Adoptive Parents and Adoptees: Hearing the Message Behind the Anger

Dawn Davenport


Adoptive Parents and Adoptees: The Message Behind the Anger

Internet discussions between adoptive parents and adult adoptees can be unproductive if we don’t listen to the message behind the emotion.

I’ve been contemplating lately on how in the world we reached this place of animosity between some of the adult adoptee community and some of the adoptive parent community. Now, in truth, I don’t actually think it is all that bad in general. I know plenty of adults who were adopted, we all do, and most are supporters of the institution of adoption, although plenty would like to see some changes.  But the internet is a whole other world!

I don’t know if it’s the virtual anonymity provided by the internet, but often discussions degenerate into monologues with each side typing, but not reading, and neither side being any the wiser for the discourse.  I will add that I am immensely pleased that this hasn’t happened often in the discussions on this blog.  (Check out some thoughtful and respectful discussions on my blogs: Book Review of the Adoption Memoir “Found”A Dialog Between an Adoptive Parent and an Adult Adoptee, Is There Such a Thing as a Happy Adoptee?, and The Future of International Adoption).  Unfortunately, other adoption bloggers haven’t been so fortunate.

With strained relations I’m a firm believer, if not always practitioner, that you can only change yourself.  I’ve concluded that we adoptive parents and professionals have to really really try to hear behind the anger. It’s easy to let the stridency of some adoptee blogger drown out an important message that we adoptive parents need to hear.  But, let’s face it, that’s easier with some adoptee bloggers than with others, and I recently stumbled across one of the best at getting the message across.

I was so excited when I found this blog that I immediately sent the author a fan email—something I rarely do.  I love this blog for some many reasons, not the least of which is the name: Diary of a Not-So-Angry Asian Adoptee.  Her self description:  “I was adopted transracially into a wonderful family when I was two years old. I am a mother of two amazing children. I am a wife to a great husband. I am an advocate whose main focus is on adoption issues.”  Her sons are half Korean/half Latino, so she’s also in the midst of raising biracial kids.

She write about life in general, as well as about transracial adoption from  her perspective (such as this post Transracial Adoption: It’s Not Easy Being Green, But You Can Make It Easier for Your Child) and raising biracial children (such as this post “Parenting the “Other” Race Child“). But it was this post on the impact of being adopted, that blew me away—Loss. She writes: When I think about the first two years of my life, I envision a deep, dark abyss—a sea of nothingness. There will always be a void in my life…one which no amount of love will ever be able to fill. That void – that feeling that something is missing – is part of being an adoptee….

It’s easy for us adoptive parents to dismiss the message of pain from the more vocal online adoptee bloggers because we assume they had “bad” parents. Viewing it this way protects us and our children.  “My kids will be fine and grow to be more or less happy, healthy adults well connected to us because, well, I’m going to be so close to perfect that they’ll have no choice but to ‘turn out right’.” Come on, admit it, on some level you’ve repeated something close to that in your head.  I know I have.  But a “perfect” adoptive family isn’t always enough.

My adoptive family is amazing. Growing up, no conversation ended without an “I love you.” There wasn’t a night where I went to bed without hearing those three words. We hugged often, and my siblings and I never wanted for anything. As with most adoptees, my brain has always been wired a little differently, due to the losses I experienced early in life. No matter how often my parents told me they loved me, the fear and the feelings of doubt were always there. My birth parents loved me, but they let me go. What if I do something wrong? Will my adoptive parents let me go, too? …


For me, the fear of abandonment developed into a perfectionist child mentality. I worked hard to be a good daughter. I worked hard to do well in school. I worked hard to be everything I thought my adoptive parents wanted me to be because I had convinced myself that if I was good enough—if I tried hard enough—then they wouldn’t abandon me, too. Nothing my adoptive parents did caused me to feel this way, but the mindset instilled in me at a very young age that people who love you will leave you, became an integral part of my childhood and teen years.

As a mother, my feelings of loss now involve my children and the things I will never be able to pass on to them. I mourn the loss of not being able to pass my Korean culture onto them and cope with the knowledge that I will need to depend on strangers to help teach my children about who they are. I feel guilty about the blank pages in their medical records where their maternal family medical history should be. I know these things are beyond my control, but the fact that they will always be missing those pieces of the puzzle because of me, can be somewhat overwhelming.

The losses I experienced will always be a part of me, and they’ll, unfortunately, have an impact on my children, as well. No amount of love or reassurance will be able to fill the void of those losses, but the love and support I received, and continue to receive, from my adoptive parents mean the world to me, and helped shape the person I am today. I will be forever thankful for every hug, for every “I love you”, and for every time they showed me they weren’t going anywhere.

See what I mean?  Didn’t the eloquence of those words take your breath away?  Sometimes just walking the walk with our kids and not going anywhere is all we can do.  Thank you Not-So-Angry for speaking in a way that makes it easier for us to hear.


