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Adoptive parents, self-selecting for and against

October 1, 2010

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and this recent post on Yoon’s Blur dovetails into it.

Sidenote: Yoon’s Blur is one of a bunch of adoptee blogs I read. I have a mix of adopted parents and adoptee blogs. A few birthparent ones, but I haven’t found any as notable to me, I think in part because I’m more interested in non-American domestic adoption, and most birthparents there will blog in non-English and have less access. I would love links and recommendations though.

Adoptee blogs mean a lot to me. We have an old book, How It Feels To Be Adopted, that I loved, and now my kids sometimes pick up to read, plus a bunch of adoptee memoirs. Almost nothing by adopted parents because they were either the “I just got home with my kid and everything is so happy and meant to be!” or “my adopted kid is a nightmare and I am a saint” last time I went looking. I think I have a collection of triad essays somewhere. My kids could at least relate to some of the stories in How It Feels, and most importantly – it’s in the kids’ own voices, rather than filtered into a new story. Mommy Near, Mommy Far got some reading too in our house.

Blogs let you see day to day life. It helps me to see how adoption can be a part of a big busy life, and that writing and talking about it can help, and to have – hmm. To have my emotional vocabulary extended. What my kids are going through is someplace I can’t go. But these blogs are sort of guidebooks, so I can recognise some of the landmarks. And then when my kids struggle, I can say “Maybe it is like this or like that, and this is how this other person thought/felt about it.” They sometimes feel so unique – international open adoptions with an older sibling group and trafficking ain’t that common – and ordinary at the same time.

So this is where I’m coming from in saying I think there is a major blindspot in most of the adoption-related blogs I read and love .

“Rather, you get pregnant realizing the depth of responsibility. I’m not going into parenthood expecting my child to give back to me tenfold and thank me every day for bringing him out of the womb. In other words, giving birth ultimately isn’t about me. It’s not about what my child is going to give or do for me. I’m not giving birth because I wanted a number one fan who’s going to thank me for the rest of my life. I’m not giving birth because I want to “grow” my family. It’s something much more profound, much deeper, much more intangible than any of that. It’s something I want to do, but not because I’m expecting endless gratitude in return. I know it’s going to be challenging and hard and there are times I’m going to want to rip out my hair. And yet, somehow, still, my husband and I wanted to do this. We made the decision, even knowing all that it would demand of our lives and our very selves.”

But I know plenty of people who do just that. They see their kids as extensions of themselves, who believe their children owe them for being born, for being given a decent material life. People who choose their own needs over their children’s, who have kids to please a partner or to show social status. Sometimes, those people turned into pretty great parents once their kids came into their lives.

Often they don’t. I’m estranged from my mom as of this year, and a big part of that has been realising that she doesn’t love me very much. When I please her socially or give her a reason to feel good about herself, then fine. But if I needed her and it was inconvenient, I got nothing at best. Usually I was punished. And I know lots of people like me.

I was determined, like a lot of abused kids, to be a great parent to my kids and give them a better childhood. And then when I finally met my kids, it all got mixed up in the enormous love I feel for them, and so it’s mostly good. I feel guilty for stuff I should do better, but we do okay.

So anyway. People seem to adopt for three reasons: they can’t/won’t have kids biologically, they have an ethical tie to adoption or they met this one kid and it happened after they realised oh hey, that’s my kid too. The third reason is kinda my favourite, because I know two families that happened to, and they are so lovely. But anyway.

Most adoptive parents are a mix. I had a bunch of early miscarriages and we had no strong push for a genetic link so we decided to go straight to adoption. Bear in mind I was a clueless 22 year old, just married and – oh man, there are so many reasons we should not have been able to adopt, and certainly not matched with my kids. But that is for another post.

You self-select in that you have to want to parent. It is pretty damn hard to accidentally adopt. You make conscious choices over and over, and people ask you repeatedly about your parenting plans.

