Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ungratefully "Yours"

Just received a comment from Peter O'Connell in response to my first post. Perfect timing. Partial quote. "Perhaps there's an element of being worried about being accused of being ungrateful for having been adopted?"

Yes. I think we worry about it all the time. And even when someone doesn't actually come out and say we are ungrateful, that's often what they mean.

When I was a teenager, my adoptive mother used to say, "And after all I've done for you."

"Like what?" I once asked.

She went on to list the clothes she had bought, the rides she had given, the times she had taken me to the park, the cleaning, the laundry and all the other things parents buy and do for their children. Said to a biological child is one thing. Said in anger to an adopted child is another. How dare you be ungrateful? I rescued you. Of course, she never mentioned she liked doing any of these things. It was a duty she performed. Presumably resentfully.

Other family members have implied the same thing. Especially when my parents began to age and deterioriate. My adoptive mother was diagnosed with Alheimers in her early sixties. You need to move her in with you and take care of her, I was told. When I hired a full-time caretaker instead, there it was. And after all she's done for you.

But I wasn't a confused teenager anymore. I was a married woman with two children. And besides, I had already begun to think in columns. One column listed all the things my parents had done for me. The other column listed all the things I had done for them. And because my parents were self-centered and I became emotionally and financially self sufficient by 17, I figured I could pretty much be free and clear of my "debt" to my adoptive parents by the time I hit thirty five.

That's the trouble with the whole "be grateful for being adopted" message, intended or not. It pushes the adoptee to think like an indentured slave. Well, if I could just do the following, I will be free. Of course, this doesn't apply to all adoptees. Just those of us who didn't fare so well in the crap-shoot placement process. Those of us who never fit in with our adoptive families. The proverbial square peg in a round hole. The angry adoptees.

By the time my mother died, I calculated I had long repaid my debt. While I didn't love her, I did the best I could. I acted responsibly. I did the right thing. The ten years of her illness took its toll.

Now my adoptive father has been diagnosed with dementia. The trouble is, when it comes it him, the columns aren't balancing. Can't balance. They've always been out of whack. I' ve always been the parent. He the child. He's a walking classic case of The Narcissitic Wound. Physically and verbally abused by a drunkard father, he's incapable of acting like a real parent.

Today is another frustrating day. Hours spent trying to manage his most recent health care crisis. By ten o'clock in the morning, I am seething with resentment. This was supposed to be a writing day. Time set aside to work on my novel. Instead, I talk with nurses, calm my father, reorder prescriptions and try to get through to a human being at Kaiser. I am acting like the dutiful, grateful adopted daughter but I am busy adding up the columns again and I'm furious. How long will I have to pay on my debt? I can't just walk away. I am an only child. He has no one else in his life. He is my responsibility even if he never had much responsibility for me. This is a whole new kind of bondage. Angry adopted child tethered to aging adoptive father.

Ungratefully yours, Nina


Blogger HeatherRainbow said...

My father was similar. He was abused by his father, and I basically raised him. When he'd get into his idiocies, he'd ask ME how he could be a better father, when I was like... 13.

I realized, I didn't have to be there for him. I didn't have to raise him. He made the decisions he made in his life, and I wasn't responsible for his life.

I also find, that when we let our parental children go, that it forces them to either fly out of the nest, or fall to the ground. I can't save them. They need to save themselves. That's nature. That's life.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Hi Nina:

Just leaving a note to say I enjoyed your blog. I am a fellow adoptee and have been known to shout, 'I am not grateful to anyone for anything' and while that is not true, it feels so good to say--

I am a bay area denzien too, North bay.


2:54 PM  

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