One Reason Adoptive Parents Tune Out Negative Adoption Stories

Dawn Davenport


Why Adoptive Parents Tune Out Negative Adoption Stories- 1 Simple Reason

Why do adoptive parents accentuate the positive and downplay the negatives of adoption. It’s simple really.

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

04/09/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 21 Comments

21 Responses to One Reason Adoptive Parents Tune Out Negative Adoption Stories

  1. Avatar Lynn Assimacopoulos says:

    A new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    As an adopted person who is raising my own children, I can tell you that I don’t ever feel “insecure” about parenting my children.

    I did feel unbelievably insecure as an adopted child.

    Bottom line: Adoption is not natural, and ought to be avoided like a plague. The only kids who need to be adopted are children in foster care.

    You with your 30K in hand in line for a baby are creating a demand. That’s a BIG problem. Adopted kids CANNOT fill your void.

  3. Avatar Greg says:

    At least for me my definition of a “positive” adoption story would be that both sets of parents made the best of a less than ideal situation and it resulted in the child growing up to become a confident adult despite the grief that they have from their adoption. Much like children whose parents get divorced during their childhood. In those situations the children are used against the other ex-spouse most of the time and the children are the ones who suffer. The “positive” divorce stories that involve children are ones where both parents make the best of a less than ideal situation and put their children first.

    Unfortunately, adoption is not an ideal situation for all parties any way you look at it especially if the adoptive parents are coming to adoption as the result of their infertility. So I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect or a painless experience. But then again what in life is.

    At least for me I believe the adoption community needs to recognize where those who are infertile are coming from. They can share their stories and educate those researching adoption so that they can make the best informed decision and not make the mistakes past adoptive parents have made. But the adoption community should not use scare tactics. Whether or not those couples adopt does not relieve you of your grief nor does it eliminate the issues with adoption. I think too many in the adoption community believe that if they can convince a couple not to adopt that they gain something. The reality is if that couple is convinced to not adopt they are never going to be advocates for the adoptive community. If they are infertile they will more likely be advocates for the infertile and childless/ChildFree communities. Also when you have a $13 Billion industry $20,000-$40,000 is a drop in the bucket.

  4. Avatar TAO says:

    I would be interested in seeing definitions or examples of what people believe makes a story positive vs negative.

    Perhaps that should be the starting point?

    • TAO, good point. I find myself struggling with the idea of positive or negative. I suppose most adoptive parents would think a story as negative if the adopted person was vehemently anti adoption in all cases and believe that it is an inherently bad idea. Also, an adoptee who does not have a connection with their adopted family and blames adoption for this lack of relationship. I’m thinking quickly as I run out the door, but these might be starting places for discussion.

  5. Avatar Mary says:

    Greg-Amen to your comments. The ones who are empathetic are to be commended. I also understand that all of these individuals have had traumatic experiences in their lives, but my sympathy for them is severely tried (if not swept away completely) by the ones who believe that they are doing a public service by “helping” us who are IF to see the error of our ways in still wanting to be parents by making that desire seem to be rooted in purely selfish motives and convincing us to see the error of our ways and to “redeem” ourselves by “choosing” to “embrace” a childfree existence. I agree that adoption and ART need to be ethical, but it will not become that way if the family preservation crowd continue to dehumanize those of us who are IF. Just because we have a physical disability does not mean that we do not have what it takes to be parents. I try to understand the other side, I really do, but their overall agenda as it relates to IF people and those who might become parents through adoption just burns the bridges that could bring understanding.

  6. Avatar Catana Tully says:

    You are quite right when you say that all parenting has its pitfalls. How often have we heard of children who are so at odds with their birth parent’s and siblings personalities that they fervently believe they were adopted. But of course, the adoptee has two sets of parents, and whether the adoptive parents like it or not, there is a mother to which the child was connected to, and with whom it shares a history, however brief it may have been. The knowledge of that connection is part of its fiber. A happy story is one where there is unquestioned unconditional love on the part of the adoptive parents; a love that does not expect anything in return. Not from the child, not from society. That’s the hard part.