And adoptive parents have to have some money. You can’t be broke. You have to have some kind of stability, a safe place to live. You need to have either a partner or a family network you can show to help you parent.

So you self-select a bunch of people already with advantages. Against that, you balance the difficulty of transracial and transcultural parenting, of the rescue mentality, unresolved grief over infertility, etc.

But the system is generally designed to weed out crazies who can’t hide their craziness or aren’t rich enough to cover it up. People slip through or develop later craziness, and often triggered by race/culture/grief – but those people would’ve been crap parents to any kid. Being adopted means you have both a lower chance of getting unstable accidental parents and a higher chance of getting people with lousy hang-ups – and the same chance of getting a crappy parent anyway.

So I think adoptive parents and adoptees often skip over just how lousy people can be at parenting period. Adoption issues intensify it, but there’s also plain crazy bad parenting. And there’s a lot of it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 4:35 am

    “So I think adoptive parents and adoptees often skip over just how lousy people can be at parenting period. Adoption issues intensify it, but there’s also plain crazy bad parenting. And there’s a lot of it.”

    Your observation is true. There are plenty of “lousy parents” both within and without the adoption arena.

    I would add, however, that even “ideal parents” can become “lousy parents” when faced with parenting an adoptee. There is often an ignorance & unawareness concerning adoptee loss, grief, & related repercussions prevalent among many adoptive parents that can make parents who would otherwise be ideal very insensitive and out of touch–that is, inadvertently, because of their lack of knowledge and education regarding the unique issues that adoptees automatically bring to the family dynamic.

    My own parents are an example of this. In general, they’re great parents–not perfect of course (no one is), but overall, they’re really good parents. Particularly, to their biological son they were ideal parents, and even to me, if the adoption issues were easily dismissed, they would have been ideal.

    But because of their general unawareness and overall ignorance regarding my adoption issues, and the fact that such issues are not easily dismissed, our relationship has suffered strain over the years…I have had a very different relationship with my parents than my brother, which has often been confusing and vexing to my brother & to those around me. Other friends & family see how great my parents are and cannot understand how I could have issues with them. But again because of my parents’ overall ignorance (despite trying to discuss these matters with them), there are aspects of their parenting that I have experienced as less than “ideal” as a direct result of adoption–whereas my brother in general did not experience their parenting in this way…

    • October 6, 2010 11:01 am

      Thr’s a really good point, and an example of self-experience bias. The mixed adoptive families I know personally are either crazy parents or doing well with both, not singling out a kid.

      I think it’s because the skills I associate with being a decent adoptive parent – putting what your kid needs ahead of your needs, truthfulness, stability and compassion for a child’s struggles while not controlling them – are skills I think all parents should have.

      But adoption brings a lot of insecurities to adoptive parents, and I can see how that could lead to lousy parenting choices for an adopted kid, even factoring out trauma stuff.

      I’m terrified of the Big Conversations with my kids, especially when they have pain I can’t fix or even understand. But to have them not tell me is scarier. I think it helps that I was abused as a kid and told to never talk about things, so I have a huge drive to make sure my kids feel safe talking and feeling. But it sucks that you r parents don’t or can’t her you talking about hard stuff.

      Thanks for making me think a bit wider!

  2. October 30, 2010 12:34 am

    “People seem to adopt for three reasons: they can’t/won’t have kids biologically, they have an ethical tie to adoption or they met this one kid and it happened after they realised oh hey, that’s my kid too.”

    In the U.S. I’d add a fourth: People who adopt for religious reasons a la the “Christian adoption movement.” It’s very concerning to me because in its haste to help people find a way to answer what they believe is God’s call, this movement appears to promote adoption for the sake of adoption, rather than the sake of a child in real need.

    “plain crazy bad parenting”

    Oh, there’s a lot of that around, and LOL some of it’s dolled up to appear pretty good!!

    Good post, glad to have found your blog.

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