I Love My Mom, But…: Loyalty, Gratitude & Adoption

Dawn Davenport


It is possible for adoptees to both love their adoptive family and also have issues with them or their adoption.

It is possible for adoptees to both love their adoptive family and also have issues with them or their adoption.

I read an interesting post a while ago on The Adopted Ones blog that got me to thinking about the nature of loyalty and adoption, and how societal expectations of gratitude play out with adopted persons.  I think she raises some interesting points that all parents and adult children should think about—regardless how we came to be parents or our parent’s child.

“Bio adults are free to have express negative feelings about or personal challenges within a family.  No one challenges them on whether or not they just don’t realize how good their family is, instead they are commiserated with, and told how great they are and to stay away from whomever is causing them grief. Before an adopted adult dares broach any topic (might not even relate to family) they must publicly proclaim how they feel about their parents and then gingerly touch on any “iffy” feeling they may have about their family, or personal challenges they face that stem from being adopted.  They are told how sorry the person is they are going through this, but reminded that bios have problems to and to stop blaming everything on adoption because it might not have anything to do with being adopted.”

Shadowtheadoptee hit the nail on the head with her/his comment: “IMO [In my opinion], it all boils down to loyalty. Whether bio or adopted, prefacing a negative statement about parents, or family, with the “I love” is usually done out of a feeling of being disloyal, and ungrateful. I’ve heard bios do it, and IMO, they do it for the same reasons as adoptees. IMO, adoptees, seem to, on the whole, do it a lot more. The big difference between bio saying it and adoptees: adoptees were given away, relinquished, surrendered, placed, and loved so much one set of parents selflessly sacrificed so much just so the adoptee could have a better life with their adopted family, and a bios were stuck with the people who share their DNA.”

The Adopted Ones addressed the difference in how adopted children feel about sharing negative comments about their adoptive parents in a later comment: “Bio’s don’t have the ‘good adoptive family’ that must be perfect because they adopted and provided a home so an adoptee should not complain about any concern in adoption family related or personal concern. I am sure that a parent through adoption feels the same when they can’t say they are tired of being up half the night or whatever because they are reminded that ‘they chose that’…neither party is allowed the luxury of calling it as they see it and feel it as it happens. I think adoptees feel it more within the adoption community and perhaps the parents feel it more outside of the community…I could be wrong.”

[For the record, I think The Adopted One is spot one with her observation.]

Cb commented: “Sometimes when I’m thinking of posting a reply on a forum etc. I end up giving up because I feel I have to put so many disclaimers to justify how I feel. I don’t think I’ve read an adoptee blog or adoptee forum where the “I love my APs” disclaimer hasn’t been used at least once by the adoptee because if we don’t, it is automatically assumed that if we offer a negative view on adoption, it is because our adoption “didn’t work out” therefore what we have to say isn’t relevant…. Sometimes I think I should have a disclaimer on posts that says “The opinion expressed above has nothing to do with what I do or don’t feel about my APs”.

Shadowtheadoptee concluded with this:  “Why do adoptees feel so obligated to preface comments with “I love my parents/family” more so than bio, because society keeps telling us we have a lot more reason to feel obligated and loyal to our adopted families than bios are made to feel, after all our first family didn’t want us, weren’t capable of keeping us, or some other such idea, so aren’t we lucky, grateful, that someone else did?”

No parent is perfect, and adopted children have just as much right to complain as biological children.

Wow, what a lot to digest.  As much as I don’t want to think it will happen, I strongly suspect that my kids, both adopted and non, will sit around someday and complain about me.  I know I did it, so I’m assuming they will too.  [Of course, I’ve given them nothing– I tell you zip, nada–to complain about, but still….]  When they were little, I was secretly convinced that I would be the perfect parent whose children would be relegated to silence when their friends kvetched about their parents.  Now, as my last child enters adolescence, all thought of perfection are long gone.

If I’m being honest, I still don’t relish the thought of my kids sitting around complaining about how I screwed them up, but I also don’t want them to withhold their criticism because they feel like they owe me.  They owe me nothing.  I wouldn’t mind, however, if they preface their complaints with “I love my mom”.  I hope that this preface reflects their true feelings and their acknowledgment that I did my best, and is not based on some sense of gratitude for being “rescued”.

What can we adoptive parents do to change the nature of the discussion about gratitude, loyalty and adoption?


