“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.” – Richard Bach


The word has stayed with me for days. I have heard it over and over in my mind. I even looked up the meaning in wiktionary (even though I knew what it meant). I could even hear JM’s voice saying it.


In a recent comment thread, my dear friend JM (an adoptee AND a firstmom), indicated she did not want to search for her first family as she did not want to find more people she was obligated to love.

The word "obligated" hit me between the eyes and caused a big owie in my heart. It is a rather telling statement when an adoptee says she does not want to search and find more people she is obligated to love.

I don’t want to speak for JM (although I don’t think she would mind THAT much since we were both incarcerated in the same maternity home in 1986 and have remained friends ever since) nor do I mean to suggest that all adoptees feel this way.

However, the fact that ONE adoptee does, and that one adoptee is a dear friend of mine makes me sad.


The word obligated is an adjective used to imply commitment, having an obligation or being obliged. It is the simple past tense and past participle of the world obligate. Obligate means:

  1. To bind, compel, or constrain by a social, legal, or moral tie.
  2. To cause to be grateful or indebted; to oblige. (transitive)
  3. To commit (money, for example) in order to fulfill an obligation.

A synonym of obligate is the word force.

Does anyone but me feel that it is terribly sad that our children would not find us because they feel "obligated" to love us? That they feel they have to force love to their adoptive parents and/or their first family? What have we done to our children if this is how they view love?

Furthermore, where would that assumption come from? Perhaps the fact that they felt (or were made to feel) obligated to love the strangers that adopted them? Indebted? Grateful that they were adopted and saved from a fate worse than death (growing up with their first family)?

On a more personal level, this word hit me because I sense, from words my daughter and I have exchanged, that she may feel the same. I wonder if she, like other adoptees, might be so exhausted from fulfilling her obligation to those that adopted her that she is lacking the ability to love anyone beyond that? Or said differently, and perhaps more impactful, isn’t it sad that our children would find reunion as taking something from them versus giving something? Isn’t it a sad statement when instead of viewing reunion as more people to love them they view it as more people to demand something of them?

9 Thoughts.

  1. That comment struck me too, it made me think your friend has a very different concept of love than I do, for me loving is one of life’s greatest pleasures, of course it also can be very painful, but duty is an obligation for me, not love.

  2. oh and p.s.
    I wouldn’t worry, about what your daughter feels, I mean I know it is easy for me to say, but saying this as a mom who has raised a kid fairly close to your daughter’s age, there are times when my son, does things I don’t like, is distant, contrary and difficult, I have found my challenge as a mother, is to love the child that is, support him, where he is, how he is, versus some notion of who he should be, or how I would like him to be in relation to me.

  3. Joy – I agree with your P.S in relation to my parented sons but struggle with applying same to a child I do not know and was not allowed to parent.
    I dont know who that child is, hence it is tough to love what I dont know. I dont know where she is, how she is and am only left with the notions and the scraps she sends my way. It is comparing apples to oranges.
    While at our core we should apply the same mothering, it is not quite as simple as some would suggest. It is easy for others to dole out mothering advice when they have not been in our situation. (And I dont mean you specifically).

  4. I really hate to say this, but I felt obligated to love my nmother for the first 18 years after I found her. That is why I called her every year and a half and talked with her for a couple of minutes. I felt like I had to call her every now and then so that she still knew I was alive and doing ok. When the years would go by, I would think that I “needed” to call her. It would take me about a month later, after I started thinking about it, to call. Out of obligation, I would finally give in and call her. Then after talking with her a few minutes, the obligation would pass and I wouldn’t think about it for another few years.
    Thank goodness that obligation is gone now and I have a relationship with her because I want to instead of forcing myself to.

  5. I agree with you Suz, it is sad and I cannot imagine anyone knowing they were adopted not wanting to get to know their natural parents.
    You know a mother’s love (natural or adopted) is fierce and forever loving and protective. Yet it’s truthfully not the same for a child. Of course they love their parents and would be always be there for them, but it’s different. They grow and have their own lives and even though that love is there forever, it’s just a complete different love then the love a mother has for their child.
    You wrote and I quote:
    “I don’t know who that child is, hence it is tough to love what I don’t know.”
    As an adoptive Mom I would think that it has to be the same for the adopted child, as they don’t know who you are and it’s not only tough, but scary to love someone they don’t know.
    Give your girl time to mature, really mature and grow, she’ll turn around and realize just what a wonderful loving, caring and wacky Mom she’s missed out on all these years. Then and only then will you have that real reunion you’ve dream of since they day you brought her into this world.
    Mo xoxox

  6. There is another angle to this — the using of the guilt/grief card by both adoptees and mothers to obligate the other party into “loving” them. (BTW, this has nothing to do with what’s going on with you and your daughter, just an observation, perhaps colored by my own experience)
    IMHO, love is never an obligation. Sometimes continuing a relationship is, as in with a parent or child who is troublesome. But love just IS. Can’t be turned on and off. It’s so clear that you love your daughter no matter what, even when she rebuffs and hurts you. Unconditional. That’s real. She will get that someday.

  7. It is interesting that you would write about this. As I was looking through a number of blogs a few days ago there was one by an adoptee (who is in reunion) saying she was tired of being the good adoptee.
    I wondered if she was projecting some sentiments onto her mother that may not have been there. Definitely a sense of obligation. I wondered where that was coming from. You may have hit on the answer.

  8. WOW. I can’t believe it. The world obligate has been so central to my life in the past couple of weeks. I have cut off contact with one of my adoptive relatives, telling her “It would be out of obligation not love if I continued a relationship with you at this point in my life”. I have also expressed to others, that I worry certain important others in my life only do things for me out of obligation. That thought really scares me. I feel so many people demand so much of me, that I’m finally creating some boundaries and ceasing to give to the point that I become resentful. This means accepting that I will not always make others happy and that is ok. They can believe that I am the cause of their unhappiness, but I will know that is not true.
    I could go on and on… just wanted to say it was amazing to log onto your blog and read this post!!
    Thinking of you Suz. I will respond to your last email and send you and update soon.

  9. “Isn’t it a sad statement when instead of viewing reunion as more people to love them they view it as more people to demand something of them?”
    It definitely is. I’ve seen this with my own kids – in spite of the encouragement R and I have given them to search for their families, both have said it’s just too complex, too much to think about right now. This may be because they’re teens; they may feel very differently in the future. I worry that they’re losing time, and may even reach a point where they just don’t want to think about it at all. Yes, it’s very sad.

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