Three Destructive Mindsets of Adoptive Parents

Three Destructive Mindsets of Adoptive Parents

by L. Anne Babb, Ph.D.

The three destructive mindsets that make powerful adoptive parents scary adoptive parents are, in Biblical parlance:

  1. Saving one's life
  2. What I fear has come upon me
  3. Give me children, lest I die
Saving One's life vs. Letting Go of It

Often, when adoptive parents oppose adoptee access to the original birth certificate, they say "We're protecting the birth mother, who wanted and was promised confidentiality." But what they really mean is, "We are protecting ourselves, who wanted and were promised confidentiality." They are protecting themselves, guarding the goods, hanging on instead of letting go. They are doing what Jesus called "saving one's life," as opposed to losing it (Matthew 16:25-26).

Paradoxically, when adoptive parents try and hang onto their power over their own lives and those of the children they have adopted, even far past the time when they need to exert power over the adopted person because he or she has grown up, they are doing the very thing that is certain to cause them to lose power and influence in the lives of adoptees.

I told you earlier that many adoptive parents don't understand how parents can give up their rights to a child, even if they themselves encourage birth parents to give the children up and tell them how noble it is to do so. Some adoptive parents ask one another "How could she have given this child up?" privately, and then publicly they laud the birth mother for making such a right, good, and generous choice. They know what treasures their adopted children are because they can't produce treasures of their own. They stand in judgment of people who seem to have so little regard for such a great treasure.

Though they publicly talk and write about the noble choice of the birth mother, in their hearts they often judge the birth mother, branding her and punishing her by never giving her access to that child again. Why should they? She gave the child away. The child needs to be protected from someone like that, they reason. What they really mean is that they need to be protected from someone like that. They need to be protected from the threat of childlessness ever rearing its ugly head again.

Saving one's life instead of losing it for the beloved is about protecting the goods. It comes from the scarcity mentality, which teaches that there isn't enough to go around. There's not enough reproductive capability. There aren't enough adoptable children; not the kind most adoptive parents want. There isn't enough money to adopt. There isn't enough safety. There isn't enough love.

Adoptive parents say, "We love our adopted child and want what's best for him." What they really mean is, "We love our adopted child and want what's best for him, except when what's best for him conflicts with what's best for us: whatever makes us feel comfort able, in control, and safe." They don't want to lose their lives. They don't want to let go.

Adoptive parents say, "If our adopted daughter got her original birth certificate, she might search for and find her birth parents, and then might be rejected again, and might be hurt. We really want to protect her from being hurt." What they really mean is, "If our adopted daughter got her original birth certificate, she might search for and find her birth parents, and then we might be rejected and might be hurt. We really want to protect ourselves from being hurt."

Some people accuse the old-school reformers of making open records an issue of search and reunion. It isn't just the old-school reformers who are doing that. Adoptive parents are also making it about search and reunion, because that's what they most fear. FEAR. Yes, many adoptive parents are fearful people, even though they are powerful. It is fear, in fact, that makes them hang onto their own lives and souls instead of losing them, opening them up relaxing, and letting go.

"What I fear has come upon me."

Adoptive parents say "We don't want these birth mothers, who surrendered their babies and went on with their lives, to have their lives disrupted when adoptees come knocking at their door." But what they really mean is, "We don't want our lives disrupted when adoptees go knocking at their birth mothers' doors." They also mean, "We don't want to have our lives disrupted by a birth mother knocking at our door."

Adoptive parents are afraid of birth parents. They're afraid of the power of the genetic bond between parents and children, because although they have many different bonds with their adopted children: bonds of love, bonds of shared experiences, bonds of memory, bonds of familiarity, one bond they don't have with the adopted child is the genetic or biological bond. They fear it because they don't have it, don't understand it, or have no means of understanding it.

Adoptive parents talk about protecting the adoptee from hurt, and they talk about protecting the birth mother from shame, but they are really protecting themselves because they're afraid. They say that they don't want the promises made to birth mothers broken, but they are really afraid that the promises made to them as adoptive parents will be broken.

Promises are made to adoptive parents. Adoptive parents are promised confidentiality, privacy, and protection through the adoption decrees the courts give us. The adoption decrees of my children, for example, say that their natural parents are forever barred "possession of the child."

This is how adoptees come to be perpetual children. Though they grow up, their natural parents are forever barred from them, even when the adoptee stops being a minor. Most American adoptees are perpetual minors in the eyes of the law. When you have to get permission from mommy and daddy to see your own birth certificate, as in Oklahoma and other states, you're a minor whether you're 14 or 40.

It is always the adoptive parent who is most protected. American adoption is not and has not historically been about protection for the child, unless you understand that all adopted persons need to be protected from the sorts of people who would give their children up or have them taken away. And since adoptive parents want to believe that their children are completely their own, they have to forever banish the thought that their adopted children are inextricably connected to these people who would so wantonly give them up in the first place. Otherwise, the child of the wanton abandoner might grow up and become a wanton abandoner, too-and wantonly abandon the adoptive parents!

See how that works? Adoptive parents are afraid of being abandoned. The Apostle John, in the book of 1 John, wrote, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out ... The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Adoptive parents who live in fear haven't been perfected in love. They're greedy--they want all the love, all the control, all the relationship, all the loyalty, all the good stuff that comes from being parents.

And this brings us to the third destructive mindset of adoptive parents who hurt our cause with their power: covetousness.

"Give me children, lest I die"

How many times have you heard or read the adoptive parent line that sounds kind of like this: "We're the real parents who wiped these babies' butts, walked the floors with them at night when they were sick, paid for the braces on their teeth, and gave them that college education. We cheered them on at ball games, attended numerous recitals, and sat up nights waiting for them as teenagers." Lots of times, I know. I hear this all the time. "We're the real parents..."