Image credit:  klhug

17/05/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 15 Comments

15 Responses to I Love My Mom, But…: Loyalty, Gratitude & Adoption

  1. Avatar AnonAP says:

    I’ve been mulling over the difference between grateful and thankful. Dictionary definitions make them equivalent, but it seems like people often use grateful as a comparatI’ve thing. “You should be grateful that…” with an implied “instead of…” Thankful seems to be used (to me anyway) as just an appreciation of one’s current state. I remember when we first moved here in less than ideal circumstances stances, I was told I should be grateful to be in the US. Well, no. I was thankful for family support that made it possible for us to be safe here, but I was not grateful to be here because I my preference was to be back where we were before. It felt like I was being asked to be deferential to the greatness of this option over all others.

    So…it seems to me like saying “you must have been grateful to your parents for adopting you” does two things. First, it implies that adoption was some sort of charity thing instead of built on a desire of someone to become parents and implies some sort of additional obligation on the part of an adoptee as opposed to biological kids. Second, it seems to say “grateful for these parents instead of what might have been”. This isn’t abstract, right? There really was a different potential life for an adoptee, and it asks the adoptee to in essence cast aspersions on that other life. To validate the choices of everyone as “the best thing”, and that’s not really fair, especially if their start in life is hidden by legal and social barriers. Who knows all that other options might have brought?

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Anon AP, I need to think on the distinction you made, but I think I agree that this is why using the word ‘grateful’ bothers me.

  2. Avatar cb says:

    Lisa, I agree with anonymous – you seem not to have read a word TAO or shadow said.

    Interestingly your comment down the bottom

    “I was bio and never relinquished but it was made clear to me I was an unwanted obligation whose shared dna was the only reason I was around”

    is something that you as a bio child CAN say.

    The truth is that adoptees can’t say a single negative thing about their parents AT ALL without being jumped on. I have never ever said anything even slightly negative about any of my parents, adoptive or bio, and never will. Not that there is anything negative to say (see how I have to say that as a disclaimer?) but just pointing that even normal things that a bio child might say about their parents can’t be said by an adoptee.

    For example, I was on a thread once on a mixed adoption forum where people were talking about their siblings. I made an observation about my own siblings that was no different to anyone elses but because I was adopted, I got a few “I’m sorry you had a bad experience” and “not all adoptive siblings are like that” and I hadn’t even said anything particularly negative about my siblings beyond the usual sibling rivalry.

  3. Avatar Nicole Burton says:

    Adoption is traumatic. Our society denies this but it’s a fact. We adopted people are required to preface our desires to reunite with our original families with “love messages” about our adopted family because even THINKING about our other peeps is deemed disloyal, even deviant. What nonsense! In my opinion, we adopted people need to come out of the adoption closet and STAY out of it. If adoptive parents can’t deal with the complexities of adoption, they should go into adoption therapy themselves and sort out their feelings. If society at large can’t deal with it, that’s not our problem. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to feel this free, but it’s worth it.
    Nicole J. Burton, SWIMMING UP THE SUN: A Memoir of Adoption, available at Amazon.com and on eBook at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65460

  4. Avatar Michele Scott says:

    Interesting topic. Our one and only son was adopted (now 6yo), and I wonder how he will respond as he gets older. In my experience (not-adopted), I didn’t appreciate (with love) all that my parents did and didn’t do until I realized they did the best they could.

    (Visiting from ICLW and the author of “Praying Through Your Adoption”)

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Wow, Lisa, you didn’t hear a thing Shadowtheadoptee had to say, did you? PLEASE try to get past your defensiveness and LISTEN.

  6. Avatar Lisa says:

    I don’t know about you but it escapes me this right to complain people talk about. All I see in the adoption community and anti-adoption community is how much we harmed our children by adopting them. There is a greenlight in society to beat up on adoptive parents. When I was in process I had people who tried to turn me away from adopting for every reason under the sun and even had the spouse of an adoptee tell me proudly they didn’t agree with adoption but did any of the ivory towers have answers for my real life children stuck in limbo? No they did not. Did any of the grown up adoptees in the anti-adoption arena have real world answers for my kids and other kids? No they did not. How convenient for them to make judgements or push for policies that they themselves never had to live with [I am excluding the pro-adoption who pushed for reforms]. Like if we closed down all adoption then poof our children would cease to exist and all children and families would live happily ever after in magic bio family land. I am not saying we are all good because anyone should know that we are of the same makeup of all people and not all of us are all of us bad. And we are most decidedly not perfect. But the messages sent within the community towards adoptive parents on a regular basis is abusive and we as a society are abusive to new parents and parents actively raising children on unhealthy levels. What are the ramifications of sending anti-adoption messages and abusive messages to parents or potential parents who might choose adoption but decide otherwise on a regular basis? You do not see people criticizing the selfishness of bio parents who had to have a child of their own blood as if an overpopulated world with too many children needing families needed more of their blood. You do not see harsh comments as to the moral fiber of people paying women to carry their progeny. Yes, adoption is traumatic but does it help to provide information and support or eternal bashing? There is a difference between being supportive and understanding of trauma and turning around and using the excuse of trauma to abuse others. Society does not deny adoption is traumatic. I don’t know how anyone in the community can say its denied unless they are using the excuse of people trying to put a happy face on and trying to lead a normal happy life of which they have a right to do. My children were relinquished. I was bio and never relinquished but it was made clear to me I was an unwanted obligation whose shared dna was the only reason I was around. Both messages hurt and are something all of us in life have to acknowledge and support each other on without negating or diminishing the other. Noone owns victimhood. Being a victim does not grant one the right to hurt others. All of us in this path called life have been hurt.

