Gratitude and Adoption, with a Side of Charity

Possum and Judy and Theresa have been posting about about a tough issue over the past couple of days: adoptee gratitude and society's demands for it. The discussion has triggered some thoughts on my part that stray a bit from the original discussion in these great posts, so I share them here with the disclaimer that they do go off on a slightly different tangent.

The concept that my children should be grateful to my husband and me for having adopted them has always been offensive to me. And if it's offensive to me, how much more so must it be to my kids and to other adoptees! The first problem is that I just don't get it. The closest parallel I can draw is something my mother used to tell me really infuriated her - the fact that her father always wanted her to thank him for bringing her from Slovenia to the U.S. Mom is 83 and she still talks about how much it aggravated her. "After all," she says every time the subject comes up, "I was only three when he brought us over and I had no say in it. Why did he expect me to thank him all the time for it?"

As I said, that's as close as I can get - and the comparison is pretty weak. After all, Mom knows her family, she knows her name, her heritage, her history. To be expected to show gratitude for an event that is tied to enormous losses - especially losses that the rest of humankind considers fundamental - is exponentially more difficult.

When I was a newer a-mom, I didn't understand this. I viewed the intertwining of gratitude and adoption in terms of who should be grateful: "Oh, no, I'M the one who's grateful! I'm the one who's blessed!" Or sometimes I viewed in terms of the what: "No, I'm no saint for adopting, and my children shouldn't be grateful for it." I was responding with focus on me, not on my kids, when I should have been focusing on my kids, and on the why.

Focusing on the why brings the dialog to the losses: "Actually, my children shouldn't be expected to be grateful for having lost their families, heritage, and homeland - especially since that could have been prevented in the first place. And I am as guilty as the next person for having done nothing." It's not a perfect response, but it opens up the door to deeper conversation, and may get someone thinking outside of the mainstream box. At a minimum, it sends the message that the concept of gratitude for adoption is plain wrong. And because I'm sure that someone is thinking it - heck, I'm thinking it - there is hypocrisy in this approach. To that, I can only say, yes, but it shouldn't stop me and other a-parents from speaking out.

The real challenge, though, is finding ways to talk about this with my kids. We haven't yet had a discussion specifically focused on this topic. Instead, as occasions have arisen, we've talked about it in other contexts. The kids haven't shared their thoughts many thoughts on this, and it worries me that they may already be burdened with their feelings, but are saying nothing. Hopefully if I keep grabbing opportunities to talk, they'll be able to open up a bit more.

As to why society places the burden of gratitude on adoptees - my theory is pretty simple, albeit cynical. I believe the mainstream views adoption through a lens of charity. People who have plenty are encouraged to give - and the poor are conditioned to be grateful. If adopting is viewed as a charitable act by adoptive parents, it follows that its recipients - adoptees - must be grateful, too. It is a deeply entrenched attitude. You can find it in the media, in our laws, in adoption policy, in a conversation with a neighbor over your back fence. And of course, our children will find it, too.

All the more reason to counter with reality, whenever we can.


Lisa V said…
The gratitude thing has always bothered me.It once again implies that adoptees are lesser. EVERY child deserves a stable homelife, roof over their head, food in their bellies, and people to love them. EVERY child. Why should my child be any more grateful than my neighbor's child who was born to them? Adoptees have the same rights and expectations as everyone else, and no one should imply otherwise by expecting them to be more grateful than the rest of us.
I've been following these recent discussions as well, and this was a good read. You've read my "Lucky?" post, so you know my feelings on it. My struggle is to find a polite way to respond to those types of comments that is educational, not confrontational. So far, the "grateful/lucky/you're a saint" comments just make me so mad I do get a bit confrontational.

My son suffered so much loss in his early years, that I am the one grateful for knowig this amazingly strong individual.

I'll be interested in reading more on this. I think a lot about his teenage years, when he will be thinking more deeply about who he is, and be maturing enough to start to process some of these comments people make.
Mommavia said…
I am glad you have given us some responses to think about when confronted with that comment. It makes my skin crawl when people tell me that my son is so lucky because we adopted him...why should he? Luck is winning the lottery or Bingo, not being adopted. I hope that my son never feels that he should be grateful that we adopted him. We wanted children and my son happened to lose everything for us to have that. Not exactly fair by any means.
Tammy said…
A good perspective on this. I have also blogged about the "lucky" comment and how I see it from the perspective of my kids and their First Families. It saddens me to think that people might think I put myself in a position to adopt so that people would say "thank you" to me. That's absolutely ridiculous.

I know from the last three years of history with my kids' First Families that if they had not come to my home, they would be in someone else's, not with their First Families. That is their reality and not something to be thankful for. They have and will go through enough that the expectation that they should feel lucky or be grateful for having to gone through it makes me sad.

All I can say is that I am grateful to know my children, people I would have never met otherwise. I have much to learn from them and the way they live and will choose to live out their lives.
Laurie said…
Great post Margie. I couldn't agree more with your perspective, and that's the best response I've come across yet!
Anonymous said…
I have a question for you actually-- how do you deal with other adoptive parents who have blinders on, or truly believe that their adoption was meant to be, a gift from god, and that their child was born in their heart? I don't mean to poo poo those sentiments, of course the day they handed me my daughter was one of the happiest in my life, but I sense from some, especially in our travel group, that admitting the loss or the pain, of relinquishment is too much for them to bear when they really want the WHOLE thing to be conveyed as sunshine and roses to their children. Do you comment? One woman I know won't come to a first mother's brunch I am having because she hasn't talked abut the concept of a first mother with her daughter yet. Anyway, I like these folks a lot, just think they are in for a shocker if they don't acknowledge and deal with the loss inherent in adoption. Thoughts???? Thanks.

Popular Posts