Today’s blog is accompanied by a strong black tea. Welcome back to Blogville friends! (Sorry I’m late but I was travelling earlier today.)
Most birth children are not typically grateful for having been born and then raised by their parents, right? In our society, parents are simply expected to love and take care of their children without being showered with thanks. Well, except for those cards or homemade gifts presented on Mother’s Days or Father’s Days, usually as arranged by their child’s teacher. In my experience, most children bring credibility to the expression, ‘parenting is a thankless job’. That is to say that, knowingly or unknowingly, you enter parenting to give a life to a child, not to be thanked.
Understanding that parenting is a giving, though not necessarily a receiving, relationship is a good way to start. I’m pretty confident that an ovum does not yell out, “Hey! Thanks!” when a sperm cell collides with and fertilizes it. Often children will remind their parents that they did not ask to be born and that their parents chose to have children, not the other way around. No one ever said parenting was easy, did they?
Of course, most parents expect their children to have good manners and to say thank you for things they are given, to thank teachers for their help, or to express gratitude for things like a ride to an event. At birthdays and other holidays where gifts are given, parents expect their children to thank the gift giver with sincere appreciation. However, as a rule, parents do not expect their children to express gratitude for simply having been born, do they?
We know that often, there does come a day when many children will suddenly recognize and acknowledge the challenges of parenthood and be grateful to their parents. I have heard adult children thank their parents in retrospect for opportunities given to them, for driving them to and from activities, for making special school lunches, and for supporting them and cheering them on like parents are known to do.
Still, I have never personally heard a child thank their parent for giving birth to them; sure maybe in a joking manner, but not sincerely. That being said, it is almost guaranteed that when children grow up to be parents themselves they often ‘get it’ and then are able to say thank you to their parents for all they have done, and often continue to do for them, but still not for having given birth to them.
The bottom line is that typically, parents do not expect thanks from their birth children for giving birth to them and being raised by them, do they? However, I have found that in adoption this is not always the case. I feel that, too often, our society expects children and youth to be grateful for simply having been adopted. They often are expected to be thankful for having been ‘saved’ from their birth parent, their birth family, the ‘system’, or even from their country of origin. When you think about it, adopted children and youth are actually expected to be grateful for the loss of their birth parents, birth relatives, birth community, and in some cases, even their birth country. I’m not sure our society fully understands what is being asked of adoptees when they expect gratitude from them.
Usually, when a family, person, or couple, are wanting to parent through adoption, they are required to make an application to do so. Please remember that the adoptee has not filled in an application to be adopted. Nor have they completed any courses to prepare them to be adopted and what to expect as an adoptee.
Keep in mind that infants have heard heartbeats of their birth mothers, as well as other voices and sounds in-utero before they ever even met their adoptive parents. Older children and youth had those same in-utero auditory experiences, and then went on to having lived, laughed, cried, and felt many emotions with other people before ever meeting their adoptive parents. Adoptees may have lived temporarily with kinship relatives, or foster parents, often while maintaining relationships with their birth parents. Remember that these lived experiences have formed the infant, child or youth the adoptive parents have fallen in love with, and subsequently have asked to parent.
If an adult suddenly loses their partner, we don’t set them up on a blind date immediately do we? Instead we acknowledge their need to grieve before moving forward. Adoptees also need time to grieve their significant losses before they can be expected to accept new relationships. This is not about adoptive parents, it is about adoptees, but they need your help, often with the assistance of professionals, to work through their grief.
I have heard birth children tell their birth parents they didn’t ask to be born. Remember, adopted children didn’t ask to be made available for adoption. It is hard for adoptees to be grateful for having been adopted, at least the way society expects them to. Logically, for a child to be grateful for having been adopted, they must first be grateful for having been made available for adoption. I want you to think about that for a moment. This has nothing to do with the adoptive parents, it has everything to do with the adoptee, and their history. It is not that are not grateful to have you as their new parents, it is that they are grieving the fact that they needed you in the first place, because their first parents did not want to, or could not, parent them.
Why can’t these children and youth just expect to be loved and cared for in their adoptive family just the way birth children are? Why are they held by our society to a different standard of gratitude? With rare exceptions, they did not ask to be adopted by their new family, but their new family asked to adopt them. When a birth child yells that they did not ask to be born we accept that they are feeling big feelings and help them manage those feelings. When an adoptee yells that they never asked to be adopted society responds with shock at their ingratitude.
When I would fantasize about my birth mother showing up on our doorstep to ask for my return to her, I always pictured her thanking my parents. I imagined her thanking them for taking such good care of me, for the clothes and food they had provided me and for their guidance in raising me to be a nice and polite little girl. I would imagine her gratitude to my parents for keeping me safe and for caring for me until she could come and get me. Fantasies about our birth parents is not a slight against our adoptive parents, it is the inner child who still cannot understand what was so wrong with us that our own birth parents, all of their extended family members, and in some cases, their entire country, did not want to keep us. It is not that we are not grateful to our adoptive families for the opportunities they gave us, it is that we are not grateful to have been available for adoption in the first place.
I find it very hard to express how difficult it is to know that I was unwanted by my birth family; despite being wanted by my adoptive family. An innocent baby created by two people who did not expect to create one forms part of who I am. First I was an accidental conception, then I was a symbol of shame and subsequently abandoned. Does that mean that I was not intended to have existed? I don’t think that is true; well if I’m being honest, sometimes I do think that it might be true. When disappointed by friends and family I often default to thinking “well my own birth parents didn’t want me” or “well I was never really meant exist anyway” and other thoughts of self-deprecation. At the same time, I find it very difficult to express how much I appreciate everything my adoptive parents did for me, or gave me simply out of their love for me, because I often felt like a consolation prize for them when they could not have ‘children of their own’.
When I met my birth father, it was such a weird first few minutes. Was I supposed to thank him for creating me? While I was being adopted by ‘strangers’ my birth father became a step-father to his wife’s biological daughter, eventually giving her his name. Was she supposed to thank him? That he did not know I even existed made me feel even more insignificant. However, I am grateful that he tried to make me feel important once I eventually found him, and that he gave me medical and social history information. I am grateful that I got to know his adult children, my paternal half-siblings. As you know, I was not afforded the opportunity to meet my birth mother but if I had, was I supposed to thank her? If so, for what? For choosing life over abortion? She only chose physical life for me really, despite not knowing what my lived life would be and then, in the end, did not want to know what happened to me. But I am grateful for having a relationship with her adult children, my maternal half-sisters.
So, I say to society that adoptees should not be expected to be grateful for having been adopted because they first had to be relinquished for adoption. No one is expected to be grateful for experiencing a significant loss. I say to adoptive parents, be grateful not to be thanked by your child for adopting them, because that means they are simply your child and that they accept you as their parents, just like birth children do, no more, no less. ‘Parenting is a thankless job.’
I’m glad you visited today. As ever I welcome your comments here or by email at email@example.com