Having been able to obtain my mother’s adoption file, I know how over the moon happy her adoptive mother was when my mom was a baby and a toddler. Having seen a photo of my mom’s original mother holding her, I also know where our big boned skeletons came from.
When I was growing up, I knew my mom had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother. What changed ? I believe my adoptive grandmother was very hard on my mom due to her body size – not that she was fat. Later in life, she may have been overweight and she struggled with that and was always dieting, but she was never obese.
I believe part of the explanation is the common issue that many adoptees struggle with – not feeling like they are good enough. From my mom, I know that she described her adoptive mother as a perfectionist. Since I knew this woman from childhood, I understand. She was a perfectionist. And she was extraordinarily accomplished at a lot of things.
My mom struggled with body image issues. My grandmother’s own mother and sister were portly. My grandmother was clearly determined to remain thin her whole life. I remember when I was in England with her and sitting in a restaurant in our upscale hotel, The Dorchester across the street from Hyde Park in London. In public view, she loudly admonished me for eating a dinner roll with butter. I was so humiliated and angry at her that I wouldn’t speak to her until the next morning. I was decidedly not fat at that age. My grandmother feared I would become fat.
Mostly, I had a good relationship with my mom. We had our moments but it would be remarkable if there had been none. She really wasn’t wrong in those moments. The issues were my privacy (she opened one of my personal letters) and a disagreement about a choice I made which she would not have (letting my daughter go and live with her father and step-mother when I could not support her financially and he refused to pay child support).
Yet, my mom had a terrible relationship with my youngest sister that came back to haunt me after my mom died and I had to assume control of my birth family’s finances. My sister transferred those feelings onto me, once accusing me of hating her. It is painful even now to consider that, for when this sister was homeless and when she was going through an unwed pregnancy, I was the only family member steadfastly at her side (and mostly, that was her choice).
I don’t have any answers to these situations but I do see how, even though they really were “good enough” parents, with both of my parents being adoptees, that a result was what I now describe as having been “weirdly detached”.