In her June 25 post, Mrs. Broccoli Guy posed the following two questions (relative to adoption, of course):
Does a parent’s love make up for the loss of everything else?
Can you love the people your child was born to?
Thoughts immediately started swirling in my head and I clicked to leave a comment on her post when I realized, whoa nellie, I’ve never been one to make a long story short. So I thought it might be better if I just posted my thoughts over here rather than overrun her blog with my comments. Now, let’s see if I can get something coherent out.
I’ll tackle the first question first: Does a parent’s love make up for the loss of everything else?
There is no easy answer to that question because there are too many variables: age of child at relinquishment/abandonment, age of child at adoption, circumstances surrounding the relinquishment/abandonment, treatment and care of the child between relinquishment/abandonment and placement with family, etc., etc. and, perhaps most importantly, the child’s individual personality.
However, having said there is no easy answer, I would say that usually, for the most part, though perhaps not entirely, the answer is: yes.
Also, before going further, I need to acknowledge that my thoughts speak pretty exclusively to infant/toddler adoption (not older child adoption) because: a. that is what I have experience with, and b. most adoptions involve infants and toddlers.
O.K., back on track . . . yadda yadda . . . the answer is: yes.
To answer this question I think we first have to ask ourselves, “What is everything else?” Assuming our adopted children have lost it, what is it? As I see it the answer is primarily, though not exclusively, twofold. They have lost the opportunity to be raised by blood relatives and they have lost the opportunity to be raised in their birth culture.
I think I’d like to talk about birth culture first. My son was born in South Korea. He has been in the United States since he was nine months old. As the adoption community at large would have me believe, he has lost his birth culture; but I question that. And here is why: can you really lose something you never had to begin with?
As a nine-month-old he never really had the opportunity to become fully entrenched in his birth culture. Of course coming here to the U.S. was a shock since everyone looked different, everyone sounded different, everything smelled different, and everything tasted different than what he was used to. However, as far as true Korean culture — the holidays, the morals, the mores, the entertainment, the music, the fashions, the food, the ins and outs of interpersonal relationships, the traditional garb — he wasn’t old enough to have ever really had it. So did he lose it? No. He lost the opportunity to be raised with it.
While I don’t believe in the tabula rasa theory of human development, I also don’t believe that culture is hard-wired in at birth. So, just as my son lost the opportunity to be raised with South Korean culture by virtue of his adoption, I lost the opportunity to be raised with South Korean culture just by virtue of the fact that I was born in the U.S.
Can a parent’s love make up for the loss of birth culture? I’d say absolutely. I say this because I don’t believe it is a loss unless: a. we encourage our child/ren to think of it as such or b. a child, for whatever reason (and I’m not saying this is bad or wrong), romanticizes his/her birth culture and internalizes the feeling of having missed out on something that would supposedly have made his/her life better. Again, I’m not saying they don’t miss out on their birth culture. I’m just saying Tank Boy hasn’t lost South Korean culture any more than I have.
Now, some may be having a difficult time with my choice of the word “romanticizes.” Even I am a bit, but it’s the best word to say what I’m thinking because, truth be told, every culture has a dark side. For many, if not most, of our internationally adopted children, part of their birth culture’s dark side is that they would not/could not have been well cared for if they had stayed there. I’m not saying this should be our focus as we teach them about where they came from, I’m just saying it’s part of the package.
And I’m not saying we don’t/won’t learn about South Korea and teach Tank Boy about it. I’m just saying we’re not going to be all, “Oh, poor Tank Boy. We’re so sorry you lost all of this.”
I keep wondering what all the fuss is over the loss of birth culture, and, as best I can tell, it is mostly because our children look different from us and many of the people around us, so we are supposed to somehow make up for that. Teaching them about their birth culture teaches them about other people who look like they look. This is good, but it should not be a means of indoctrinating self-pity or loss.
Now the question extends on to the loss of birth family. Can a parent’s love make up for this loss? Again, I say yes. I have to assume that the adopted child, as s/he gets older, will always wonder about the birth family: What kind of people are my birth parents? Do I have any siblings? Where are they now? What are they doing? Do they think of me? (That is my assumption because, knowing myself as I do, I know I would be wondering these things had I been adopted); but having those questions does not mean pain and loss must be a forgone conclusion.
Having talked with and gotten to know several adult adoptees, I have seen first hand that being loved by their parents, their adoptive parents, is enough. They don’t feel a sense of profound loss. They don’t feel they were cheated. These friends have families, they have parents who love them, they have friends, they have happy, fulfilling lives, and they wonder, aghast, at the idea that anyone would think they should feel hurt or loss over it. They love and they are loved, and, really, what more can we want for our children?
I realize this is not how all adult adoptees feel. Individual personalities, I believe, will play a big part in determining how an adoptee will feel about the fact s/he was adopted. I also believe individual family cultures will play a big part in this.
So, “Does a parent’s love make up for the loss of everything else?” Well, perhaps my “yes” would be more appropriate if the question were, “Can a parent’s love make up for the loss of everything else.” Does it? There are no guarantees. Can it? Absolutely.
These losses we seem to discuss most frequently are losses of opportunity. To me a bigger loss is the loss of security a child, even an infant, must feel after being shipped around with no consistent primary care giver. I guess it’s because we feel we have pretty concrete answers for this one: meet the needs, wear the baby, respond when they cry, make eye contact, bond, bond, bond. Again, it is love that overcomes this loss; and if this very tangible loss can be overcome by love, then why not losses of opportunity?
Can you love the people your child was born to?
That is a question for another post. See, I told you I can’t make a long story short; but I do have a genetic predisposition for making a short story long.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.