In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the fraught relationship of gratitude and adoption; especially between adoptees and adopters. My intention is to explore as many aspects of this relationship as possible. This installment, Part 2, tackles how gratitude can be twisted into cruelty
Transracial adoption is complicated. Adoptive parents and adopted children have a relationship that is both mundanely similar and vastly different than that between biological parents and biological children. Children who remain with their biological parents are not expected to be grateful for the mere coincidence of their birth, a circumstance over which they had no control. Adopted children, however, are.
Gratitude is used as a cudgel to intimidate adoptees. It is common for adoptees to be told by people completely disconnected from adoption variations of the following nastiness, “Shut up kid! Would you rather have been aborted?”
Or something like, “You should be grateful we rescued you at all. Your life would be horrible back where you came from!” It can also be couched in more benign sounding words, such as, “Aren’t you happy you were saved? Isn’t it great you were given a chance for a better life?” But it’s all dismissive, patronizing and silencing.
Shaming an adoptee into silence by using gratitude invalidates their memories and feelings. Doubt is injected into the adoptee's mind. “Maybe I’m making too much of a big deal out of this?” “Why shouldn’t I be grateful?” All to protect the ego of the adopter and placing the adoptees as a sidekick in their own story. The questions might stop, but the adoptee’s underlying emotions, insecurities, and longing never do.
It is supremely selfish for adoptive parents to avoid difficult and unique ‘growing up’ questions from their adopted children. It is exceptionally cruel to do so with the weapon of “gratitude”. All children struggle with fears of abandonment. However, unlike children who remain with their biological parents, an adoptee’s abandonment is not merely an extension of separation anxiety; an imagined terror. It is a lived memory; an open wound given and formed by trauma that never fully heals. A wound with dimensions and form expressed in wisps of sights, smells, sounds and touches. Or from their lack.
From those with no direct or even indirect experience with adoption, let alone transracial adoption, the mistake of gratitude is understandable, though still hurtful. In adoptive parents, it is cruel though maybe not unusual (which magnifies its cruelty).
I ask this of adoptive parents of both young children and those that are grown. Listen. It is never too late or early to have an open and honest conversation. Listen to them. Resist the urge to respond. Resist the urge to become defensive. I know this will be hard, but it is the right thing to do. It is also hard for your adopted child(ren). They don’t want to hurt you, I promise. They just want to be heard. Listen.