Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
October: The Big Myths of Adoption
Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother. ~ Oprah Winfrey
All parents are both blessed and stretched by their children. I have been a parent twice, both times through adoption. One of those children, my daughter, has been the biggest blessing of my life. The other child, although our experience resulted in a “disrupted” adoption, has gone on to be a blessing to another family. In the process I was stretched almost to the breaking point, but my heart is bigger because of it. People who have not experienced adoption personally often hold unexamined beliefs about it. Here are some of the biggies:
1. Biological children are the “real” ones. Oh, I know that most of us have learned to be politically correct about this, but you still hear things like “They have one adopted child and three of their own” or “Has she ever tried to find her real mother?” all the time. Since I have no biological children I can’t speak from personal experience here, but friends who have both tell me that that their bonds with their adopted children are every bit as strong as with their so-called “real” children. I can’t even imagine loving anyone more than I love my beautiful Korean daughter. In fact, knowing how far she had to come and how many hoops we jumped through to get her makes it seem even more special that she eventually became my daughter. And we may not look at all alike, but we are uncannily similar in temperament and tastes! I believe with all my heart that we chose each other, no matter who actually brought her into the world.
2. There’s no difference between biological and adopted children. This sounds like a contradiction of the first point, but it’s not. I believe that adoption leaves an indelible mark on children that can have both beneficial and challenging after-effects. Many people believe that if the adoption occurred early enough (before the child was verbal, for instance), then they won’t remember the trauma or be influenced by it. I vehemently disagree. In speaking with many, many adoptive parents over the years, I’ve come to believe that most adopted children have some issues with attachment. This can make them more clingy and fearful or, conversely, preternaturally independent. My daughter experienced the following in her first five months: she was taken from her birth mother to an orphanage following delivery, then to a hospital for two weeks with pneumonia, back to the orphanage, then to a foster mother for three months and, finally, went with a stranger on a long flight to America, to be delivered into another stranger’s arms in a place where everything sounded, smelled and tasted different than anything she had previously known. Parents of biological children: ask yourselves if your own child might not have been somewhat affected by a similar set of circumstances, and give the adoptive parent a little slack. I can’t tell you how often I was advised not to “humor” my daughter’s fearfulness. She’s slowly growing out of it, but no amount of love and pep talks could have erased those early experiences of trauma and loss. Which brings me to my last and greatest myth…
3. All you need is love. I wish this one were true. I believed it myself until we adopted a seven-year-old boy who turned out to have Reactive Attachment Disorder from his early experiences of abandonment and neglect. In contrast to our daughter's clinginess, he was seemingly unable to develop empathy and close ties to others. Still, we knew we were good parents and we had a lot of love to give. Three years later we were ready to admit that what we had to give was not enough, and it was tearing our family apart in the process. We were lucky enough to meet a family who had what it took: not just love, but an extensive network and community ready to step in and help them parent that troubled boy. It was hugely disillusioning and humbling to realize that I was not up to this task. In this case, too, many of the things I heard from friends and family and “helpful” strangers were anything but helpful. We all want to think that love is enough, but when we perpetuate that myth it makes the parents the bad guys for somehow not loving just a little bit more. It’s easy to make judgments from the outside looking in, but reality is vastly more complex than this little adage would suggest.
As we approach National Adoption Awareness Month (November), I invite you to consider whether any of these myths ring true for you. And if you are lucky enough to be an adoptive parent or grandparent or sibling or other family member, or even an adopted child yourself, I salute you!!
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