Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adoptive parent denial...?

A phenomenon I have noticed among adoptive parents is a tendency—despite exposure to the realities and truths about the adoption experience—to choose to believe that their adopted child will be the exception, the one child that will never face such realities and truths.

Parents may have read the book, “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew” or may have participated in seminars and groups that educate adoptive parents about the issues of loss and grief inherent to the adoption experience. Yet, these parents seem to reject this education and choose rather to assume that their adopted child will grow up issue-free. It’s as though they choose to believe, “My child will be different. My child’s experience won’t be like other adoptees.”

Why?

Well, my initial answer is ultimately that I cannot speak with certainty, simply because I imagine the reasons vary just as much as people’s personalities vary.

But one postulation is simply that these parents believe that the love they give to the adoptee is so special and so complete that it will inoculate the adoptee against the harder realities of adoption. Despite the voices of adult adoptees and all the literature and research that support our voices, many parents still choose to ignore what these resources offer.

Parents want to believe that they will be so sufficient and effective as parents that the adoptees will not be affected by the loss they have experienced.

Wow, not only is that a lot of pressure to put on oneself as a parent, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on a child.

It’s a common albeit unfortunate assumption to make. It’s not any different from a parent who has biological children making the well-intentioned although wrong assumption that their love and parenting will prevent their children from ever experiencing disappointment, failure, hurt, etc. in life. Most parents understand that the task of parenting is not to shelter their children from the unfairness and injustices of life, but rather to equip them with the tools to face them.

The task is similar when dealing with adopted children, except that they come to the parents with a loss that has already taken place unlike children who remain with their biological parents. Such an awareness of this loss need not cause panic nor should it be handled by choosing to ignore or deny it.

It is not that love is not needed, and it’s not that your love as a parent is not sufficient as far as love is concerned. It’s simply that it is more accurate to realize that love does not abolish the adopted person’s pain and loss.

When the adoptee bursts into a fit of rage or falls to the ground in tears, it’s nothing personal toward the parent. It does not mean that your love or your parenting has failed or somehow shown inadequate. Rather it means that the adoptee needs your love as a parent to be strong and secure enough to allow the adoptee to feel the rage and sob the tears without you putting pressure on yourself as a parent or on the adoptee as your child.

In short, a parent who loves does not prevent, eradicate, or deny such suffering or emotion. Rather a parent who loves must acknowledge, be patient with, and comfort such suffering and emotion, without fear or judgment, but with understanding and acceptance.



33 comments:

Margie said...

Well said.

I also think adoptive parents make the mistake of believing that their children's silence on the subject of adoption means they are not experiencing loss. It can be hard to figure out how to support someone who isn't talking about what they are feeling, but it's important for APs to do that.

Kerri said...

I wish I could live in that denial because in many ways it would be easier than watching my 9 year old daughter struggle with missing her mom and other family and worrying about her favorite uncle being killed during his military service. Having been relinquished and adopted at the age of 7, she's more aware of the loss, or maybe just better able to verbalize her feelings about everything she's lost, than many other adoptees her age. I often tell her that I love her and her younger sister more than anything but wish they never needed my love.

Mia_h_n said...

Well said.

I can only echo this: "When the adoptee bursts into a fit of rage or falls to the ground in tears, it’s nothing personal toward the parent. It does not mean that your love or your parenting has failed or somehow shown inadequate. Rather it means that the adoptee needs your love as a parent to be strong and secure enough to allow the adoptee to feel the rage and sob the tears...".
This is SO true! And it is such an important point for APs to get, so they don't feel like a failure as a parent or view the adoptee as ungrateful.

Von said...

Great post and some insightful comments.Just one point, falling to the ground in rage etc may be nothing to do with the adopter but then again it might.....

Mia_h_n said...

For clarification's sake: I'M not saying that ALL of an adoptee's problems are about being adopted. BUT! When you dig deeper so many often do stem from something related to those scars/issues/traumas that lies before the adoption.

But of course problems are sometimes "just" problems, and APs can be bad parents too, like the rest of them.

Gayla said...

I totally agree with everything you said. But so far it's been my experience that the APs in my circle- whether local or online- agree with you too. I don't really know of any that currently expect their children to NOT have to deal with their grief and loss, and fortunately blogs like yours are helping to equip us to do just that.

