Insensitive or Conditioned?

Psychobabbler noted in her comment on my post My Mother and Steve Jobs that there is no excuse for that sort of insensitivity (meaning the kind my mother displayed). I would be inclined to agree if I thought for a second my mothers comment was intentionally insensitive, more so if I thought she was even aware of what she said.

I don’t think she is.  My mother likely views Steve Jobs/Jandali situation completely different from mine. Moreover, she is also likely to think Steve Jobs adoption was a good thing for she can easily cite how good he turned out and assume that was due to nurture not nature. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my mother is a product of her environment. (Don’t forget that letter I wrote to her parish priest).

My mothers believes — even to this day — that infants are better off without their mothers when they are born to a young unwed mother. We have gone many rounds on this topic over the years. At this point in my life, and hers, I no longer bother attempting to convince her otherwise. She believes what she believes and she does so based on what she was raised with and what the God she worships tells her.

My mother is as much a product of her upbringing, her primary socialization, as I am of mine. Even if, and this is a whopper of an IF, I were to successfully illustrate to my mother the pain adoption causes to surrendering mothers (because apparently my own pain is not evident enough for her), I still do not believe she could connect the dots from that pain to mine and ultimately, her own.

Why do I believe this?

For my mother to see my pain, she must see what caused it and she had a large part in that cause. To see the pain of mothers like me is to see me is to see her contribution to what happened to me and my first-born and ultimately her own pain and loss of her first-born grandchild.

I believe it is too much for her. I state this based on my forty-four years of knowing my mother and her way of handling things. Her way?  Her familial way?

If we don’t talk about it, it does not exist. So here, have a spot of tea will you and lets forget that adoption nonsense, why don’t we? If you live in the past, you die in the present. She might even say something like no sense crying over spilt milk, even if in my case it was breast milk that my body created specifically for my child. She doesnt entirely believe these things but it what she has been taught to feel, say and do in response to emotional trauma. It is akin to whispering the word “cancer” when sharing a friends diagnosis with the big C. If it is not spoken very loud, you might be able to escape from it yourself.

In my mothers every day world, the world she functions best in, my daughter, my adoption trauma, does not exist.  We don’t talk about those things and it is poor manners for me to bring it up. For these reasons and many more, I believe she did not think for a millisecond about me, about my daughter, while she was commenting on Steve Jobs and his adoption reunions status.  I do believe it crossed her mind once I made my comment but I am quite confident it crossed very quickly. It was seen, felt, and quickly stuffed back under her rosary beads, missellette and Irish Catholic guilt. Her conditioning took over.

One might assume from the tone of this post that I am angry or bitter about this.  I am not, at least not hugely so.  My mothers beliefs no longer affect my daily life. Rather they effect the depth of our relationship.  I am okay with where it is now. Digging up the old dirty laundry will not bring my daughter back to me, will not give me back those lost years, will not even make my daughter want to meet me.  When it comes to relationships, the lack of one with my first-born child is the only one that still aches my heart. Demanding my mother see my POV is likely only to make her angry and even cry.  Who wants to make their 67-year-old mother cry? She has hurt enough, as have I.

My mother means well. She does the best she can given what she was given.  She may be insensitive at times but she is unintentionally insensitive, of that I am sure.

Let me state this in a more personal and succinct way, in what others call “I” language.

I surrendered my child to adoption because I believed what others told me. I knew on a cellular level that it was wrong and against my maternal instincts, but I believed what others told me, I trusted the authorities in my life and believed they knew better than I did, much like my mother believes Father Lynch and her Irish Catholic teachings.  I learned I was wrong.  My mother has never learned that. She believes what she has been conditioned to believe.  I have had the luxury of an education, experience, therapy that taught me that what I believed, what I was told, was wrong. I was taught how to think critically (albeit a few years too late).   I was able to resocialize myself and discard the values and norms my family taught me. My mother has not had that benefit.  If I want to be understood for my own mistakes (that of believing others and surrendering my child to strangers), my own shortcomings, my own negative conditioning, I feel I must grant my mother the same understanding.


26 Thoughts.

  1. I’m so glad you wrote about this Suz. I’m struggling with this regarding my mom right now. We have never talked about my son. 32 years and have never had a conversation about what either of us feels. I remember the day, about a week after I signed the papers, that she told me “We will never talk about this again.” It’s sad to me that I don’t know if anyone else in my family actually feels a loss from not having my son in our lives all these years. It’s also sad to me that I lost my mother as my confidant, never trusted her again to help me through any major issues. I think if you asked her why we have a strained relationship, adoption would not even enter her head.

