The feelings of loyalty that I feel (and expect others feel in varying degrees) can play a significant role in how we talk about our adoption experience, both to our parents throughout our lives, and as adults to others. I’ve wanted to talk on this subject for a while, but worried, I couldn’t tease out a cohesive post explaining why I think it happens. This is my attempt to explain many of the different factors playing into it that I see around me.
When I was young, I often thought of my other mother, I also had the typical childhood fantasies that go along with it. I never shared either with mom or dad. I never brought any of my deeper feelings up. I didn’t talk about the feelings of loss. If I did mention anything at all it came out more of a curiosity than anything deeper. But I had those feelings. The feelings of not being good enough. The feelings of being rejected, and expecting everyone to leave me. Believing there had to be something wrong with me they could see, that I couldn’t to answer why they (she) didn’t fight to the end of the earth to keep me. At the same time, logically I understood why. I never brought any of those feelings up out of feelings of loyalty. My loyalty was to mom and dad and you don’t hurt those you love.
As an adult, I’ve wondered if I’d have been less reserved, less protective of their feelings, if the dynamics within the family had been different (a sibling with mental health challenges). I might have, but I also doubt it, because of my personality, who they were to me, combined with the fact that they couldn’t have children, and the recognition that they didn’t have to adopt any of us. To me, that’s why the public’s continued onslaught of telling people adopted they better be grateful makes an adoptee angry, as if, we are so befuddled, ignorant, less-than, that we don’t have the ability of understanding all that, that we need others to explain it to us.
That adoptee loyalty can extend outside of the personal familial relationships, into how we talk to others about our experience being adopted. When I read comments by some adoptees, I look at the carefully formulated responses about their experience, and, I hear, my own modulated responses within their words. I don’t hear pain or joy, I hear protection for their parents against a world made up of biological family norms. I hear the adoptee protecting their parents because adoptive families are different compared to biological families. Other, different, not quite good enough. Our parents are seen as either suspect or saviors, pitied or held up as saints, never just as parents, and us as families. Adoptees are often seen as troubled, and some are, either from the trauma that they’ve been through, or mental illness, but the broad brush strokes paints all, because we aren’t part of the norm, we are other.
I don’t know how to fix the public perception, what people have done to date hasn’t helped, that much I know, and perhaps, made it worse looking at how the media has covered adoption since I was little. I think they’ve made it worse for the adoptees, they removed the tragedy of losing a family from the narrative and only focused on the outcome, being adopted. I think that started in the era I was adopted in. Before then, wars and the depression were to vivid in everyone’s mind, to not understand the calamity that befell families, the damage done to more than just the one adopted. Solutions were found, but they weren’t seen as a win, just a solution.
I don’t have any wise words, I just wanted to talk about how loyalty can also silence us, moderate our voices, stories. There are brave adoptee’s who can open up with their deepest feelings. I’m not one. I wish I was, but then, I wouldn’t be me.
Have a safe week and let me know what you’re up to, what you think.