If You're Happy and You Know It…

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." – The Dalai Lama

One of the wisest things my friend K, an adoptee, ever said to me was that I should never expect my daughter and/or our reunion to “fix” me. K further went on to state that my healing was my responsibility and not that of my daughters.

I never really thought or felt that it was my daughters “job” to “fix” me or even that reunion would make it all better. It doesn’t. It can’t. You can never get back what was lost. Reunion doesn’t lessen the loss – it changes it.

Having K say that to me in the way she did really touched me. She was very right and very wise for her young years.

I have kept that thought and K’s voice in mind throughout the two years of my cyber reunion with my daughter.

I work hard at keeping my “crap” out of the relationship with my daughter. I don’t want her burdened with my pain. She is not responsible for my happiness. Sure, she contributes to it inadvertently but it is not her job to fix me. She is not on this earth to make my life better. She is here to experience her own life. My job as her mother – to the extent she allows me – is to help her make that life as fullfing, rewarding and happy as possible. She is not responsible for my emotions.

I write and another valuable adoptee taught lesson comes to mind.

That is, adoptees often feel responsible for their adoptive mothers happiness. Why wouldn’t they? They were adopted to make her happy right? To make a broken woman feel whole? To help her pursue her believed destiny of being a mother? They were the solution to the infertility problem? The human Band-Aid?

I also hear that when some adoptees talk with their adoptive parents about search, first families, the adoptive mothers will cry, invalidate and make the adoptee feel badly for feeling what they feel.

If by any stretch my daughter ever felt this, I would NEVER want to compound it.

Children, in my opinion, are never responsible for their parents or their parents feelings. I realize in many families that gets messed up and the children end up being the parents or parenting the parents.  Even worse, the children’s needs are neglected and they must parent themselves.

Again, a lesson learned from my own childhood helps me. I always felt burdened by my mother. She had a bad marriage, and overwhelming life trying to raise four children, working full time, manage a gross lack of funds, and an alcoholic husband. She often and I mean OFTEN said her kids were her only source of happiness.

Guh. I hated hearing that. I hated being the only thing in my mother’s life that made her happy. I simply did not want the burden. I wanted to be a kid. Good, bad, make mistakes, learn, cry, be angry, be a normal kid. But I always felt like I had to be superdeeduper good because if I wasn’t, Mom would be sad. (Interestingly, I was the child that was the most difficult for my mother to handle).

This lead to me keeping things from her and never sharing my feelings. She couldn’t handle them. They might make her cry. They might make her sad. She had enough sadness and tears in her life. I wasn’t going to contribute to it.

But what about me? What about my very valid normal childhood feelings? What did I do with those if I could not talk to my mom about them?

Flip that very personal situation into an adoptee – possibly my daughter. What if she feels responsible for her amoms feelings? What if she feels she must be PERFECT so the broken woman can be kept happy? What if she feels she can NEVER share her feelings with people because they will cry or be sad? What if she feels she must perform spectacularly in all areas so she can prove she was worth the purchase price?

I have no idea if this is true at all. However, I realize it’s possible and as such its something I must be sensitive too.

She is not responsible for me.

I am.

