Don’t Hug Me for Adopting My Children
The other day, something interesting happened. Another mom who I barely know had heard through the grapevine that my kids were adopted. She came to me, asked if this was true. She asked if she could give me a hug. Startled, I said, "Sure" and proceeded to be pulled into a huge bear hug. Then she told me how wonderful a person I am.
I stiffined and thought to myself, "Wait. What?" I muttered something about my kids making me the lucky one. Then, I quickly moved on, but inside I was jarred. I felt a bit like a fraud, a bit angry and protective of my "poor children". My kids were obviously being pitied now that their adoption history was known by this woman. She was making a lot of assumptions about what that means. Worse, my kids were right there listening to what feelings they "should" have.
Adoption Issues are Complex
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Adoption brings up many feelings and issues. The first feeling that needs to be sorted is a sense of loss. Many people do not understand this. Like the mom who hugged me, many people think adopted kids are saved from horrible circumstances. Actually, one in every 25 families has at least one adopted child in the United States, but only about 40% of these children come from foster care. The other 60% are adopted either domestically (usually now through open adoptions like my own) or internationally.
While kids who have been adopted through the foster care system have certainly been through hard times and are offered a better situation with adoption, they still feel the loss of their first parents. And yes, the kids who are adopted domestically or internationally were usually born into less than desirable circumstances. For most, these circumstances cause their birth parent(s) to consider adoption in the first place. Still, adoptees rarely feel 100% grateful for the situation because they were not consulted. Even if they would have made the same choice, they still have a piece missing from themselves.
Adoption Feelings of Loss are Normal
Yes, adoptees love their adoptive parents in most cases. Sure, they usually recognize that their lives might have been significantly harder if they had not left the homes of their first parents. Many grow to understand that their first parents placed them for adoption out of love and a desire for a better life. Still, with all the benefits of adoption, kids also feel a huge loss and need to process grief at a most tender age. This grief is complex, wrapped up in identity issues, and difficult for the adults involved to process--much less for the child. So, no, most adopted kids do not initially respond to their adoptions by feeling lucky.
Adoptive Parents are the Lucky Ones
As for adoptive parents...maybe I'm biased, but I believe that out of the adoption triad adoptive parents luck out the most. Most of us did not choose adoption because it is a noble way to start a family. The adoption process is expensive, long, and hard. We adopt because we want a family more than anything, and the traditional ways of starting a family do not always come easy. We want to hold a baby in our arms and call him/her our own. Adoptive parents want desperately to watch our children grow and share in the joys of their first day of school and first loves. WE are the lucky ones because, through adoption, our dreams come true. Our grief is wrapped up in our infertility. When it comes to adoption, though, we feel gratitude and joy.
Kids who are adopted are entitled to all of their feelings--not just the positive ones.
So, to all the people out there that believe that kids who are adopted are lucky, just know that the reality is actually way more complicated than you think. Kids who are adopted are entitled to all of their feelings--not just the positive ones. Saying that they are lucky (and therefore should always feel grateful) implies that there is something wrong with their negative feelings. It minimizes their adoption issues.
Feel free, however, to tell me how lucky I am to have such fantastic, brave, witty, and resilient kids because that is 100% the case.