The root of fear

In Sumeia Williams’ beautifully articulated post, "Well-Adjusted," she wrote, in response to some adoptive parents’ reactions towards certain "angry adoptees":

I think the reactions of some adoptive parents are sometimes rooted in
fear that their children might turn out to be one of the “the bad
ones.” I believe most adoptive parents genuinely love their children.
They don’t want them to be miserable, but that fear is often based on
that same all or nothing misconception.

I thought this response by someone posting as Rachel was very poignant. Rachel wrote,

…Anyway, I did want to respond to one thing you said – you said
something like the adoptive parents’ great fear is that they got the
“bad one”. I don’t think that’s really it; I think that most of us are
actually afraid that our children will decide that THEY got the bad
ones, that they’re sorry to have US as parents.

She later goes on to write,

I just hope that as my
kids grow and face all the questions and worries and confusion that
they will face, they will want to do that with me at their side . . .  but I fear there are other things I will do (or may even
be doing right now) that will leave my children feeling as angry and
betrayed as you seem to feel and cause them to turn away from me just
when they most need help and love. That is my greatest fear, and I
suspect you will find that this is true of a lot of adoptive parents.

I think that has to be one of the most honest comments I read in the entire series.

There is fear on all sides. Adoptees fear that they will not be loved or accepted by their family, or loved and accepted less than biological children. Sadly this fear is not completely unfounded. From the old fairy tales we read as children to personal experiences we have learned that society does not naturally accept adopted children the same. I was one of the adoptees who had parents and grandparents who never, ever considered me different than my siblings who were biologically related to them. But I still worried, I was still fearful that I had to be the perfect child because as the adopted child my position in the family was vulnerable.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and legally changed my name to add my Korean name that I fully understood my parents had their own fears. Although they could not articulate their fear the way "Rachel" did in her comment above, I recognize it as being the same. They personalized every attempt I made to "reclaim" my identity as a multi-faceted, multi-ethnic, multi-hyphenated person as being in reaction to them. Once they understood my decisions were not out of reaction to them but in response to my own identity formation they could let go of their fear and accept.

And it was a perfect example of how adoption is a life-long issue. I was 36 when I changed my name – an adult, with a partner and two kids. I was hardly a petulant child doing something oppositional in order to hurt my parents. And my parents were in their 60s. If my sister had changed her middle and last names, they would never have felt it was an act of anger towards them as her parents. They probably would have questioned her decision, and felt she was making a mistake. But they would not have personalized it.

Adoptive parents can go a long ways if they don’t personalize their child’s steps towards finding out "who they are." They need to remember that stepping away is a normal part of a child/teenager/young adult’s developmental process. Perhaps the residual fear on behalf of some adoptive parents make them more clingy and sensitive to their child’s normal process of independence. However, this is a necessary process that all humans need to go through to become independent and responsible adults.

What is that old saying about roots and wings? Hodding Carter was quoted as stating "two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings." This can be tricky for adoptive kids since in essence, their roots were pulled up and transplanted into foreign (literal or metaphorical) soil.

Roots are not the only things children need. Roots may bind your child closer to you, but in a way that makes them also stuck in one place. Being stuck in one place doesn’t easily lead one to explore who they are or search to find their authentic selves. And there are some parents – not just adoptive parents – who fear letting go. I think adoptive parents might feel this fear more acutely. Their children have been hurt. They feel protective. Maybe it took them many years and a lot of pain to become parents.

It is equally important that adoptive parents give their children wings. As a parent myself, I don’t want to forever be stuck in the parent mode. I hope someday my children grow up, take risks, separate themselves from me and find their authentic selves; I hope they grow up to be who they are, not what they think I want them to be. My wish is that our relationship as adults is not one based on fear but on love and mutual respect.

I think that in many ways, I was a person who didn’t realize I had my own wings. I spent too many years being stuck in a pot, rooted in fear. Once I discovered my wings, I just had to test them out and see where they could take me. I never knew there was so much out there for me, so many opportunities and the chance to meet others just like me. Stuck in my pot, I was unaware there were others like me out there.

So, yes, those wings seemed to take me far away from my adoptive parents at times.

However, when my parents were ready to accept my independence without fear – those same wings brought me back home.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

4 thoughts

  1. I can say that Rachel speaks for me as well. I want to raise my daughter in a way that makes her feel she can be who she is and ask any questions. I don’t fear who she will become. I fear that she’ll think she got the short end of the stick. My daughter is perfect – for me.

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