15 Thoughts.

  1. I’m an adoptive mother whose grown child is in reunion with his first mother. I am happy about it, peaceful about it, believe it was a good thing to happen (and I’m still just as much his mom as ever). Your fear of how your daughter’s amom might have expectations and pressure on her is exactly the fear that I had as an adoptive mother. I was so afraid that my son’s first mother would be needy, emotional with a ton of expectations placed on him to fix her. Unfortunately I’ve seen that scenario played out in other reunions that I’ve watched. Fortunately it has not happened in my son’s reunion. His first mother is a smart and together woman who I admire deeply and I had to eat lots of crow for my fears. I don’t know how to say this without offending you, which is what I do not want to do, but your depiction of adoptive moms as broken and having purchased a child is offensive and if your child’s adoptive mother read that, it would possibly put up a wall between you and woman who you might even find you like. This simply is not true of many of us and should not be an accusation until the truth is learned. My infertility was a blip on the page of life. It did not affect me all that much and certainly did not make me place expectations on my children. They were regular kids who were not adopted to fix anyone or behave a certain way. They were allowed to be themselves and they certainly did not act good all the time to make mama happy. Oh, definitely not (said with a laugh!). I believe you have a view of these weepy broken women who tearfully adopt other women’s children to make them happy. Then again adoptive mothers have negative views of first mothers too and that’s why there can be so much strife for adoptees. I firmly believe that both adoptive mother and first mother need to embrace each other and respect each other as an equal mother for reunion to be the best it can for the adoptee. I hope you are okay with my long comment. I would give your daughter’s adoptive parents a chance. They might not be as bad as you expect them to be. And if it turns out that they are, you can at least know that you went in with an open mind and heart (and then I’d feel free to say all the bad things you want about them!!)

  2. Meredith – A few points:
    I have NO idea about my daughters adoptive mother. Obviously. When I write certain posts, they are done metaphorically. In addition, there is a great deal I DO know (that you dont) that I dont write to protect the innocents. So, please trust me to know myself, my daughter and her situation better than you.
    I completely agree that not all adoptive mothers are weepy and broken. Out of the hundreds that I have met in meetings, read about in books, met in blogs, I know THREE that are truly wonderful and well adapted to their situations. Sadly, they are the exception (as it would seem you are) rather than the rule.
    For the sake of our children, would really like to see more than three or four.
    Finally, my daughter was indeed bought. You might want to check out babybrokerwatch.com for additional information. Again, there is information, details that you do not know. I would caution you, as you caution me, not to make assumptions.
    You know what they say about assumptions…

  3. SUZ SUZ SUZ!!! I can’t believe we’re touching on the same topic from two sides of the triad. Sheesh. As for Meredith…WHAT??? Sure, not all adoptive parents are emotionally needy and some are empathetic and lovely, but for many of us adoptees, those kinds of adoptive parents you think don’t exist DO. That WAS my mother. That IS my father. I do not exist in their lives as a real person but as someone who exists for THEM. When my dad did not have dementia and I was telling him about a scary biopsy I needed he said, “What happens if you die? Who’s going to look after me? You’re all I’ve got.” No kidding. No exaggeration. Suz, what you wrote is NOT offensive. It’s the truth, dammit.

  4. Hi Suz,
    This was all very true of my a-mum.
    Although she had already had 2 of her own kids before I came along – one year after my birth, my a-dad died in a helicopter crash – and from that day forth – I became the person in the family to make everyone smile – to make everyone happy.
    I always knew this deep in my heart – but it was confirmed to me last year when an aunt passed on letters to me which my mother wrote around the time of a-dads death – saying that – no, it wasn’t a mistake that they had adopted me (perhaps there was some family in-fighting about it all???) and that I was the only joy in her life to keep her smiling and getting up each day. (my brother and sister were off thousands of miles away at boarding school) So – my place in the family was firmly fixed. When I later tried to ask questions about my first mother – I DID get the tears and the sad looks – and even told that when I asked too many questions – it hurt her feelings.
    Crikey – so much guilt laid on me from such a young age.
    No wonder I’m screwed up.
    I don’t think for a minute that she ever meant to hurt me – but she just didn’t know any better.
    That’s why posts like this are SO VERY IMPORTANT – in the hope that just maybe a few a-mums will be more in touch with what messages they convey to their a-kids.
    Just my 2-cents worth.
    Thanks – sorry for the rant.
    Hugs, C. xx

  5. Chez and Nina – I am glad I was able to validate your experience. As I say so often, you teach me a great deal when you share yours and you make me a better mother in reunion. So thank you.

  6. I know I carry this burden of responsibility on myself, always so afraid of hurting my mother’s feelings. She tried to support me, but she was just too insecure to answer anything other than the most basic of questions. She also had a very large extended family who radiated tons of disapproval at anything I would say outside the accepted party lines of the happy happy adoptee.
    This is such an important post, and touches on something so large and amazing – how much we all learn from each other by reading.

