Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thanks...for Adopting Me??

"You're awesome for adopting these kids. They're so lucky to have you."

This was recently said to me.

I am not an adoptee, and I do not pretend to know the depths to which adoption might/will affect a child or adult who has been adopted.  I don't even pretend, despite having watched my own children begin to deal with their losses, to start to comprehend.

What I do notice is that adoption seems to be a mostly celebrated event.

People regularly tell me how awesome it is that we adopted.  People have told me on dozens of occasions that they have always wanted to adopt so that they, too, could 'save' a child.  And I cannot even count the number of people who have told me how fortunate, how blessed, my younger children are for having been adopted into our family.

I am so uncomfortable with these kinds of's hard to express exactly how uncomfortable I am with them.  I hate them, to be perfectly honest, and I can barely restrain my fidgeting as I try to answer politely.  If the kids also hear the comment, I have to work hard not to cringe.

I usually respond by saying how we are the ones who are blessed by our younger kids, but invariably the person I am speaking with thinks that I'm just being polite.

I'm not.  Really.

On a few occasions, I have spoken a little further with the person who has expressed the view that our kids are so lucky.  Usually a comment is made about how the kids will have so much more opportunity here, that they've been given a chance at a good life, etc etc etc.  The people who speak this way mean well...I know they do.  To a degree they are even right, if by "good life" they mean that the kids will have a greater chance at an education and provision of all of life's basic necessities and a few luxuries beyond.

But what does it mean to have a 'good life?'  The assumption, when making a comment about how blessed my children are, is that the good life is to be had here, in western society, where wealth and privilege are readily accessible, particularly by comparison to developing countries.  The assumption is that the privileges and lifestyle to be had here constitute a better life than the one that might have been spent with one's birth parents and within one's country and culture of birth.

I do think that where death or destitution or a childhood spent in an orphanage are the only options, international adoption is the next best alternative to remaining in one's country of birth, with one's parent(s) of origin.

But to Seth and Lizzie, all of that theory is just gobbly goop.  They don't live in a reality that would have them espousing complex perspectives on international adoption.  I didn't really get that, shame on me, until the past twenty months, when we brought home these beloved children and saw them begin to grieve and be angry for what they have lost.

The bottom line is this:  An essential problem with holding a perspective the that kids are the lucky ones in our family scenario is, at least in part, the assumption that they should be grateful to us for adopting them.

Grateful.  I can't even begin to imagine why I would expect my younger children to be grateful for having been ripped from everything familiar and known to them.  None of this was of their doing.  None of it was their fault.  They knew nothing beyond assuming a life with their first parent(s).

Though I certainly hope that someday my kids will look back on their lives and know that we did our absolute best to give them a great life, that is a vastly different kind of appreciation than the kind of gratitude that is inferred when one speaks of a child who has been adopted being lucky to have been adopted.

I recently came across a quote by a Rev. Keith C. Griffith, who says it perfectly:  "Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful."

When I say that it's Geoff and me (I??) who are the lucky ones, I mean that it is truly we who are the fortunate, the blessed, the lucky ones.  We're the ones fortunate enough to be able to bring more children into our lives; we are the ones whose lives are so enriched by the kids' presence in our lives; we're the ones who are awed (and daunted) by the gift of being able to parent these kids and to be assumed to be 'enough' to help them through their struggles and adaptations.

So the next time you're telling me how lucky you think the kids are for being adopted, know that I'm not just being polite by responding that we're the lucky ones.  Really.


  1. Well said! I have to avoid doing an eye roll when people say how lucky our son is. The loss this 2 year old has experienced is huge. More loss, sadness and life-changing transitions that many adults will ever experience.

  2. I want to preface this by saying my comments are being made in the spirit of discussion and freedom of thought and not meant to be hurtful.

    I have to respectfully disagree (especially with the Griffith quote). People are in no way saying that the children should be grateful for the loss that occurred before the adoption, but more for the fact that someone like you cared enough to do something to get them through that loss, to help them after their loss. There are so many in this world who don't get that help. Our children are lucky... lucky that their birth parents chose the path for them that they did, lucky that they have a second chance with a second set of awesome parents who are helping them through that grief, lucky for the reality that the fundamentals of life (food water, shelter) are better here. There are many children who are not so lucky (even here in our own country)!

