Sometimes I Can’t

A woman in the birthmother support group I attend just linked us all to this blog post, hoping that some of us would feel moved to rebut one commenter in particular—a woman who speaks of her children’s birthparents with very little respect. Just what I needed to start my morning off right. She trots out the old favorite, Your birthmommy was “14 years old and was a drug addict,” explains that there’s no need to talk to adopted kids about birthparents because her own children aren’t interested, and then accuses other posters of attacking her and not welcoming other perspectives.

The woman who linked me in is both a birthmother and an adoptee, and I think she feels strongly that some adoption organizations tend to marginalize the birthparent perspective—maybe she’s right, but most days, I just can’t bring myself to be part of the solution. I’m not going to post on that blog entry, I’m more than likely never going to become a part of their conversation; I don’t think I belong there.

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14 thoughts on “Sometimes I Can’t

  1. I’m supposed to do a guest blog for them and was totally blanking on what to write but now I think I know. It’s a post I was thinking on for my blog but I’m gonna send it to them.

  2. Maybe it’s semantics; I don’t see first/birth parents as necessarily “mommies” or “daddies”, though they are necessarily mothers and fathers. They aren’t necessarily not mommies and daddies, either. Depends on the situation and the people involved.

    The post presents a false dichotomy–either A)I see my child’s birth father (who by his own choice never met my son) as his daddy or B)I am “completely erasing” him from our lives?

    No, in fact those aren’t the only choices; there are many other healthy positions along that continuum and plenty of people are living there.

    “M”s script about birth parents and birth countries was over the top and harsh, but it reminded me of Jennie’s comment to this post of Dawn’s : http://www.thiswomanswork.com/2010/01/14/sun/#comments
    In that comment, we see that in fact some people are dumping this kind of stuff on their kids in the name of honesty, openness, whatever. Birth parents lied, birth parents slept around, birth parents did drugs…

    Maybe M’s script was a reaction to the push for openness-above-all that leads to situations where adoptive parents are giving kids scary amounts of negative information at times in their development where there is little they can do with it that’s healthy or productive.

    • I always liked the advice that you should never lie–make it age-appropriate, but don’t lie–and I assume that’s what the commenter is so angry about (one thing, at any rate). But I’ve honestly never heard of a situation where someone gave gruesome details to a very young child; I’ve not saying it’s never happened, but it certainly can’t be a really common problem. And I don’t think demonizing an international adoptee’s birth culture is ever appropriate.

      I think all people in all three triad roles have things to be mad about, but I have the most respect for that anger and I learn the most from it when it doesn’t spend itself demonizing other triad members.

      • Again, I think my experience being largely with folks who’ve adopted from foster care gives me a different perspective. Gruesome details are often passed along, and I don’t think it’s only very young children who are hurt by them. Early adolescence is a period when lots of identity formation is happening, and at the same time pressure is put on kids by peers and others to choose a persona and groups to identify with, and finding out about grim details at that age may not be any kinder.

        I totally agree that demonizing birth parents and a birth culture is never appropriate, and that’s what I meant by M being over the top. I thought she(?) was being satirical, but that the actual problem she’s talking about does exist.

    • “The post presents a false dichotomy–either A)I see my child’s birth father (who by his own choice never met my son) as his daddy or B)I am “completely erasing” him from our lives?”

      Actually this is not what I was presenting, I’m not saying (and don’t believe) that the choices are “either/Or” -a choice between two extremes that ignores all the shades of gray in between.- Rather I was sharing a real conversation between a good friend of mine and her husband. They were experiencing an “Aha” moment, an “Ohhh, NOW I get it” moment when they both realized that if they knew the birth/first parents in a more intimate way, or were actually related to them, that they would feel differently about them and, in a way, this would further humanize the first/birthparents. This then led them to the question of why? and why should it matter?

      I recounted this very personal conversation with the goal of illustrating that when the birthfamily is not immediately present in adoptive families lives (parents and child/ren)it’s much easier for them to be ignored/erased. (honestly I wished I hadn’t said “completely erased”, “often erased” feels more accurate to me). This was certainly true in my family, and in the families of many other adoptees I know, both kids and adults.

      • For what it’s worth, our own adoption situation contains some of that gray–we’re not mom and dad, but we’re “Mama Susie” and “Papa Book”; present but not the parents. I appreciated your sharing the conversation; sorry if that got lost in my frustration with some of the comments.

  3. Really? [Sorry, it won’t let me nest any further.] That’s…awful. I guess the adoptee “owns” that information, and if I were a teen who’d been adopted, I’d want to know about what happened before that–but the way you say it, it sounds like that information is being used in a hurtful way.

    • I don’t think it’s intended to hurt, but I think it’s passed on sometimes as part of the sub-conscious “look what I saved you from” narrative, or as background explanation for warnings given to a child (e.g. about genetic components of addiction, mental illness, etc.)that may be 100% worthwhile and right at one age, but presented too soon and in a judgmental way are just baggage the kid has to deal with without necessarily being equipped to.

      One mom I met in a social setting, within half an hour of identifying herself as a foster-adoptive parent, told me all about how her son is a pathological thief and liar, connecting those behaviors to info about his birth family, all within his hearing and clearly not for the first time. The child was 7 or 8 and was with her from infancy. I’m sure in her mind she is just educating him about how his behavioral choices (he had just “stolen” some gum from her purse)might pan out if he doesn’t shape up, but man, what is he supposed to do with that info? It’s like the opposite of erasing the birth family from the adoptive family’s life–it’s keeping them around as a whipping boy.

    • We were specifically told NOT to say that sort of thing during our foster/adoptive training, but there are some parents who will make “bad choices” regardless of what they’re told (plus everyone makes mistakes, I realize) and it sounds like this mom has her own theory about what’s appropriate that doesn’t mesh with mine.

      I do think foster/adoption brings a different set of issues than infant adoption, especially for kids who remember their first families. I had a long and (relatively) non-judgmental talk with Rowan, who’s 15, about the abusive things his parents did and the cycle of abuse and how it is impacting his life and what he can do about that and so on. It was easy to do this without saying that his parents were bad people and yet at the same time to talk to him about why they do deserve to go to jail for what they’ve done…. It was a difficult conversation for many reasons, but my whole goal was to make him feel better about himself and more able to understand how far he’s come from his time as a victim.

      I haven’t written a response to Mia’s comment because I knew I couldn’t make sense of it and this is as far as I can get before giving up in a muddle, so I’ll leave it at that. I do believe that loving the child means at minimum having empathy or understanding for that child’s family, even the rotten parts. I don’t know why his parents (adoptive parents from within his family, for the record) chose to do the things they did but I don’t need to know that to understand that he loves and hates them with equal fierceness and that in loving him I have to expect and respect that. This is very hard to talk about in the abstract and without using any specific details, but in my small experience in actually doing it I didn’t have trouble.

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