My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

Why Foster ? Not to Adopt.

Recently, a woman contacted me through private message on my Facebook page for this blog. She wanted to know what my group (which it actually isn’t) was about and I explained it to her, as I have often, both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption. The blog is about all things adoption but along the way, I also learned about foster care and I shared with her the book I read – Foster Girl by Georgette Todd. She is interested in becoming a foster parent and I suggested the Facebook group I belong to because there are a lot of former foster care youth and current foster parents there who can share with her the reality.

As luck would have it, I spotted this guest essay in Huffington Post and thought I would make this the basis of today’s blog. Here’s Why We Became Foster Parents, Even Though We Aren’t Looking To Adopt by Stephanie Kaloi. She adds “For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.” It is a reprint of the original written in just after Christmas in 2019.

Our journey toward becoming foster parents began about five years ago, when we realized two truths: Having a second biological child would be nearly impossible and was not necessary for our family’s happiness, and there was a way to experience parenting many children (and for our son to have many siblings) while also doing our part in our community.

Enter foster care.

So we did what every potential foster parent does first: searched “What is foster parenting really like???” online. Unhappy with the results, which were largely a grab bag of blog posts from people who foster to minister religion to unsuspecting children and their families and people who are hoping to adopt their foster children from Day 1 of placement, I started sending a flurry of texts to a friend who also happens to be a longtime foster parent.

Her advice essentially boiled down to three things: One, the relationship you have with the biological parent(s) of your foster children is sacred and should be nurtured as much as the relationship you have with the kids. Two, foster care is unpredictable and there’s no point making plans for how it will go. And three, if you really want to do it … stop taking up my time and sign up for a class already.

My husband and I signed up for around eight weeks of PATH classes, which are the classes that all foster parents take before becoming certified. It’s meant to be all-inclusive, but the reality is that you are in class for two to four hours each Saturday covering huge topics, like ethnic diversity and poverty and child abuse.

The path to becoming a foster parent seems bizarre in retrospect: You take the classes, complete the home study process and boom! You’re now qualified to raise someone else’s child in your home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Still, the training felt like one of the most intense, personal experiences we had shared together. We went into classes knowing we were hoping to foster children, but left classes knowing we wanted to foster children and foster their families — we wanted to support the birth parents of any children we might foster as much as we support their children.

We knew going into it that we could handle the babies and toddlers and school-aged kids of the world (we’ll get to teens … one day), but we left class feeling reasonably certain that we could extend ourselves and support their parents, too.

Approaching foster care as fostering the entire family was a turning point for both of us. The idea gave us a phrase we could use whenever someone asked what our plans were. While the Department of Child Services and PATH leaders constantly remind you that the first goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s family, just about everyone in our classes was transparent about their desire to build their family through adoption.

As someone who wrestled with not being able to conceive a second child the easy way for years, I understood … but as our classmates became more focused on their adoption goals and learning how to work the system in their favor, we became more focused on reunification goals, and learning how the system works against parents who lose custody of their children.

The more we learned, the more it became clear: Just as many in our society will call the cops the second there is even a hint of a perceived threat anywhere nearby, many in our society assume that having your children placed in state custody means you are a predator, a child abuser, an addict ― that are you the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.

And to be fair, there are plenty of people who are one of those things (or all of those things), and sometimes children are better off with foster and adoptive families. But in our experience … there are just as many people who are simply poor, or uneducated, or who have no perceived alternatives to whatever struggle they are facing.

This is the idea that fed our goal to approach this experience as fostering families: If you don’t grow up with someone teaching you how to successfully pull off what many consider basic life feats, it can feel impossible to figure out how to get a job, pay rent, pay your bills, pay for childcare, provide food consistently, read to your children, play with your children, kick your addiction, etc. Without consistent, healthy support, just attempting to do so is often an insurmountable challenge.

If no one in your family has ever done those things, the odds are stacked against you. When you think about it, a lot of Americans are probably closer than they think to one mistake that could land their own children in DCS custody. (I know that when my sons were very young, I worried that our un-orthodox parenting choices such as unschooling our children or when they acted up in public and required some kind of immediate response from us, not later but in that very moment, we could lose our children due to the interference of do-good, well-meaning people.)

I am not saying that every parent who loses custody is an angel who just needs a leg up. I’m also not saying that every parent who adopts from foster care didn’t try to do exactly what we do. I think one truth all foster parents can agree on is that there is a lot of gray area in foster care.

We didn’t find out we were actually certified until we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to take a sibling set of two into our home. Let me tell you this straight out: I don’t know how anyone, especially first-time foster parents, says no to those calls. Our plan was to foster one child, up to age 8, and we ended up with two babies under 2 because I literally could not imagine saying no.

So what do we do, then, if we aren’t answering a higher religious calling to foster, we aren’t related to the children we foster, and we aren’t planning or secretly hoping to adopt any children? I mean, I suppose I am ministering, kind of: These kids have been introduced to a wide berth of music that we hold dear, and the youngest really enjoyed watching ”Homecoming” when it came out.

