” than the interest they expressed about the child’s best interests. Such adoptions, I think, do not involve procreation, not even to the extent adoptors might attempt to write themselves upon the child-as-tabla rasa. Were my half-brother by blood willing to talk to others about his “adoption experience” after the infertile couple had a miracle-birth, I think most would be diasbused from believing that adopting the child of another is “the real thing” or even a close substitute.

      Does the foregoing apply to all infertile couples? I don’t think so, but then, again, I raised the pathology issue to prompt some thinking that is not stuck in a rut that suggests adoption is “the” answer.

      I suspect you view your adoption of a foreign national as a good, if not moral effort to save one out of “all the girls abandoned”. I have little doubt the circumstances those girls face are appalling, and in that regard, perhaps your efforts are no less an effort toward “salvation” than the soul/spirit saving efforts of those motivated to do so by religious zeal. There is, however, a larger issue that slips past conscious awareness, one that is lost in the dust when great sentiment/sentimentality and even outrage are expressed regarding those unfortunates.
      The social structures that lead to “unwanted” girls in China is, in the first instance, lost in the dust. The factors that led to the circumstances of those children remain entrenched and entirely unresolved. In part, the “unwanted girls” there are due to a yearning for male children and a “cap” being placed on the number of children allowed. Both of these are a sociocultural issues that don’t go away by themselves. The societal “error” (if it is indeed an error) that led to all those girls in China being abandoned is the “real” problem, and without correcting it, there may be a lot more of them who will be forthcoming. That China is now in the zone of having a due to males outnumbering the females will have an interesting impact on the situation — perhaps the problem of having an excessive number of girls in China will correct itself.

      As to any adoption of foreign-national children, I suggest the financial transactions involved lead to those with good, predatory and mixed intent all getting a “cut” of some sort. In this matter, financial arrangements (whether for services or otherwise) partially perpetuate the “unwanted child” situation. It is Econ 101 throughout, with government workers, translators, expeditors, attorneys, etc., all getting a piece of the pie — it is an industry.
      Having interacted with a number of adoptees, including Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Native-Americans (Amerinds) and Arab-Americans, I suggest there are significant problems these hypenated-ones deal with, problems that often can not be seen in a “colorblind” society. As a half-bred (half butter) POC, I can personally attest to the truth of this, at least in the USA.

  9. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Brent, I truly appreciate your point of view and you have given me a lot to think about. Please check back here later, if you would, as I want to have a conversation about all of this, but an unable this evening (helping 19-year-old daughter get ready to leave for college next week!) to respond with thoughtful intelligence. I will say that yes, it would be wonderfu, if all societies put all the money and energy they put into the adoption industry into preserving families. But we have to create the will to do this, and that will take time. In the meantime, there are thousands and thousands of children who do not presently have families or parents (whatever led to that). Do you think it would be better for them to, say, grow up family-less in an orphanage (in the case of my own child’s background) while we are creating this will to preserve families? I honestly want to know.

  10. @Luanne
    Relative to your 8/13 comment as to the number of children needing a “family”, I am not at all blind to the living arrangements of many children in the US, having seen some rather unpleasant circumstances as both a cop and as a paramedic. The following article may better describe my thoughts on the matter better than the discussion that this type of forum allows: Howe, Ruth-Arlene W., Transracial Adoption (TRA): Old Prejudices and Discrimination Float Under a New Halo. Boston University Public Interest Law Journal, Vol. 6, pp. 409-472, 1997; Boston College Law School Research Paper No. 1997-04. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=870473

    • Brent, I tried to open it, but it said it could damage my computer. I’m not used to this website, so I don’t dare download it. It sounds interesting that “old prejudices and discrimination float under a new halo.” Can you sum up her point?

      • It is overly difficult to summarize a well-written article that delves into TransRacial Adoption history that includes economic, social and other factors. I provide a general link to the site I referred to – I have been using that site for years without problems – various journal articles are provided there without fee. The site–is the “Social Science Research Network” at http://www.ssrn.com/ and you can look up the author, Ruth-Arlene W. Howe.

