In our home, adoption emotions are never wrong. You have the right to feel any way you feel.
Dad… I miss my first mom. I used to hate her. Is that OK?
Let me start by saying that me speaking about adoption emotions is extremely presumptuous. I have never been adopted. My wife was adopted by an abusive foster family very late in her teen years after being removed from an abusive first family in her mid-teens. Six of my nine children were adopted. Five of those came from another country. Four of those are biological siblings. One of my children has Down syndrome and we adopted him as an infant in the United States. My other children that we adopted varied from almost two years old, to almost sixteen when they joined our family. But I have never been adopted. I have never had to go through that catastrophe first hand. Thank God. But we are extremely open and encouraging about talking about adoption emotions in our home. In fact, we are extremely open about talking about any emotions in our home. In our home, no emotions are ever wrong. You have the right to feel any way you feel, even though we do expect reasonable behaviors.
I have seen that adoption emotions often evolve over time.
The one thing I can tell you is that while many people who have been adopted share emotions, no two people are exactly the same when it comes to feelings about their adoption. In fact, even between biological siblings, who came from the same first family at the same time, there can be significantly different emotions and ways that emotions are processed and acted on. I have also seen that adoption emotions often evolve over time.
Not only are adoption emotions complicated, they are often secretive.
One of the first things that I learned about adoption emotions is that children (and sometimes adults) do not always tell the truth about what they feel. Even in very open families, like ours, some children feel like there are expectations to feel positively about their adoption and adoptive parents, whether or not those expectations are actual. In other cases, it’s just easier to go along with what is said by others. The one that always makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck is when people who don’t stop to think tell my children who were adopted how lucky they were to get adopted. Frankly, I think the lucky ones are those of us who never had the need to be adopted. Each of my adopted children would agree with me in that feeling. However, none of them have ever spoken that thought when they find themselves in that situation. Not only are adoption emotions complicated, they are often secretive.
My wife’s negative adoption experience has helped us to coax out our children’s adoption emotions to the truest extent that they will allow.
My wife has made incredible contributions to children’s adoption emotions being safe in our home. If mom has negative feelings about her adoption, then that must mean it’s not “bad.” My wife’s negative adoption experience has helped us to coax out our children’s adoption emotions to the truest extent that they will allow. Our oldest daughter, who joined our family when she was almost sixteen, had as her greatest desire to return to Russia and murder her first mother as she believed her first mother had done to her grandmother. Still, that daughter had very few positive emotions for my wife and me during her first years in the United States. A sister who was only a year younger and adopted at the same time, simply shrugs and points at scars while asking why her first mother hit her on the head and hand with a knife. While she has her struggles, she appears to have no hatred for anyone and when it comes to attaching with new parents, falls somewhere in the middle of our other children.
When it comes to adoption emotions, many of my daughter’s are paradoxical. But we are OK with that, too.
My fifteen-year-old daughter, who joined our family when she was five, has been the most interesting for me to observe when it comes to adoption emotions. I think part of that is that she was old enough to remember her first home, being removed from it and being placed in an orphanage. Even so, she was still young enough to think like a child when we adopted her and brought her to a new family and country. While this child has struggled with Reactive Attachment Disorder, as two of our other children, her feelings for us have evolved in a positive direction. In the beginning, she was incredibly adept at saying all of the things she thought we wanted to hear. Later, she became more “non-compliant” and was more open in her feelings of anger about having to leave friends behind and her frustration about not having been able to stay with her first father. As this daughter has turned into a young woman, she understand the practical reasons for the evolution of her situation and that her first father, though loving, and perhaps her favorite person on earth, was not capable of caring for her and keeping her safe (or perhaps, even alive). When it comes to adoption emotions, many of my daughter’s are paradoxical as shown in the subtitle of this article. But we are OK with that, too.
Adoption emotions could not be more different than they are between my fifteen-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters, and they are biological siblings with almost identical histories and gene pools.
My twelve-year-old daughter was almost three when she joined us, along with her sister who was eighteen months older than she was. She has no memories of her first mother or father, but has heard the good things about her father and the bad things about her first mother from her older sisters. Because of this, she says she understands why adoption was necessary but doesn’t like to talk about it. She is considered very pretty and she’s popular at school. She likes to please her parents, just like my younger brothers did. Those dirty back-stabbers! (Just kidding. I love my brothers to death and we are extremely close. But they were the pleasers and I was the rebel.) My youngest daughter wonders why everyone, her siblings included, just can’t forget about this whole adoption thing, go on with life, buy pretty clothes, go to parties and pretend like it never happened. Adoption emotions could not be more different than they are between my fifteen-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters and they are biological siblings with almost identical histories and gene pools.
I think that the most difficult thing for my children when it comes to adoption emotions is when different people try to tell them how they should feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a distant family acquaintance telling them how lucky they are to be adopted, or someone on the internet telling them that they should be angry because their parents stole them from another country. My kids think that they should be able to decide how they feel. They also think that those feelings should be able to change (no matter which direction they change), if that’s what they want.
Sometimes, as parents, we fall off the tightrope. On the one hand, we often feel obligated to teach our children that their lives can be happier if they can learn to forgive and move on. On the other, we know they have the right to their own feelings and we want to support them in that. We are torn. We know what would bring our children the most peace and happiness and we feel uncomfortable when we leave them to do something different, if that is what they choose. We want to stop them in the process. Do we do it because we know what is best? Does God?
Often, readers receive as much help from other readers in the comments section as they do from the blog article, itself. Please be generous with your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. There are lots of people who need what you have to share. This is your chance to help them.
Read more articles by John M. Simmons about Adoption
Return to John M. Simmons’ blog
Ensure you don’t miss anything when you sign up for notifications