Say Wat?*

Cambodia 041

So, something that I have noticed is this:

Adopted people seem to often carry around a lot of baggage. 

Sometimes it’s obvious from childhood. There are times, though, they don’t even know it is there until they are all grown up.

I have seen this clinically and personally and throughout the blogging world. Even under the best of circumstances, with the best adoptive parents, there is a profound amount of baggage that accompanies adoption.

Who am I, really?

Where did I come from?

Why did she give me away? Didn’t she love me?

Now, let’s say it is an adoption situation where the child was adopted as a baby but the birth mother died and the father was never known. What would be the best approach? When do you tell the kiddo, who has only known you as a parent, about the death? 

It is easier in some ways to simply avoid the topic altogether, isn’t it? There is that temptation to not say a word about adoption and death, let that child go through life thinking they are 100% yours. Decades ago that might have been possible, but in the advent of DNA testing, these secrets never stay buried. I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with devastated patients about the seemingly innocuous DNA test done for fun that uncovered a few half siblings or even different parents. 

I have been thinking about this for some time. Maybe the point is not that there is a “right” way or a “right” time to have that discussion. There is no point in time that would make it all OK and would prevent subsequent life turmoil, so much as simply understanding that life sucks… sometimes it really sucks… and when you cannot make it better you just do your best to support them as they work through it all. Working through the grief and anger and abdandoment issues can be a lifelong process and that is OK.

What are your thoughts?

*This is a wat in Cambodia. A wat is a Buddist temple or monastery.


89 thoughts on “Say Wat?*

  1. This is such a tough situation. I’ve worked with one chap who was adopted and gone out with another. What struck me about both of them was the pure, incandescent hatred they had for their real mothers and neither could imagine that there might be a back story that meant the women concerned were given no other choice but to give them up for adoption. Neither had the imagination to see other scenarios except that their mothers hated them and didn’t want them. There was no dissuading them from this perspective. The only adoptees I know who seem extremely grounded are two of my cousins!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am an adoptee, and was reunited with my birth family. I resent the lies that my adoptive family told me about my birth family, and haven’t spoken with them for three years. My relationship with my birth family isn’t perfect, but we get along far better than I do with anyone in my adoptive family.

    The truth is best. Always be age-appropriate, but if a direct question is asked about the birth father / mother, then it is best to be honest. Tell all that is known, as kindly and gently as possible.

    The truth is best. Avoidance solves nothing – and can only add to the baggage that is already inadvertently carried.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. That is a hard question and I’m not really sure what the right answer would be.

    If you tell your child that’s he’s adopted, it stirs up a whole hornet nest of identity issues. If you don’t tell your child that he’s adopted and he finds out anyway, it stirs up an explosive hornet nest of trust issues on top of the identity issues.

    So, honestly, I just don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We adopted our oldest son. I had 8 miscarriages and identical twin girls that were still born. This all happened in the course of eight years. Doctors told me to give it up so we decided to adopt. it took about two years but finally we got THE CALL……we were elated. He was just one month old when he came home with us. One year later we had to go to court and everything was legal.
    We told our son he was adopted when he was about three. I then gave birth to another son when he was 2 1/2, he loved his baby brother so much.
    As he got older we spoke to him about it, or if he had any questions. It never seems to bother him, When he was a young teen we also told him if he ever wanted to find his birth parents we would be happy to help him. He told us he was not interested that we were his family and he knew we loved him. I don’t know if he ever decided to look for his biological parents, he never said anything to me. He is now in his mid 40’s and still my son. The point I am trying to make here is; tell your child from a young age, make sure you let them know how special they are and how long you waited for them to be born. You will find the right way, as each family is different.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I don’t think anyone gets through life without some baggage, and adoption adds another piece to it. My impression is that most mothers do not feel they can provide a good life for their child, usually due to being too young or poor economics. I would think that giving up a child takes great, selfless love. The exception is drug-addicted babies. These moms can’t even take care of themselves, let alone another human.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it’s always best to make it known from the beginning, while also ensuring the child is not treated differently.

