Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shrugging Off the Shoulds and Shouldn'ts of an Adopted Life

Your adoptive family should be enough for you.
You shouldn't long for anything more.
You shouldn't be curious.
You shouldn't feel connected to your biological relatives.
You shouldn't love them.
You shouldn't need them.
You should always remember that your real parents are the ones who raised you.
You should be loyal to the adoptive family.
You shouldn't talk too much about being adopted.

Adoptee friends, what Shoulds and Shouldn'ts did you internalize? Did you get them from your adoptive parents or from the broader culture?

My adoptive parents never said any of these things to me directly, but the messages were encoded in the words that they carefully repeated from the pamphlet the agency gave them—words intended to foster a feeling of belonging in me by emphasizing how completely they considered me to be their daughter and a member of the family … no different than if I had been born to them. My parents were well intentioned, and they were doing the best they could with the tools that were available to them at the time. But the unintended result was there was no acceptable place for the feelings of "not belonging" that naturally arose in me. Such feelings are a natural part of the adopted life, but they were forbidden feelings, as were feelings of affection and connection toward the biological family. 

I understand that it's important to keep things in perspective. There are worse fates an infant could have than to be placed into the arms of a loving, infertile couple. I know that my adoptive parents love me. And I love them. But please don't try to tell me that that should be enough. It isn't. 

The feelings that I have regarding my biological family are natural and normal. They are encoded somewhere deep within my DNA. My biggest challenge as an adoptee has been my ongoing struggle to come to terms with these emotions within the dominant culture of adoption, which neither validates nor approves of this aspect of my experience. I am continually shrugging off these Shoulds and Shouldn'ts. I shake them off. I claim my own truth. But they are persistent, these cultural beliefs. It's a process I must repeat again and again.


  1. Beautifully said, Rebecca. These cultural messages are really difficult to shake off. I have to remind myself often that I'm not being disloyal to my adoptive parents, who have passed away, when I speak out for honesty and transparency in adoption. It took me a long time to realize it's the culture that needs changing.

  2. I agree with Susan. Cultural opinions as a whole need to be drastically changed regarding what's "appropriate" and "inappropriate" for especially adoptees & birth parents to think and feel. As a birth parent I continually have to shake off societal expectations of how I should be. But every time we write or speak out we have a chance to change someone's mind. That's why I keep talking about it even though I'm tired of being a broken record. Every post, every word (whether spoken or written) has potential to change someone, and that someone can pass that change to other people.

  3. My mother was adopted, and I've talked to her a lot about adoption, especially since I'm an adoptive mom. We've talked a lot about these should's and shouldn'ts, and I've asked her how they have affected her. She told me that most of these things really are not an issue for her. I asked her why, and she said that it was because in her house growing up, adoption was not taboo, it was talked about openly inside the house and out. Because of this I believe she is able to have a healthy outlook on her adoption, her adoption was not open, it was 1958, but because my grandparents encouraged "emotional openness" she was able process her feelings about who she was.
    I am glad for all of the adult adoptees that are speaking out today, because it means that if us adoptive moms are listening, then the next generation of adoptees won't be considered by society as "angry".

  4. Fab post... I'm trying hard not to put any shoulds on our family. Society's ones are a bit harder to influence but with more blogs and articles and discussion like this we could start making a shift.

  5. This had a drastic negative impact on my life. Having feelings that were "bad" or "wrong" or hurtful to my adoptive parents I internalized it and never trusted any of my feelings and felt I was bad or wrong. This has affected me greatly throughout my life. I do not trust my own feelings and constantly ask for reassurance about the choices I make or the things I do or the feelings I feel. I usually have to ask for outside input on a lot of things to make sure my feelings are"right".

  6. Your post is both instructive to adoptive parents and empowering to adopted people: " I shake them off. I claim my own truth." Thanks for your insight.

