I follow a fair few people on social media, and there is always been lots of discussion. around whether adopted people should be grateful to have been adopted. Grateful to their parents for adopting them. It’s one that I’ve always found interesting, because being adopted myself, and having also adopted my daughter, I think I can bring thoughts and experience from both sides. What I do want to make clear now though, is that there isn’t a right or wrong view. Experiences are personal and they shape people’s opinions. It’s ok to think differently to others. It’s ok to disagree.
I think the old view of adoption is that the adopted person is very lucky to have been adopted. That they are lucky to have escaped the terrible situation they were in. That they are lucky to have the chance to grow up safe and loved. Lucky to have such amazing parents who saved them. Historically adopted people have been expected to feel grateful for the new life and everything that goes with it that adoption has given them. They have been expected to be seen to be grateful to their parents.
This view I think comes from a much less acknowledged and openly talked about knowledge and acceptance that although adoption can be, and is a good thing, everything about it also carries loss and trauma. I think we now understand how adoption is a loss of identity, a loss of family. For most, the reasons for adoption are traumatic, the repercussions of which will stay with that person for the rest of their life. The actual adoption in itself, although healing can also be traumatic. Imagine being taken from everything you know and living with people you’ve only just met. Imagine not seeing those you people you trusted, and thinking they’ve gone for ever. Of course steps are taken to minimise trauma that results from adoption, but it’s always still going to be there.
When you think of all these things, it’s easy to see why adopted people are often not grateful or thankful to have been adopted. Some didn’t ever want to be adopted. Some never asked to be. Some were never given any chance to say what they wanted to happen to their lives. For some, despite the difficulties in their birth families, they’d rather have them then have their connections to their biological family severed by adoption. I can really see why some adopted people are angry they were adopted. Some are angry at the system, some at their adoptive parents. Some at everyone/everything.
Now, I personally struggle with the view adopted people shouldn’t be grateful and thankful to be adopted. For me, adoption has been a overwhelmingly positive. I am indeed grateful and thankful to have been adopted. I know my story, and I know that the alternative to adoption would have resulted in a very different life for me. Adoption has literally given me life. I know I wouldn’t be where I am, or have achieved what I have without it. I know I am loved, and have learnt to love because of adoption. I feel incredibly blessed to have the parents and siblings that I do now, and I wouldn’t be without any of them. It was my positive experience of adoption that made me want to adopt a child myself.
I don’t think I should change my views or opinions about being grateful for being adopted. I don’t think I’m any less of a genuine adopted person because I feel like I do. And, yes, sometimes I have been made to doubt myself, my experiences and feelings because they don’t match with others. Feeling grateful and thankful doesn’t take away from the difficult bits. I still lost my birth family. My identity was still changed. I still have unanswered questions and lots of gaps of knowledge about my early life. I still wonder about what life would have been without adoption. There is still trauma there, there will always be. However, it hasn’t made me feel that adoption has been a negative or bad experience for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have what I do because of it.
So, now I am now an adoptive parent, I do think a lot about how my little girl will feel about adoption as she grows. We talk quite a lot with her about adoption. We talk to her birth family, and are in regular contact, both directly and indirectly with some of them. We have talked about her being lucky before. Not because she’s adopted, but when we’ve donated to charity or given things away to people who might not have the material things that she has. We talk about being thankful for the things we do have.
I absolutely do not expect her to be thankful/grateful for being adopted. I don’t expect her to be thankful/grateful for us being her parents. After all, we have contributed in part to her trauma. I don’t think I realised that at the time, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really understood that adoption in itself is trauma. I think we do try to help her work through her thoughts and feelings, and we validate what she tells us. We are honest with her about adoption. She knows how much she is loved by us, and her birth family. We try hard to help her still have connections to her life before us. We work hard to try to help others learn how beneficial and important these connections are.
If she does express that she is grateful to have been adopted, or thankful to us for adopting her, then that’s ok. I can’t very well say I’m grateful to have been adopted, but she’s not allowed to be. Our stories and experiences of adoption may be different, so we will probably feel differently about it it. But, it’s ok to feel the same too. What I will tell her though, is that we are incredibly grateful and thankful to have her in our lives. She has bought so much love and joy. She has enriched our lives so much. We came to adoption, yes because we thought we could give a child a safe, loving home, but also selfishly because we wanted to be parents. We chose adoption for our family. She did not. We know that love does not fix everything, and she really doesn’t have to be grateful to us. I’d quite understand if she were the opposite.
To end, I want to say thank you to those adopted people who have opened my eyes to the bigger picture of adoption. You’d have thought that as an adopted person myself, I would have ‘got it’ before I did. I’m sorry that I didn’t. Even though it’s been hard and painful for others to share their experiences and feelings, I’m grateful they did. Hopefully by taking them on board, I’ll be a better, more understanding parent to my daughter. I hope she grows up knowing we tried to do what we thought was best with what we knew. I hope she grows up feeling loved, but under no obligation to feel grateful or thankful for being adopted.