But to be real, we begin by nurturing their families, their parents, from Day 1. We offer phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Messenger access. We start the conversation by telling them our names, describing what our home is like, asking what foods their children like to eat, and telling them we aren’t trying to adopt their babies. We tell them to message us anytime, and that if they don’t hear from us within five hours or so, to message again.

We ask when we can supervise visits, when we can meet up at playgrounds and parks, way before social workers are talking about us doing so. We talk about their goals, their plans, and what they need to get from where they are to reunification of their family.

The “TL; DR” version is this: We begin each placement by treating the parents like they are human beings, like they are people who we might want to know, instead of like they are a scary Other who is standing in our way. Sometimes it doesn’t work, we don’t form a relationship and things go sour. Other times, it works but requires ongoing attention and support, and that’s an exhausting thing to give someone you have met a handful of times.

None of this is easy, and it often feels like foster care is a second full-time job. We are perpetually exhausted by the sheer emotional weight of this journey that we entered into willfully, and that’s not even including the lived reality of nurturing additional children, of loving them, holding them, waking up in the middle of the night with them, feeding them, reading to them, guiding them. Teaching them all the things we taught our son: the ABCs and 123s, who Elmo is and why we love him, the names of The Beatles because it might come in handy someday, how to sit up and how to use a fork. You know, the parenting part of foster parenting.

We have been lucky so far: We have worked with excellent social workers who are very patient, helpful, and kind. The parents we have co-parented with have been easy to talk to, love their children a lot, and a lot of the time, they just need someone in their corner. And this need is the crux of why we are fostering children and their families: For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.

Sure, it’s a lot more involved than donating books or cleaning a classroom on a Saturday, but it’s something that makes sense for us right now, in this season of our lives. We won’t do it forever, but we are doing it right now. One of the most important ideas our family tries to follow is that while we may not be able to effect meaningful growth and change in areas of the world that are far away, we can do work in our own community that will help people we live and work with grow.

And that alone makes this entire wild ride worth it.

The Blame Game

Today, I read this story from a woman who gave up her son for adoption –

I just recently got news that my son I placed has been diagnosed with non-verbal autism. His adoptive parent reached out to me, to inform me and low-key blame me. But the point of this post is that not only did I deny my son his natural right to be with his natural parent. He has subsequently been denied the right to (literally) voice his truth. This choice comes with consequences I never imagined. This is not an appeal for sympathy. The only point that is infuriating to me is his adoptive parent has added this fact to the list of things that make her a “hero.” We are both in the wrong! There are no heroes! Just a victim and villains. But her admirers have already heaped some more praise for her “taking a disabled child” as her own “from a mother who probably did drugs and made him that way.” (That’s a quote.) I literally have never, not that it matters but the public victimization of my son will never end. My fault. He lives the consequences of adoption.

So many adoptive parents actually have a savior complex that this sad story does not surprise me. Autism is also something that matters to me personally. My oldest son didn’t talk until he was nearly 4 years old but he did communicate. I remember the unique alphabet he had before he started constructing sentences – like the sound meow for C which some people will say is for cat. Asperger’s runs in my children’s genes and we are fortunate because it is a high functioning kind of quirky intelligence with a great ability to focus.

One commenter wrote this – I’m autistic and this is infuriating. Finding out this early can be a blessing, so that early on your son’s more individual needs can be recognized and properly addressed. I didn’t find out until my 22 or so, and like so many others, I wish I’d known earlier. I love that I am autistic and my best friends are autistic, it’s something to be celebrated, not something to shame ANYONE about. This woman is beyond ignorant and she’s probably going to become an autism mom. You son should be given alternative ways of communication, I’m not sure how you use it in a sentence but AAC, augmentive and alternative communication, is what he should have available to him. I worry that the adoptive mother will push for him to speak, which he should not be forced to do. I doubt she’d use them, but perhaps you could offer some resources ? https://autisticadvocacy.org/ is the first website I was recommended.

Another offered this perspective – I’m sure it’s been said a million times but you literally can not control autism. You can have never touched drugs, smoked, hell even used caffeine, you could’ve ate all natural and organic, and he could’ve remained with you and he still probably would have been a non-verbal autistic. Also, that person must not be that knowledgeable because even when kiddos are nonverbal, they can still communicate. Just because he may end up communicating differently doesn’t mean he’s flawed or someone to be fixed.

And there was this too – The adoption you can take blame for, but in no way can you blame yourself for his disability. My mother blamed herself for years because my brother is non verbal autistic too, but this is just something that happens. Now I will add just because he’s currently non verbal doesn’t mean that he will be unable to express himself. Quite the opposite actually, these kids let you know how they feel if you pay attention. The adoptive parent has no right blaming you for his diagnosis or playing the hero role. If you adopt a child then you adopt all their needs too.

