I literally woke up with this question in my head, so before I forget it, here it goes:
Did you always want to be a mom? More specifically, did you feel you were entitled to be a mom? Entitled to have a kid, was that a conscious thought or just an expectation once you met your love?
I struggle with entitlement. I never felt entitled to anything. I HAVE felt lucky, grateful but not entitled. I know what lucky and grateful is supposed to look like, but entitled always felt like a dirty word. I always think “why?” when I hear that I am entitled to have love, family, information.
Just a brain purge.
have you ever read the book, secret thoughts of an adoptive mother by jana wolff?
I did not always want to have kids.
And I did not think I HAD to have kids to be happy.
I thought, there are two parallel lives in front of me:
I can find meaningful ways to be generative and be happy and child-free.
Or, I can become a parent – I have skills that could be well applied to parenthood. Which could also be meaningful path.
I also had a foster sibling who was later adopted- and I have, since, met many biological offspring/siblings of adoptive parents/adopted siblings that become adoptive parents. Perhaps it is a way that we identify with our parents as adoptive parents, Perhaps it is a way that we identify with our siblings, perhaps it has something to do with living in an adoptive family that becomes part of your own identity.
Moreover, I actually thought, and still do in a weird way, that I was somehow, in ways that still cant quite articulate, better prepared to be an adoptive parent. That my own peculiar history and somewhat extreme losses made me better equipped to be an adoptive parent than a biological one.
I’m not offering this up as a rationale or a justification, nor am I even suggesting that these are or are not good reasons to adopt, or that there are good, or “better” reasons to adopt –
It is how I thought at the time. Usually when people ask about “why?” – Whether they are adoptees or people who have nothing to do with adoption – I feel a pressure – like I am expected to defend my choice – which I don’t want to do – as I accept the complexity of the ethical and political realities around international adoption -or I am expected to break down and confess that I regret bringing these children into my life – which, I can never do. I can’t regret it- it has transformed me too profoundly – and I love my kids with every piece of every cell in my body– although I can care about the effect that my choices had on them, and on others.
And – if Korea had said: you’ve had too much therapy (and they did because we were honest and they asked for additional documentation – and we expected to be turned down) or you are too old:
Or if we hadn’t found an adoption path or a program that had appeared (at the time) to be ethical, or a good fit for us, or had rejected us.
We would have been a little sad and we would have moved on and we would have had a fine life (with MUCH more international travel and disposable income I might add)
So- I didn’t have an internal MANDATE to parent that many do- and I didn’t feel: “I am internally entitled to adopt a from any country I choose for I am an American and how dare they make me take classes or jump through hoops” or some of the kinds of things I have heard prospective adoptive parents say.
But I did feel, and still do feel, and have always felt EQUIPPED to be an adoptive parent. Equipped to tolerate the paradoxes and to love a child who may struggle with similar paradoxes and ambivalences and losses.
Equipped to admit when I don’t know something and to shut up and listen.
I do think my kids are entitled to a family – and sometimes I think they are entitled to more that I can provide –
But entitlement doesn’t protect any of us from losing those entitlements.
I don’t feel entitled to the food we unintentionally waste and consume, when I know there are people within miles of me who do not have enough.. Or who live more effectively on less than I do with more.
Is this our next post? A discussion of entitlement?
I read the “secret thoughts” book years ago. Can’t remember it.
What are your thoughts about it?
yes, I am thinking the same thing…
keeping this dialogue going.
I am struck that perhaps the reason you are so free to explore your children’s inner feelings of identity and your own is that you did not have the same expectations so many other women talk about? The Secret Thoughts of An Adoptive Mother is a great example. I thought Jana was amazingly candid about her desire to be a mother. I thought what she said early on in her book was so key – no one ever dreams of being an adoptive mother.
At the same time, being in that place of not feeling like you HAD to have kids is a privilege of sorts, don’t you think?
I am struck by my own community of adoptee women – most of us really desired the physical connection to another like ourselves. But there are a fair number of adoptees who do not want kids at all. Neither position coming from a place of entitlement it seems. What is presumed to be a natural desire is not one that is a natural evolution in all of us.
Certainly my comfort being child-free grew out of my cultural inheritance of white privilege as a college educated, master-level White-American feminist – who could expect to earn a certain amount of income, who holds hyper-individuality as a value, who had my undergraduate education paid for etc –
I expected – as white women of my generation did – that there were in fact many different pathways to fulfillment available to me – and that I did not see dependency on traditional family structures or expectations as mandatory.
If I had less opportunity for educational and professional fulfillment, less sense of entitlement to autonomy from the expectations of my community, or encountered more significant – or insurmountable institutional or financial obstacles/barriers to professionalism – if other roads to fulfillment were more closed off – as they are, and have been for many other women – then motherhood might have been a more important internal imperative.
I felt myself to have an abundance of choice in the matter. In other words: Privilege.
I actually did usually imagine being an adoptive mother – in the very rare moments when I imagined having children at all – and not because I thought it was a “good thing to do to help a child” but because my inherited familial narrative required constantly that I make family for myself out of non-biological relationships – non-biological family felt more normal to me than biological family.
Conversely, I think that my familial/emotional/psychological inheritance also meant, that certain “normal” avenues to fulfillment – having a nuclear, biological family – felt closed off to me – because of the ways that my very complicated family history left me with my own narrative burden/expelled and out outside of the dominant “normal for white people” culture.
So- as always, for me, it is never just one thing – but probably simultaneously my combination of privilege – and the narrative burden I inherited which left me also feeling outside of the dominant narrative.
I do think that my being a “weirdo” among straight white adoptive parents – outside of the usual hetero-normative adoptive “infertility and/or save a child” motivations (in this – I often identify more comfortably with some gay adoptive parents) since I didn’t want to save anyone, and biological infertility wasn’t an issue -gives me a great deal of curiosity about what is going on in other adoptive families – I work to understand their context as I really don’t understand it automatically at all.
And maybe other “weirdness” about my history – (and here I am referring, to things that have nothing to do with having an adoptive sibling) helps me at times to identify – although not in any equal or exact way – with the kinds of challenges my kids might face, or at the very least – the kinds of empathy they might need from me regarding their own narrative burdens.
I could deduce, from the way that I had attached to clients, and the kids I saw in my therapeutic practice that I would certainly deeply attach to a child – but I could only really see myself as a Mother after I had become one.
How does your experience of entitlement – or lack of it – affect your relationship to the community of adoptees?
Mine puts me a little out of synch with the straight adoptive parent community much of the time so I’m curious?
As for my relationship with my fellow adoptees, I feel I have always been a bit stuck in the middle. My gratitude and objective appreciation for what growing up American has done for me will never allow me to be against adoption. My personal circumstances of how I was adopted and how I felt growing up makes me enraged at the system and the terrible choices certain adults made. My own therapist tells me that I am very black and white but perplexing in that I can stand comfortably in the grey. I think it is because I am always curious and have a burning desire to figure it out. I also love company, I don’t want to be a lone wolf. I want to be a part of a community. I find adoptees in general to be incredibly supportive. I am grateful for the group I met early on in life, they will grow old with me. They are family.
Having said that, I struggle with the level of entitlement that does pervade our conversation. Maybe entitlement is not the right word. I think it is privilege. I struggle with hearing the privilege and am troubled that others don’t see that they are. I believe that by virtue of our how we were raised, blindly in the white majority, we absorb some of that unspoken privilege. It comes out in the way we see our birth countries and our expectations of how things should change.