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Angry in a Whole New Light

We’ve received many comments about this blog; many good, some bad, all interesting. A while ago I was told something that gave me pause. The comment (from an adoptive parent) went something like this: They believed that adoptive parents are negatively triggered by this blog due to the vocalism of the adoptees present here – in the comments as well as the posts- that it brings up the fear that their children may “turn out” like the adoptees on the blog, and that this would be a terrible thing.

My answer was that it was sad they felt that way, because I felt that any adoptive parent should be proud to be the parent of such thoughtful, honest, and introspective men and women.

I see this as yet another example of the disconnect between many adoptees and adoptive parents. Because I know this individual personally, I took their comment with a grain of salt. However, I honor the truth of the sentiment and have no doubt that other readers may feel similarly.

It’s no surprise that, being adopted myself, I disagree with the statement, but the reason why may not be so obvious. I know many adoptees, and although this is not true across the board (adoptees will never be pigeonholed), i’ve found that more often than not, when you look beyond the surface, the adoptees whom a casual observer may most likely label as an “angry adoptee” or see as being the most critical of different aspects of adoption, are often the very ones who have the closest and healthiest relationships with their adoptive parents. It seems counter-intuitive, but I see it over and over again.

I think a healthy and honest relationship with one’s adoptive parents sets the stage, not only for an adoptee to feel safe exploring their own adoption experience, but also to feel safe and comfortable exploring different aspects of adoption as a whole. Some may take this exploration, especially if it includes any criticism of adoption in general, as being rooted in instability or anger. I would call that short-sighted.

When an adoptee makes a critical statement about adoption or adoption practices it doesn’t automatically mean that they are “angry” or have a bad relationship with their parents. Often, the opposite is true, and all it really means is that they’ve been paying attention.

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  cynthia wrote @ October 4th, 2010 at 6:26 pm

This is a great post, thanks.

  YoonSeon wrote @ October 4th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

This is SO well said. Before I began the blog I have now, I blogged much more about adoption, and I lost count of the amount of people who said/assumed that I was an angry adoptee who hated her adoptive parents. I was always like “umm, no… I’m just writing about adoption from my perspective and writing about the challenges that come with it. It’s not about hating. I don’t hate my life at all… I don’t know where that comes from!”.

Thanks for writing this. :-)

  Lena wrote @ October 5th, 2010 at 10:30 am

YES!!!

Thank you so much for this post. It’s not such a black and white, either/or. We can be angry about the blase attitudes, the social structures that prevent some women from being able to parent, while still loving our families.

  Lani wrote @ October 5th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Well said Tara. I’ve heard it said that “silence does not equal consent.” perhaps we could also say that “using your voice does not equal discontent.”

  Jenn P wrote @ October 6th, 2010 at 3:58 am

Well said! I completely agree. BUT…we also need to take this adoptive mother’s comment seriously in that if she has this fear (which obviously she does), many other adoptive parents probably do to.

This is exactly how I felt, as a birthmother, when I read Jana Wolff’s book, “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother.” Most birthmothers hated it (with venom!) but I read it and knew there was much work to be done ~ and respected Jana for having the courage to say what so many other’s must have been thinking (in secret) too.

It is only through educating that we can show the counter-intuitivness that is so much of adoption. The bittersweetness that weaves it’s way though this process is endless!

  Edie Thomajan wrote @ October 6th, 2010 at 10:29 am

Tara,
Thank you for your response to this comment made by an adoptive mother; it brings the value of speaking our truth to the table for me on many levels.

As parents we want our children to be happy, well adjusted, and thriving. To a fault, it comes in the form of worries- few parents don’t worry about their childrens’ future. Worries about my son being troubled or angry regarding his adoption are one layer, not unlike others, his developmental challenges for example, or worries about our son who is not adopted.

Exploring one’s own adoption story, emotions and adoption matters freely, and giving voice to this is certainly healthy. I value the opportunity for this and yet, there are times where I admittedly don’t like what I hear, and read into things.

I am reminded that I don’t want to take any of it personally and do want to be open to my part. And I am willing to be with my son’s anger when it comes- and it already does. How could it pass without allowing it through?

