Condundrums

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

I wonder what specific things my daughter dislikes about me.

In discussing my post of yesterday with a few friends I was reminded of many adoptees I have helped reunite. Nearly all of them are in their early twenties. Nearly all of them have given their mother in reunion very specific direction, judgements, corrections on her behavior or life. I find this a bit unsettling for all concerned but more personally wonder when, what, if my daughter will do the same to me.

Consider my friend H.

H found her mother a few years ago. Upon finding her she proceeded to tell her mother that she was too fat, needed to lose weight, must stop smoking, must stop dating the guy she was dating and must get a new job (because it was a lowly job and reuinted daughter was embarassed to tell her adoptive parents what her mother did for a living).

If mother did not do these things, H indicated she would have a hard time developing a relationsihp with her and might decide not to see her. The weight, smoking and boyfriend were a big issue for H. In my opinion, she was essentially threatening her mother. Do what I say and be the mom I want or you will not be allowed to see me at all.

H told me all of this and I often found myself startled at her boldness. Because of the nature of our friendship, I could (and did) gently probe her on the demands she was making of her mother. Were they appropriate? What were they rooted in? Was she attempting to make her mother into the mother of her fantasy versus accepting who her mother really was? Did she also demand such things from adoptive mother? Over time, H seemed to soften and told me she appreciated me poking a bit at her as she realized how difficult she was being.

But H is not alone.

Several of my other friends, also the same age range, have done similar things in their reunions with their mothers.

  • Don’t smoke or I won’t talk to you anymore.
  • Stop drinking or I won’t see you.
  • Don’t dress like that or I won’t be seen with you.
  • Brush your hair differently or I won’t allow you to come to my home.
  • Don’t date that guy or I won’t call you anymore.
  • Don’t have a myspace page. That is for young kids. Act your age.

Where does this come from?

Do all adoptees, at least all female ones, accept their mothers in reunion only with conditions? Is this an age or maturity thing? (Recall that nearly all my adoptee friends are of the same age). Does a 40 yo adoptee entering reunion make such demands on her mother or is that something that is limited to twenty something adoptees? Since many adoptees were given conditional love by their adoptive parents are they simply mirroring what they learned? Since they grew up being told to be a certain way, act a certain way, pretend to belong, do they feel it is okay to say the same to their mothers in reunion? Are they even aware they do this?

When our children do or say such things to us, do they have any idea how triggering that is to days gone by?

If my daughter gave me a “don’t”, I am quite confident I would hear my father saying “Don’t put those pictures out. That did not happen and we will never discuss that.” (“That” being my daughter). It would be very hard for me to separate out my daughters DONT from my fathers DONT. Once again, I would be feeling not good enough, not right enough, not welcome and not accepted only this time by my own child.

I couldnt sleep last night. As my fan whirred along side my bed, I stared up at the ceiling and wondered what ultimatums might daughter might someday give me and equally so, how I might respond. (Maybe she already has and I have already responded?)

Would she tell me I am too fat, too short, too loud, too uneducated, not a good enough mother to her brothers, dont dress properly for my age, or what?

My belief is that if she were to ever say any of those things to me, I would take my own mothers approach and tell her to “stuff it”. LOL. No seriously. (Well, seriously, my mother would tell me that and has when I have corrected her or demanded things of her. She is also good for telling me to go pound sand). On second thought, that stuff it would be my first internal reaction, but my likely external reaction would be to tell her I found her words offensive, hurtful and to ask if we could talk further about them. I have a pretty high emotional IQ and have had enough to therapy to think before I react. But what about the mothers that havent had the benefit of what I have?

I suppose, for me, the delivery of such information or request would make a huge diffierence. If my daughter said “I wish you would not smoke. It concerns me for your health and I want you to be around as long as possible”, I might be touched and it might actually lead to me ceasing smoking. (I dont smoke, btw). But if she said “Smoking is disgusting. You are disgusting and if you dont stop I wont be around you”, I might have to tell her to take a long walk on a short pier.

But still, I am curious, where does this come from?

Does this conditional love for mothers in reunion vary by adoptee?

Is this fantasy related? Trying to obtain the mother they dreamed of versus the mother they really have?

Is it age/maturity related?

How should a mother respond to such demands?

Do we, as in years past, become someone we are not to satifsy the wants of others or do we push back and risk losing our child again?

