Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let's Get Real: Embracing Duality in Adoptive Families

In her book Journey of the Adopted Self, Betty Jean Lifton addresses the sticky issue of the word "real" in adoptive families:
The adoptive mother believes she is the real mother because she is the one who got up in the middle of the night and was there for the child in sickness and health. The birth mother believes she is the real mother because she went through nine months of sculpting the child within her body and labored to bring it forth into the the world. They are both right. The adoptive mother who loves and cares for the child is the real mother. And the birth mother who never forgets her child is the real mother.... By denying that adoptees have two real mothers, society denies them their reality.
These words are of particular importance to me as an adoptee because not only did "society" deny me my reality, I denied it to to myself. An important therapeutic moment happened the day I fully acknowledged myself as the child of two mothers, allowing myself to embrace that duality and all that it meant. I suspect I am not the only adoptee to internalize the struggle between two mothers. The day I gave up the belief that I needed to prioritize one definition of "real" over the other, something important shifted within me. I found wholeness. 

Lifton also writes, "For me, a real mother recognizes and respects the whole identity of her child and does not ask him to deny any part of himself." By this definition, I am happy to say that my daughter Ashley clearly has two real mothers. The acknowledgment and valuing of all that Ashley is, including those parts of her that come from the other mother -- this is the core, the very essence, of what her first mother and I are attempting to accomplish through our open adoption relationship. Acknowledgment of the whole of an adopted child's self, writes Lifton, "is difficult to do in a closed adoption system that requires the child be cut off from his heritage, and that pits the original mother against the replacement mother.

I don't want my daughter to have to wait until she is an adult in therapy to discover wholeness. In traditional family situations, nature and nurture come in one package. In adoption, they are split, but they don't have to be pitted against each other. The more that I am able to embrace my child's whole identity, the better equipped she is to embrace it herself. Like me, she a child of two mothers and is loved, wholeheartedly, by both of us. We are each a part of who she is, and we are both very, very real.

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15 comments:

  1. Adoptive and biological fathers are equally real; I am simply addressing the issue of mothers her because it is the one that is most relevant to me personally.

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  2. I like that. The duality. We have an ideal situation where my son's birthparents are known to us and him (except that he does not yet understand what that means as he is only 2). I have been grappling since day ONE on how this is going to work. I really see clearly how we ARE his family and I also see how we AREN'T his family. I want to personally get to that embracing place inside so when he really, deeply wants that biological connection, I am mentally ready to really give it to him (if that makes sense)

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  3. Thanks. That makes perfect sense to me. :-)

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  4. You have such a great way of looking at things! Your adoptive daughter is very lucky to have you!

    I'm going to be recommending your blog to a friend of mine who has adopted 2 little girls. You are obviously a great resource!

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  5. I think I'm going to recommend your blog to my daughter's parents. I just love the way you put things, and although they've not hesitated at all about having a relationship with us, I think the way you put things might be wonderful to them to read (as an adoptee and an adoptive mother as well).

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  6. Thanks, Monika and Lisa! I'm very grateful that you are considering recommending this blog to others.

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  7. Another great post Rebecca. Thank you. You have such a lovely way of putting things so that no one gets defensive and people can really hear what you are saying. (A skill I apparently need to learn:)

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  8. So glad to read this topic, just saw your link on adoption voices. I was thinking about the term "real" mother just this last week. Some thing hurts inside when other people call my sons birth mom his real mom, but as I thought about referring to myself as the real mom that didn't feel right either. Thank you for expressing my thoughts so well and helping me find that happy wholeness. I adore my sons birth mom. She is honestly one of my most loved people.

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  9. This is wonderful. It's what I've been saying for years. My daughter's first mother and I are both real mothers to her. You've just put it so much more eloquently than I ever did. Thank you.

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  10. I truly enjoyed reading this post. Thank you!

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  11. Your blog is the BEST adoption blog I have found and as an adoptive parent in waiting, it has given me some amazing things to think about.

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  12. Yes!! This is exactly right. :)

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