Your Adoption Story Is Not Your Child’s Story

Recently I’ve heard a couple of adoptive parents describe two of the highly recommended adoption books as “negative.” (FYI, the books being referred to were Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge and Beyond Good Intentions by Cheri Register.) And the description bothered me–it seemed harsh, especially when one of the books was written by an adoptee. 

Both books detail some of the hard truths about adoption–loss, trauma, racial issues, etc. And those truths can be difficult to hear, no doubt. But I feel like I’m a better adoptive parent for having read, and taken to heart, those hard truths. So I began thinking about why an adoptive parent would label these books as negative, and I had a light-bulb moment. It’s because adoption is a completely different experience for most adoptive parents and adopted children.

For the parents adoption is filled with joy and love. It’s a way to become a parent for the first time or expand a family already filled with the joy of children. It’s the agony of waiting, which is completely forgotten in the elation of meeting your child for the first time. Adoption is a one-time event in the lives of the adoptive parents. They go through the process, finalize the adoption, and it’s done–they’re a family.

For the child, adoption is a lifetime experience. An experience that’s filled with trauma, loss (of families, culture, language), sadness, questions, and feelings of not belonging, as well as joy and love.

I have no doubt that the majority of adoptees love their adoptive parents and families. But from reading about those hard truths, I’ve learned that the joy and love they have in and for their adoptive families doesn’t prevent them from feeling sadness over the families they lost or wondering why they were placed for adoption.

Before we started the process to adopted our son, I too felt that adoption was a win-win. There were children who needed homes, and my husband and I had no desire to have biological kids. Back then I thought it was all joy too. That you just love the kid and everything will be “normal.” But books like the ones written by Eldridge and Register helped enlighten me to truths about adoption. My view pre-adoption was what I now call the “adoption fanatsy”–that adopting or being adopted is no different from having biological kids.

What I’ve learned in the three-plus years I’ve been part of the adoption community is that many adoptive parents never let go of that “adoption fantasy.” They continue believing that love is enough and that adopted children can be raised exactly the same way biological ones are raised. An example of this is that one person I heard call these books negative was a parent-in-process who is waiting for a referral. She’s still educating herself and learning more about adoption. But the other has a child adopted transracially as an infant who has now been home for seven years.

While it’s true that in some areas raising adopted kids is the same (for example, they should be loved, disciplined, and taught responsibility), in many other ways it’s not the same. And it shouldn’t be the same because love ISN’T enough.

Raising an adopted child requires more understanding, a willingness to delve under the surface of behavior and attitudes, an openess to discuss some difficult topics that no child should have to experience. It requires an understanding that being separated from the mother who carried you for nine months is a traumatic experience. That babies feel things we don’t give them credit for feeling. That children aren’t as resilient as our society wants to believe. That our world isn’t a colorblind place in which race doesn’t matter.

That’s what Eldridge’s and Register’s books are trying to say. They’re not trying to be negative but instead are trying to educate adoptive parents about the thoughts and feelings of adoptees. Will every adoptee experience everything covered in these books? Probably not. But the fact seems to be that the majority of adoptees struggle with at least some of these feelings and emotions at some point in their lives.

Our adoption journey thus far has shown me the truth behind the hard facts these authors discuss. While our son is very attached to us, he’s still at times insecure wondering if moving to another family is in his future. The education I’ve received from these books and others like them mean I don’t just brush off his comments or concerns, but instead tackle them head on.

Yes, my adoption journey is quite different from my son’s journey. But my adoption education has allowed me to empathize with his journey in a way I couldn’t have while living in my “adoption fantasy.” Hopefully that will be a help to him as he grows.

5 Responses to “Your Adoption Story Is Not Your Child’s Story”

  1. January 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Bravo! and well put. I could not agree with you more. I have read the books you mentioned, and did not think of them as negative either! Being an adoptive child and parent is different. There are issues that need to be acknowledged and dealt with on a continuing basis. In fact, you might have been a little too easy on your friend! I kind of think that to not openly face issues an adopted child must deal with their whole life is doing them a real diservice! What a better parent you are for reading and seeing that it is a different journey each must take. How better to teach and show by example how to face harsh truths and deal with them? Isn’t that what all parents should do, help their children learn how to deal with reality? Of couse, it must be done age appropriately, but it still must be done. I am surprised at how strongly I reacted to the idea that there might be parents out there, living in a fantasy! When we went into adoption, we knew it would be a life long process. We went about learning as much as we could, both positive and negative. How can you even hope to be a good parent if you only have half the information you need? Only see one side of an issue? I’m sorry to rant, but it just really hit home with me, yes, so many people don’t see, or refuse to see!!!! I know I will never have all the info I need, but I try! I continually question and self examine, how can I be better, do better for my son? If you get a chance, I would love to hear your opionions on my blog entries on adoption and prejudices re adoption. Keep up the great work!

  2. February 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! I am writing a book called When Rain Hurts, which is a “not so happily ever after” love story. 3 top editors in 3 top publishing houses have tried to buy the book only to be shot down in the acquisition meeting by the suits, who claimed it was “too honest, too stark” and didn’t have a “happy” enough ending. Adoption can be complicated – for both child and parent and facing this fact doesn’t mean you don’t love your child or that you are anti-adoption. Adoption gave us the opportunity to become a family but it also gave us problems and challenges we never anticipated.

    Please take a look at http://whenrainhurts.wordpress.com if you’re interested. And thanks again for speaking up! Mary

  3. April 1, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I love this post. It is the message more people need to hear and take to heart. I am really wishing you lived in my area. There is a small group of us trying to start a networking/resource sharing support kind of group. We could use you! 🙂

  4. July 2, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Wow! I applaud this post and you as a mom (in the world of adoption).

    Moving forward with EYES WIDE OPEN your child will receive the acknowledgement and understanding he so deserves!

    You are both lucky to have each other! May you be reminded of how blessed you are when you face difficult and confusing periods in your life together.

    Your post warms my heart…the heart of a birthmother.

  5. August 20, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Your article is well written from an informed perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Each story of adoption is unique but we all share some things in common.

    Judith Land, Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child

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