14 Thoughts.

  1. This is long, but you asked.
    I am assuming the adoptees you are speaking of are 20-somethings, so I will speak for this 40 year-old: no, no conditions and no impolite comments. At first blush, this sounds like a product of immaturity and general bad manners.
    Again, I can only speak for myself and I am a different person than I was 15 years ago. However, I don’t think I would treat anyone like that, especially someone who I knew had to be in a very fragile state.
    It may be a defense mechanism, or a preemptive strike. If these adoptees you know grew up with a lot of criticism, or feeling powerless, they may be trying to assert themselves so they have the power in the relationship.
    However, that is a poor excuse for acting like a spoiled brat. A person has to grow up sometime.
    My adoptive mother treated me like a prize to be displayed only when I was bright, shiny, and happy. I was always at her mercy. I swore never to treat my own children like that, and I have been pretty successful in not doing so. I also swore that when I finally found my real mother, I would accept whomever she turned out to be.
    If these types of comments are made as ultimatums or demands and not as helpful suggestions, I think the proper response would be to tell the other person that you are who you are and she must accept you.
    If you want to change yourself for her, go ahead. But to do it for fear of losing her just makes you a slave to what she calls love. It isn’t worth it.
    Conditional love is painful and damaging. Neither the giver nor the receiver is ever satisfied. The demands continue to grow and can never be met. It isn’t love; it’s emotional extortion.
    I wouldn’t have cared if my mother were bald, toothless, and smoking a cigar. My only demand was that her love be as unconditional as mine.
    She doesn’t smoke and has beautiful hair and a beautiful smile. And she welcomed me with open arms, no questions asked. She listened to all my grievances and told me she was happy I told her. I listened to all her excuses and told her I understood.
    Because there wasn’t anything else to do.
    You should tell your adoptee friends that if they want unconditional love from their long lost mothers, they should be prepared to give it. Their mothers deserve nothing less.
    Their mothers should know the same thing. Because that person who looks all grownup and is making demands on you is probably still 10 on the inside and pining for her mother’s love and acceptance.

  2. I’ve been in reunion with my daughter now for eight years. Our first contact was by phone (I initiated it) when she was 29. We physically reconnected, the weekend of her 30th birthday. She did not, and has not placed any demands on me. Our relationship has developed to the point where we can each offer suggestions or opinions. These are shared in love and not as a criticism or ultimatum.
    I would hope these responses are from one who has not matured. I also hope that as you give your daughter time / space what ever it is she thinks she needs, she will mature and desire to understand more about who she is and where she came from.
    I encourage you to hang in there.
    Linda

  3. wow….your experiences are different than mine. I don’t have the numbers of acquantances in the adoption world that you do, but of the three reunited families I know (2 daughters and one son, all 24 years old and reunited for 3-4 years) what you write is NOT the experience, not even close. My experience with my own dd and the two other families I know personally is much more like Kim’s above, tentative, accepting, sometimes tear-filled or disapointed, but not demanding or critical (on either side).
    I am shocked by bad manners, no matter the situation, and I see no other way to describe what you write about. Unless they are reacting as young adolescents, my raised preteen son and his friends sometimes try that sort of conversation, and just as I would do with my reunited daughter (or anyone else) I do not accept being talked to in that manner.

  4. I think it’s got alot to do with age – and that generation.
    I’m currently at Uni – 3rd year teaching degree – in amoungst many in their early 20’s.
    There are many with really worrying attitudes.
    Arrogant, know-it-all, pompous – the list goes on.
    Not all – by any means – but worrying none the less. (I certainly wouldn’t want many of them teaching any of my children)
    Add being an adoptee to the mix – with issues that they just don’t want to deal with – and I’m sure that it could be a recipe for absolute disaster.
    Hopefully they’ll grow out of it – but does arrogance ever really go away?!?!
    I hope so – for those that have to deal with such restrictions on their relationships.
    ICK.
    Hugz,
    Poss. xxxxx

  5. Possum – I tend to agree with you. Gen Y tends to be more direct, candid and often thought of as arrogant. As a communications professional for a very large company, I am often reminded of the differences in the generations.
    I really dont think my friends mean to be quite as rude as they come across. I do believe it is rooted in love but fear that it is a recipe for reunion disaster when moms are faced with more judgement and criticism – from our children this time.
    My friend H, as noted, was very open to me poking at her a bit and she and her mom are doing very well I am happy to say.
    Kim and Najah – Thank you for your wonderful insight. I really tend to lean towards a generational thing and it seems your experiences may support that.
    Kim – Very much enjoying your comments! Glad you delurked!