So here’s the truth from another commenter – It’s genetic. Point blank. Ugh, I can just see her becoming the stereotypical “Autism Warrior Mom” and blaming his first mother in the process—which trust me, as an autistic adult, is the absolute worst on top of worst. She’s going to get torn apart by the autistic community (rofl, just watch). Plus, a child is not a product and cannot be custom made; no one gets to choose whether a child is disabled or not. So no, it’s not your fault… I just hope they treat the kiddo okay, because typically these types of people will put them in quack therapies that are harmful to their mental health, or worse because they don’t understand science and don’t value the humanity of autistic people. Knowledge is power. And it’s not your fault; I can’t believe she blamed you…

And this dose of reality – Autism is not caused by drugs. The more autism is studied, the more clear it is that some people just have neurological differences. It’s nothing you did, and there’s surely nothing heroic about adopting a child who later turns out to have a difference or disability. Any child, born to you or adopted, may have a disability at birth or become disabled at any point in life. Accepting that is part of the parenting deal.

On a lighter note – My son’s APs said that I caused his autism by letting him watch too many science documentaries instead of making him watch more cartoons like a normal kid.

Silenced Women

When I saw this graphic, it went straight to my heart like an arrow. My grandmothers, forced by circumstances to give up their first born, and in two cases only child (which includes a grandfather who never was given the benefit to know he had a son), to go on with their lives as though nothing happened.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly 100% get over it and I probably should not because adoption is still a thing that drives mothers and their babies apart. I now have an unflinching awareness of what it means to be adopted.

At almost 70 years old now, having to live through a full 6 decades before I knew the truths of my origins, I do fell as though I was born to re-connect the broken threads of my family’s beginnings, that I have somehow managed to fulfill my destiny in having been born at all.

In learning about my family’s ancestors, I also discovered what a miracle it was that in the mid-1950s, I was not given up for adoption, with my parents forced to suffer the same fate their own parents encountered. My teenage mother and my father only having just started on his university studies – both interrupted when I decided to take up residence in my mother’s womb.

My grandparents could not tell their own stories of loss that hurts for a lifetime because no one would have been sympathetic regarding their plight but for adult adoptees today, there is a growing awareness of the trauma and pain of being cut off from one’s roots and some are even choosing to attempt parenting when they had thought to give up their child and they are finding a lot of support in society all around them.

May the reform of attitudes continue to take over the dominant narrative that adoption saves babies and children from a worse fate.

Placating Adoptive Mother Emotions

It is just a difficult path to trod. Today’s story –

My son’s birthday is coming up soon. The last time I posted publicly about my kids was the anniversary of the final visit, and their adoptive mother got upset that I said anything. She enlisted my younger child for her defense. They asked me to not post anything ever again, because the adoptive mother doesn’t want to see it. Yet she continues to stalk me to see what I’m posting. I suspect that if I let a birthday slide by without saying anything, she’d use it as evidence that I’d completely forgotten about my kids. I’m not sure what the adoptive mother wants me to feel – am I supposed to regret having kids at all? Am I supposed to blame myself for surviving abuse? I know that, of course, I wish I’d taken the kids and gotten away from him before Child Protective Services got involved. Acknowledging that at this point is not going to make the adoptive mother any happier. I suspect that she wants from me is to admit that I’m just a horrible person and be grateful to her for saving my kids from me. I want to do what’s right for my kids long-term, and if the adoptive mother needs to control what I feel and say about the adoption, how much freedom is she giving them? Is there anything I could post that might get the adoptive mother to react like a reasonable human and not like some an obsessed control freak? PS it’s the older child’s 19th birthday. The younger one who is 16 has basically taken responsibility for handling the adoptive mother’s emotional state, because the adoptive mother throws temper tantrums to get her way and must be appeased.

The first responder said – I would acknowledge his birthday. He’s 18 – so old enough to tell you himself if he doesn’t want you to post anything. He’s also old enough to no longer be her property. Just as a side note have you tried reaching out to him to see if he would like contact directly with you now that he’s old enough?

I can relate to the difficulties. My daughter went to live with her dad when she was 3 years old. He remarried, so there was a step-mother, a step-sister and a half-sister in her family. I gave her a calling card, so that when it was safe (meaning it wouldn’t cause an upset) for her to call me, she could choose when. Sometimes, I had to wait a long time for those calls but at least she knew I wanted to hear from her. In an adoption situation, I don’t know if something like that would be possible but there is always reversing charges. What I cared about the most, was my daughter’s comfort and quality of life – not my own.

Social media didn’t exist when my daughter was young. I can easily understand the next responder’s comment – This is one reason why I keep my profile completely locked down with no public posts. Nobody gets to tell me how to feel about MY kids.

Someone else noted this obvious truth – you did give birth to your children and have every right to acknowledge their birthday. A birthday not only celebrates the day a child became an independent person but also the mother who gestated that child to birth. Many times, when I am celebrating one of my children’s birthdays on my Facebook page, friends will also acknowledge it is my celebration of an event as well.