        You might try to access the article at the author’s page on another site, the “Berkeley Electronic Press”, which also provides academic papers at no charge: http://works.bepress.com/ruth-arlene_howe/

        Both sites have a wealth of information that may support, counter or modify one’s beliefs about various subjects.

  11. “She ought to feel free to be glad, relieved, and even grateful that you are her adoptive parent and not someone else . . . if that is what she feels inside. She should never be required or demanded to have certain feelings.”

    Yes, that.

    It never occured to me that my children would be grateful for being adopted. When people say my kids are lucky, I tend to say, “We’re *all* lucky.” But then, I know my children’s birth parents and their situations. It’s interesting, because DS at one point said he was “thankful” that we adopted him. I told him that that wasn’t necessary. We *wanted* him, and S chose us, and we’re lucky he’s our son. He struggles with adoption already, and he’s only 7. I don’t think he needs to be grateful for that, and it pisses me off when other people say that adoptees should be grateful for anything.

    • One of the things that is complicating adoption issues more is that we have a two sets of interests/needs. We have a big group of adoptees who don’t know much about their backgrounds–adult adoptees, but also international adoptees. Then we have the children who are in open adoption or whose adoptive parents know their backgrounds or who were foster adopted. The fundamental issues are the same, such as parents shouldn’t expect or require their kids to have certain feelings, but the specifics can be different. Robyn, because you know your kids birth parents, you can “fine tune” this stuff more than I ever could. Does that make any sense at all? And, yes, it pisses me off, too.

  12. Great topic to discuss Luanne!

    Adoption is complex and messy and there are parts of it that I can say I am grateful for as an adoptee, but I came to those after much work on understanding my story and working on healing from the loss and rejection.

    As an AP, I do not think I should EVER expect my children to be grateful TO me. As a natural relationship forms in a new family we naturally develop gratitude out of love for each other… this is not something that can be forced or expected to happen as the dynamics of bringing complete strangers together to call each other “family” are unpredictable. An AP who enters with the expectation or desire of a child feeling gratitude only sets that child up for failure and themselves for disappointment.

    Encouraging the language and understanding of how to handle the topic of “gratitude” in adoption is important and I think it will continue to evolve with more and similar discussions in safe environments such as this. We must make space to challenge each other’s traditional views, listen to the voices of those who are walking the road, and partner to find the language that is appropriate and empowering.

  13. “Adoption is a Virtuous Act”
    Adopted parents are virtuous by nature. They exhibit a genuine sense of compassion and a natural love of others. Adopted parents have the habit of goodness. They possess a common grace and willingly achieve results through human effort with the knowledge that virtue is its own reward. They are virtuous because they seek only goodness and what is best for their adopted child.
    http://judithland.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/adoption-is-a-virtuous-act/

    • Judith, I’ll be honest: when I read your comment here, I was floored (and I mean dumbfounded) because I can’t imagine assuming that all adoptive parents are virtuous. So I went over to your post and read it. Then I took a look at your blog and tried to assimilate this post with the rest of your blog/platform. I’d love to discuss this with you. You are an adult adoptee, right? So is your post meant to promote virtuousness as a Christian value? Or are you really meaning that you believe that all adoptive parents are virtuous? Because that’s obviously not true or there wouldn’t be the occasional murder of a child by an adoptive parent (just as there are murders of children by their biological parents). I’m sure plenty of people have been adopted by people with personality disorders, just as many bio families have parents with personality disorders. I want to understand, but I’m not really getting where you’re coming from.

  14. You are on point. I’ve been told that I’m supposed to be grateful to ha e parents and that I’m an ungrateful person because I don’t give special thanks for being an adopted child. Parents do not understand how dysfunctional this is. Its sad to be left by everyone who should have known and loved you. It is good to have family but the love should be unconditional and given just as given to bio children.

Trackbacks

  1. […] To Adoptive and Prospective Adoptive Parents :: Don’t We Look Alike? […]

  2. […] was a post a while back over at Don’t We Look Alike on the topic of gratitude called “To Adoptive and Prospective Adoptive Parents.”  It resonated with me as something I agree with and something I have seen addressed fairly […]

  3. […] as angry at the child. You might do something dumb like tell her she ought to be grateful. See my recent grumpy post about that […]

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