I do think that the happiness and joy expressed in many AP blogs could be misconstrued as denial, when in reality there is a certain element that is as essential to parenting children- whether bio or adopted or foster- as essential as good nutrition and air. And that element is HOPE. It is far different from denial. But without hope there is no joy in parenting- if we just parent with the expectation that everyone is going to struggle... what are we teaching our children? We must parent with wisdom and open eyes- realizing what our children have been through and always looking for the ways it might surface and always learning ways to help our children deal with who they are and what they have been through as well as what is coming. But we must always parent with HOPE- not the hope that they won't struggle, but with the hope that what we have to give them and what they find in themselves and from mentors in their lives will be enough. It may not be- but all we can do is learn and grow and try.

I think that if you looked at my blog you might categorize me as an AP that you described- because although I am a seeker and always want to learn, my daughter is AMAZING and gorgeous and funny and life with her is such a treat! I totally acknowledge all she has lost and the fact that this will grieve her very deeply someday. But there is also so much JOY in parenting her- and that is what I choose to focus on in my blog.

Does that make sense? "You can't judge a book by it's cover" is I guess what I am trying to say. Many AP blogs focus on the hope and the joy, but that doesn't mean we aren't also aware and learning about and even preparing for the pain. Whether bio or adopted- our job is to work ourselves out of a job; to help our children be healthy in every way and be all they can be.

Reena said...

I am a fairly new AP. In the past three years we have twice adopted toddler aged daughgters from China.

I have to say that I am amazed by some of the comments I have heard from other AP. There is a new blog starting on Tranracial Adoptive Parenting geared toward helping parents raise their adopted kids who are a different race.

I have done a lot of reading and attended workshops about adoption, race, China etc. and I am really excited about this site.

I forwarded this link to several AP that I know and was shocked that several AP I forwarded the site to responded to me, "We are hoping to avoid this anger by being open and loving."

Not all the responses were worded exactly the same, but it was the same general theme.

How could our children possibly NOT ever be angry? At some age they are going to understand that they were abandoned. At some age they are going to realize that their birthmom likely had no 'real' choice in the matter.

Granted, we will likely never know the true circumstance of our children's beginnings (those adopting from China), but it doesn't take a whole lot of effort in reading and talking with folks (who are Chinese) to realize how very little voice is given to women in China-- especially rural China.

As a woman-- it makes me mad that women are treated this way and it breaks my heart to think/know that my daughter's birthmom had to endure such pain and likely continues to endure pain. As happy as I am with my beautiful little girls . . .as much as I love them and they love me-- it will not take away the pain they will feel when they start to understand.

I plan to do all that I can to support both of my daughter's in all the feelings they will likely experience as they grow and develop. Who wouldn't be sad? Who wouldn't be angry? These are normal responses to a situation that is not fair.

Just because a child grieves or is angry about what happened that brought them to be adopted does not mean they will love their AP any less.

I kids who do freely express their grief and anger to their AP have AP who provided their kids with the right kind of love and support-- kids typically do not express complicated feelings in situations where they do not feel safe and loved. I think this is true of most kids and people in general-- but adding the layer of adoption, I think turns up the volume-- if that makes sense.

Kris said...

PERFECTLY stated. i can't count how many times i've said, we must meet others (and most especially our children) where they are. embrace their loss with them. in one of my posts i stated that we haven't just adopted a child, but a history- and with that history, we have adopted their grief and their pain. it is ours too.

denying it would be denying not just them, but our place in it with them.

Melissa said...

Gayla, thanks for sharing. And just so you know, I was not thinking of you and I did not get this impression from your or any particular AP blog. It is actually personal experience from "in-person" encounters, outside of the blogosphere, with AP's over the years.

I find that most AP's who even have a presence among adult adoptee blogs are generally on the right track. It's the ones who never read adult adoptee blogs who are most often the ones who actually need to be reading...

I'm glad that you have relationships with other AP's who do not practice denial. But you might be surprised to know how many AP's out there actively choose denial and ignorance. It's frightening and discouraging at times. If you read my post, "the Boy in the Stroller," and "adoption: generally misunderstood," I think you'll understand more clearly the types of encounters I've had...(these posts can be found in the sidebar under, "Topics" labeled as "adoptive parent denial."

And there are often AP's who think they get it when they actually don't, and those are often the hardest ones to reach...

But again, this was not meant to be an attack on anyone in particular, just an acknowledgment of the collective experiences I've garnered over time...

Thanks again, Gayla, for your insight.

Melissa said...

Reena, you wrote, "...kids typically do not express complicated feelings in situations where they do not feel safe and loved. I think this is true of most kids and people in general-- but adding the layer of adoption, I think turns up the volume-- if that makes sense."

Bingo. Nail on the head, Reena. An adoptee will not naturally open up if he or she does not feel as though he or she has the "permission" to do so...and adopted persons need constant reassurance that it's not only okay but preferrable and welcomed to talk about the deep, dark truth within...