Sadly, this perspective contains a frequent truth – some adoptive parents are control freaks. They would like to erase the fact that the adopted children are not biologically related to them, the children are possessed like property that the adoptive parents bought to furnish their life. The natural mother should post whatever she wants… one day her children may see it and realize they were loved all along! It will mean so much to them to know that. I know that understanding would have meant a lot to my own adoptee parents (both were).

And when all else fails – There are features that allow you to block specific people from posts. It’s strategic avoidance of the real problem, but sometimes that’s the best you can do. Anyway, as long is the posts aren’t abusive or causing damage to anyone, then she really should have zero say about what you post to your wall. Her discomfort is her own. You don’t need to carry that for her.

And the perspective from an adoptive parent – I’m so sorry that not only did she express unhappiness with you saying something, but that she enlisted the children into her unhappiness with you. That’s just, WRONG. It sounds like she is very insecure in her position as parent, and wanting you to remove yourself from yours to give her more room. You don’t have to do that. I believe that what is right for your children long term, is for them to KNOW that they were always on your mind and in your heart. I personally think that it is fine for you to make a post in regards to your children’s birthdays. Growing and birthing a human being is a MAJOR thing that happens to us as the person doing it, not just to the baby. I’m guessing that there are other people who follow you on Facebook who know about your children, maybe were even a part of their lives… Just because someone else is legally their parent now, does not change the fact that there were people in the children’s lives BEFORE. People who’s hearts and memories and emotions did not just disappear because of a court order. If possible, tighten up your security. If you’re friends with her on Facebook, exclude her from your posts if you feel the need. But please feel free to acknowledge your children, your love, and your loss however you feel you need to.

Not Of My Blood

This topic comes up repeatedly in my all things adoption group. It seems that the incidence of varying degrees of abuse is more prevalent on the part of adoptive parents. Adoptees often wonder and theorize why.

It started with this insight – So many adopted people I know have stories of child abuse by both of their adoptive parents. What is the mentality behind this, what is the psychological mechanism that results in so many adoptive parents getting a child just to abuse them? I don’t think every single case is where adults actively seek out children so they can have someone to abuse, but it’s way too common to just be a case of easy hunting grounds. Is there something that happens inside of the brains of adoptive parents that turns so many of them into child abusers?

Although, anything conceivable probably exists, I do not believe most couples go into adoption with the intent of mistreating their adopted child. There is something else going on.

One thought was this – Humans developed over millennia to raise their own biological/genetic offspring. Our biology knows whether the child is our own or not. Adoptive parents are preconditioned by social workers and adoption agencies to have expectations that “nurture” will adjust the child to be the same “as if” they had given birth to the child but it does not work that way.

Until very recently, and to some extent this remains true, adoption in the modern western version is predicated on treating adoptive parents like they are the original natural parents. Birth certificates are falsified to support that perspective. Often, in the past, adoptive parents lied to the child about their origins. Thanks to more accessible, inexpensive DNA testing and well reported adoptee reunions with their biological families, this fantasy can no longer hold dominance in adoptionland.

Raising kids is hard! They test and exhaust us. This is especially true when there isn’t shared blood and genetics. The frustration isn’t tempered by biology and deep parental bonds. My oldest son was very challenging at the age of 6, when his younger brother had had the lion’s share of my attention throughout infancy and his first 2 years. I actually would say to him, it is lucky for you that I love you. If you challenge other people the way you have challenged me, you could end up hurt very badly or dead. It was my maternal bond with him that stayed me from actually hurting him, though my anger could surprise me.

One adoptee shares – I can only speak for my adoptive parents but I was property to them. I was meant to fulfill a role and anything out of line with that expectation was punished. I recognize that they knew what the social worker looked for and how the system worked, therefore they were very good at hiding it. No one would ever believe me. It was clearly easier for them to take their emotions out on me (an adopted child) than on their own biological children.

Another adoptee shares – When I started calling my narcissistic adoptive mother out on her shit, it caused a huge fight with my whole family against me. And one of my aunts basically said it didn’t matter how they treated me, I just had to suck it up, take it, and thank them, because they “took me in” out of the “goodness” of their hearts when they didn’t have to. This implied they received a free pass regarding how they treated me. Which is obviously wrong. I think that is the mentality that a lot people have, when it comes to adoption, especially among the older generations. Like you could have/would have had it worse if they hadn’t come along, so you should feel “lucky.” It doesn’t feel “lucky.”

What happens when adoptive parents finally achieve the birth of a biological, genetic child ? One adoptee shares – we were all adopted and it was a loving safe environment until I turned 8. Then they had their only biological child and the rest of us had to scramble and grab for pieces of affection. I don’t know if it was regret for adopting, the satisfaction of finally having what they wanted, something else or a mix of it all but whatever the case, we went from cherished to easily replaceable.