    I am sorry if I am coming on too strong, but I feel strongly that we in the adoption community are too sensitive to and put too much time into analyzing these types of comments. All children should be thankful for what they have (bio or adopted) and not take one minute of these great opportunities for granted.

    Why is it such a taboo to acknowledge that the kids will have a better life here? Nobody is happy that the children lost their parents. But it happened! And it will continue to happen in the future. Now, how should society deal with that grief? Until we can prevent it from happening outright, adoption is one good option. Thankfully, our children get a second chance. They are lucky!


  3. What you're speaking of here, I think is "disenfranchised grief", which is grief that folks don't understand as a legit loss and therefore, when a singleton is born, and a mother grieves the twin that was present on the first ultrasound that didn't grow, or a person has a horrible accident and almost loses the arm and it's saved but they have months of rehab and its never the same...and people talk about "lucky" they are that they didn't lose it (and ignore the fact of a terrifying accident and months of pain). Seeing the blessing side of things is important, but often blessings come as the shadow side of something hugely painful and difficult. I think that this can even be part of postpartum depression...people just thrilled that you have a baby, and there not being a lot of space to mourn the loss of freedom, the endless crying and laundry, and the multiple losses that happen with the birth of a child. People forget that happy present times often come out of the loss of valuable past times.

  4. Hey J -
    Thanks for your comment. In no way did I find your comment hurtful - I think it was all said respectfully. Opinions are welcome here and you don't have to agree with me.

    This is clearly a complicated issue isn't it?

    I actually think we're talking about two different things here...and perhaps I muddled that in my own post.

    On the one hand, I am certainly not saying that I would (ever!) agree with UNICEF, which goes into countries and essentially shuts down international adoption in the interests of having children remain within their culture (even when conditions are abominable and terribly desperate). Our children will certainly have more tangible opportunity for things such as the basic necessities of life and for luxuries such as a higher education (if they choose it).

    I also said that I know that people are well-intentioned when making comments about how lucky my children are. I don't actually think for a moment that these comments are ill-intentioned...maybe just a little mis-informed.

    On the other hand...

    The sensitivity I have about this subject (perhaps like others in the adoption community, perhaps not - I don't really know) is that this perspective doesn't ACKNOWLEDGE the losses our children have experienced in life. There is an inherent assumption that they are better off for having lost everything and come here to live instead. When people actually address my children and tell them how lucky they are to have been brought into our family, or when they hear someone saying that to me and they look at me waiting to see how I'll respond, what impact might that statement/assumption have on them on the insides - maybe they WILL agree with that statement, in which case there's not much of a problem as far as they are individually concerned; but what if they're actually hearing that what they have been through is all for the best because this will constitute a better life? I've seen the look on my kids' faces and, though I know they're loving their lives in Canada and grabbing every opportunity that passes their way, that look has nothing to do with the benefits and privileges of being here.

    When people make these comments to me, I've never once responded in a way that is anything less than polite and respectful, but this post was written about what goes on in my heart and on my children's faces while the dialogue is ongoing.

    Adoption IS a good option given the world we live in. I just think that our kids might not necessarily agree that everything they had to give up would qualify them as 'lucky' and I need/want to be respectful of that perspective.

    Thanks, J, for bringing some different thoughts to the discussion. I'd love to hear from others...maybe even from some adopted children themselves??



  5. Carolyn, I just read your comment and thank you for the input from a therapist's perspective. Your last comment, in particular, struck me: "People forget that happy present times often come out of the loss of valuable past times."

    This likely highlights one of the primary issues for me b/c my kids can't ever forget their losses and, for that reason, neither can I. I do understand where others are coming from when making comments that seem to ignore the pain that came before; but I have to respond in a way (both internally and towards the public) that acknowledges and is highly respectful of what the kids have gone through.

    ANd I guess, bottom line, I personally DO feel so 'lucky' to have these kids in our family; I just don't assume that my kids feel the same way and I need to be mindful of that when thinking through these issues and when speaking with others.