I'm 35 years old, and I still need consistent reassurance from my husband that he is not growing weary and fed-up with all my adoption emotions, thoughts, and experiences. No matter how many times he tells me he loves me and that he is not "sick" of my need to work through things, I still get insecure and he still has to draw me out at times...

Melissa said...

Kris you wrote, "we haven't just adopted a child, but a history- and with that history, we have adopted their grief and their pain. it is ours too."

Well-said. Thank you for your acknowledgment and understanding.

* * *

Von, you're so right. There certainly are cases where it may have to do with the adopter/parent...

* * *

Margie, your wrote, "I also think adoptive parents make the mistake of believing that their children's silence on the subject of adoption means they are not experiencing loss."

Right on.

I think that AP's who make this mistake often do so because they are also making the assumption that their child won't have any issues, so they don't make the effort to draw out the adoptee.

Yet it is also true that some adoptees are not as open as others, but if the AP is aware, he or she will pick up on the signs. They're always there, just sometimes a little more covert, depending on the adoptee's personality.

Regardless, though, when parents consistently teach the adoptee that the parents are welcoming of their thoughts and emotions, it is something that may not produce immediate results but will pay off in the long-run. An adult adoptee friend of mine has shared before that she didn't talk much about it while she was growing up, but her parents always made it clear to her that they were there for her. Hence when the time came, she felt comfortable and safe opening up to her parents.

I, on the other hand, did not have that kind of ongoing dialogue with my parents, and when the time came, well, it has been a difficult road ever since...It's getting better, but it would have helped everyone involved had we built the necessary foundation from the beginning...

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Thanks so much for writing this thoughtful post. I also see so many parents struggle with acknowledging the pain inherent in adoption. They somehow take it personally or think it negates the love they share with their children. It has been really helpful for me to learn to live in the gray, and understand that I can be a good adoptive mom, and I can be willing to listen to the pain that adoption has caused, at the same time.

Mike and Barb said...

Melissa, this is a very timely post for my to read, as we just went through a few very dark days with our adopted daughter - yes, the crying, the anger, the "I wish I had a different family", the "I wish I could go back to China", the "I wish you didn't adopt me", the disconnectness and so on...
This is tough stuff, and a couple of nights I sat in the bathroom crying as well, unsure on how to parent her through these struggles.
And I think sometimes, if I'm really honest, I don't want her to feel that way, because I don't know how to deal with it and how to help her.
I have to believe that she feels safe enough to express her feelings, and that is certainly a good thing, but boy is it hard in the middle of it. For both sides.

And she is only 6!

Thank you for sharing so openly - I view your insight as such a gift to us AP's!
Barb

Anonymous said...

Very, very well said.

Some other possible reasons...

I wonder if sometimes it's just more than an AP can handle...to really recognize the incredible losses that come with adoption. At some level, to recognize this is to admit that you (AP) were a part of the process that has resulted in so much pain...pain that has impacted the child you love enough to die for.

I've also wondered if recognizing pain is also difficult because it somehow lessens adoption as a choice. I see a lot of APs trying to equate adoption with biological birth. It is not the same BECAUSE OF THE PAIN. But to make it equal, we somehow have to make the pain not exist.

Very intriguing post. Thank you.

Wendy said...

"In short, a parent who loves does not prevent, eradicate, or deny such suffering or emotion. Rather a parent who loves must acknowledge, be patient with, and comfort such suffering and emotion, without fear or judgment, but with understanding and acceptance."

EXACTLY!

The Byrd's Nest said...

I used to be an AP in denial....until we adopted Emma and then I began to see so much that I had even missed with Lottie. I am thankful I am no longer in denial but I still have so much to learn. I try to understand how hard it must be to be an adoptee and be understood because I face so many battles of other parents who have never adopted OR even parents who have adopted understanding my children and their issues. I am so tired of hearing, "Well, she is just a normal 5 year old" or "Maybe you focus on their past too much and that is preventing them from getting on with their lives" (I got that one the other day)Sigh Or the way other AP's might look at me after I have shared some issues and wondered if they had experienced that...they look at me like "What in the world are you talking about" almost like my children are aliens:(

I understand the importance of all of us together trying to educate people but oh my heavens...it is painful and tiring....and for right now I don't feel like talking about it with anyone who doesn't understand:)

Yoli said...

I think what frightens me most is that any kind of talk about what our kids will feel and will come up against is met with, the conviction, like you stated that they will be the exception. Any talk about what they have lost gets twisted into us making a mountain out of moll hill and putting this in our children's mind that is not there. Any adoptee expressing feelings of pain and displacement is met with the title of "angry adoptee" and of course, that will not be "our" case, ours will be "happy" adoptees. I cry for those children. Mix that with the overly religious who deemed what happened to the kids is predestined and you have a recipe for the next wave of adoptees living with further scars.