Another woman adds – I think can be twofold. Either one, or a combination of, the psychological effects of infertility grief and the impact on an adopted child of emotional neglect as a result of the adoptive parent being unable to meet the needs of a traumatized, adopted child. (Note all adopted children suffer adoption related trauma, ie a belief they were rejected by their natural parents.) Chronic emotional neglect (causes more trauma) and has profound effects on an adopted child. It is worse when the caregiver doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that they don’t feel the love and acceptance for their adopted child that they expected to feel. It’s all too common then to blame the child for not meeting the adoptive parents needs, rather than looking at the emotional content in the adoptive parent. Throw in a societal saviorism belief related to adoption and there are the frustrated feelings of believing they are entitled to a child they didn’t receive.

Another adoptee shares – My adoptive parents were very physically abusive. I don’t know any science behind it but my honest thought was always that because I wasn’t flesh and blood, they couldn’t love me the same. There was no genetic connection… I don’t really know …. but that is how it has felt. I don’t think they adopted me with the intention of being abusive, but they couldn’t control themselves. It’s like if my daughter has a play date and that child is being awful, I’m like their parent needs to do something before I do…I just don’t have a motherly connection to anyone else but my own children…and it might sound super messed up but its literally how I rationalized all the physical and mental abuse I suffered … They didn’t even care if they hurt my feelings. Just like I wouldn’t care if I hurt someone else’s kid’s feelings, if they were little assholes. Of course, I know there are people who abuse their biological children…but I always think that’s generational and based on some mental health issues. The reason anyone abuses a child is complicated.

Someone else shares their perspective – I believe most adoptive parents adopt as a solution to their infertility and to “save a poor baby in need”. They are fed rainbows and unicorn stories that convince them that they are wonderful people doing a wonderful thing and that the adopted child it will be just the same as their own baby. So they treat a traumatized child just the same as they would their own. Except it’s not the same. If they don’t allow the child to have feelings, go to therapy, etc as soon as the child acts out, they won’t understand why the child is behaving that way. Most adoptive parents signed up for the “cute baby and matching sweater” they see on Instagram. Instead they get a screaming demon !! The more frustrated the parents become, the more they refuse to acknowledge their adopted child has trauma. That inability to empathize becomes more triggering for the adopted child. The parents eventually snap under the pressure and enter a cycle of abuse because “we tried love and it didn’t work”. When all they actually tried was to force the child to bond with them and pretend the child is the same as a their own biological child. It messes with the brains on both sides and often leads to the point of violence.

And finally, this perspective – every adopted child has a job. It might be to fix infertility or it might be to take the place of a dead child. Whatever it is, as adoptees we are given a job with no description and unfortunately, we don’t know when we miss the mark until we trip over it. That accounts for a lot of disappointed adoptive parents. Just as the adopted child does not recognize any genetic markers in regard to physical appearance and personality – neither do the adoptive parents. So on top of the heartbreak of infertility comes the heartbreak, disappointment and anger in having to continue living with why you adopted the child in the first place.

A Deep Evolutionary, Hormonal Need

A couple of questions were asked of adoptive parents in an all things adoption group I belong to –

Does being an adoptive parent feel the way you thought it would before you adopted ?

Does it fulfill your needs ?

In fairness, the question could be asked of biological/genetic parents as well. So it was that this thoughtful woman attracted my attention with her response –

She says directly that she is not an adoptive parent. She is a grandmother and the mother of 3 adult biological children with some post-divorce estrangement issues. She is the child of narcissistic parents from whom she picked up narcissistic habits that she’s now trying to recognize and eradicate within herself.

She describes herself as “a middle-aged woman coming to terms with my own flaws, strengths, and failures of both commission and omission. The questions shown above are phrased like arrows —bound to pierce anyone who truly is open to them.” She goes on to admit that these are great questions— and horrible questions, too. For sure, necessary— probably for ANY parent, but especially for adoptive parents.

She says honestly, “At each and every stage of motherhood I could have answered Yes and No to the first question. PARENTHOOD overall does not always feel AT ALL the way we think it will, before we experience it. And parenthood itself has plenty of rosy myths associated with it— but obviously NOT the sanctity and saviorism that gilds our culture’s concept of adoption and adoptive parenthood.”

She notes that – “The second question is intended to be an unsettling question— even for biological parents. We’ve got a huge biological imperative to bear children, as a species, so there’s a deep evolutionary, hormonal sense of “need” to procreate for which I don’t think we should be shamed. Many humans get pregnant by accident, or without much thought given to the repercussions of sex.”

Once a living, breathing child exists, that person is NOT AT ALL here to fulfill the parent’s needs. And it doesn’t take very long for that one to be recognized. Even so, we do not always realize that. During the toughest years of parenting, most parents barely have time to breathe, much less analyze the psychological, ethical, and moral framework that their parenting rests upon— and there is always a framework, whether the parent knows it or not.

