My friend, The Adopted One, asked me to write on why adoptive parents seem to demand happy adoption stories and become so uncomfortable when they hear a negative one. She wrote a great guest post on my blog yesterday asking us to delete the adjectives “positive” and “negative” when referring to any adoption story. Here’s my attempt at answering her original question.
Dear Adopted One, I think I can definitively answer your questions about why adoptive parents “demand” happy adoption stories. It’s simple—human nature. We are parents who love our kids intensely, and we want to believe that nothing hard or negative will ever happen to these precious beings. And we especially want to believe that nothing we do or did will ever bring them pain.
I realize this doesn’t make our desire for the positive any less annoying, and I totally agree with you that is has the tendency to drive a wedge in the adoption community between adoptees and adoptive parents. And I certainly think it is demeaning to adopted people to imply that they can’t have both positive and negative feelings about being adopted, just as we all are a mix of positives and negative emotions. But the honest answer to your question is that love mixed with fear are what pulls us toward the positive.
The Weird Mix of Love and Insecurity That is Parenting
This mixture of love and fear is common in all types parenting situations that have nothing to do with adoption. In my experience it is an inherent part of being a parent. You see it play out in the adoption field because that affects you personally, but there are many other arenas where this weird mixture raises its head.
Shortly after our 4th child joined our family, a major woman’s magazine ran an article about how children from large families did not fare as well in life as children from smaller families, and were often unhappy with their childhood. I help my breath as I scanned the article while standing behind my overstuffed grocery cart in the checkout line with my children chunking candy and gum into the cart while I was obsessively reading. Surely the really bad outcomes were reserved for mega families like the Duggars and Gosselins, right? Nope, the cut off in the article for negative influence was three kids. Well crap.
I made the choice to have four kids and now my children would suffer all sorts of harm, including lack of self-esteem, poorer academic performance, and even diminished earning potential. Considering all the junk they snuck into the cart at the checkout, they were also doomed to bad teeth. Well now double crap.
I did what any other loving and insecure parent would do—I looked to adults who were raised in large families to reassure me that I had not permanently harmed my children. I called up a friend from a family of eight children and asked her to tell me that she wasn’t a complete train wreck. I’m sure I said it better than that, but she read between the lines and offered a candy-coated version of her life with enough accentuating the positive and downplaying the negative to make Hakuna Matata, a la The Lion King, proud. (It occurred to me much later that she failed to mention that none of the children in her family had chosen to have more than two children themselves.) For at least a year, I had my antenna up to find adults who came from families of four or more, and would oh so subtlety pepper them with questions about how glad they must be to have been raised in a large family.
Don’t We All Need Role Models
I am not particularly proud of my story and the insecurity it shows, but I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I don’t think these feelings are exclusive to parents. Don’t we all seek out positive role models to guide us? In your example of the couple that chose a childfree life, I bet they looked around in person or online for others who had lived full and fulfilled lives without children. If they were lucky, they found one or two to give them hope. I would imagine that they even gravitated towards those stories over the stories of couples who lived stunted lives of regret at their inability to have children, or the stories where the fertile spouse left their infertile partner to have children with another.
Think of How Birth Parents Must Feel
While I’m sharing the experience from the adoptive parent perspective, imagine how birth parents feel. Adoptive parents made the decision to adopt, but birth parents made the decision to put the child in the position of needing to be adopted. As one birth mother told me, “When I hear stories of how adoptees hate adoption it just about breaks me. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t necessarily my child’s experience, and that I did the best I could at the time.” [paraphrased]
We Usually Move On
The good news is that few of us humans truly get stuck in the land of all sunshine and honey. Most of us eventually accept that with most decisions in life (and all decisions in parenting) there are positives and negatives. I fairly quickly realized that most adults raised in large families viewed it with a mixture of feelings, although it still warms my heart to read an article by someone who treasured their large family upbringing. Most adoptive parents know that adoption is a mixture of negatives and positives and both can coexist within the same person. And if they don’t, we’ll continue to try to educate them.
My explanation of why adoptive parents crave the positive adoption stories in no way negates your point that this unease with the negative makes some adopted people feel unheard. When people feel unheard they have a tendency to shout, even though that is the least effective way of getting people to listen. People who were adopted deserve to express the totality of their emotions, and we who come to adoption from the parenting side need to be able to hear it all. But I do think it helps to know that the desire for the positive story is a basic part of human and parenting nature, regardless of how the children came to be ours.
Image credit: ToastyTreat