    Thanks Carolyn!



  6. I respectfully disagree with the comments that "All children should be thankful for what they have" and to "acknowledge that the kids will have a better life here". How do we know that is not the case? Adult adoptees have told us so.

    First World vs. Third World and privileged vs. poor does not make one better than the other. I am so happy, lucky, blessed and joyful to be able to be a Mom to my adopted son. While he may or may not have had the best medical care, future opportunities, education, etc… in the city where he was born, my wish is that he could have grown up in his birth family. Second would have been to be raised in his community/culture of birth.

    Instead adults had to make big life changing decisions about his future, one in which he had no input, or say in. Because of that I will defend my son’s loss to the furthest degree. He has lost more in his young life than I have at the age of 36 and I will never deny him the opportunity to do so and I will never tell him he is lucky. I will never tell him he should be thankful. If he decides he is lucky for the life he leads in North America that is up to him when he is at an age to acknowledge it. Until then I will tell anyone who will listen that I am lucky to be his Mom and he has gone through tremendous hurtles and loss to be where he is today. He had no say in the big changes in his life whatsoever and I will allow him every opportunity to grieve. As adoptive parents, as adults we have had time to grieve any loss we may have had in relation to this journey (infertility, death of a child, pregnancy, etc…) and we may never stop grieving our losses. We have to allow our children the same opportunity for as long as it takes. Even if it is a life time.

  7. SK, I think you should have been the one to write my original post because you wrote exactly what I wished I might have said! :) Thanks for the further comment.

    I also think that it's an interesting point that's been made re: bio children being thankful. I've been thinking about this afternoon, having a bio child as well. I don't actually expect HIM to be grateful for his upbringing either...there are losses that he's experienced that he'll need to process, and there are lots of wonderful things (I think) that he'll need to process as well.

    I think of myself to be something of a caretaker of all three of my kids - I've been blessed to have them put into my care and (despite all of my failures) am striving to do my utmost for them. But I don't, frankly, expect gratitude from any of the three of's MY calling to raise THEM...they'll have their own callings. I don't see it as a point of gratitude for any of them. After all, despite radically different conditions of birth and circumstance, none of the three of them had any choice about the family that they ended up in!

    Very interesting discussion! I hope others agree/disagree/share different perspectives.


  8. Small world over here...we were reading our advent reading tonight after supper...and the devotional asked us to share a "water into wine" experience in our lives, how something ordinary or even painful was turned into something wonderful through a miracle of God. A guest at our table who came to Canada with his mom but lost her once here and now lives with another family, told of how he now has a loving family and great opportunities that he wouldn't have had if life hadn't happened. He expressed gratitude for the blessing of his now family. It felt like such a blessing to me to have read your blog today. I had the wherewithal to be able to respond to him about how hard it was to lose his mom, and how he may not have wanted that to happen even though his current circumstance is something he is grateful for. It felt like you gave me the gift of being able to honor his "water into wine" experience while also honoring his first felt so natural to do after reading your writing today. So...thanx for this particular blog on this particular day!

  9. Carolyn, your comment moves me to tears. How timely, that this was already on your mind before he came to your dinner table!

    I certainly do not possess the only opinion out there, but I'm glad that something resonated.'re welcome...and thanks!!


  10. This is so well written, Ruth. You said this all so well and what a great discussion in the comments.

  11. Thanks Sharon...and I agree that the discussion via comments has been great.


  12. I came accross this quote yesterday and reading your post made me think of it again... "Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims
    - are expected by the whole of society to be grateful" -

  13. Oops...I mean Lent reading, not Advent...I do know which part of the church calendar we are in! :)

  14. Carolyn, I knew you meant Lent reading!! In fact, I'm curious to know what reading you do for Lent - if you feel like sharing, I'd love to know.

    Shannon, I'm not sure if you realized this, but the quote that you mention is in my post as well! Great minds...



  15. Great post and great discussion!
    The loss a child goes through when they're adopted has taken on a whole new meaning for me since we adopted our second one. Our first one was an infant and the adjustment was a breeze.

