Attribution or Bias

"To know the true reality of yourself, you must be aware not only of your conscious thoughts, but also of your unconscious prejudices, bias and habits.”" – Unknown

Let’s talk fundamental attribution again. But let’s flip the triad house. Consider fundamental attribution in adoptive parents. I am going to use a friend as an example. I have changed her name a few minor details to protect her identity.

Zenia (not her real name) purchased and adopted her children from the Kurtz network of agencies. Both her children are in reunion with their first families. Zenia is by all accounts a very open, progressive, supportive adoptive mom. (She really is). Zenia contacts me now and then, maybe once or twice a year when she encounters something new or disturbing or something she is not sure she is equipped to handle. We usually chat for a bit. I get caught up on her kids reunions, their lives, and those of their first families. I refer Zenia to new sources or books that might help her or her family. It is generally a very pleasant interaction. I like her. She is a great woman. She is trying to do the best for her children and be as supportive as she can be.

The one thread that continually irritates me in all my conversations with Zenia is her need to continually reinforce to me how her children’s mothers did the best thing, the right thing. She will go on and on for hours and tell me all about the wretched family her daughters mothers grew up with. She will talk quite rudely in fact about natural family members, trailer parks, and poverty. I am frequently shocked at the level of detail she will go into with me. The more Zenia talks to me the more she embellishes and paints a really nasty picture of Zenia’s children’s first family. (She often gets so caught up in this she forgets that I am one of "those" women she is talking about.) Zenia talks fervently not only about situational factors (the trailer park, the poor family) but dispositional (immaturity, loose morals, "running around").

Why is this?

How could Zenia possibly know the things she claims? How can she possibly know that her daughter’s first mom could never have made it and even better that she is really skippity do happy that she gave her up and that Zenia adopted her. Zenia has not had much contact with her daughter’s first mother. They have met, they have spoken civilly and shared pictures. Zenia’s feeling (rightly so) is that since her adopted daughter is in her mid-20s Zenia has little to no place in that relationship. She supports her daughter by being interested and asking questions but she doesn’t push or interfere or feel threatened by it.

Yet Zenia must regularly comment (at least to me a few times a year) how her daughters mother made bad choices, was too poor to be a decent mother, was not pressured, was happy she gave her child away (yes, she uses the word happy).  Zenia tells me first mom did the right thing. She has even gone so far as to tell me it is clear that her adopted children were far better off with her than they ever would have been with their first mothers.  She overemphasizes ALOT.

Why does she do this? Is this FAE or bias or something else?

This is, to me, Zenia’s part of the fundamental attribution. She feels a need to routinely reinforce and over emphasize her daughters’ mother’s life and choice – even though she was not there to witness them. She needs to make their first moms into the "Other".

My suspicion in Zenia’s case is that she feels badly that her gain, her pleasure, came on the backs of not one but two resource less women. Rather than just admit the truth of how and why she obtained her children, she needs to routinely push her daughters mother down and herself up. This maintains the balance. It is rather like a zero sum game.

My additional suspicion (or hope?) is that in some part of her heart, Zenia knows that separating mother and child is wrong. Zenia knows those mothers should have kept their children. She knows they were good women who should have been helped by family or society to keep their child. She knows this even more now that she has met them, met me, and learned what adoption is really all about – particularly with the Kurtz network. Zenia feels badly that the way she helped them was to help herself to their children to meet her own unfulfilled dreams and desires. Zenia justifies this by reciting all adoption propaganda about the right thing, the best thing, the only thing and for the cherry on the craptastic adoption sundae she throws in all the nastiness about the mothers’ perceived bad life (at that time!) and bad choices. No one wins and no one loses. The world is balanced. It is all good. Zero sum. Right?

Ermmm, I don’t know.

I haven’t delved into these waters with Zenia to any degree. I mention stuff now and then and she gets defensive and angry at me. Her standard defense is "Well, her situation was not like yours Suz." As if my situation and circumstances somehow dictate that I am entitled to empathy but another mother not sent away and pressured is not?

I understand. I do.  I still have hope for her.

What I hope for my friend Zenia in the future is that she can admit she was also used. I hope she can someday see that the agency saw her vulnerability, her lust for a child she could not conceive on her own, and her husbands’ heavy wallet. I hope Zenia can some day cease her need to defend herself and her actions by putting down her children’s first mother.

It is very painful to admit that something you thought was right and good was indeed horribly wrong. Even more difficult to admit you were used and that in being used you hurt a child and/or that child’s mother. Sure, you may have also helped them but you still hurt them and no decent parent wants to hurt their child and by extension their natural family. At least I like to believe so.

Even still positive and negative always equals a negative right?

At the very least it equals zero.

7 Thoughts.

  1. Justification, pure and simple, IMHO. How you sit through those conversations, I don’t know. I guess because you still have hope for her.

  2. Wrong or right isn’t the point with me, I think it’s demeaning to the daughter to be making comparisons and coming up with a negative judgement. Let’s not forget Charley Chaplin came from a very poor backround.

  3. We have all had the experience of people forgetting, even though they know our stories, that we are the women they are talking about. We (the teachers, lawyers, CEO’s, their seemingly together friends)are the people they want to believe were all 16 year old troubled, slightly slutty girls with ripped fishnet stockings.
    It is very hard for them to compute.
    If you want to believe you are a rescuer you have to believe there was something to be rescued from.

  4. Kris – Also an excellent point!
    If you want to believe you are a rescuer you have to believe there was something to be rescued from.

  5. “It is very painful to admit that something you thought was right and good was indeed horribly wrong.”
    Yes, and those APs who let themselves go to this thought, embrace it even, will react differently. Some will withdraw from all adoption dialog and issues, and pretend it doesn’t exist; some will do what Zenia does, and look for justification; others will spring to action and try to put the situation right (I’m thinking of Rick Boas).
    I’m wondering more and more if APs, and this includes me, should just shut up altogether. There’s so much hypocrisy in speaking out for first mothers and fathers when you have their children, at least it feels more and more that way to me.
    *sigh* I don’t know.

  6. I’m wondering more and more if APs, and this includes me, should just shut up altogether. There’s so much hypocrisy in speaking out for first mothers and fathers when you have their children, at least it feels more and more that way to me.
    What Margie said.
    I don’t know anymore either. I just don’t know.
    It’s so very complicated. It’s so very hard when you think of your part in all of this, albeit not knowing at the time, and in all truth, not doing anything different now because that would be disrespecting your family and your child’s place in it. You know? It’s just all so very complicated.
    One thing I would never ever do though is disrespect Nate’s mother.
    I have to hand it to you also, Suz, as to how you get through those conversations with her. Wow.

  7. this sounds all too familiar. by dehumanizing the mother they feel less guilty about doing something so very unnatural.i resent adopters speaking this way.
    speaking from personal experience, this hurts me to the core. we are so much more then welfare mothers or trailer park trash.
    we’re human.

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