  7. Oh Nina, please read my comment over again. I know adoptive parents like that exist and I did not say otherwise. I just don’t think it should be assumed that they are by the first mother until proof is found (I didn’t realize at the time that Suz already knew much about them). I’ve met all kinds of adoptive parents and first parents. Some nice and some not very nice, to say the least – frankly, lots of scary folks on both sides. One of my points was that no parents should be emotionally needy to the adoptee. Not the adoptive parents, and also not the first parents who may be desperate for reunion. I know my son’s first mother was desperate to have him in her life. She did an excellent job in not letting that affect him however. I should probably blog about my experience with this. My firm belief is that adoptive parents and first parents must respect each other as equal parents as a first step towards creating a healthy and wonderful reunion for an adoptee. If one party hates another party, that is felt by the adoptee and can only hurt them. I believe reunion is about the adoptee first.

  8. I agree with Meredith that the adopted parents may not be what you are believing. I am adopted and I am also an adopted mom. I don’t think it’s fair to say that adoptees “often feel responsible for their adoptive mothers happiness” or we are to “make a broken woman feel whole”” To help her pursue her believed destiny of being a mother” A “solution to the infertility problem” That really hurts because it takes away from who I am and who my daughter is—we are both much more than that. We are loved…beyond words. Neither of us are a “solution to a problem”. I realize you speak out of your pain and loss. But don’t assume that your child is not loved beyond measure.

  9. A very good post and dialogue Suz. There are a lot of good points made in your post and the comments to think about. I agree with you that children should not be responsible for the emotional needs (or perhaps any needs) that the parents have. Parenting is pretty much a one-way street with parents receiving satisfaction in meeting their child’s needs.
    For the adoptee, life gets pretty complicated – so it would seem to me. Kids, by nature, seek the approval of their parents. When you are dealing with two sets of parents, how do you please one without causing pain to another? It would be like walking on eggshells to me unless there was some healthy dialogue going on between all parties – especially involving the adoptee. For all, it could be like walking into a mine field. I am glad that some reunions turn out as well as they do, but sounds like many do not (perhaps the majority?). I wonder what the research, if any, has shown on this.

  10. Petunia – How very wonderful for you and Meredith. Again, sadly, you are the exception, not the rule. As the adoptees here have noted, this does happen and it happens often. I will not invaliate them or ignore them simple because two of have had the happy adoptee experience.

  11. The most important adoptee to focus on is the one in your life: your daughter. What was her experience? What are her feelings? Give her permission to be happy with how her life has been, even if that feels like it invalidates your terrible experience. I like to listen to other voices and hear their experiences, but they don’t represent anyone’s experience but their own. Listen to her precious voice and let that guide you. Reunion can be a very beautiful thing when that happens.

  12. Petunia- “That really hurts because it takes away from who I am and who my daughter is–”
    How does a description of someone else’s experience take away from who you are? Unless it touches some part of who you are–
    Just looking and learning to love what I see.

  13. “They were adopted to make her happy right? To make a broken woman feel whole? To help her pursue her believed destiny of being a mother? They were the solution to the infertility problem? The human Band-Aid”
    From the adoptee perspective, perhaps yes.
    From mine, no. I simply knew that I could be a parent. Yes, I was infertile, but I wasn’t looking for another woman to fix my problem. Whether my reasoning was right or wrong, I saw that there were children in the world who needed families.
    A minor point, but for the record – infertility never made me feel broken. To me it was never more than a medical condition, one with serious consequences, but never more than that.
    Speaking only for myself here.

  14. Margie – Thanks for your comment. I believe your outlook, your views, make you the wonderful amom that you are. You think much like my friend Hiedi, also an amazing amom, and also someone who managed her own infertility very well. Makes me think that is one of the many keys/facets/answers that we seek. It seems the amoms that I know that are so wonderful worked through their infertility in very positive ways.

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