    Then came our second one. Wow... she had losses... and boy did she express her pain over those losses. I have never in my life seen a child have such violent fits of rage. She rejected and rejected and rejected any kind of love we wanted to give her. It was so incredibly painful for her and us. And people would tell us how lucky she was to be here and how she now feels loved by us. In my heart I just could NOT agree with that. I cringed every time someone would say "She feels loved now". She was so terrified, confused, angry, heartbroken, lonely... you name it. She was in no position to accept love from us or trust us... the people who, in her mind, caused all this loss and pain for her. It's been 8 months and she is still struggling with accepting love from us or even trusting us.

    She certainly didn't feel one bit lucky to have been adopted by us. Maybe one day she will. Her adoption was an extremely traumatic experience for her, and if she remembers it in years to come, those memories won't be happy memories.

    So when she hears someone say how lucky she is, I think she may feel guilty when the grateful feeling doesn't come natually to her, because she will be reminded of her losses first.

  16. Connie, you've nailed it. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes, because I so understand what you're going through. It's so hard.

    We've been home 20 months and it's still sooooo hard for our 7.5 year old to accept our love or even to hear the words. It's getting better, but still...

    He raged and grieved for hours every day for months after we came home and now, even though we can see him visibly much more happy than he was, the torment of it all is just so...THERE. It affects our every day. He will be a child who will feel guilty if he doesn't feel grateful and I'd bet my last dollars that he DOESN'T feel grateful...and I don't WANT him to. I just want to help him heal and I just want to protect him so badly from the "you're so lucky" comments. He doesn't feel lucky...he feels pain.

    Thank you so much for sharing your current days here...and it does get better, it does. But it's just always there.

    Hugs and blessings, and with thanks for the encouragement.


  17. I think AP's are a bit hypocritical about this though. On one hand we want people to acknowledge our children's' losses, on the other hand, we don't want to tell them what they are, because that would be breaking another AP rule; don't give away your child's story.
    I think most people when they see our kids, envision what they believe to be is The African Orphan...a parentless child. They have no clue that our kids have families in Ethiopia, that they may even remember those families and were loved and cherished by those families. And I am not about to go into explaining all that to the total stranger who tells me how lucky my daughter is.
    It doesn't really irk me at all. I realize that it may irk and even anger my daughter as she grows older, but it doesn't bother me, because I have no expectation of her to be grateful to me whatsoever. I am trying to teach my children (all of them, not just my adopted daughter) not to be so focused on what other people think of them. Don't let strangers influence your identity.
    People are going to say stupid things, they just will. I would rather focus on teaching my daughter how to handle those situations than waste any energy on people I will never see again...and even on those I will.


  18. Excellent points Flora - thanks for the thoughts. And the notion of teaching our kids not to be so dependent on what other people think is HUGE.

    Hmm...more food for thought...thx again.


  19. We can explain the loss in adoption in general without divulging our children's personal information. As members of the adoption community I think we have an opportunity (if we want to use it) to educate parents, children, family and friends about the issues involved in adoption that some people do not talk about or realize when you are not involved with adoption. Of course discussing these things at the appropriate time and not in front of our kids is best.

    I find that people outside of the adoption community can often think of adoption as "saving a child" or just "how lucky you were willing to take in or parent a child who is not related to you". I agree that every child deserves privacy. Providing general information is an eye opener for many. For us when we get "your son is so lucky". We say (only when he is not around) "actually, for such a young child he has overcome a lot of big transitions in his life. We are the lucky ones. Adoption is not about saving a child it is about building a family and there is a lot of loss involved for us, our son and his birth family". If they ask specific questions I let them know that our son's personal story is private. I do talk about socio-economic realities in many cities and countries, lack of medical care for special needs or medical issues, cultural and generational beliefs, etc... It is an eye opener for people and I hope it provides them with a wee bit of information so they think before they make similar comments to other adoptive families.

  20. Anonymous...another thought to build the discussion. Thank you.

    I like how you respond to people, with information and without divulging information that is private for you and your son. I'm going to incorporate some of those thoughts into how I respond to these kinds of situations. THank you!!