    When we make something ‘taboo’ there’s no taking that back when the child finds out. It gives the tacit impression that there is something wrong with being adopted, and that there is some shame to bear.

    The people I know who were told from the beginning are a lot less troubled about it, than those who discovered the lie as teens and adults.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My wife and her brother were both adopted together. There were five of them, and we have no idea where the others are. They went through the social services method, and have no desire to find their biological parents. She cherishes her brother, but has no desire to find anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If I didn’t look so much like my siblings and my father, I’d question whether I was adopted too ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Being serious though, secrets, no matter what they are, eventually come back to haunt someone. As you said, DNA testing is readily available now and is a ticking time bomb in many households. I’m watching one play out right now with a former school mate. It’s not going to be pretty – they never are.

    I really liked Salpa58’s comment. It sounds like they got the formula right. Too bad there weren’t more happy endings like that one.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There must be studies made on the subject and my experience is limited, but the few adoptees I know seem pretty well adjusted. On instance concerned two kids adopted in Chad by a Greek engineer after a civil war there left them both orphans. He brought them home to his wife, they were from different tribes, did not speak a word of anything except their dialect and could not even communicate with each other. The girl was a baby (2 or 3) , so adjusted quickly, but the boy was six or seven, had never seen himself in a mirror, and freaked out on the plane. When they took him on holiday he went hunting barefoot and brought back snakes! To cut a long story short, they went to Greek school, the boy went on to do some kind of technical course, and the girl got into Med school. So a happy outcome, in this case. (I can’t be sure how much baggage they carry, however. Although a lot of people I know carry a lot of baggage, without being adopted…)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve known two friends who were adopted. One wants nothing to do with knowing anything about her birth parents. Sadly she was adopted into and abusive family.
    The other met her birth mother, and her birth mother wanted nothing to do with her so that broke her heart. She was also adopted into an abusive situation so abandonment issues galore for both of them. There’s definitely nothing easy about adoption.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well this is a deep subject. I had (now deceased) one female adopted cousin who was a brilliant research scientist. She worked on the cure for aids. She knew from a young age( adopted as a new born in Ft Worth, Texas) that she was adopted but I’ve no idea how old she was when she learned about her adoption. I adored her and she meshed with all the relatives of both sides of her adopted family. I was told that she never was interested in finding her birth parents but I’ve no idea if this was true or not. She could have looked for her biological parents after leaving home. She loved her adopted parents with all her heart. She was my first cousin and I never thought of her as adopted.

    I would think that adopted children must be told at a very young age and told often how much they are loved and how special they are. They should also be told that it was not possible for the birth parents to give them a loving home, etc and keep reinforcing all of this.

    I do not understand the hostility of some adopted children. It seems pointless to hold grudges but then I am not in their shoes so I suppose my opinion doesn’t matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even if they don’t want to find their birth parents, does not mean they don’t carry baggage. In fact, sometimes (though not always) it indicates more baggage. Baggage is unavoidable. The kicker is how to keep it from destroying you or them. Very interesting subject…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I sort of don’t like the word “adopt” to describe the situation where a person chooses to become the parent of a child who might not be related by blood. I feel that the word “adopt” is too simple to describe a relationship where two people will combine their lives and flourish under the best of conditions. My feelings are that being a parent whether by giving birth or by choice is pure magic though work at times; just like any relationship. I wish as a society, we didn’t make a distinction between those who parent by giving birth from those who parent by choice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Parenting can be magical no matter how one comes into it, agreed. And the word adoption seems like a trite description, yes. Kids that are adopted have a unique set of issues that other kids do not, though, and ignoring that fact can become a huge problem. I don’t think those issues are so much due to society looking down on them, either. At least not at this point in time. A lot of it is simply an inevitable extension of what it means to be parented by someone who is not your biological parent. At least this is what I am told by adoptees….