  6. Hmmm I cannot even begin to make sense on this issue, it is my deepest fear, that “S” will find me lacking. I mean how could I ever compare to her super duo a-parents???? I remember when an adoptee placed a pic of her 1st mom for others to see and labeled her fat. I remember saying out loud *ouch*. I think it is more common for the young 20’s to be so “direct”, I know even my 16 yr old daughter and her friends say things that I would never say out of politeness. Your right, different generation, different rules. I was taught early, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. ***Hugs***

  7. Once again you make me think, you make me believe that I am not doing the wrong thing. Taking time, and taking the space we need is not wrong. It is healthy, and in fact I think we all need that sometimes. Rather than blasting off emails that say all the wrong things, I prefer to remain silent and to work on me. Sometimes silence is our best friend.
    Love you Chica~

  8. I’m thinking that this demand for perfection is generational and societal, as in the pressure that Gen X and Y’ers feel to perform. Or it could be an offshoot of adoptees believing that if they were not “good enough,” they might be abandoned (again).
    I say HELL NO, we should not remake ourselves to suit our child’s vision.
    They do not always meet our expectations, nor did our own parents, most of whom did not support us in our pregnancies. Why are we deserving of such scrutiny and distain? Talk about conditional…
    I, for one, am tired of getting beaten up for what I am not!!!
    WTF?!?!?
    Good post, Suz. Obviously, since I’m so worked up over it…

  9. This post makes me wonder if TA has any expectations of what I should or shouldn’t be like??? If so, I haven’t heard of any. Is that good or bad? Hhmmmm….

  10. Suz
    I’m 41
    My Mother smokes like a chimney (im told) and drinks like a fish
    And i couldnt give a shit. All I want is to know her, to bond with her, to connect with her, to love her and her me back.
    Id give anything for that.
    Then maybe I’d say HEY YOU I love you stop smoking it will kill you, and I dont want you to die, not now that i found you.
    And trust me I know how hard it is – Ive done it !
    But I would NEVER make it a condition. NEVER
    But I cant even get to being able to say anything !

  11. I am reunited with a son who will turn 40 this year since 1987. We have had good times but I have also experienced the demnds and ultimatums. I said that I didn’t respond well to being ordered to do things since I don’t. I have always thought – and in the case of my son I know – that this is the way he was trested in his adoptive family and I also think those who have felt very powerless go a little overboard when they think they may be holding the power. This is not a relationship that I want to define in those terms at all. I mentioned this briefly in another comment. When I first met him I was warned be prepared your every insecurity will rise to the forefront. It does happen but you have to keep the faith because I think if you can’t be who you really are what have you got.
    I have a friend with a daughter (not a reunion situation) who is almost the same age, she thinks it’s a generational thing. I don’t have any theory one way or the other on that one.
    Kris

  12. I am astounded by this attitude. I think it must be an age/generational thing.
    I mark some of this up to an absolute ignorance of the status of women–even 20 years ago much less 30 and 40 and more. Many 20 somethings seem to think that it was perfectly OK for women to have babies without husbands–and other things that are acceptable today. They have no idea that women were barred from lots of professions and schools, that living with a man outside of marriage was considered slutty,and having a baby outside of marriage wasn’t done. I remember when Time and Life and surely other papes covered the “shocking story” of a college student who lived off campus with her boyfriend. The country had a cow.
    Single women with and without children were not allowed to rent apartments sometimes. Even married women were very constructed. A friend of mine was forced to send her 3 kids to live with relatives when she went to nursing school because divorced women weren’t admitted to the program. Patty Bybee wrote a good piece on this years ago on society’s expectations of wome. In an age where women were expected to wear white gloves to church and social events why would anybody think it was acceptable to keep a baby if you weren’t married?
    This ignorance is reflected in stupid comments I’ve heard from adoptees (and others) along the lines: She could have kept me if she wanted. So what if her parents said they’d throw her out So what if she was 15. She didn’t have to listen to her paretns. If she wanted to, she could hae kept me. he could have moved out She could have gotten a job. blah blah blah!
    To these post-feminist dumb asses nothing happened before last week. They’re a bunch of entitled spoiled privildged whiners. I don’t ahe any use for them.

  13. This wasn’t my experience either, my mother did a lot of things I didn’t like, but I never felt that I had the ability, obligation, or desire to control her behavior.
    I felt I had the choice to accept her or not accept her, which I don’t even feel that anymore, I don’t feel like I have a choice.
    I witness this more in kept kids, my son certainly has a laundry list of improvements I should make, and I noticed my mother’s kept daughter seems intent on improving our mother.
    If the concern for their well-being is sincere, ie weight, smoking, abusive boyfriend or whatev, I could understand voicing concern.
    I can only guess, that a lot of times, adoptees fear their adoptive parents judging their family’s of origin. I felt mine was judged, but more for their politics and attitudes than superficials, kind of like, “Oh now it is so obvious it is not our fault she turned out like that”

  14. I can’t believe the cruelty people do to one another. My gut response to those types of adoptees – you selfish (insert favorite cussword). You are in reunion and you are acting so selfish. I would give anything to be in reunion. Anything you hear me!
    When I hear stories like that, I find it best to be quiet. I just might reach through my monitor and slap the crap out of them.

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