The Byrd's Nest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heidi Biglin said...

Melissa,
I recently came across your blog, I think from following Margie's blog. I think you do a wonderful job of explaining your position to both adoptees and AP's. My husband and I have a son who will be coming to us from Korea this Thursday. Though we are over the moon, I am acutely aware of the grief and loss he has already experienced in his short little life, and I hope as he grows up we will be sensitive enough to his needs and be able to hear what he is saying and also what he is not saying. I also have the hope that his birth family will try to locate him and know him. We will see. Anyways, just wanted to say 'hi' and thanks.

Heidi

Melissa said...

Mike and Barb...my heart goes out to you and your daughter. Those are deep wounds surfacing in your daughter, while she most likely is also testing you and your husband. Are you going to fight to love her and to reach out to her despite her efforts to push you away? Although subconsciously, she is testing whether you really love her, whether she can hurt you enough (because she is hurting so much) to make you abandon her, if not physically, then emotionally...

I know it must be so painful, but don't give up...keep fighting and pushing through.

I did and said some really awful, cruel things to my parents, especially once I hit adolescence, but their perseverance with me eventually broke through...and as I matured and gained more understanding of the issues, I was able to make the connections necessary to finally begin to process things in a more constructive way...but it took a lot of hard work and perseverance...

Melissa said...

Byrd's Nest...I can definitely relate to growing weary and wanting to avoid anyone who doesn't get it...the things people can say, wow...there are times I've had to close myself in the bathroom at work and just cry for a minute...

Kristen, you wrote, "I also see so many parents struggle with acknowledging the pain inherent in adoption. They somehow take it personally or think it negates the love they share with their children." Very insightful statement. And you're so right that being a good, understanding parent means opening oneself to your child's pain, realizing that doing so does not negate love but rather cultivates it...

Yoli and Heidi, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts...and for your willingness to grasp the loss and pain inherent to adoptees' experience of life...

Julie said...

Very insightful. THank you, again.

YoonSeon said...

I think this is a great post. I think for APs, it's really hard to accept that their child/ren will have issues surrounding their adoption. I sort of see it as similar to having to accept that your child is disabled or, just... in some way different. Many people want to have that "normal" yet "perfect" family, so anything that's different to that is a real affront, and something that's really hard to accept.

I'm not making excuses for them, I guess that's my only way, though, of "understanding" why many APs assume they'll be different and that their child/ren won't have any issue, whatsoever, around their adoption/s.

Melissa said...

Thanks, Julie, for reading.

* * *

And YoonSeon, thank you for your insight. I always appreciate what you have to say.

* * *

Anonymous, you wrote, "I see a lot of APs trying to equate adoption with biological birth. It is not the same BECAUSE OF THE PAIN. But to make it equal, we somehow have to make the pain not exist."

Also a very thoughtful insight. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Anonymous said...

I've written and re-written this comment about 29 times, but each one has been much too long...the simple point I've been trying to make is: thank you. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for the way you challenge me, but also encourage me...despite having no idea who I am.

While I await referral for my first child, I have taken your words (and the words of other adoptees) deep into my heart. They are more meaningful than anything else I've read (and that says a lot!). Thank you again and please don't stop writing.

Mei Ling said...

"And that element is HOPE. It is far different from denial. But without hope there is no joy in parenting"

When an adoptive parent says, "I hope my love is enough", what they are saying is that they fervently keep with their faith that despite the loss of their first mother... which means the adoptive mother will be adequate enough so that the adoptee will not feel loss - at least not on such a deep level that indicates the adoptive parent cannot "fix/heal" it.

But sometimes there are wounds that life cannot heal. At this point, "hope" must turn into acceptance. Not that a child should be spending her life mourning about her first mother despite whatever love/care her adoptive mother shows, but so that she can grieve for one while still feeling the love from the other.

In my example, the grief I have regarding my first mother cannot be substituted by my adoptive mother. If you were to ask her, she would say "I HOPE my daughter does not feel enough pain that cannot be recompensated by adoption... I HOPE my daughter never feels the grief for her other mother overrides the love she has for me. Because if that's the case, then what do I do?"

It's not about comparing whether or not adoptive love is enough to overcome the grief/loss. It doesn't need to be about that.

Sometimes it's just a balance and a matter of acknowledgement - that while the adoptive parent's love is not enough to "heal" the wound, the grief regarding the first mother should not interrupt the child's daily functioning to the point where they are mourning all the time.

Sometimes, it's just an equivalent balance of grief and love.