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I am preparing to go through adoption, of my grandson. He doesn’t know that the man he’s lived with since he was under a year old is not his father. His bio father has seen him one time.
    My daughter and her partner cannot handle him. For me, he’s obviously special needs, but not unmanageable.

    My environment (he’s been here right at six months) is calm, quiet, centered. We have routines, mainly because I’m now a 50+ year old single parent with a terribly demanding job. The structure is for me, so I can manage things I never thought I’d have to manage again.
    It is costing me a relationship, the questioning and possible realignment of my dreams and goals, the questioning of my ability to provide what a child needs at my own age.

    Why would he be resentful? He’s seven, and his mother is keeping his siblings from her partner. How do you even explain that to a child? He alternates between hating them, hating me and hating himself. How do you say, “It isn’t you (when part of it IS his needs)” without blaming a parent (who has severe anxiety issues of her own)? Where do you let that anger settle? On you, for choosing to take him? On them, for not ‘manning up’ to parenting? On the absent father (in and out of jail, fathering three other children along the way)? On his unique issues? That anger has to go somewhere, that feeling of rejection and unworthiness. It is heartrending to watch. Even more difficult to know what is ‘right’.

    This used to be a problem I read about, not lived. I’d never heard of the disorder before a year ago (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I knew of Autism Spectrum Disorder (renamed in the new DSM-V from Asperger’s), even knew a few people with it. This child has so many labels I’m surprised he doesn’t fall down under them. (there are more)

    How do I break the news about his ‘real’ father? How do I teach him to be a responsible, productive adult, and not a ‘victim’? How do I teach him to trust?

    I think children deserve to know the truth, but where I live, when the adoption is final, the records will be sealed and *I* will be named biological mother. What hooey. He’s old enough to know I am not his mother, although he tries on ‘mommy’ names for me from time to time.

    Infant adoptions are usually an act of selflessness or selfishness – which can be selflessness, in a way. It takes a lot to say “I am unable to do well by this little person”, no matter the reason, and live with it.

    Adoption, and the people involved, are as varied as the rest of the world. As are the long-term results and feelings.

    Ain’t nothin’ easy ๐Ÿ™‚


    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve seen it so many ways, from the sides of all three parties. It’s complicated and love doesn’t uncomplicate it, regardless of intent. The happy stories aren’t told as often, I don’t think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…love doesn’t uncomplicate it, regardless of intent.” Excellent way to put it. And, there is something about discussing the difficulty of adoption that makes people exceedingly uncomfortable. There are many adoptees that are afraid to talk about it, afraid of the judgement. “Why can’t you just be grateful?!???!?” That doesn’t mean they are all depressed or screwed up, but it does mean that the ones who need help are afraid to ask for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I know one adult who is well-adjusted, fine, had a great childhood, loves his parents, doesn’t care about his biological anyone, assumes it was all meant to be. But I only know the ONE.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a tough one. I remember my mother telling me one of my friends was adopted “but don’t tell her”. They didn’t tell in those days.
    I know so many stories, good and bad. I don’t think there’s one answer. One of my friend’s adopted Chinese daughters was amused that she was paired for Freshman year in college with another Asian girl. “I’m white, Mom,” she said. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Yes, there are so many more issues they seem to have to sort out, primarily that if abandonment or feeling unwanted even though they were adopted but there is always the niggling question of why couldn’t I have been kept. I know specifically of four different families with such issues. Three of them had to go through true hell, involving drugs, legal issues, sleepless nights, the kind you see on TV and glad it wasn’t you except in these people’s case it is them living it. They just operate day to day and continue to let time heal them . . .

