As an adoptee, I grew up hearing “Aren’t you lucky, to have been adopted!” As if I was some second class citizen allowed to sit in first class just to see how the other half lived, but only to visit. Now let me be clear, it wasn’t my parents doing this, they didn’t drone about how lucky “we” were to be adopted by them. But it was other people. As a kid, I don’t know how my parents reacted to that statement; politely, I’m sure, and probably the same when they heard what “saints” they were for adopting children. I hated it. Lucky? Lucky to be born to a teenage mom, who was herself outcast by society because she got pregnant, so by default I was an outcast, discarded by an entire society, rejected the second I became? Lucky because I spent the first part of my life in a hospital, both birth mother and I nearly dying during my premature birth, so that when I was released, I was no longer a newborn? Lucky because ‘nobody’ wanted the toddler in foster care, they only wanted healthy newborns, as they dug through the piles of “nos”, finally hitting on a farm couple that didn’t care that I wasn’t a fresh newborn and said yes? Lucky because I was a reject from day one? Yep, I’m sure lucky. Thank you. (insert sarcasm font)
That sort of beginning of life never goes away. No matter how much your adopted parents love you, no matter how much they give you, no matter how much they pour into you, there will always be a loss, a great one, associated with adoption. There will always be a rejection of some kind associated with adoption, and that kind of rejection will always hurt, always make you struggle against feeling “not good enough” no matter how well you do in life. It’s not your birth parents’ fault, necessarily. It’s not your adoptive parents’ fault. It’s just a part of adoption.
So when I overhear people telling my kids how “lucky” they are that we adopted them, I shudder. Lucky? Lucky that they were born into a poor country, that their father died slowly in front of their eyes, that they spent over a year in an orphanage, fighting for food, lucky that their own relatives didn’t come forward and take them? Or how about the one whose mother filled his little body with so much alcohol and drugs before he was even born that he will never have an easy life? Lucky? Or what about the one who was rejected simply because she “would never be beautiful like her mother” because she had an extra chromosome? Lucky?
None of us are lucky in this journey. Not the kids who had losses in their lives that most adults couldn’t handle, and not the parents who have kids who have such great losses that nothing they can do will fully heal their children. Sure, there are some rainbows and unicorn stories out there of adoption, but they really are rare. So if you have one, or know of one, that’s great. But those are the exception, not the rule.
So don’t put adoptive parents on a pedestal as saints (they’re not) and don’t put adoptive kids up as second class (they’re not). Adoptive parents are parents who simply took on more than the average parent, sometimes knowingly, usually not. If you’re looking for something to say in regards to the adoption, how about “I’m so glad you have each other now!” Because that is true. Whatever past, present, or future, whatever struggles or broken dreams, they are in it together, and that’s worthy of a comment or compliment. For adoptive parents, instead of a “you’re such a saint”, how about “Hang in there! You’re doing great!” because whatever you see at that moment, be it good or bad, is just the tip of the iceberg, and I can pretty much guarantee that parent thinks they are screwing up their kids and doing everything wrong as parents. If the kids are behaving, you caught them at a good moment, if they’re not, you caught them at a bad moment, don’t judge their parenting skills based on that moment. Just smile and offer support.
And to my parents, thank you for not making me feel like I should be exceptionally grateful to you for adopting me, but that I and my siblings were just like any other kids, we just happened to also be adopted. We weren’t second hand or rejects, we were just us.