The Elephant in the Room: Fear of Rejection
Let’s face it, in Adoption World fear of rejection is the elephant in the room. Adoptees fear being rejected by their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents fear being rejected by their children. Birth parents fear being hated and unforgiven by their children. They also fear that once they have signed away their parental rights, adoptive parents may not honor the stipulations of their Open Adoption agreement. That is a lot of fear, pain, isolation and raw wounds. The potential for conflict, hurt feelings and miscommunication is immense.
Our recent blogs have focused on the importance of ensuring that adoption be a natural topic of conversation which welcomes the free flow of discussion points. In a full-throated Both/And paradigm we recognize that adoption is complicated. We accept both the positive and the painful parts. We move beyond happily-ever-after fairy tales and value the reality which confronts us.
That kind of honesty and acceptance is beautiful and too rare. Too rare. Often we dance around truth in a mistaken effort to protect one another’s feelings. Or we hide our true thoughts and feelings so that we don’t risk rejection. Relying on other people to read our minds won’t work, neither will hoping that things will just work themselves out. We are family joined through our love for our children.
We are inextricably linked. Whatever stresses one of us has repercussions for all of us. Each of us has competing needs but it is absolutely vital that we put the needs of our children as the Prime Directive for our choices and actions. Make talking about stuff routine and important. Our mantra must be: Adoption Matters; Talk about it.
Love and Loyalty
In the past, adoptive parents often equated—and mandated—their child’s loyalty as proof of their love. We now recognize this false equivalency. Love is something freely given. It is not a payment on a debt nor can it be required. To be authentic, love must be freely given. It must spring forth from the soul with an energy and vitality that is born from genuine connection. We cannot keep our children in an emotional cage where loyalty to us must supersede their affection/connection to their birth parents. A gilded cage is still a cage. Genuine love is freely given; it is not payment rendered.
Gratitude & Grace
Adoptees often hear that they should be grateful to their parents for adopting them. Such an expectation turns a blind eye to the complexities of adoption and the deep, abiding losses that it exacts from adoptees in addition to the benefits that it provides. Ironically, parents never hear that they should be grateful to their kids for allowing themselves to be adopted. When we flip the equation around like that, we can readily see the ridiculousness of expecting gratitude.
As adoptive parents most of us also wrestle with gratitude in another way. As we strive to express how we feel to our children’s birth mothers, naming the multi-dimensional emotion is nearly impossible. Gratitude seems almost insulting, like our child was the best Christmas gift we’ve ever received. (This casts our children like a commodity.) Language fails us. We need to invent a word that bears witness to the immense emotional reality for all—birth and adoptive parents as well as adoptees. Each copes with their own wounds and weaves this history into our joint lives as family.
Long-time readers of this blog know I am not a fan of the term “chosen” in the context of adoption. Many feel like this concept heals the pain of being placed for adoption. But saying the adoptive parents chose them is not the Band-Aid that heals adoptee rejection. It avoids the obvious: that before adoptive parents could choose their child, he had to be “unchosen” by his birth parents. It also plants the unspoken possibility of being “unchosen” again. Besides, with the prevalence of Open Adoption, “chosen” most accurately refers to the adoptive parents were selected by the expectant parents and/or the agency. One important “chosen” reality is that we chose to love children who were not born to us.