“My mom never made me feel adopted. My dad did,” I told my therapist in today’s session. It put a lot of things into perspective for me in the minuscule span of a few seconds.
‘Adopted’ as a feeling is profoundly complex. Even in the absolute best of situations, an adoptee will feel ‘adopted’ at some points in their life. What this feeling means to each individual is completely relative and situational, and there is an almost infinite amount of variables. It can depend on whether they know or don’t know they are adopted, whether or not they have siblings who are biological children of their (adoptive) parents, if their parents are abusive, if they look nothing like their parents (or siblings), if they are of a different race than the rest of their family, etc. This is an isolating feeling and can come with an array of emotions, but even then, it is vastly different from a person making someone feel adopted.
It’s a wretched feeling when you are told you should be grateful that your parents saved you. When you are told you look so much like your parents – or when you’re told you don’t. Or that you’re lucky to have been adopted. When it’s your own parent(s) making you feel this way, it brings out a whole other can of worms. It completely changes how you grow and develop as a person. Your insecurities and confidence. Your mental health. Your everything.
We look up to our parents. How can we not, at least in the beginning years of our lives? They are our first teachers. They are the first people we get to know. They are supposed to protect us, love us unconditionally, keep us safe, teach us about the world, teach us how to survive and prosper. At least that’s what society believes. Unfortunately that is not the case more often than it is. Families are hard. Genetics are wild. Add adoption to the mix and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Add an abusive parent or two and you get a recipe for disaster.
My mom told me I was adopted from day one. She was adamant that they not lie to me, that I didn’t grow up believing something that wasn’t true. I found out recently that it was part of the adoption agreement, in the paperwork, that they were to tell me about my adoption at an early age. When I was seven, I finally understood that I did not come from my mom’s body.
From then on, I thought I was the bees knees. I thought it was so cool to be different this way, that I had something to share that was unique that most people I knew didn’t understand. Didn’t have. Couldn’t share. I told everyone who would listen, to the probable torment of my parents. I didn’t mean to hurt them, I just thought it was cool! Oddly enough, in the adoption group my mom started, we kids didn’t even talk about adoption. We just played with each other, like any normal kid on a giant playdate.
I went through a phase of calling every woman I met in public ‘Mom’ even in front of my actual mom. I have no idea why, how old I was (pretty young, definitely below 10), or how long that lasted, but I know it bothered my mom greatly. If I think about it hard enough, the only answer I can come up with is maybe it had something to do with my birth mother. I knew none of them could be her as she lived in San Antonio, Texas, but I was a kid. I didn’t understand the impact that had on my mom. However, I still passionately believe that adopted kids should be told as early as they can speak.
Actions and words have consequences and can impact us. Hurt us. We have the power to let them affect us or not (which is in no way easy) but we are far more susceptible as kids to letting words and behaviors affect not only our emotions, but our development as well. Particularly from the people who raise us.
My mom was an incredible, passionate, loving, generous, and strong woman. We’ve had our fair share of fights but even at our worst, she never once threw my adoption in my face even though I did it to her. Yeah, I was one of those, “You’re not my real mom!” kids. Yikes. Even at our best, she never made me feel like I had to be grateful because of my adoption. She always made me feel so loved, so wanted. I have never had a single doubt in my mind about her, though test her I did. Subconsciously. This behavior is common among adoptees and is a way of, unknowingly, seeing how much they can get away with and if their mother will snap and leave one day. Or if she will stay. It’s a defense mechanism spawned from the beginnings of our lives when the first person we ever bonded with suddenly disappeared. It’s something many adoptees live with and causes abandonment issues. I didn’t discover this until long after she passed away, but we patched things between us long ago thankfully.
I have been cold to her, I have spoken cruel words, and I have lashed out. But she never once gave up on me. She has always had my back and has always been there for me, protecting me. My dad has, too, in a way that was… uniquely his own, and yet a product of his own upbringing.
My dad was psychologically and emotionally abusive to both of us. He used money as his main form of control. I finally got away from him financially five years ago when I was 28 – he had his claws in deep, let’s leave it at that. He controlled every aspect of my life. If there was anything he didn’t like or agree with, no amount of fighting or presenting facts or my own independence would change his mind even if he was proven wrong about something. I don’t know how many times he has disowned me. At least eight, maybe nine. They were mostly over ridiculous things as narcissists will always pick something to throw a fit over even if it has little to do with the actual thing upsetting them. I decided to take matters into my own hands finally and kicked him out of my life for good two months before my wedding because I’d had enough. It was the best thing I’d ever done for myself (at that time) aside from standing my ground and marrying a man he didn’t approve of. Though he wouldn’t have approved of anyone who wasn’t a rich businessman looking for a trophy wife. And let me tell you, I am no trophy wife.
He didn’t respect me. He believed he owned me. He treated me like an object. He liked to remind me often of how much money he’s spent on me, including before I was even born. He made me feel like I needed to impress him just to be liked. He made me feel stupid, ashamed, and that I would never measure up to his rich friends’ kids, who he constantly compared me to. I spent most of my life trying to make him proud, chasing something unattainable.
(updated 4/21/2021) We are in contact, currently. He loves me, I know that. I’ve always known that, even through the worst of it all. I understand that he fully believed he was doing the best things for me, and we’ve had it out about this. I’ve stood my ground and explained everything, set boundaries, made things right. Sort of. I feel like his daughter, but he has also made me feel adopted.
Adoption as a feeling is vast, deep, and dark.