Friday, October 8, 2010

Attitude of Gratitude

In this post I said I am also concerned with the phrase, "You should be grateful."  However I didn't feel like a brief paragraph would do it justice so I would give it its own post.  This is that post.  

After further discussion with my husband on what he meant about me taking this too seriously, it turns out he meant it didn't appear I believed the "taboo" phrases had different levels of impact depending on the phrase, intent, frequency, and who says them and how.   I do see different degrees of impact.  After reading just a small sampling of adult adoptees' writings, this phrase "You should be grateful" and similar content phrases like "Aren't you thankful your parents..." and "Your parents are saints to adopt" appears to have a pretty strong negative impact on an adopted child.  I am trying to understand why so I can help counter the impact in my future daughter.

I think one of the reasons is that this phrase isn't just said in passing at the zoo, it comes at some adoptees (can someone tell me if adoptee is the wrong word to use?  Spell check keeps telling me it isn't a word) from three distinct sources over and over throughout their lives.  For some it comes from parents, other people, and from inside the adoptee himself/herself.

Now it is obvious to me why that coming from the child's parents would have a grave impact.  Yet it is said and done even now.  I do not know personally anyone who would have this attitude, but it is the reason I am so twitchy about the whole idea of Christians rescuing orphans in response to God's heart for the fatherless.  Of course if our motivation is to rescue a child, then the natural response we would expect would be one of gratitude.  Children are not naturally grateful.  How can any child be happy with the heavy burden of gratitude for being adopted on their shoulders?  Let's not forget that having to being grateful for adoption leads to the confusing idea that it is not acceptable to be sad to lose your first parents, original culture and country.

Now I don't want anyone to think I find it acceptable for children to whine about everything in their lives with no correction.  When dad cooks dinner and cleans the kitchen all of my children are reminded to be thankful for all we have even if it isn't our favorite meal.  I think this will be a tricky balance, one I still have 2 years to perfect.  However, I think the main thing will to not tell my child she should be grateful to us because of all the paperwork, money and time that we did to bring her home.  Really it isn't any different than not telling my biological children that they should be grateful for the nine months I carried them, the hours of labor that resulted in C-section scars anyway, and the caffeine I resisted while nursing them (which honestly was much harder than any homestudy).  Regardless of how we grew our family, we did not grow it by any of our children for gratitude; we chose to go through all we did because we WANTED this child and already LOVED them before we knew them--each one of them.   According to TV Sitcoms all moms do talk to their bio children about how many hours of labor they had and how that means the child should do what the mom wants, and while it is funny on TV, it is actually manipulation and it uses guilt to generate good behavior--not really the best parenting techniques for bio or adopted children in my opinion.

The second source of pressure to be grateful is other people.  If it is family and close family friends saying things like, "Where is your gratitude?" or "Isn't incredible what your parents did to bring you home; you should be thankful" then I would assume it would have similar weight with the child as if the parents had said it themselves.  Particularly if the parent hears these words and does not correct the speaker.  I am 100% sure none of my family or friends has this attitude or would even consider saying it to my child.  After all, if they did think this way it would have come out already in our conversations about adoption in the past 5 years.

However, according to other adoptive parents, blogs, and books random people also feel comfortable speaking these words and similar to children.  Even "you are so lucky" can be internalized to mean you should express gratitude to your parents.  As I don't yet have a child by adoption, I don't know how frequently this will happen to my child.  I fear I can be quite intimidating and people almost never do things to me that other moms find offensive--like touching my belly or telling me horror birth experiences when I was pregnant.  Perhaps this will be an advantage to my child as we navigate through life together.  So far the closest anyone has come to expressing such thoughts to me is saying "That is so Great!" when I tell them we are adopting.  I have always assumed they meant "Congratulations on your next child!" as they would if I said I was pregnant.  I will certainly address such phrases when I am with my daughter, but I confess I will be more surprised than offended when they do occur.