These penetrating questions are relevant to ALL parents, at any stage of parenting. We all live as the protagonists of our own lives, and thus are prone to centering our stories upon ourselves. Sometimes it’s okay to center yourself in a story. Yet, that is NOT true in terms of your children or perhaps more accurately, they are going to center their own stories on their own lives. This is the great web of interpersonal interconnectivity that binds us all.

So okay, maybe there is no huge profound wisdom in this blog today. Even so, these are really deep questions that are WORTH sitting with, even if they cause some discomfort when thinking about our own answers to them. It is not surprising if they feel hugely uncomfortable when you read them. You may even feel that you have somehow failed as a parent. We are all too self-centered, even when we think we are being self-sacrificing for our children.

Mormon Adoption of Native American Children

The Mormons – yet again. Taking other people’s children to advance their religious cause. A white middle-aged man, Michael Kay Bennion writes in his lengthy dissertation titled Captivity, Adoption, Marriage and Identity: Native American Children in Mormon Homes, 1847-1900 – “I remembered that my third great-grandfather once traded
a horse for ‘an Indian boy, two or three years old.’ Or so his journal said.”

Some Mormons saw the purchase of a Native American as the adoption of a child when they were unable to have children of their own. Jacob Hamblin (a ranch by that name, Hamblin, figured prominently in the Mountain Meadows
Massacre) traded the Utes “a gun, a blanket and some ammunition” for a six-year-old boy “stolen from a small tribe.” Many Mormons view Jacob Hamblin as a type of nineteenth-century social worker, others would assert he was a slave trader. The fact is that Jacob acquired many children and parceled them out, sometimes in exchange for trade goods, making “slave trader” a distinct possibility. Jacob Hamblin, according to his own words, believed that his work saved lives and indicated he felt grief over separating the families.

From north to south, Native American children were entering Utah Mormon families in increasing numbers in the 1850s, even as the New Mexican slave trade slowly decreased. Not all Native American children traded to Mormons easily or happily identified with their captors. There are many stories of runaways and those persons who never adjusted to the Mormon culture. The Utah slave trade caused grief and pain for the children’s parents and also for children who were stolen and placed in Mormon families. Imagine these trembling, frightened captives thrust into a culture very different from their own, who then had new identities imposed upon them.

Native Americans captured, traded, given away, or sold into Mormon homes experienced a difficult cultural shift from growing up Native American to growing up Mormon. Many Latter-day Saint families acquired these children out of a sense of religious duty. They then embraced the difficult task of fostering these children into a new culture, often with mixed results. Most of these adoptive parents felt little or no need to preserve Indigenous customs within the lives of these children. While retaining the external physical characteristics that Mormons and other Euro-Americans used to identify them as “Indians,” they were taught to respond socially as members of Mormon society.

These children had the difficult task of reconciling their past and the newly imposed white identity and their success often was a reflection of the kindness or malicious actions of those white persons involved with them.  This resulted in various behaviors from within uniquely constructed internal identities. Some of these children learned to live in the seams between cultures, some accepted the new culture, and others resisted it.

During the American Civil War, several children were adopted by Mormon families after surviving two horrific massacres which were perpetrated by a Californian Union volunteer regiment of the US Army. At the Bear River Massacre and at a subsequent battle, these volunteers killed hundreds of Shoshones and Bannocks. There were 5 surviving children, left homeless and wounded by the attacks, that required medical attention, food and clothing.  The Mormons in southern Idaho and northern Utah provided these. One of those five died but the remaining four were adopted into Mormon homes.

Against a backdrop of conflict and tribal upheaval, Native American children in Mormon homes would sometimes reach maturity and assert their own identities. Mormon foster parents or indenture holders (a common practice in those times)  attempted to teach the Native American children the white way of life, even as these Mormons tried to reconcile their own deeply held cultural prejudices with a sense of mission – against the actual reality.

An example of this trade in children is illustrated in a story of a Native American who is said to have told a white
Mormon man – “I’ve got too many children, and my wife’s got another new baby and I’ve got to get rid of this one.” To which the Mormon replied, “[G]ive it to me. I’ll take it and feed it and save it. But I don’t want you to take it back, when it gets a little bigger, when it could kind of help the family…We don’t want to raise a baby and then [you] come and take it away [from] us again. So…I’ll pay ya for the little girl.” Turns out the little girl’s mother was not pleased and made a fuss. The Mormon insisted to the Native American man, “Now make up your mind right now and never change it, because you can’t have this baby back if you take the horse.”

This negotiation sounds more like purchasing a pet than adopting a child. The mother of the child, who was understandably distraught over the loss of her child is described as “squawking” like an animal, rather than weeping for
her child. The source of this narrative trivialized a highly emotional parting of mother and child.  Such was the perspectives of white people during that time.

Marginal food and clothing resources among Native American family clusters in the 1850s Great Basin region worsened as Mormon settlers appropriated the best fields and river bottoms for their own use. As previous narratives indicate, sometimes the Native American families simply gave away a child, when resources became so scarce that the child represented more of a burden than an asset.  I call it desperation for their children to survive.

As Mormons encountered Native Americans, they found that the ideal in their scriptures of the chosen Lamanites of the House of Israel rising up to claim their blessings (an interesting tenet of the Mormon religion that believed the dark skinned “fallen” could be made white again) often clashed with the predominant Euro-American image that Indians were perpetually dirty and permanently degraded. In coping with this paradox, Mormons tried to find ways to bring the Native American image up to the standards of their own ideal.

Washing and clothing Native American children is reported in many literary and direct experience accounts of bringing Native American children into Mormon homes. This process of cleaning up natives was not unique to the Mormons. It is frequently found in stories of captivity and adoption narratives, beyond those of the Mormons, and cannot be classified as a unilateral phenomenon, limited to Euro-American captors and Native American captives.

One can feel the deadening sense of deprivation and the unwelcome new smells, textures and tastes that lye soap, water and cotton or linsey woolsey presented to a Native American child leaving their culture unwillingly and entering another. The abrupt changes in sight, sound, odor and taste that Native American children experienced upon entering a totally alien environment would have been severely disruptive.  Their appearance, demeanor, and smell were often disagreeable to Mormon women. It is true that both Native Americans and Whites altered the appearance of their captives. One reason was to bring their outward appearance into culturally accepted norms.  The other reason was an attempt to remove the “other” in them while inducting them into the captor’s culture. Additionally, washing and clothing are known to have had religious overtones in Mormon culture and so, Mormon pioneer women were expressing this in scrubbing newly adopted Native American family members.

It was not only the physical dirt, but spiritual filth that needed to be exorcised, as demanded by their salvational way of thinking. Mormon mothers and fathers understood physical cleanliness as a prerequisite for repentance. In this way, they believed they could participate in redeeming the Lamanites. Some Mormon mothers may have hoped that their Lamanite child would put off their old culture, so that their labor would not be in vain as they presented a clean child, dressed in Euro-American style, to the other family members. With some others, it may have simply been that they could not tolerate unfamiliar odors wafting from the Native American.

The imposition of external markers of the white culture divided the adopted Native American children from their birth culture and delineated the expectations of the Mormon family for their future behavior. Some Native American children seized upon the cues in their new environment and built upon them, some would forever resist assimilation and others would use ethnic behaviors from each culture as the situation demanded. But each child forced into a new way of living had to construct an identity they could survive with.

Regarding all of these children, given the times and environmental conditions caused by white settlement, any one of them might have starved or have been traded to the Utes and taken to New Mexico given the thriving slave trade of that time. However, such a child might have lived a long life, had a family of his own even though, as many did, he had to struggle through all that Native Americans dealt with in the late nineteenth century. That child remaining in his culture realistically would have loved his tribal life and experienced a sense of wholeness, that being separated from it was never going to embody.

Thank you for bearing with me leaning into my history loving heart. Learning that the Mormons had taken 40,000 Native American children out of their culture, adopting them into their religious and family lives, caused me to visit this related story. Back to more usual topics, I’m certain, tomorrow.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

I came across the letters DBT in an adoption discussion group and as I had no idea what it stood for, I do what I often do in such cases, google it. It started with this comment by an adoptive parent –

“I just had it click in a deeper way yesterday that I put a lot of thought and effort and will into trying to heal my kids. As if I’m a savior. As if I can. But in DBT, it talks about creating a change ready environment for your kids. By the way, if you can find a child DBT therapist, do it! Its expensive and it involves individual and parent and group sessions, and its work and learning, but its SUPER effective. All kinds of stuff prove its effective. Back to my point, if I’m trying to create a change ready environment, a calm and consistent environment where mean words can roll off my back, and I’m working on me setting the example that self care is important and I’m working on me so that I can hold all the pain they send my way, that’s where I make the most beneficial impact for all of the family and that’s where I love my kids the best.”

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat borderline personality disorder. There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance abuse. Many of these issues are aspects experienced by adoptees due to the trauma of separation from their original mothers.

One woman commented – “DBT absolutely SAVED MY LIFE. The skills helped me stop with SI and I then went on to lose 140 pounds.” I had to google SI too. Introverted sensing (or Si for short) is one of the most misunderstood cognitive functions in the personality community. Introverted sensing is a perceiving (information-gathering) function. It focuses on the subjective, internal world of personal experience and compares and contrasts new experiences to past experiences and memories. Si-users tend to notice patterns repeating themselves and are quick to spot changes or inconsistencies in their environment. They trust personal experience and subjectively explore the impact of current events, choices, and consequences.

So back to DBT . . . .

Its main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others. DBT can help people who have difficulty with emotional regulation or are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors (eating disorders and substance use disorders). DBT is sometimes used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

DBT incorporates a philosophical process called dialectics. Dialectics is based on the concept that everything is composed of opposites and that change occurs when there is a “dialogue” between opposing forces. The process makes three basic assumptions:

All things are interconnected.
Change is constant and inevitable.
Opposites can be integrated to form a closer approximation.

