Do You Know?

Trouble is part of your life, and if you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough.  ~Dinah Shore

Another mom asked me:

"How do we let our children know that their behavior is unacceptable and hurtful to us but that doesn’t mean THEY are unacceptable? Furthermore, how do we assure them that a bump in the relationship road does not mean the end of the road? How can we assure them that all relationships have problems and challenges and that just because we experience challenges with them does not mean we would ever leave them again (or that we ever wanted to in the first place)?

How do we stand firm and have self-respect in the face of children who have no respect for us due to what they believe we did to them (that is, willingly and joyfully abandoned them to the point of frolicking in a field of butterflies)?"

Um, err, I don’t know. I am trying but I am by no means sure of even my own efforts.

A case in point, last year, my daughter was rather rude to me. I was upset and I responded with a statement that asked her to please tell me her feelings, I told her she hurt my feelings. I asked her to please treat me with respect and not act like a brat (or something like that…those weren’t my exact words). I was noting her behavior and how it made me feel.

Her response to me?

"My parents never called me names".

I winced a teeny bit when I read that but I did not make it my problem. In my opinion it was a deflection. It was an attempt to take the negative attention off of her behavior and how it made me feel and put the negative behavior onto me.

I did not call her a name. I referenced a behavior. I shared how her behavior made me feel (badly) and I was attempting to bridge a gap that existed in our individual expectations. She could not possibly know something hurt me unless I was to tell her. So I did.

It did not seem to matter. She used the adoption card against me, you know the "you-are- a-shitty-mother-and-my-parents-would-never-call-me-names-so-therefore-I-was-better- off-with-them-and-not-you" dagger in the heart card.

Again, I winced but I did not recoil or retreat. I also did not lash back or get into an argument or debate. I saw the red herring for what it was. I let it go.


I am quite accustomed to deflections. My ex-husband was a master at making arguments that were rooted in his behavior somehow my fault. I am also, historically, a master at accepting blame (starts with the Scapegoat Role in an alcoholic family system). Without fail, every discussion, every argument about something he did to me that hurt me always ended up being my own fault. I caused it. I created it. I was responsible. I deserved it. If I had not done X than he would not have done Y.

Consider the following, offered for illustration purposes only, not a true account:

"Honey, why did you just hit me?"

"I did not hit you. You put your face in front of my hand and turned very suddenly"

Or even better and more specific to this post:

"Why did the agency lie to me? Why did my parents sign that promissory note and later the agency threaten me with it?"

"Because you got pregnant out of wedlock by a boy you loved with all your heart"


Seriously, I am not kidding. People think and actually say those things.

But I digress.

The only suggestion that I have in reunion is to focus on behavior and to use "I" statements. Many adoptees have serious abandonment issues. Mothers do to. Before we abandoned our children, we were abandoned by our family, our churches, our boyfriends. Our children were abandoned by us after we were abandoned by everyone. We spend years trying to find them and when we do, we are terrified we will lose them again.

The slightest hint of an argument, of someone being mad, is likely to trigger that "ut-oh feeling". You know, that feeling that says "Mom is going to leave me again" or that "OMFG, I cannot lose my child again. This time I will surely kill myself".

I can honestly say I would never ever leave my daughter again no matter what she did or said to me. HOWEVER, that does not mean I would just accept poor, hurtful, disrespectful behavior.

How do we walk that fine line between understanding and love and not allowing ourselves to be abused by our children? How do we allow them their very justifiable anger and adoption related trauma and not make it ours or allow ourselves to be used as the whipping post? How do we avoid the likelihood of creating a very dysfunctional relationship?

I don’t know. I am struggling with it myself.

It is very difficult since many mothers in general were abused and disregarded and brainwashed into believing we deserved to be treated poorly. We deserve to be punished. Desperate to keep our children near coupled with a tendency to allow others to abuse us, is a perfect recipe (in my opinion) for an incredibly painful reunion relationship – at least for mothers. We could easily allow our children to stomp all over us out of fear that not allowing that will cause us to lose them again.

How do we manage this? How can we navigate murky waters filled with emotional land mines while retaining the hope and confidence that we will not be left or lost again?

5 Thoughts.

  1. It is best to stick to facts (and to bite your tongue when you want to say something more!)
    If he did something that really upset me, I would simply say “how would you feel if someone did that to you?” – it throws the ball back in their court without insults flying. It usually works.
    Or I would say if something upset me and why, which he listened to and then he understood why it upset me. That seems to work too. People don’t always understand – or sometimes they push the limits to see how far they can go.
    It is working on boundaries which are not always easy to define and can make things very difficult.
    Our reunion is 4 and half years old now – it seems to be going well. I think we know where the boundaries are and things seem to be good. He is calling me on Sat from Canada
    (I live in the UK). I know I am one of the lucky ones. I hope things eventually work out for you too.

  2. Solid points. That’s communication advice for every relationship negotiation. If there is any chance at a relationship being established and nurtured, the talk has got to be about the behavior and not the people. In very rare cases, I’ve run into people who ARE their behavior all the way through. i.e. people who’ve stewed in bitterness so long that they truly are bitter to the core. But that’s not most folks.
    But it makes me wonder, should we do the same for good behavior. Just curious, but your article made me think about the fact that when someone does something “good,” my tendency is to attribute that directly to them. Whereas, when they do something “bad” I consciously move that off and associate it with the behavior.
    Something tells me it would be helpful to put all behavior out there on the outer surface of identity. Maybe that gets me closer to loving unconditionally.

  3. Thanks for this post, Suz. I need all I can get on this topic right now.
    I know the “uh-oh” feeling well. It occurs in many of my relationships. Often worried that I have offended, am at fault, will lose someone’s love.
    The potential for abuse exists in parent-child relationships where there is no adoption. But for us, I think, the bond is so fragile, and as you say full of emotional land mines, that even the smallest comment or unkindness sends us into a spin.

  4. I to am dealing with the same issue. A reunion of very long standing – almost 20 years goes off the rails. And remains off a couple of years later.
    Everything is an issue in any attempt at communication. And the issues shift continually. I know that is because they are not the real issues.
    In the last very lengthy email there was a negative comparison between me and the adoptive parents. And a demand that I answer a series of questions.
    The emails have been nasty and abusive and I am refusing to take part because everything I say is twisted or questioned as untrue.
    After our lengthy and largely positive reunion I feel like I am dealing with someone I do not know at all and who bears me absolutely no good will.
    I think the speculation about abandonment is pretty close. But it is the elephant in the room.
    Adoption – the gift that just keeps on giving.

  5. I am living this right now. My son and I have been reunited for 8 years. the first few were honeymoon…a few hard conversations….but ok…but we also didn’t talk a whole lot. Then…long story…but he became very verbally abusive to me. So angry and so much venom and so much lack of boundaries. I let all my boundaries go because I felt I deserved to be treated this way because I had done harm to him and caused him to feel rejected. So after accepting all of the blame for every problem in life that he has…and after being told for the upteenth time to…ffffin….etc…every swear where you could scream at me and shoving his finger in my face and screaming at me to get out of his life forever and that he never wanted to see me again…I finally took him up on his offer. I have vacated his life. Of course now he feels I have “rejected” him again. But I can no longer allow myself to be abused by my 30 year old arrogant and abusive son. After so many years of this kind of treatment by him. I have had to say goodbye to him again…I am dying all over again. Just like I did when I was 15. Thanks for your posts. They are helping me in many ways and so far I am only through 2008.

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