  7. Thank you. I needed this today. And I wish I could share it with every adoptive parent in the country.

  8. My adoptive parents went along with "the shoulds" (well-intentioned as they were), I internalized the shoulds as best I could as a child but have rejected many of them as I've grown up and through the support of other adoptees. I found my birth mother fifteen years ago, but she also accepts these shoulds and wants no relationship with me. I'm not looking for sympathy, just pointing out that even our own birth mothers sometimes can't get past the cultural beliefs that we adoptees are saddled with.

  9. Thanks for your comment Patti. It reminded me of this article, which I read earlier today:

    I'm sorry to hear that your birth mother is also stuck in the "shoulds." I agree with you that the cultural beliefs affect all connected to adoption, not just adoptees.

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments, recent and less recent! :-)

  11. Good article - I like that the author talks about the elephant in the room called anger, who sits on many laps. Lots of elephants in the adoption room: guilt, abandonment, loss, to name a few. Thank you for your blog where we can try to help each other and ourselves through the adoption maze.

  12. I kinda think there is a twist here. Adoptive parent twist. Society won't consider them angry.....because adoptive mom's listened to adoptees now.......or will society change so that adoptees will not be angry? Either way, loss wether that is something to have an emotion attached to it or if you can ignore it because you opened up to it & society validated your emotion you will not be angry? Well I am a lost father, who's daughter had to find, adoption was always on the table open for discussion within her family too, yet, its just I am angry I was lost, the a mom figured it would be her search when she was ready, & then proceeded to tell me why she was ready & because of what, not what kept her from searching, or why she had to search in the first place.
    Secondly & I had to sleep on this, adoptive moms if they are listening will not be considered angry by society....I am flabergasted that if you pour engough love & attention into (your child) you will get an outcome of your choosing by society outside of your home or that they will not be judged as "angry".
    Well thirdly, closed adoption, but open emotions expressed in the home & in grandma's home, made for lack of anger is this the model I am to understand being implied, & then everything is peachy?
    I find myself very deeply confused by a-parents, a-moms in particular. Its like talking to a deeply religious person, just when you think you have the question that will set them on a new path, the world view gets skewed and twisted to keep them on their path, its like a no win situation. Loss is loss is loss........where is the happiness there.......ignore loss & live blissfully. But I digress the example was about lack of adoption anger. Anger can be viewed as an motivation for change, without the need for change you are in a utopia, and a mom's who listen can point the way towards utopia by listening.
    I mean, is it really just me, I know I am skewed. But I have a daughter in union with me & I have missed her for 29 years, that is painfull, & we discover loss over & over together & no time machine to fix it, thats the product of closed adoption. Its wild because she apologises for her lack of searching sooner, but why should she have had to search in the first place. I do not want to take away self empowerment, but what kept her from searching? hmmm.........
    When I think about these issues it seems much rests on the ability of the participant to buy in to a perception to be considered (without anger)
    What is the meaning of wholeness? What is happiness? Who gets to have it?
    I am a broken record too, broken & perhaps not wise, or in need of growing hmmm I am reaching out, & what I really appreciate are views that get shared, the courage to put your conclusions out their for review. Thank you all.

  13. I thank you Patti, opening up & seeing views that can be described, internalised. Thanks for breaking it down, anger, the many faces of the elephant we come across as we engage each other. Positive comments "help", neutral phrasing "adoption maze", I find those comments settling, like letting the air out of that emotional balloon.

  14. Again thank you for sharing. I have been in engaged with my lost child now for six months. She found her mother four years ago, & there has been a plethora of issues, that have come out. It has severely hampered there engagement. I was shocked to discover in all that time how little was understood between them. Just counting the number of contacts made within in that time came down to 8 physical meets. That ratio is in a steep climb, I think the elephants are being exposed & better understood. Perhaps the biggest set back has been self-esteem. A lot of history perhaps, animosity misdirected or directed, rationalising of one's emotions & others.
    I really have longed to be united with my child but being patient & keeping my expectations out of the picture a real challenge.

  15. yes beliefs shape perception. When free of them others look stuck. Perplexing when we look at each other with different views & think wow about each other, & how they became stuck. I am just throwing that out there. I hope we all are progressing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...