Do you know what adoptive parents really mean by that? What they really mean is, "We're not real parents, and if our child searches for and finds her birth parents, she will abandon us and we will be what we were before we adopted: childless."

People who have to assert who they really are don't know who they really are. And in my experience as a parent by birth and by adoption, those adoptive parents whose children have not searched, or who have had no opportunity to search for and meet their birth parents--whether they've taken it or not--don't really know that they are real parents. They don't know that truth about themselves. And sometimes the only truth they have is an ugly one: they coveted and got someone else's child to raise and have lived with fear ever since. MI because of infertility, because Lord knows if they could have had children most of them would have.

Infertility is seen as a reproach in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and is often felt as one today, whether a person is religious or not. In the Bible we read many tales of infertility, of people longing for children, and of miraculous answers to prayer. We see infertility being cured miraculously, as with Sarah; Rebecca, Manoah's wife; Hannah; and Elisabeth. Examples of children given as direct answers to prayer are found in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Leah, Rachel, Hannah, and Zacharias.

In Proverbs 30:16, the Bible says that "There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, 'Enough:' Sheol (the nether world), and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, 'Enough."'

Think about that for a minute: the Bible teaches that the barren womb has a want that can't be satisfied. Ever. Not even through adoption. Which is why there is so much energy left in so many adoptive parents for self-defense.

An excellent example of how insatiable the barren womb can be is found in Genesis chapter 30, in the story of Rachel. Rachel was the second wife of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the nation of Israel. Jacob's first wife was Rachel's older sister Leah, who had already had children with Jacob. As the story goes,... when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister, and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, lest I die." Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld the fruit of the womb?" And she said, "Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her."

This is one of several Biblical examples of infertile women getting children to raise by taking the children of their handmaids as their own. But think about Rachel's lament. She says, "If you don't give me children, I am going to die!"

The child has the power to save the life of the childless mother. Instead of losing her life, finding a path of surrender in her heartache, Rachel looks around for someone to blame and someone to use. She puts the responsibility for saving her life on someone else, in this case, her husband. Also on her handmaid, Bilhah, and on the child who is yet to be born.

The Fruit of Wrong-Headedness

The envy and discontent of women like Rachel don't just go away because they adopt. Many of you have experienced the life-long results of living with parents whose perpetual state of dissatisfaction has made them twisted people.

All of our children's adoption decrees give my husband and I "the rights, duties, and other legal consequences of the natural relation of parent and child." Do you see how the law works for adoptive parents? The adoption decree gives many of us something that science, technology, and God didn't give us: "all the rights, duties, and other legal consequences of the natural relation of parent and child."

Abracadabra! Now we enjoy the consequences of being naturally related. Which is why we adoptive parents go around telling everyone how inappropriate it is to use the words "natural mother" and "natural father." By implication, that language makes us unnatural. And wrong-headed adoptive parents don't want any of the contrived aspects of their relationships with their adopted children pointed out to them. So they want you to change what you say.

A 1993 New York University study showed that infertile couples perceived infertility as a prolonged crisis which changed their views of themselves and others. They had stress in their relationships with their spouses, other family members, and friends. Many were not ready to move beyond infertility.

Infertile women rejected childlessness as an option, and found it especially important to shift their focus from the goal of pregnancy to parenthood--by adoption, of course. The men were more ambivalent about adoptive parenthood. The researcher commented that "a gaping hole was found to exist between infertility and resolution."

I wonder how big that gaping hole is? I think it's big enough for an adopted person to fall into. I think it's big enough to hold generations of sealed records. I think it's big enough to stop open records in many states and to cause adoptive parents who run national so-called adoption "reform" organizations to compromise away your rights, rights that they themselves take for granted.

A 1989 study about the perceptions of parenting after infertility found that infertility is a life crisis of such major importance that it can and often does cause subsequent parenting problems and disruptions in family-child relationships and development.

Infertile couples who had adopted children and couples who had given birth to children were compared. The study found that half the biological parents were conscientious and secure parents, compared with only 20 percent of infertile adoptive parents. Couples who had adopted after infertility had more parenting problems than biological parents. Reported problems in the parents, their adopted children, and in the marital relationship were found in a higher proportion of the families with a history of infertility. Half of the infertility-treated families, but none of the fertile families, reported problems in bonding with their children. This research seemed to indicate some degree of disturbed parenting and disruption in families with a history of infertility.

Other research shows that adoptive mothers bond to their adopted infants just as strongly as do biological mothers, but the research is contradictory. Some shows what our experience tells us to expect, which is that the bonds between adoptive parents and adopted children can be and often are as strong as those between parents and the children born to them. Other research shows what we fear, which is that the bonds and attachments are inferior.

While some of you have adoptive parents who were excellent parents, others of you had difficult experiences growing up. Sometimes this was because your parents, like many biological parents, were inexperienced and unskilled. But others of you had wrong-headed, or wrong-hearted parents. The influence of that type of adoptive parent is destructive to the adopted child growing up, and the influence continues to be destructive on a small scale and a large one.

Unless adoptive parents with destructive mindsets change, they continue to be destructive even after their children become adults.

If they aren't for us, they're against us. There can be no fence-sitters in adoption reform. You're either for it or you're not. So let's look at how we can divide the sheep from the goats, so to speak--those folks who will help us in reform, and those who most definitely won't.

(This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the Bastard Quarterly.)

Copyright 1998 L. Anne Babb
All Rights Reserved.


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