  7. Avatar Sarah says:

    My husband and I have been trying to adopt for years…and got a little surprise with a pregnancy and beautiful daughter. Will this change our plans to adopt…
    ..not at all.
    The truth is we are happy to have a family.
    It is our choice to have children.
    Whatever their journey to be our children, it was our choice to bring them into our family, love and raise them.
    They did not ask this of us.
    We are not doing them a favour.
    They are a privilege.

    A co-worker years ago spoke of his large family often.
    He told stories about his five children like any proud parent. One day, he showed us a picture of his family and we were shocked to see that they were clearly all from different cultural backgrounds than he and his Caucasian wife.
    I loved the fact that he did not once mention they were all adopted.
    I was embarrassed when it took me by surprise to learn this.

    I can only hope that as our family grows, that we will not forget about the days that we longed very much to have babies and children in our daily lives.
    Our kids should not be taken for granted.
    If I am parenting my children for a pat-on-the-back, from them or anyone else, I think I am parenting for the wrong reasons.
    And much like I complain about my mother….I expect them to not always be thrilled with me:)

  8. Dawn,

    “Wow, what a lot to digest. As much as I don’t want to think it will happen, I strongly suspect that my kids, both adopted and non, will sit around someday and complain about me.”

    I actually don’t sit around complaining about mom or dad – at least since I grew out the teenage years many, many decades ago.

    I was actually referring to discussing anything adoption related that may be common among other adoptees, or the “how” adoption is practiced today that could be done so much better…but even those discussions require the obligatory I love my parents disclaimer from the adult adoptee.

    Take the time to read my blog and you will see I do not complain about mom or dad…rather I hold them up as the way to actually do things right with ethics and forethought first and foremost…

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Thanks for the input TheAdoptedOnes. Actually, my comment was more metaphorically addressed to the general child/teen/young adult population, rather than specific to you. And I know what you mean about the complaining part growing less as we age. My complaints have all but ceased. 🙂 However, I do hear your greater point which is that the need to preface is there with any discussion that could possibly touch on adoption.

  9. Avatar Kristin says:

    What an interesting perspective on adoption and the long term effects. Thank you for sharing it.

    ICLW #6

  10. Thanks for clarifying Dawn. From the need to preface with disclaimers – sometimes it is purely a pre-emptive defensive reaction so that the words get heard and mulled on hopefully, instead of simply being dismissed with the label of “you must have had a bad experience” which we then here as a direct insult to our parents and their parenting skills…

    As the the age range you are discussing – yah don’t shut them down with the loyalty / gratitude words, body language, etc…

  11. I have 16 children adopted and 4 by birth. None of my adopted children owe me anything special for adopting them. God sent them into my life- I thank Him! They do thank me for adopting them which is a huge gift for them to say to me; because it was all my pleasure. My birth kids as adults always felt “entitled” to receive more from me because I birthed them. This was a complete shock to me as all of my children are treated the same by me. The children I adopted are not treated with less devotion from me on my part. Children born from me are not “owed” more from me. After all, we are really all God’s children. He gives us our children for a season and He is and always has been their REAL Father. They come to us and thru us but we did not create them! As adults we let them go and trust God, as He loves them more than we ever could. I’m by far not a perfect mother. I’ve made many mistakes. I ask for no special treatment from any of my children other than respect.
    I encourage all of my adopted children to honor their birthmom’s for giving them birth, when they could have chosen abortion.

    • Avatar cb says:

      *I encourage all of my adopted children to honor their birthmom’s for giving them birth, when they could have chosen abortion.”

      That’s not really a good idea. You might make the children feel that they should be grateful for even being alive.

      And not all bmoms considered abortion. For many women, they have made the “choice” between adoption and parenting – they may have actually never considered ending the pregnancy.

  12. I had never made the connection that as a bio adult I can complain all I want… Never. And yes, as an adoptive parent I feel sometimes like; “I am not aloud to say this is hard…” but I don’t know exactly how to express the why there. And yes I agree it is much less of a “worry” for me as a parent too. I have nothing to add here, except for gratitude for the conversation.

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