    • Catana, you’re so right–we all hope that every parent loves their child unconditionally with no expectations in return, regardless how they come to be ours. I think it is also true that we all seek the positive stories about all aspects of parenting.

  7. Avatar Greg says:


    I can definitely identify with what you are talking about. The funny thing is those people who make those statements about “entitled infertiles” are made by people who claim to be empathetic towards those infertile couples when in reality their actions speak otherwise. Although I will say there are some who are actually empathetic. I understand these people have had traumatic experiences in their lives but that doesn’t give them the right to judge infertiles when they have zero experiences going through it themselves.

  8. I understood the terms but wasn’t sure how Michael was applying it to adoptive parents being pulled towards the positive stories. Got it now. I see your point Michael.

  9. Avatar Marci says:

    Dawn, has excellent articles on confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, hindsight bias, and a few other things that help us make decisions that seem logical, but aren’t. It’s a fantastic look at the way the mind tricks us.

  10. Avatar Mary says:

    Not to mention that IVF has its detractors too-usually from people who think it is a waste of money, against God’s will for humanity, unnecessary in a world where there are so many needy children in need of adoption, etc etc. I wonder how many of these opponents have ever needed to seek out other ways to build THEIR families?

  11. Avatar Marci says:

    I agree with your point that we want to feel like our efforts can succeed. We already know they can fail. We’ve all experienced failure at some level, so we know that’s possible. 🙂

  12. Avatar Michael says:

    So when you have a certain belief, you are more likely to ignore evidence that suggests your belief is wrong. This is regardless of whether or not the belief is actually correct.

    For example, the autism-vaccine thing. There was 1 study that linked the two. This was over a decade ago and the person that did it doctored the data and the publisher retracted it. The guy has been stripped of credibility and employment. Since then dozens of studies and studies of studies (meta analysis) show there is absolutely no link. But people choose to dismiss such evidence.

    In the case of pre-adoptive parents wanting to hear good stories, as you said some of it is wanting to trust ourselves. Some of it is knowing how easy it is to find horror stories. And Some of it is motivation.

    If I wanted to buy a car and 98% of people that owned that model absolutely loved it, that would be a good thing. But what if I didn’t know that? What if the only people online that write about the car are the 2% who are unhappy. I’m going to research it and think maybe this model is the worst possible car. Likewise, when it’s so easy to find horror stories and limited positive stories, it’s easy for someone to say, well maybe we should just try IVF. And then maybe all the IVF people write about how great it is. That doesn’t mean IVF is any more right for that family than adoption would be.

  13. Avatar Stacy B says:

    I think adoptive parents tune out the negative, because there are so many negative stories you hear about. When a positive one comes around you are excited to know that your situation can be a positive one just like that one and is not doomed to be a negative experience. For me, my SIL, is adopted. She never wants to know who her bio family is, because she feels the one she has now is her family. I think some people sugar coat the situation and never tell their children the truth until later on in life. I plan on telling my little one when he turns 4 or 5. Why hide something that everyone knows about? Unfortunately, for my son (we are doing foster to adopt) his BM is unable to take care of him. She’s a teenager doing what all teenagers do. I won’t list the other issues she has going on. Mind you she hasn’t seen her son in 9 months. The negative stories help people to realize things that maybe they shouldn’t do, but the positive ones help ease their minds that they maybe doing something right at giving a child a chance to be a child.

    • Stacy B, I don’t think you meant it this way, but I just want to be clear that I in no way see searching for first family as a “negative” story. Adoptees who have a good view of adoption search; those who have a negative view search; and both views may not search. Most adopted people I speak with think that information on birth parents is an inherent right that adoptees over a certain age should have a right to.

  14. Michael, I’m afraid I’ll need help understanding your question. Or maybe I just need more coffee. Explain further please.