Thirdly, children can and do put pressure on themselves because of the very nature of being a child, because they do not understand everything, but need everything to make sense.  Also, no matter how vigilant I am, one unchecked comment, one movie not discussed, or one idea not articulated can lead to my child internalizing the burden of gratitude no matter what I say to the contrary.  This post that I found on my favorite Tonggu Mama's Sunday Linkage goes into this idea much more deeply than my brain can actually stretch to understand.  I have read this post 4 times now, and since I have not read most of her other posts, and I do not know her personally, I do not claim to understand exactly what she means or is trying to say, but this is what I hear: "Society, because of its understanding of adoption, will teach my child that she must be grateful; that she will feel the burden of gratitude no matter what I say."

I do not accept that my child has to feel this pressure and has to grow up struggling to be perfect to express her gratitude.  There must be something I can say, some way to communicate that she is loved for who she is past and present because she is my daughter and I love all my children solely because they are my children.  This quote from the blog has been haunting me since I read it: 

"My adoptive mother saves my lifeI feel I owe her my life on the basis of me having needed to be saved. I am reminded by others how I should be grateful I didn’t rot in an orphanage, or tossed onto the streets, or even aborted since a completely stranger took it upon herself to do what my own mother could/would not, regardless of the context.
Hypothetically, my biological mother saves my life instead – I expect her to do so. It’s not something people “offer” to her; she is expected to do that because I am her biologically conceived child. Thus, if she saves my life, I am not told to be grateful because she is my mother and that is what mothers do, they sacrifice everything for their child."

She goes on to explain how she was a stranger's child and "They had no obligation to save my life.  No one expected them to save me if they didn’t want to, because at that point, I was still my mother’s child. I was still someone else’s baby. They didn’t have to save me unless they wanted to adopt me."  For this reason she is grateful to her adoptive parents.  I am not making assumptions on how this statement affected the author or her relationship with her parents--adopted and biological, but it haunts me when I apply it to my daughter.

Now don't get me wrong, I hope when my children are adults and have children of their own they are grateful for the sacrifices I made for them because it is my job as their parent.  I want them to forgive my imperfections and shortcomings and focus on the good--the love, the laughter, and the fun--so we can continue as a family.  However, I do not want any of them to spend their childhood trying to repay some debt they feel they "owe" me.  How do I communicate this message to my daughter with the world, society, and her own understanding of adoption teaching her differently? 

As a pre-adoptive mom, I KNOW intellectually that the little girl in China that I will eventually parent is someone else's daughter but in my HEART she is already mine--not because I am entitled to her or China owes me something, but because she will someday be MY daughter in MY home.  I am her mother now and in the future.

The best analogy I can come up with to explain this comes from God.  Please do not take this to mean I believe my adoption of a child is the same as God's adoption of me; nor do I believe my love for my future daughter is as strong or as pure as God's love for my daughter and me.  The correlation I am trying to make is in regards to the timing.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 

Before we belonged to Him, before we accepted His salvation, before we were adopted into His family, God loved us so much that He sent His only begotten son to be the Propitiation for our sins.  He did this knowing not all would accept it, but He did it willingly.  Christ suffered for our sins "for the joy set before Him"-- the joy of having us join His family.  

Now homestudies and fingerprints are NOT at all comparable to Christ suffering on the cross, but the timing is similar.  Before we knew Him, God loved us.  His motivation was love for us even though we still belonged to another.  My motivation is love, not for a stranger's child, but for my future child whomever she may be.  I pray for her and her family (perhaps leading to one or more of my potential daughters to stay with her first family), and I do everything I need to in order to eventually bring her home.  I do this with the same Maternal Obligation that made me choke down horse sized prenatal vitamins before my four pregnancies.

I do not know how to communicate this concept clearer than that, and yet my child may still not understand.  It is complicated ideas even for an adult.  Yet I so want my child to know that I did everything for her before I knew her because I love her, not to be painted as some hero for rescuing her.  I do not want gratitude or to be repaid.  That is not how family works, and in the end that is what we will be--Family.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for linking me...

"Yet I so want my child to know that I did everything for her before I knew her because I love her, not to be painted as some hero for rescuing her. I do not want gratitude or to be repaid."

The problem with adoption is that it is based on the foundation that a child needs to be saved.

Anonymous said...

You made a vague reference to the possibility that this "be grateful" message may have been reflective on the relationships I have with both of my families.

This post might interest you: