The Preface: I Love My [Kid/Mom/Family] But …

Do you do the preface?

As in, “I love my kids, but?” Or, maybe more relevantly, “I love [my adopted child], but?”

Dawn at Create a Family and the bloggers of The Adopted Ones were talking, recently, about that twinge of disloyalty that comes when we decide to really dish about our families. It works both ways: “I love my mom, but” is coming, and it’s probably come out of your own mouth, too. The question is, do adoptive parents—and adoptive kids—do it more?

For months after Rory was adopted, I struggled. No, I flailed. It was ugly. I did blog about it (far less than I could have) but I almost never talked about it, and I never managed to get the help or counseling I probably could have used, and my reluctance came in part from the same impulse. Adoption, for the parents, is seen as more of a “choice” than biological parenting. I thought any potential listeners (other than fellow APS) were probably secretly thinking something along the lines of “you made your bed, now lie in it” and “I told you so” besides.

Adoptees have a different problem. They’re supposed to be grateful. (I believe it was Harriet Wimsey, nee Vane, who said “Gratitude makes me want to bite people.”) As ShadowtheAdoptee posted, “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, so aren’t we lucky, grateful that someone else did?”

So, here we are: two sets of people, APs and As, who feel in some sense like we can’t complain. Of course, we DO: but not without giving at least lip service to the good things that underlie our complaints, even when the complaints come from real, discussion-worthy roots (as in, “I love my adoptive mother, but I wonder about my birth mother,” or “I love my daughter, but I’m worried that she’ll never feel as secure in our family as my bio kids).  Or maybe that we can’t even explore (as in “I wonder if it would be better if more Chinese families adopted China’s waiting children.”) I know I think a lot about how the adoption process should be different, and how much I wish international adoptive parents were encouraged to explore the possibilities of domestic foster adoption more than we did—but that does not mean, and never would mean, that I want to change my own adoption. And yes, I feel like I have to say that—every time. I imagine that someday, Rory—who might, in the abstract and as an adult, want to explore those questions—will feel the same.

And the question is, is that a good thing?

In one sense, it’s not. If I say “We meant to wait a little longer between kids—I should have known you could get pregnant while nursing,” no one assumes I mean I don’t want Wyatt. I might preface it. I might not. I don’t worry that he’ll come across that statement in ten years and use it to hate me, either. Both society AND I give me unspoken permission to express those things without really fearing that anyone, from outsiders to Wyatt to me, will question our bond.

But with Rory I obviously worry. I worry that outsiders will question my commitment to her. I worry that she will someday question it. I worry, still, that I am on some level questioning it—that I am saying or feeling something I wouldn’t say or feel of a biological child in the same position, even though to have a biological child in the same position is impossible. If those fears triumph, I’m silenced. And if I’m silenced, then that’s one less voice talking about adoption, and that societal doubt will never go away.

But on the other hand—how bad is it, really, to preface every worry or complaint or even discussion of change with an out-and-out disclaimer that notes how lucky I am? Because I am lucky. I have the luxury of dealing with problems or contemplating issues from a place of passionately loving my daughter, herself a gift of some combination of fate, the universe and our family’s willingness to take a different kind of leap into the unknown. I think I have nothing to complain about, there.

And Rory? If she wants to preface her complaints (and I’m sure she’ll have them) or her advocacy for change (and I’d love it if she someday has that) with some sort of disclaimer, I hope she does it, not out of “gratitude” but out of a deep sense that she is indeed lucky. NOT lucky that her adoptive family “did this great thing for her.” But lucky in the same way that every member of our family is lucky: we have each other to love. And if she has so much faith in that that it doesn’t even occur to her to mention it? Ok, maybe that would be the luckiest thing of all.

6 Responses to “The Preface: I Love My [Kid/Mom/Family] But …”

  1. J. says:

    I must say I wonder the same things about my kids and how they will feel when they are bigger. For them it is a lot more complicated as there are siblings and such but I am lucky that they are a part of my life even if somedays I don’t feel so lucky.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I’ve known I was adopted since I can remember, and although I have always had “ghost” memories of the time before I was with my adoptive parents, they seem more like dreams than reality. My adoptive parents are just my parents. There never was an “I should be grateful” feeling to any of it. I wasn’t aware people thought like that until I was much older and started reading the paper, etc., and even then it always seemed like the people who have the opinions that the adopted child should be grateful or the adoptive parents shouldn’t complain came from people who had absolutely no experience with adoption. When my adoptive dad passed, he was just my dad. We were/are a family. End of story. I’ve always felt lucky, because my parents are two of the best people I’ve ever known. And yes, I do gripe about my mother, but there’s no disclaimer ;-).

  3. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    I’m not convinced anyone whose opinion I’d value really thinks any of this stuff–that kids should feel lucky OR that parents shouldn’t complain. It’s probably more something we do to ourselves. I’m hoping I’ll grow out of it.

  4. guest says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, and I think you’re a good mom for worrying about how your actions may affect your kids. Some of your harshest critics may have read just one of your articles and automatically assumed that you regret your decision to adopt. In comparison to Jennifer’s parents in the documentary Adopted, it just seems like you’re trying to “do better”. While some people do act like adoptees should be eternally grateful to their adoptive parents, from a practical point of view, both sides benefit from the relationship. For instance, when Jennifer’s parents became ill, the adoptee helped nurse and provide for them. When they passed, her brother wasn’t left alone in the world.

  5. Jess says:

    She’ll know she’s lucky, just as I am sure the Tiger Mom’s kids see a fuller picture than we do of her. We know only what you choose to reveal to us; she knows your heart.

  6. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    I’m good with her feeling lucky (because our whole family is lucky! Enough to eat, safe, happy lives…), but I do hope she doesn’t feel some extra bonus obligation to express it. I’m ok with feeling it myself–and no, I don’t regret adopting at all, ever, I’m so glad we took that particular leap I can’t even tell you–but I just want her to know we’re SOLID. ANd she doesn’t have to say it.