Mei Ling said...

Sorry, it's midnight and my fingers aren't quite following my brain. :P

*what they are saying is that although they fervently keep with their faith that their love will be enough for the child despite the loss of their first mother, in time - as the adoptee grows older, there are some adoptees whose wounds do not heal, even with the blessing of adoption.

This is what I like to call the balance - while the love/joy/faith/hope from the adoptive parent may not be enough, neither should the adoptee feel as though the adoptive blessings are any less in this life as opposed to the alternate life with the parents who would have raised them

Melissa said...

Mei-Ling you wrote, "But sometimes there are wounds that life cannot heal. At this point, "hope" must turn into acceptance...so that she can grieve for one while still feeling the love from the other."

AND

"It's not about comparing whether or not adoptive love is enough to overcome the grief/loss. It doesn't need to be about that."

THANK YOU. Very precisely and truly expressed. These statements very clearly address the complexity of adoptee emotion...that so often, it is never one or the other, but rather many at the same time...

TuxGuys said...

What age child are we talking about here?
My daughter came home at age 7 mos., and is now 13.
My son came home a year later at age 9 mos. and is now 12.
To all intents and purposes, my wife and I (and the two of them to each other) are the only family they've ever known, and I haven't observed any of the behaviors described.
Are we talking about toddler-age and above? My babies came home as... babies.

Melissa said...

Tuxguys, thanks for stopping by and thank you for your inquiry.

Just so you know, I (the author of this blog) was adopted at the age of 6 months old. So, I was an infant.

In response to your inquiry, I would encourage you to read additional adult adoptee blogs ( have several listed on my blog if you click on "More Blogs & Resources).

I would also suggest reading one of my more recent posts (& in particular, the accompanying comments) dated on June 21, 2010, "The Well-adjusted, Model Adoptee." This post & the attached comments address the "debate" over whether those adopted as infants experience loss & grief.

I understand your assumption, but I would encourage you to open yourself to more feedback and insight from adult adoptees like myself (as well as other adoptive parents who may have a different experience & perspective), who were adopted as infants but still face on a daily basis as adults the consequences of our adoptions.

Also, if you have not already, I would encourage you to read "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew" by Sherrie Elderidge. The author is both an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent.

(I don't know whether your children are transracial adoptees, but if so, I would also encourage you to visit John Raible Online and read his post, "Crash Course in Transracial Parenting." Dr. John Raible is both an adult adoptee & adoptive parent who has been educating on adoption for the past 30 years..)

Furthermore, I will be posting a new blog entry specifically entitled, "Why being adopted as an infant does not nullify adoption loss," which you might be interested in reading once I've posted it.

Lastly, just as an intro, here is an excerpt from the comment section of the aforementioned post, "The Well-Adjusted, Model Adoptee" (again, for the whole post & commentary, please see the actual post):

"Regardless of what you may think of adoptees who are adopted as infants, the FACT IS that I (and many others) am an ADULT now, and as an ADULT, I have found it necessary to grieve and process my losses.

I, as an adult, even though I was adopted as an infant, still find myself experiencing the pain and emotional consequences of losing my origins and being subsequently adopted to a foreign country...

Whether adopted as an infant or as an older child, the fact remains that in both cases, the child has LOST COMPLETELY his or her family and origins.

The age at which these losses occur does not somehow nullify the consequences of the losses. There may be varying degrees and varying responses, but the loss remains loss all the same.

What varies is NOT the loss, but the age, personalities, and circumstances under which the loss takes place. Loss is loss, any way you slice it."

Again, I would please request that you read the post & comments as a whole for the full context and deeper understanding.

Also, reading the posts listed under, "Popular Posts" in the sidebar of my blog could also be helpful.

And feel free to contact me directly, if you like at konoyoomo@gmail.com.

Best,

Melissa

Melissa said...

TuxGuys, if you are truly open to it, I would also recommend reading the post "More Thoughts on Gotcha Day (you can't replace the biological family & infant/child adoptees are not clueless)."

Furthermore, if you also take some time to read through the posts listed in the sidebar of my blog under the heading, "Popular Posts," these also may give you additional insight.

KMI said...

Thank you for your insightful blog. I believe many more APs would and will benefit from reading here. There is so much denial out there and I fear how it will alienate adoptees and there are many young adoptees from China who will need to hear your valuable words. My daughter is only 7 and I fully support her need and right to express all of her feelings and her search. The adoption triad is a very complex one to understand and I believe your blog is a good start and insight into many important issues.

Melissa said...

KMI-

"The adoption triad is a very complex one to understand..."

Ain't that the truth.

Thanks for stopping by...