Third Mom, really: psychological abuse?

A few thoughts today in response to a number of comments I've received over the past week to this post and this one.

I expected instant dismissal in adoptive parent settings, but was pleasantly surprised to see it wasn't universal. Quite a few of the comments in one online venue, an adoptive-parent-centric one I should add, formed a serious discussion of the impact of such adoptive parent behaviors on adopted individuals.  I almost wept with joy when I saw that.

There were, of course, a number of comments that dismissed out of hand my use of the words "psychological abuse." I chose them on purpose for several reasons. For one, if I used anything milder, no one would pay attention. But the most important reason is this:
Adopted people, and no small number of them, tell me that psychological abuse is exactly what these kinds of adoptive parent behaviors feel like to them.
Hearing this, we adoptive parents can respond in a number of ways.  We can dismiss adoptees who express these opinions as angry, a minority in the adoptee community, psychologically ill, etc. We can debate whether something that feels like abuse to someone actually IS abuse, and might also say all kids feel their parents abuse them from time to time. If our kids are disinterested in their ethnic heritage, we can take the "I let my kids set their own boundaries and therefore have no responsibility here" approach. (The light bulb came on really clearly for me on this one the day my son admonished me for not forcing him to take piano lessons, in spite of the fact that every time we offered, he refused.) We can go for the "everyone has bad stuff in their lives and we all need to suck it up" angle.  Or we can explain it away by saying that it's OK for adoptive parents to do these things as long as they love their children.

On the other hand, we could think long and hard about why some of our behaviors might feel like abuse to our children. Each adopted person is unique; what is nothing to one may be earth-shattering to another, and vice versa, so we will have to look critically at our own behaviors in our own families to see where we might do better. The main thing is to open our minds to the possibility that the things we, our families and friends may say or do can be painful to our children, and to change those attitudes and behaviors. Listen to the adoptees.

When we do, I also hope we come to understand this: that every person who adopts a child from another country is obligated to work to right adoption injustice wherever it occurs.  When I look back on the things my kids have experienced because of unjust, unethical or just plain nonsensical adoption laws and practices, I see a laundry list of things that will keep me busy for life: fixing intercountry adoptee citizenship inequities; obtaining free and unfettered access to the original birth certificate for all adoptees in every single state; providing a comprehensive family medical history to every adopted person; and many, many more. The old adage is really true here: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

So again, to those who have taken the time to comment on these posts and discuss them elsewhere, especially from the adoptee perspective, thank you. Special thanks to the adoptive parent in one of those elsewheres who summarized in one clear paragraph what I've tried to express in three posts. I don't believe I'm allowed to cross-post the comment, but I want to call you out publicly to say you nailed it.


LilySea said…
I'm mad at my parents for not forcing me to take piano lessons too!

But on a serious note, thank you, Margie, you nailed it, too.

It's true that everyone is different and there are adoptees who will care deeply about something that other adoptees won't even notice. I have two very different kids in my own family and it's illustrative of this principal for me to watch them every day.

It's also the case that even if there is some objetive definition of "abuse" somewhere and our behavior doesn't meet it, when adoptees say they feel it (or anybody for that matter), it means something important. It means something is happening that needs correction or change or at the very, very least, sympathetic understanding. So it ought never to be dismissed at all.

Adoptees are hurt by these dismissals, but on a more selfish note, so are adoptive parents. It is your own relationship with your own kids you are damaging when you refuse to listen.

As someone who has been, at times, estranged from my family of origin (and I am not adopted), I am constantly aware that when my kids are grown, they will have a choice whether or not to have a relationship with me. I have to do what I can to build the kind of trust and love and openness that will win a good lifelong relationship with them.
Margie said…
Shannon, good to hear from you! I hope all is well in your world!

Thank you for stopping by and commenting. You understand what I'm trying to say here, and I appreciate it. And I thank you for the wise advice to adoptive parents, who especially while their kids are small may not realize the damage they do to their relationships with their kids when they dismiss the things that are important to them, whatever they may be.

I see in my relationships with my kids, who are also two very different individuals, how things I did in the past either supported or damaged our relationships. For the times I failed, I wish I had do-overs, but you don't get them. You do, however, get the opportunity to change and improve. That, I think, will be the most important part of my parenting job as long as I live.

Hugs to you, will catch up with what's going on in your world soon!!
Debera said…
Thank you for sharing this Margie. I recently went through the adoption process and now I have my new baby girl. I am so excited but it is difficult to feel like I am meeting all of her needs. I have learned some about adoption parenting through Please keep up the great posts because as a new mother I need all the insight and advice I can get!

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