Image credit: spunkinator

02/02/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Adoptive Parents and Adoptees: Hearing the Message Behind the Anger

  1. Avatar Kelly D says:

    Amazing words from the adoptee. Thanks for sharing her perspective!

  2. I don’t know that we can truly fathom the deep loss that a child (or adult) adoptee feels in regards to the deep loss of not being in their first family. Some of our children have YEARS blacked out in records due to being in laying rooms. For two of our daughters, this is the case. 4 years for one and 3 for the other. They have faint memories of laying in cribs and of longing to be held and touched.
    Our other two daughters were with birth parents for a period of time they can remember, and then removed due to severe abuse and neglect.
    While they know the reasons behind why they were removed, and would no longer want to live in those circumstances…. it is STILL loss and pain. The loss of an intact family, the pain of rejection can be overwhelming.
    This is a wound, not unlike an onion that heals one layer at a time. And some of the deepest wounds, may never be fully healed. But instead, help to form a depth of character that overcomes such hardship.

    Recognizing that adoptive parents cannot fulfill every emotional need fully, is a step into maturity. It is not the adoptive parent’s fault that the child was abandoned or mistreated. It IS their desire to turn a tragedy into something good.
    The most effective adoptive parent will recognize this, and be supportive always, even through the stages of anger that can grip our children.

    They can still grieve loss, and love us at the same time.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      “They can still grieve loss, and love us at the same time.” Yes. And as someone said above, the can love us, but still not love the institution of adoption.

  3. Avatar Amanda says:

    Anger and bitterness are relative. Problems in an institution and loss are pretty valid things to be “angry” about. I’d honestly prefer people to look at my “anger,” not past it. I am not ashamed of disliking various things about adoption and my thoughts on what’s wrong with it won’t benefit anyone who “looks past” or ignores those thoughts. Isn’t there something awfully unjust about narratives only being heard and appreciated if they come in just the right package? Adoptees are promised and asked to believe in unconditional love despite our fears of rejection–yet is this point truly believable when our very thoughts and feelings are not taken without condition? Where we are either bitter, angry, or admitting our parents fell short by default if we do not say what we are expected to say and love adoption as much as others, who are in a completely different role, experience, and perspective in the triad, do?

    Everyone knows a million adoptees who are happy and love adoption just like everyone knows someone from another diverse group and everything that person thinks and feels about their experience in society, right? So on and so forth (that borders ventriloquism, doesn’t it?). But what does that mean? We all cancel each other out? That only the “bad ones” take to the internet? That it’s possible for someone who isn’t adopted to set rules and weed out the “irrelevant” adoptee opinions if they know enough adoptees?

    The best way to bridge the disconnect is not to ignore the anger. It is not to explain away the “bitterness.” It’s not to expect adoptees to alter their narratives to appease more people. And it’s not to place adoptees in boxes where some are more worthwhile to listen to than others. What irritates adoptees is simple and it’s what irritates any other person: being ignored, being invisible, being excluded, being stereotyped, being insulted, and witnessing, on ad after ad, law after law, website after website, blog after blog (no, I am not saying your website/blog is this way) the same racism, adoptism, adultism, sexism, ableism, and classism in an adoption that tells us we don’t matter any more because it’s all “so different now.”

    Expecting my parents to make my life so wonderful that I won’t be “embittered” by the prejudices in, lack of progress of, and my own invisibility within the very institution that altered my destiny on this earth is a pretty tall order to fill. I think the fact that injustice does bother me is quite a testimony to the fact that they did their job pretty darn well. 🙂

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Hear, hear Amanda! First, by saying that I wanted us to hear behind the anger, I wasn’t saying to ignore the anger. It’s just that so often in heated conversations, we only hear the anger not the message. I want us to focus on both. However, I hear your point about my wording easily being misconstrued to understood as “ignore the anger”.

      I also very much agree that it is entirely possible to be angry and bitter at things about the institution of adoption, while at the same time not angry or bitter towards your parents. I can only imagine the frustration of feeling invisible in an institution where in essence you are at the center. I think in some ways it’s a paternal attitude that begins because decisions are being made about you because you are a child and then somehow continues when you are an adult. That has got to be annoying and infuriating. Don’t you think that is changing some? Do you think adoptees are still invisible? I had hoped we had come a lot further on that issue. It seems there are adopted persons speaking frequently at adoption conferences? We certainly are trying here at Creating a Family to be a forum for all voices to be heard.

      And yeah, I’d say your parents did a darn good job.

  4. Avatar Mary Ann Hubbell says:

    I’m a happy adoptee. I was always loved unconditionally. I always knew I was adopted – it was no big deal.

    In my case, my adoptive mother accidentally found out the name of my mother so she cut out her wedding announcement so I’d know what she looked like. Through that piece of paper I was able to find her when I was 24 years old. One of the happiest days of my life was when my two mothers were able to meet each other. I love my adoptive family, I’ve grown to love my birth family but 34 years later, I have to admit I don’t fit in either. It’s no one’s fault – just a fact of adoption. Some will tell you they don’t feel that way but my experience is that adoptees are evolving. They feel differently at different times of their lives. The person who is perfectly fine with their situation today might be the ‘angry adoptee’ of tomorrow.

