A Questionable Existence

“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve” – Erich Fromm

I wonder what it means.

Why is my son so obsessed with the idea that he would not have existed if I had been allowed to keep his sister?

He asks this quite frequently. Lately at least four times a month. This means to me he is thinking about it alot.

I wonder if it is some typical developmental milestone or is it some affect of being collateral damage to his sisters adoption.

Is he feeling I love her more?

Is he feeling neglected? Do I talk too much about her?

Is he wishing she was here but has no way to express that?

Does he feel like he doesn’t exist because she does?

Does he question his role as the first born in our family but not the first born to me?

Does he feel any envy or animosity towards his absent sister?

Does he simply just miss her and want to know her? Is that why she appears in all his school projects?

Or is it, again, just general developmental stuff?

Mr. Gunther was my third grade teacher. As the smartest student in the class (I was labeled “gifted” in the 3rd grade), I often finished my work early and was left with hours to kill and nothing to do. Mr. Gunther would send me to the Principals office and I provided clerical backup and assistance to the school receptionist, Mrs Kmetzo. I was an 8 year old receptionist.

“Good morning, Franklin School, how may I direct your call?”

Yes, I really did and said those things.

In between answering the phones for Mrs. Kmetzo, I sat behind her and pretended to sort papers. Most often I found myself staring out the window musing over the jungle gym and the kids out at recess.

A common thought, a pervasive, intrusive, disturbing thought for me during that time and at that age was:

“Where do I go when I die?”

I was obsessed for my entire third grade year with my own mortality. Growing up a conservative Catholic, I was taught (but never believed) heaven and pearly gates and St. Peter welcoming me and all that magical religious stuff.

I never believed it.

I could accept that my body would die and turn to dust but where did I go? Me? My voice? My personality? My spirit?

Yeah, I was an intense kid (not much has changed in that regard).

I was reminded of that phase in my life when I recently began pondering my sons obsession with his own existence in relation to his absent sister.

Of course it is possible he might not have existed. However, it is also possible he may have but his father would have been my daughters father. It is also possible he could have been born to his father and another woman.

We simply cannot know.

But for some reason, something is bugging my son and he has a need to know. Clearly, my answer of “we cannot know for sure, Nikolas” is not comforting him.

I don’t know what to say or how to help him.

And I don’t like that feeling.

I also despise that my son has to even ponder these things. They surely don’t tell surrendering mothers that our future children will also be traumatized by the loss of their siblings to adoption.

I wish I could make it easier for him.

8 Thoughts.

  1. “Does he question his role as the first born in our family but not the first born to me?”
    With all of the birth order hoopla in the news as of late, this has been on my heart and mind a lot lately. None of my children are in the role that they would have been had the adoption not taken place. I don’t know how this will affect them in any way…
    Anyway. Thank you for writing this and talking through it. It helps me to “read ahead” on issue that might cross my pathway in the future.

  2. But I think you have to be careful not to make your son’s issue too much about adoption. I mean sure that’s a factor but there’s also natural human curiosity – I know I went through a stage where I wondered what would I have been (nothing?) had my mother not miscarried the baby before me. Sometimes we just can’t have all the absolute answers and eventually he will either come up with an explanation that satisfies himself or relagate the question to the back of his mind.

  3. Oh Suz, I know exactly how you feel, our 11 year old daughter whom we are raising has voiced this very same sentiment on more than one occassion since reunion with her 18 year old brother 5 months ago. When I have expressed sadness that he is not here with us, or have told her that I am missing him, she has said “but you have me” or “if “M” was here I wouldn’t be”. I have tried to assure her that I honestly do believe that had her dad and I chose to parent “M” that she would still be here, that we would know be one big happy family now instead of counting the sleeps in-between his visits (which incidently is 49 more today). I don’t think she really believes it. I cannot help but wonder if she thinks things like this what does my poor boy who is 5 hours away think of when he talks to us, his full family, mom, dad, sister, every single day. He asks the routine, like “what did you have for dinner”, “what are you listening to right now..I hear the Chili Peppers in the background”..ect. BUT what does he really think and wonder about? I wonder if he will ever state as freely as his sister does, I can only hope that he will. And as much as we try to re-assure them I guess we will never know if deep down inside they will ever believe.
    Be well Suz,

  4. This is not exclusive to the children of first moms. My kid brother used to say this all the time. If my mother had stayed married to my father he would not have existed. It affected him greatly all through elementary school. It bothered him, he tried to figure out how to make this not the truth. Of course, it always was and he talked about it incessantly. Whenever I expressed difficulty because my dad was not around, he would always say that if my dad was I wouldn’t have him. It always shut me up, I didn’t want to hurt him. But it existed for both of us. I can tell you that for us (my brother and me) it just became a reality and a way to make good out of something that was bad. We both wanted to be the products of one nuclear family, we weren’t, we had to accept that. But we have each other and if our lives had been different we wouldn’t and we are both grateful that we do have each other.

  5. I see an element of adoption in his questions, but also a search for answers about what makes us US that transcends adoption.
    Have you asked him any of the questions at the beginning? I wonder if the answers to those might help get to the bottom of his questioning – or at least help you figure out if thoughts of his sister are driving his questions or if they’re coming from something else.
    You are so right about the ways in which adoption impacts lives far into the future. The post Triggers you wrote a few days ago did the same thing. Very insightful.

  6. Tough stuff, Suz.
    I was an intense kid, too. I remember being acutely aware of my parents’ mortality when I was about 9 years old. It would panic me, wondering what I would do when they died, who would take care of me (it didn’t occur to me that I would likely be an adult when that happened), what would happen to them. I also had intense struggles with the whole heaven/hell concept as a very young child.
    I guess what I’m saying is, your son sounds a lot like you. He’s intense. Probably some of his anxiety stems from the adoption piece, and some of it is just him, thinking things through in his intense way.
    I don’t know that you can make it *easy* for him, but just by being there, hearing him, you’re letting him process these feelings in a safe, healthy way.

  7. Collateral damage is a phrase I use a lot with my own family too. I’m sorry he’s hurting like this, and I know how it feels to not know how to make it easier.

  8. One of the mothers I included in my article about the impacts of reunion on spouses and siblings said: ““At the beginning of my reunion, I shared with my raised daughter a letter my found son sent to me. She wept and when I asked her why, she responded, ‘If you had kept him, I would not have been born.’ That realization was hard to handle.”
    I have often thought, if I’d kept my son my life would have taken a whole different path. I probably would not have met my husband of 26 years. I might have had more children. I might not have gotten into a successful career. Who knows where or what I would be now?
    It’s tough on the young ones, those questions, that wondering. Tough on anyone with a lost sister or brother, whether in their life or not.
    Nik has a wise, strong and loving mother. He’ll be OK.

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