    I think you are right, our moms opinions on “unwed mothers” are something they are conditioned to feel, and women back in the day were not necessarily taught to think critically. It’s a loss for all of us.

    • Laurie – My Dad told me the same. While it was implied, suggested, covert with my mother, it was overt with my Dad. It was painful and the turning point for me in that after that I decided to leave my parents home, for good. I like to believe that your family (and mine) does feel the loss but acknowledging it is too painful, much like it is for many adoptees. I know my sons feel it, I know my sister, and my nieces and even nephews have. They have spoken of my daughter and confused and questioning at why she is not part of the family now that I have found her.

  2. “For my mother to see my pain, she must see what caused it and she had a large part in that cause.”

    There is a lot of denial in adoption. Many of it is used to cope with the effects of grief and trauma.

  3. Suz:
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I always appreciate hearing your perspective. This posting really resonated with me. My surrendered son will be 23 and I struggle with a lot of anger towards my parents, particularly my dad. I could really let them have it but see no point as they think it all turned out peachy and even if they were sorry, they can’t give me back the years. That time is gone. As you say, though, it affects the “depth” of our relationship – that is sad but the way it is.

    • Sara – Welcome and hello! I can only speak for myself but I can share that I was angry for many years. I realized the only person I was truly hurting by carrying that anger was me. My parents were clueless to it. I dont condone what they did anymore than I condone what I did, but I do understand it. I chose to let it go. There is an old saying something about not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. For me, my poison was my anger and it was only killing my life, not theirs.

  4. Suz – I am glad you wrote this. When I read last night in your previous post about how you reacted to what your Mother said I was guessing it had to be her “conditioning”. I am thankful that my Mother has come around, she has acknowledged my pain and loss…two weeks ago she finally acknowledged that she is missing out on getting to know her First Grandchild.

    Thank you for explaining and I think you are an amazing woman to be able to understand your Mother’s conditioning. I’m sure that was a very long, hard road for you. Lots of hugs!!

  5. Absolutely, conditioning and belief systems have certainly played and continue to play a role in your mother’s behavior. That is all understandable, no question. The inexcuseable part is the repetition of hurtful behavior after having been told in no uncertain terms that it is hurtful. This isn’t about you changing her point of view.

    Let me dare to step into a loaded topic for a moment to illustrate why I think it’s still inexcuseable. Let’s say I refer to you as a “birthmother” and you tell me that using this term is personally hurtful to you. Perhaps I’ve been using the term for 20 or 30 years. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned to believe it’s the correct way to refer to a woman who has placed a child for adoption. Perhaps I even believe, for argument’s sake, that it’s ridiculous that you don’t want to be referred to in that way. Perhaps, because of all this conditioning and my belief system, my first inclination is to use that term. If I care about you and respect you, it is still my responsibility to become conscious of how my words impact you and make the utmost effort to cease and desist from doing what’s hurtful to you again.

    Intent (or lack of intent) is not an excuse for impact.

    • Hmm. Will have to ponder that. Still not sure I agree. But again, I may been too close to see it the way you do. I may give my mother too much credit with the hope that maybe, some day, my daughter would give me same.

      I have also been so steeped in this behavior and bias for so long, from so many, I dont even pay attention anymore. Even to your example of the birthmother term, I internally translate whenever I am faced with that. Your continued use of that term even after I have told you otherwise is a reflection of you not me. I then decide, after repeated use and based on other facets of our relationship, if I continue my contact with you or not. (Of course, using YOU hypothetically PB, I dont mean you specifically).

      • Suz, let me know if I’m misreading this, but it seems to me that you’re equating apples and oranges; both fruit, but distinct nonetheless. You’re recognizing a common denominator (conditoning and belief systems contributing to hurtful choices). The difference is that you have, in your own words, and on many occasions, told your mother explicitly how adoption has hurt and continues to hurt you – and despite this, she continues to behave (through her actions and words) in ways that are disrespectful of your pain. Now, ask yourself this: any of your kids came to you and told you something you were saying or doing was hurtful to them, would you argue with them about the validity of their feelings? Or would you be cautious to not reiterate that hurt?

