I have been in the midst of several conversations lately, with friends, about our own mothers, and all the ways they failed us as children, and are failing us currently. Like my own mom who failed to recognize any symptoms of anxiety in me as a child and failed to connect with me as an adult when she finally learned that I had anxiety. And while my mind understands that I will fail Potamus in so many ways (my heart has yet to catch up to that reality, and oh how it will break when it does), I have been reflecting on the fact that, at the end of the day I get to be a different mother than (both of) my own.
There have been conscious differences, like extended breastfeeding my 20 month old vs. being formula fed or Montessori bed-sharing. But in these conversations, about making all of the conscious choices to be different, my perfectionistic (as in, I’m going to do EVERYTHING differently) brain was rocked a little while driving down the road, because, AUTOMATICALLY there will be differences with me as a mother than my own.
Because I carried and birthed my baby. And he is a firstborn son. I was a firstborn daughter. And I was given away to strangers at 3 days old. I was given to a mother who didn’t carry and birth me from her own body, so these differences have set us on a very different course from the beginning.
In what ways are do you hope you’re not like your own parents? In what ways do you hope you are like them?
Do you have all day to hear my answer? 😉 Yes, I agree that I sometimes think I don’t want to be anything like my parents, but the truth is, we just are. yet I believe firmly that trying to break bad patterns is possible. At least that’s my hope!!
I know, right? Sometimes I say something and it is TOTALLY my mom’s voice coming out of my mouth 🙂
Yes!! Tragic, but life, I guess. 🙂
Are you suggesting that there is a deeper or different bond b/w biological child and mother? Because, wow, I think that is a pretty brave and bold statement. I’ve just never heard anyone honestly say that because it seems like in the adoption world there is always a push to make everything look perfect and like there are no possible issues because of the adoption or any issues surrounding it. I can’t really comment as an adoptive parent or adoptee, because I am neither. As a social worker, I can tell you this is so far from the truth– that there is tons of trauma that people have a really hard time acknowledging. I think you are amazing and I think that is is very cool how honest and raw you are. You are someone I would really like to meet IRL some day, and I’m so happy we are blog buddies… but your original question was how we want to be different from our own parents. Well, to be honest with you, I think I have learned since becomming a mom that we all do our best and any incidental “screwing up” or failing we do of our kids is based not in a lack of love or compassion, but based in personal limitations. As someone I really love always says, “we are all suffering pilgrims.” Hugs lady. You rock.
Of course adoptive parenting and biological parenting are different. Though people tend to attach a meaning to the word ‘different’ that isn’t necessarily there. But from everything we know about pre and peri natal bonding, (things like knowing the mother’s voice, or her smell), etc. lends to the fact that biological motherhood is different, at least from the get-go, and possibly from both sides, but certainly from the side of the baby. Babies know their mothers. They’ve known them for 9 months. When placed in the arms of adoptive parents, they are in the arms of strangers. We cannot deny that fact. Even if the love the adoptive parents have matches the love the biological parents have, fundamentally, the adoptive parents are strangers.
Imagining, then, that the child is born vaginally and the full rush of oxytocin courses through the mother’s body helping aid with bonding. Adoptive mothers don’t have that from the first moment. It’s like the analogy of an arranged marriage (where love will grow, hopefully) and a dating relationship-turned marriage (where hopefully when the vows are said there is love already there). Make sense?
And then, as life goes on…there are other things. Like adoptive parents are, at a very cell level, raising genetic strangers. There is no genetic mirroring happening (and certainly even less so for transracial adoptees) and biological children have not lost everything at the first days/weeks of their life. Because the act of adoption is the act of severing ties from the only person (the mother) and people (perhaps father, extended family) that the baby has ever known. Can they grow to meet and love new people? Sure. But adoption is formed because of this loss of the first family. Biological children don’t have that (unless their mother or family dies during childbirth). Any other trauma that the child might experience in their life just piggy backs on the first trauma they experienced, being separated from their original families. (Though of course, I am always referencing ‘normal’ families, and not drug abuse/neglect/etc that can compound issues on all sides).
Now, there are SO MANY ways that adoptive parenting is like biological parenting. Changing diapers, agonizing over whether the school you’ve chosen is the ‘right one,’ or figuring out whether you’ve letting them watch too much TV. Many day-to-day parenting things are very much the same. But that child is always a part of two families (the family that they lost at birth, but are still genetically apart of) and the family that they are apart of now. That doesn’t happen in biological families. My son won’t wonder what his ‘other mother’ looks like and if she loves him. My son won’t wonder where he gets his eye color or love of tortellini comes from.
Perhaps I’ll write a blog post (or series) about this in the future, but there are both historical (and marketing) reasons that adoption and adoption related trauma are ignored 🙂
It’s a subject I’m passionate about. I focused my 3 years in grad school on adoption, and have focused my counseling (especially crisis counseling) on working with adoptees and their families. I’m active in adoptee rights 🙂 I think it’s especially interesting, from a counseling perspective, that the number of adoptees (by percentage) in America is quite low (1-2%), but the percentage of people in therapy/special school/correctional facilities/receiving some type of mental health service is overwhelmingly adoptees (I’ve seen anywhere from 13-42%). Why the over representation?
Also, I have a pretty comprehensive list of reading material that you might find interesting?
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier (adoptive mom and psychotherapist)
Journey of the Adopted Self Betty Jean Lifton (adoptee and counselor)…this one is SO good if you love Jungian archetypes and mythology!
Beneath the Mask (this one is for counselors who are leading groups with adopted teens. I’ve used it SO much, and several counselor friends felt it really helpful to read through).
20 Things Adopted Kids Wished Their Adoptive Parent’s Knew. Sherrie Eldridge.