Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Neighbors Weigh-In on my Adoption

Well, it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that my adoption was a topic of interest amongst neighbors.

I learned it about it yesterday, quite by accident. An old friend of my adoptive mother tracked me down. To my surprise, she's only 65. I hadn't realized she was 15 years younger than my mom.

Laurie is smart, funny and sensible. Eventually, I decided to ask if my mother ever discussed my adoption with her. Not much, she admitted. But she did say that the neighbors spent quite a bit of time debating the pros and cons of my parents telling me I was adopted. Apparently, some felt that it was cruel to tell me and that it would serve no purpose. A Cuban woman I remember as being very emotional was the most upset, even going so far as to scold my mother. Others felt I should be told, but not until I was much, much older.

"And what did you think?" I asked Laurie.

"Oh, that you should be told. Definitely. I always think telling the truth is best."

She paused.

"And?" I prompted.

"I mean, you had to know, right?" Laurie continued. "Otherwise, you wouldn't know all that they had done for you - rescued you - and that you should be grateful to them."

I quickly changed the subject.

Oddly, I wasn't even tempted to slam down the phone or give her a lecture. We continued our conversation as if I hadn't heard those odious words.

It was more interesting than anything else. She obviously saw me as one of society's rejects. That my parents had sacrificed themselves to rescue an abandoned child. That this act required gratitude. That telling me wasn't for my sake, but for their sake, so they could claim my gratitude.

In a way, it was almost a relief to actually hear someone say it. Believe me, I've heard it before, many times, but never quite so baldly. And while Laurie is just one person and certainly doesn't represent society as a whole, I think she represents a fair number of people who view adoptees that way.



Blogger elizabeth said...


Excuse me while I run for the toilet.

And sheesh.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

I think I know what you mean, it's like proof that you aren't crazy.

I have had people say really shitty things to me to, and felt that strange relief, you see! You See! I haven't been making it up, stop telling me it's all in my head

10:25 PM  
Blogger suz said...

wow. thats so awful nina. truly.
i am sorry. so very wrong.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Mom2One said...

Oh my.

Our 5-year-old son was adopted from Vietnam and we have people making those comments to us, about what a wonderful thing we've done, what would his life be like if we hadn't adopted him (clearly none of us knows what his life would be like), blahblahblah. I hate those comments, HATE them and tell people that we didn't adopt him to save him, we simply wanted to be parents. Most people remain unconvinced, though. I have no idea why they wish to think of my husband and I as saints; I never went into this with that idea in mind.

It's going to gall me even further when he has to put up with those comments made TO HIM. I don't want our son to have to deal with that, but I expect that he will. It's a ridiculous way to think of adoption. It's not about gratitude! It's simply a different way of building a family!!

9:48 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Joy...yeah, that's it. It was so out there that it did make me feel less crazy.

Mom2One...Obviously, I'm thrilled to hear YOU don't think that way because I think many adoptive parents in the Closed Era "old days" did. Even if they wanted to build a family through adoption they still expected did my adoptive mother. She often told me I was ungrateful after all she had done for me. However, as your son gets older, maybe you can find a way to discuss society's views, your views, the gratitude thing, etc., then you may be able to prepare him to better deal with such comments. I suspect that transracial children may even get this more. I guess the important point is that you DON'T expect gratitude. I also think people don't think about adoption very much at all but, people being people, open their yaps to give their ill-formed opinions.

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Mom2One said...


Clearly, we're going to have to educate him when he does get older on how to address these comments. It's unfortunate, but yeah, people being the clods that they can be, it will probably happen. I try to answer them gently but firmly, but sometimes they still don't get it.

He is funny, though. Once someone asked him where he's from and he just answered with the name of our town and state. HAHAHA!! A transracial adoptee who was adopted from China knew how to ask him -- she said, "where were you born?" Quite a difference there. ;)

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Paula O. said...

Well said, Nina. I think it's another example that further supports the theory that society at large and especially the media tend to gravitate towards the perspective and voice of the adoptive parent first - - and sadly totally both neglects and negates the voices and significance of the first mother and the adoptee.

1:56 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Being a parent has absolutely nothing to do with gratitude from the child. Anyone who is a parent is eternally grateful they were able to have a child(ren). Every chance we get, we tell our children how glad we are we had them; how much we love them and how proud we are of them - not because of what they do but because of who they are. I don't think of parenting as a "duty" that is suppose to elicit gratitude from a child. I think parents who do that make their love conditional. It is saying to the child, if you love me then show it by responding to all I have done for you and that response better come in some form of worship.

Yeah every parent hopes to have the respect of their children, but not their gratitude. Respect comes from giving it without strings, just as love does.

Many people today still believe as your neighbor does when it comes to adoptees. Having had children of our own before considering adoption, we never expected nor even thought that the children we might adopt should be grateful. If we had adopted, we would have gone into it with the same mindset as having our own - it was our choice to have them. A child has no more say into which family they are born into than most adopted children. Why should the expectations, if any, be any different?

A co-worker today made a statement that stuck with me. She said when we have developed a connection/relationship with someone where we can be "brutally honest" with each other, then true growth can occur. Its when we don't have to dance around the truth with someone; when we can be direct and plain in presenting the truth to another; that is when we can make great strides in understanding. I know I am guilty of beating around the bush sometimes; of trying to be tactful in saying what is on my mind for fear of how the other person might take it, but perhaps my biggest sin in communicating is not saying anything at all.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Leroy...Agreed! Beautifully said. BTW, it's been pointed out to me that the expectation of gratitude is also a cultural Latino thing...and a big percentage of Latino kids are "parentified." My adoptive cousin (a bio child to her parents) was constantly told she was ungrateful as a teen/adult because she resisted becoming responsible for her sick mother. They wanted her to assume the role of emotional/physical caretaker and viewed her decision to attend college, get a job and her marriage as a betrayal. Her parents would bring up every soccer game they drove her to, every late night they had to wait up, etc. and seemed to expect lifelong gratitude and devotion. Very sick!

8:38 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I wouldn't know how to begin to say thanks to my adoptive parents. Thank you for taking me from one coast to the other so I wouldn't accidently run into my firstmom? Thank you for making sure to remind me that you didn't understand me? Thank you for telling me my feelings were wrong because you were adopted and never felt the way I do? How absurd that you should be told so you could give your parents the proper gratitude. Ugh.

2:36 PM  

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