After reading of the opinions of some adult adoptees about adoption, I was quite disturbed. "Is THIS what my daughter will think in years to come? Will she, too, be bitter and resentful? And... is there anything I can do to stop that happening?"
To this end, I think it's useful to try to understand more about how an adoptee* may see and experience the world. As prospective adoptive parents, we were warned about many of these things but they were lost among concerns about more immediate post-adoption problems like food hoarding, attachment issues, night terrors, etc. (thank God, we haven't had any of those crop up), as well as the understandable excitement over becoming parents and the joy we felt when Caroline became our daughter. It is worth stating explicitly that not all adoptees are alike, and I attempt here to understand the "angry adoptee".
First, "adoption begins with loss." This is a brief statement that is, I think, easy to pass off as a mere shibboleth, especially for the parents: after all, we are gaining through the process, not losing. What might this mean to the adoptee?
Obviously, the adoptee loses his birth family and especially his mother. Depending on age at abandonment, he may have developed a very close bond with the birth mother / parents. I don't know if anybody really knows how much of a bond exists between a newborn and his mother, but I think that we all take for granted that it's very close. Suddenly, that bond is snapped. The child finds himself alone, then in the arms of many strangers, in a strange place, likely one among many children, denied the very personal, loving attention that he likely experienced even if for a short time. How confusing this must be for a little child... and how frightening.
|... to this.|
I suspect that this loss actually becomes harder for the child when he is older, especially if he was abandoned shortly after birth. Particularly for trans-racial adoptees, they begin to notice that they don't look like their parents. Further, unlike the adoptive parents of a generation or two ago, adoptive parents now are urged to be very open with their children: "You were adopted." The child must wonder why. And from that, he must wonder if it is - somehow - his own fault. How might a child feel when he sees other children with their biological parents, getting the love and attention that is normal between parents and child? "Was I bad? Why didn't they want me?"
Unfortunately, there is no escape from this question as the child is constantly reminded that he is not with his birth parents. Strangers, even with the kindliest of intent, ask his parents about him as if he is an exhibit, a curiosity. Strangers then frequently praise the parents for their charity in adopting a child**: "He is so lucky!" and "You're doing such a wonderful thing for that poor child."
Family tree asignments in grammar school. Family medical history questionnaires. Simply looking at family photos ("Nobody looks like me"). The child lives in a world where he is constantly reminded that he is out of place, that he doesn't belong.
|"Hee-hee! That man's looking at you so funny, Daddy!"|
"People where you were born abandon little girls all the time."
"Your home country is so poor that they can't afford to keep their children."
"Only boys are important where you come from."
The child is cut off from his birth parents. He is cut off from his birth culture. He is told that the place he was born is bad. And he may well be told that he is "bad" simply because of the color of his skin. America has an unfortunately long history of being (ahem) unkind to "outsiders" and especially non-whites, and the adopted child may well have to confront this problem no matter how diligent his parents are in preparing and protecting him from it. The lack of connection to birth culture, it seems to me, makes this harder for the child: he has no cultural / racial pride to help armor him against racist attacks. Perhaps worse, he may well be baffled by them: growing up in a white family, he may well FEEL "white", making racism that much more hurtful because, again, it reinforces any feelings that he may have of not truly belonging.
|... and what on the inside?|
|You BELONG to me, do you hear?!|
But to whom can he speak about these feelings? He is, in a real sense, cut off from the very people that he SHOULD be able to turn to: his parents. To speak of his birth mother, to speak of any feeling of not belonging or of discontent or even simple sadness or confusion might smack of "ingratitude" or even hurt the people who love him so very much... and that he, in his turn, loves very much. So, he may feel that he's got to hold it in.
Is it any wonder that some adoptees may grow to feel bitter about adoption?
Finally, not all parents are perfect. There are those - I think, very few - who abuse their children, whether physically, sexually, verbally, or through neglect. There are others who are temperamentally unsuited to be parents, or just unsuited to be the parents of the children that they have (how many children can say with perfect honesty that their parents don't understand them? How many parents are frustrated because they can't reach their children?). Even the best parent makes mistakes: he punishes when punishment isn't warranted, fails to praise when praise is merited, can't spare time when two minutes would make all the difference to a child who needs to talk, attempts to push too hard his own beliefs, prejudices, hopes and regrets off on his child, or simply says the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.
Is it easier for the adopted child to turn parenting failure into an indictment of adoption? To seek relief from the pain he feels in the belief that he shouldn't have been adopted in the first place, that the system is corrupt, that it is racist, that it preys on poor families? Perhaps.
What should the adoptive parent do? Where is the line between:
- Telling a child that he's adopted and talking openly about it... and rubbing it in?
- Honoring the birth parents... and making them into saints?
- Honoring birth culture... and making it just one more reason for the child to feel different from his peers?
- Being honest about the reasons that children are given up... and denigrating the child's birth culture?
- Discussing racism... and putting a chip on the child's shoulder?
- Celebrating happiness that the child is his... and making the child feel like a trinket?
- Talking about the feelings the child might have as an adoptee to start a conversation... or inducing those very feelings in the child?
(*) In this case, "adoptee" refers explicitly to trans-racial / international adoptees.
(**) We have already experienced this. We try to explain that WE are the blessed ones, the "lucky" ones, that Caroline is our daughter.
(***) 1 Samuel 1:27: "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him..."