    I’ve realized I HATE adoption – at least what adoption has become. I never realized how selfish the entire process is for most families until I actually sat down and looked at it.

    The title of this article made me think I had hope – that adoptive parents are starting to listen to adult adoptees and using our experiences to make it better for their children. But it’s just turned into another article where they are pointing fingers and justifying that there is nothing wrong with the institution, just with the angry adoptees who must not have gotten the great parents we are.

    Adoption was not created to fulfill your joy. It was supposed to be child based. To help child in need. Not a child to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

    I just wish that adoptive parents could be more educated before they get involved to get them to stop thinking about themselves and put the child first. Be our advocate. Help us maintain who we are – don’t hide it.

    I used to think it was wonderful when someone showed me their newly adopted baby. Now I look at them and think “How sad.”

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Mary Ann, thanks for your comments. I had a couple of thoughts:

      “The title of this article made me think I had hope – that adoptive parents are starting to listen to adult adoptees and using our experiences to make it better for their children. But it’s just turned into another article where they are pointing fingers and justifying that there is nothing wrong with the institution,..” Boy Mary Ann, I don’t know what to say since I had intended this post to say the exact opposite. I realize I must not have accomplished that goal, at least for you, if you came away thinking that my point, or that Not-So-Angry’s point, was that there is nothing wrong with the institution of adoption. Our point, or at least one of our points, is that the love of a parent can not erase the pain caused by adoption and it’s time to stop pointing fingers.

      “They [adoptees] feel differently at different times of their lives. The person who is perfectly fine with their situation today might be the ‘angry adoptee’ of tomorrow. ” Well said and I agree fully! No human is static, or at least they shouldn’t be. As we grow, we view things differently. We should all hope to evolve and our understanding and feelings should change throughout life.

      “I just wish that adoptive parents could be more educated before they get involved to get them to stop thinking about themselves and put the child first.” Yep, and that’s what we’re [Creating a Family] is trying to do. Education is key and discussions like this are vital to that education. Thanks so much for being a part of it and come back often.

  5. Avatar Jessica says:

    Dawn: Like you, I wonder how we got to this place of animosity. There’s wisdom on both sides, and much to be learned from each other if we’re willing to listen. Thanks for posting.

  6. Avatar Peggy says:

    I guess I have a different perspective on this issue right now. I have noticed a lot of the anger coming from adoptees too when I read things online. But adoption agencies seem to have some anger issues too. My husband and I are trying to adopt and it feels like we are assumed to be bad parents until we prove ourselves otherwise at every agency we go to. This began with our home study and continues with other agencies we apply to since we are doing an independent adoption.

    Some days its hard to have confidence in ourselves because we haven’t been given a chance to be parents yet because of infertility. It just seems like we must be so careful on how we word things. For example, I am so careful about trying to use all the correct adoption language and terms, but sometimes I make a mistake and I was harshly corrected by someone this week. This article and our experiences are enough to make me wonder if we should even continue trying to adopt. My husband and I know that we won’t be perfect parents, but we do want to love and make a difference in the life of a child.

    Also, this week I was told by an agency that I needed counseling because I said that I was uncomfortable with some of the behavior with the boys in our neighborhood, especially 2 boys. We saw one boy beat up a much smaller boy in the neighborhood and I saw another boy lurking around the side of our house at night with a toy gun. I was told that this is perfectly normal behavior and that this agency would never consider placing a boy with us because of my unrealistic views of what is normal for boys. Its really hard, because my husband and are really trying are best and we just seem to be told we are wrong all the time.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Peggy, I’m sorry you’re feeling so frustrated. While I’m all in favor of educating prospective adoptive parents, I would hope it is done with compassion and encouragement.

  7. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    You are absolutely right, Dawn. While my daughter was domestically adopted, so of American culture, she is African-American and I am European-American. My daughter at 9, can tell me that she has so many questions for her birth mother, and I think mostly she wants to know who she looks most like, and I think she wants to know that they love her, too. Since we homeschool, she is not subjected to feeling out of place when it comes to family tree assignments, but there is still a hole and still something which will always be missing and nothing will fill that void, ever.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Ann-Marie, and we parents need to be able to hear this message. Our kids need to be able to tell us these feelings, without needing to protect us.

  8. Thanks for this, Dawn. It’s good for me, as an adoptive mom, to get perspective on my role in my kids life — the limits of what I can and cannot do:

    “Nothing my adoptive parents did caused me to feel this way, but the mindset instilled in me at a very young age that people who love you will leave you…”

    …and what is and isn’t about me. Sometimes the best I can do is just love them and abide with them as they deal with growing up and growing up adopted.

    Great find.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      So true Lori, and as you and I have both said before, not all adoptees will feel the loss so intensely, so one of our roles is to allow them to feel what they feel and us not project what we think they are supposed to feel. That was a very convoluted sentence so I hope my meaning is clear.

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