    Liked by 1 person

      • The thing too is the three I know about had a nice, privileged childhood. In all cases, the acting out and terror started in early adolescent stages so the issues there include not don’t only the normal adolescent challenges, angst, etc, but they may also be magnified. You know how around that stage we all think we are adopted, so those who know they are adopted might feel even more alienated.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I totally agree that life sucks, Doc. We’re all broken people in one way or another. In my dad’s case, he found out that his mother was actually his stepmother and his 6 sisters were his stepsisters when he was 18. And I believe this was the main reason for his addiction to alcohol. (เน‘ยดโ•นโ€ธโ•น`เน‘)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Toute vรฉritรฉ n’est pas bonne ร  dire… All truths are not necessarily good to tell. I think this is a case where decisions have to be made in each individual case.
    (I was gonna say that the picture was not taken in Montmartre) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Reminds me of Pulp Fiction where Jules loses it and goes “Say what again!” in discontent with a vague explanation. Then enraged he proceeds to do what he does best: get answers and leave.

    To belong, to have a place that answers or explains how you became what you have become is important when as a person your memories and relations make you who you are. People who do not know where their roots are have to find their own roots. I do not envy them…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m an adoptive parent. We adopted Jacob in 1991 from Chile. He was 3-1/2 months old.

    Jacob seems to me unusual in that he isn’t terribly interested in much about his adoption, his country of origin, or really much of anything related to it. Throughout the years, we have tried to encourage his curiosity because it is the very question of who he is. But he is really not at all interested.

    I used to worry about the lack of curiosity. But really, that’s who Jacob is. He doesn’t get hurt easily, and cannot hold a grudge and has a very accepting attitude about what comes his way in life. When I’ve asked him about his feelings he says “you’re my parents.” He does so without resentment. Even in the worst of teenage years, he never fought us with that dreaded line “You’re not my real parents.”

    When we were preparing to adopt (a grueling process, I will add), the social worker we worked with recommended that we tell our child the story immediately and often, beginning with when we met him/brought him home. that way the parents (of an infant, certainly) get comfortable telling the story, and it becomes a part of who the child is, and who he/she becomes. Early on I felt quite silly, but I dutifully sat in the rocker holding my baby and telling him his story. My husband did the same. Soon it became routine, and I was glad I had practiced. Over the years, and even now, we talk about Jacob’s birth mother. We have a special toast to her coming up on September 20. That is John’s and my wedding anniversary (our 30th this year). But it’s also Jacob’s birth mother’s birthday. She herself chose us as Jacob’s adopted parents because she liked the symmetry. So when we celebrate our marriage, we do it together because it really is the start of our family in another important way.

    I saw this on Saturday when I was traveling and couldn’t comment then! Thanks for giving me this chance. Maybe I’ll do a post on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Love this pictures of the purple thistles… niece was adopted from India as an infant…as she grew, she was having issues dealing with the fact that someone left her, she was sent so far away from her home land…why did she look so different than everyone else, (they lived on an island in Alaska) when she became a young adult, she had the opportunity to take a trip back to her country and spend several weeks with a group of people (Church) and help the poor, and the orphanages…she came back a changed woman…her understanding of the who, what and whys of her life seemed to be answered….she is a much happier woman and I couldn’t be happier for her….I couldn’t imagine my parents not wanting to raise me, at least, now she understands the reason in India why young women give up there children, its a sign of love, as there is no way many of the young, unwed moms can feed/cloth themselves let alone a baby… my heart goes out to those who have to go through this…kathy

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: Two Toasts | FiftyFourandAHalf

  23. My boyfriend is adopted and his grief often comes from elsewhere. His questions usually is, “Why did you adopt me?” I guess sometimes he questions his origins, especially since we started a family, but I think he is not ready to face those questions yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I would like to adopt children and the more I read about the more I believe that being open and honest about the adoption as early as possible is the best course of action. I would never want my child to feel like he/she was lied to or that being adopted was a shameful secret. Granted I can’t guarantee his or her life will be perfect (no one’s is anyway right) but I can do everything within my power to show them all the love I have and more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adoption is often a much better alternative to the reality of what a child’s life would be otherwise. But being prepared for how adoption can make them feel is important. The worst situations are when adoptive parents take the abandonment issues personally or refuse to acknowledge them at all. ๐Ÿ™‚


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