        • I am also suggesting that my mothers beliefs, conditioning, make her unable to change her behavior based on my feedback to her. It is as if I am speaking English and she is not an english sp eaker. She is not understanding what is happening because she speaks a different language and therefore I have stopped trying to make her understand. Does that make more sense?

          • Gotcha. And I totally get your approach to dealing with her. That being in my experience, adults who present as unable to change their interpersonal behavior based on feeback that it’s hurting someone are sitting on a substantial dose of narcissism (barring developmental disability or autism spectrum disorder).

  6. I rather agree with Psychobabbler. Intent does not excuse the consequences. I personally like the illustration of someone not intending to hit you with their car. They may not have set out to run you over, but it STILL hurts!

    • I understand your illustration Monika but still find myself wondering about PB suggestion. I am appreciating it btw, PB, as it is making me think a great deal and have fabu discussions with my husband. Your car illustration does not suggest intent or awareness of hitting that person (unless I missed it, are you saying they want to hit that person on purpose?). I interpret PB as though my mother should know better, and is intentionally trying to hurt my feelings. I may have misinterpreted. But do keep up the dialogue! I have another post brewing on this!

      • I guess what I’m saying is (1) whether or not we’ve intended to hurt someone, we need to be accountable for having caused hurt, and (2) once we have had it brought to our attention that what we are doing causes someone hurt, it is disrespectful to keep doing the same thing.

    • Exactly, Monika. And I’ll even take it a step further. If theyv’e hit you with the car, and you’ve stated they’ve injured you, what does it imply if they back the car up and do the same thing again?

  7. Have any of you seen the film “The 40 Year Secret”. In it the mother admits that she thought only of herself and not at all about her daughter when her daughter was forced to give her child up.

    • I have not seen it. Again, knowing my mother (and I realize I am being somewhat vague to protect her) I maintain my position that she was taught stupid things as a result does stupid things.

  8. Suz, on an intellectual and even spiritual level, I know your acceptance of your mother’s behaviors is healthy and appropriate. I agree with you that her intent is not to hurt you.

    I still personally struggle with acceptance of my own mother’s actions back then and now. I know she isn’t trying to hurt me and that her ignorance is based never having done any kind of soul searching or reading to try to understand differently, let alone therapy or support groups like I have had the benefit of doing.

    I do think to this day that my mother was only thinking of herself and not at all her daughter when she forced me to surrender. I wish I was more evolved and could just go of my disgust of her narcissim. The best I can do at this point in time is express that I can’t forgive her yet – but I’m trying.

    My mother was not echoing the feelings of her own parent’s and their teachings – her own mother who had passed – my grandmother – was a much more compassionate and loving person and I know in my heart would never have encouraged me to give away my child.

    I do agree with you that it’s important to choose our battles these days and it doesn’t serve any purpose for me to remain combative with my mother who lives in her world of denial.

  9. Excellent post, Suz. And the commenters have provided much food for thought.

    While my situation wasn’t similar to yours (she NEVER spoke of anything even close to adoption), it took me a long time and considerable therapy to start calling my mother on hurtful things she would say. Perhaps she didn’t “intend” to hurt me, but she was definitely insensitive. Our relationship began to change when I did. Still not perfect, but better. I had to forgive her part in losing my son. THAT was definitely due to conditioning and beliefs. I found peace in doing so, in my heart, not with her participation or even knowing that I had. I am certain that this helped me when she died unexpectedly 7 years ago.

    I think you made your point in your response to your mother. Even if it only made her realize what she’d said and rethink it for a few seconds.

  10. Wow, I can’t even imagine talking about adoption with my relatives, or anyone else for that matter. Just thinking about an adoption-oriented conversation makes me feel like part of my soul is bleeding out of my body…not worth the pain. As far as affecting the depth of my realtionships, I really have no deep relationships with anyone because that would require the adoption issue to be addressed at some point, yes? Can’t go there.

  11. I have a friend who kept the baby she had two years after I had my son. That child is brilliant, has a PhD and is invited to speak at international conferences in her field. My friend went on to marry and have two other kids.

    We recently talked about the difference in our situations. Her parents supported her and she was slightly older and working, ie independent. And things had just begun to shift.

    She and her boyfriend used to double date with me and my son’s father. (She got pregnant after they broke up.) She was very angry at my son’s father when she found out what happened.

    We are still friends and meeting for lunch with our respective hubbies next week.

    She always says to me, “I wish you had told me you were pregnant. I would have helped you.” I wish I had too.

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