  15. Avatar MJ says:

    As an IF person who is considering adoption as one of the only family building options left for my spouse and myself to become parents, I find that I am at a point where I need to hear the positive stories of adoption because I need to find some sense of reassurance that my husband and I are not terrible human beings for being IF and still having the audacity to want to be parents in a way that we ourselves can live with-which in our case is by becoming permanent parents to a child that we can raise and watch grow up from his/her earliest days of life. When we were first diagnosed with IF (genetic cause that is incurable with ART) I went to the internet in search of information on this family building path. Even though I have learned a lot about the complex realities of adoption from what I have read thus far these learnings valuable, I consider, I regret having looked for this information because of the hateful, anti IF/anti adoption propaganda that comes from the more radical family preservation camps-unfortunately, those were the first sites I stumbled upon. These sites, with their prejudiced attitudes about those of us with IF (which can be summarized as such-“if you are IF it is your own fault and you should just accept your childfree existence because parenthood is only for those who can have their own babies without assistance from outside sources. If you REALLY want to be a parent (or be anything other than a privileged baby thief) you will become a foster parent and help the fertile parents who are unfit (or in their language “having trouble”) to clean up their act and be reunited with THEIR children-they are not meant to be yours, except for a short time. Adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children, not children for homes, and if you have motives that are any less lofty than that, then God knew what he/she was doing by making you IF”-and on and on and on. The self-righteousness and bigotry presented by these sites and the communities they represent has lessened my ability to hear the unhappy stories of adoptees without feeling further shamed for wanting to find a way to be a parent in a permanent way and in that way overcome our disability. I deeply resent the notion that an IF couple needs to have deeper motives for wanting to become a parent than just to become a parent. Why is it acceptable for non-IF couples to go into parenthood without the idea of helping out their fellow human beings-if they want to be parents, that’s all that matters-but IF couples have to want something more? IMHO the refrain “homes for children, not children for homes” demeans the very real desires of IF couples who want to be parents-it’s not as if we want a child for our home, as if he/she was a matching end table that we want to complete the look of the room. We want to be parents for the very same reason that non-IF persons want to be parents-and I don’t think that that is wrong. So I listen especially closely for positive adoption stories because I need proof that adoptive families are not doomed to failure if done right. I listen to the less positive stories as well, but I find it easier to listen to the stories that are focussed on telling the stories and not laying blame on the IF/AP communities. When the negative stories are being held up by those with an agenda as the only stories that can be believed, and the positive ones are painted as being a result of “koolaid drinkers” or “good adoptees/Stockholm sufferers” it can paint a very skewed picture of what adoption can be all about. Should we judge all biological parents by the actions of people like Susan Smith and Casey Anthony? Of course not, that would be absurd-and it is equally absurd to judge all AP’s with the same measuring stick.
    One last point (sorry for rambling on so). When I first began reading about adoption, and I began wading through the more fertilist family preservation blogs, one of the first things I did was talk to people who had adopted children as a family building option after IF. Two things helped me with this-1. I got to see that their children are not all serial killers and 2. I received a piece of wisdom that I still cling to from a man whose children are all adopted “not all adopted families are successful. Not all naturally born families are successful”. This has helped and healed a lot of the damage caused by my research-as has find the Creating A Family website and blog-but some of the messages and stories haunt me. Hopefully I will reach a point where I can be a better listener to all of the stories of adoption that are out there, but it will take a while. Thank you for this pair of articles. Take Care

  16. Avatar Michael says:

    Is this confirmation bias or cognitive dissonance?

  17. Avatar Kate says:

    One thing that I think is important to remember as well is that adoptive parents are living the “negative” stuff right along with their kids. Very few days go by that I don’t think about the hard stuff, even if its just for a moment. I don’t think I personally avoid negative adoption stories but I don’t know if I would seek them out either. I think many parents are trying so hard to get it all right that the negative stories are overwhelming and make it seem like there is no way they can do enough for their kids to give them a happy life. Isn’t that ultimately what every parent wants?

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