Mindfulness skills help you slow down and focus on using healthy coping skills when you are in the midst of emotional pain. The strategy can also help you stay calm and avoid engaging in automatic negative thought patterns and impulsive behavior. BTW, I am a BIG believer in mindfulness.

Distress tolerance techniques help prepare you for intense emotions and empower you to cope with them with a more positive long-term outlook. There are 4 techniques – distraction, improving the moment, self-soothing and thinking of the pros and cons of not tolerating distress.

Emotion regulation lets you navigate powerful feelings in a more effective way. The skills you learn will help you to identify, name, and change your emotions. When you are able to recognize and cope with intense negative emotions (for example, anger), it reduces your emotional vulnerability and helps you have more positive emotional experiences.

Interpersonal effectiveness helps you to become more assertive in a relationship (for example, expressing your needs and be able to say “no”) while still keeping a relationship positive and healthy. You will learn to listen and communicate more effectively, deal with challenging people, and respect yourself and others.

They Always DO Grow Up

A question was asked – when adopting a child, particularly a baby, do the adoptive parents ever think about what will happen when that child is an adult ? And by that I mean after the parents are dead. Will that child have a legacy or a family or a tribe (other than their friends if they are lucky enough to have friends) or partners to last a lifetime ?

The person posing the question goes on to wonder – did you ever think, will your child when they are an adult, get what they need or deserve from family property ? Do you really think that your adult will hold onto a claim to your family ? When everyone is sitting around talking about Aunt Jenny, how will that make your adult child feel ?

One response was this –  you adopted a child to love, that does not automatically extend to other people, who may not feel the same way as you, the adoptive parent, when it comes to sharing an inheritance or even in how they actually feel about the adopted kid. Lots of families and other people “play along” with the game of pretending the adopted child is the same as if you had given birth to them for the adoptive parents sake. Sadly, there have been cases of adoptees who have been denied family keepsakes, etc after the adoptive parents’ death specifically because of the adoption. Adoptees told they are not worthy because the charade is over.

Adoption in most cases is very much about the baby. The savior/hero thought process of most adoptive parents focuses on the baby/child. It’s such a short term view of a real person and their entire life.

I found this story very interesting – So I’m adopted: my grandfather left me a trust fund and none of the biological grandchildren have one. They all contested his will. They didn’t understand why I received a trust fund. However, they did all receive some money from his estate. I was the one who saw my grandfather weekly and never asked for money or anything. He would take me out for dinner and always slip me a $20.00 for gas. I was always grateful. I loved my grandfather best because he was like me – his parents died and he was abandoned with his brother. So we both had that hole in our souls. When he was dying, I made sure I was there with him. I was the product of a forced adoption and I have an adopted son (from foster care). He will receive a portion of the trust from my grandfather and the trust will be split with my husband. I made certain to set it up for everyone five ways. My adoptive parents are still alive and the will they have created is so stupid that I just cannot. However, I will get some amount monthly until I die, then my remaining money goes to their own blood relatives and is divided up among them. My kids will receive nothing. When I’ve shared the will with a few close friends, they are all like WTF ! The way my adoptive parents hold money over my head, even at this stage and age, is so annoying and uncalled for ! I wish people realized you cannot be buried with your money.

This really spoke to me on more than one level. I don’t know what the laws are now but when my mom’s adoptive parents created a generation skipping trust, my mom told me that it was against the law for adoptive parents to disinherit adopted children. So, my mom and her also adopted brother, received income from the trust but cannot cash it out. However, my mom also struggled with the way her wealthy adoptive mother held money over her head. I also experienced that when I went to England with my adoptive grandmother. I had very little in the way of spending money. She was like – I paid for this trip, be grateful (as I watched her spend freely on her self). It’s not like she had to directly earn that money with hard work. My grandparents got in on the ground floor of Circle K when it first started. It made them wealthy as the stock appreciated. My grandfather retired as a vice president of a bank. He died at a relatively young age – in his 60s. My grandmother lived 3 decades longer on those funds and traveled the world and was always giving money away in philanthropy. I think she did it to earn respect. She actually grew up poor.

One more story and I have to end this for today – my son was placed at 4 days with his adoptive family. He is now 33. Typical closed domestic infant adoption. He lived with and cared for his maternal adoptive grandparents for the last five years. They both passed on either side of Christmas. His grandmother’s literal last words were “don’t kick him to the curb”. She must have sensed what was coming. The family gave him to the end of March (about 3 months) to move out. Once he was out of his grandparents house, he will continue to get paid $500/month but only for a year. They want to basically be done with him. That’s how his adoption ended. Thankfully, he has moved “home” with me and I am happy to have all of my kids back. We’re planting fruit trees now. I changed my own final documents years ago to provide for all four of my children equally.