  Micah wrote @ October 6th, 2010 at 10:31 am

What I find most interesting when people disucss the concept of the
‘angry adoptee” is that the observation is based off of limited experience with that person. It was one time, one conversation, one topic, one quick judgement. I would know, because there have been times when I have done it myself.
Being the kind of person who supresses negative feelings, I had the impression that being angry or showing signs of discontent would only isolate me from my family, friends or relatives. I had the feeling that the people around me would not know how to handle the passionate feelings I had inside. The sad part about is is that I never thought about testing the waters and pursuing the difficult conversations I really wanted to have.
I didn’t come to recognize anger or frustration or passion until I was in the presence of other people who were comfortable expressing their feelings. But because I was getting to know some of these people on a deeper level, I had the opportunity to look beyond the superficial label of “angry.” Strong relationships with both agreements and disagreements can be built when we allow ourselves to open up and acquaint ourselves with having tough conversations with angry feelings expressed.
For a long time, I was afraid to show my anger, frustration and pain to my parents. It took a lot of mental preparation to bring up old and new feelings with them. There were moments when they resisted or were offended so i would slow down or save the conversation for another time. I needed to give them time to comprehend everything I was telling them rather than just throw it all out there. I was persistent and would come back to a topic or conversation if it was left infinished. I think I leanred that there is a two way street when working with “angry” or hightened feelings, and I have an even strong relationship with my family because of it.

Thanks for sharing this post Tara!

  Lee wrote @ October 8th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

As an adoptive parent I spend a great deal of time reading blogs of adult adoptees with a wide variety of feelings about their adoptions and adoptions in general. I consider it my responsibility as an adoptive parent to kind of shut up and listen. That said, on some of the FB threads and some blog posts there seem to be some posters (mostly adoptees, some APs) who seem to be attacking (often off topic), and almost goading in a way that I don’t think supports what AM is trying to do, IMHO, of course. AM is here for all members of the triad to honestly communicate, I am so grateful for that. And I don’t deny anyone their anger but I do feel that there is a certain amount of temperance on all sides in this kind of context that would benefit even the “angry” adoptees if education of defensive APs is something they’re shooting for (rather than just having a place to process.)

  John Raible wrote @ October 8th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

As an Angry Adoptee and AP who has worked for thirty years trying to help white APs nd social workers to “get it,” I’m just about out of patience.

From now on, I’m going to be focusing on adoptee empowerment, not parent education. It feels too much like trying to educate segregationists about why they should end Jim Crow, or teaching the US Cavalry why Native cultures should be respected and preserved. What’s the point? Adoptive parents want one thing–loyal, obedient children that they have invested thousands of dollars in to give them a particular experience of parenting. Transracial adoptees want something else: freedom, autonomy, dignity, social justice.

Reality check: Transracial adoption is not about the parents, birht or adoptive. I’m not here to dialogue with some imagined “adoption triad.” This has been my mistake, to think that it was. Transracial adoption is about the adoptees and how we are forced to deal with race and adoption, plain and simple. I’ve wasted way too much energy on trying to win parents over. Time now to bolster transracial adoptees, young and old.

  Beckett Franklin Gray wrote @ October 8th, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I enjoy your posts and feel honored to have the privilege of reading it. Thank you.

  melissa wrote @ October 21st, 2010 at 7:56 am

I’m commenting late on this post.

AP’s who let fear get the best of them end up creating what they’re actually trying to avoid. They’re fearful that if their child grows up to be “angry” (which is such a poor descriptive anyway) that they’ll “lose” their child. If you accept and meet your child where they’re at, they’ll come to you and feel able to work through these emotions with you. But if you shut them down and make them feel as though they’re a “bad, ungrateful” adoptee for feeling anger or grief or even rage, then, well, it’s going to result in your child not feeling close to you & feeling rejected.

Why is it so hard for AP’s to get this?

And so what if an adult adoptee gets angry at times? It’s a normal, healthy emotion. We ALL, adopted or not, feel anger at times throughout our lives–it’s what we DO with it that matters. Feeling angry is not a bad thing in and of itself. If AP’s get past their fear, they can actually be a part of helping their adopted children to express & channel these emotions in a constructive and meaningful way.

And like you wrote, Tara, those of us who often get labeled as “angry” actually have close relationships with our parents. Furthermore, criticism & a call for reform of adoption practices hardly means we’re angry…

  Sue wrote @ November 15th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Adoptees spend their whole lives trying to find themselves. Not knowing can make you seem “Angry”, but the fact is we are just lost and confused. I needed my AP’s to understand my loss and allow me to talk openly about my adoption. Instead we were always told not to bring it up and “Wait until I’m dead if you want to seek your families.” That is a huge load to put on a child and I am still haunted by it. I was the first adoptee in our family to seek my roots. When I finally told my parents, they were so upset that they didn’t talk to me for months. I was shocked, hurt and alone that they weren’t there for me while I struggled with getting to know my Birth Mother. She was never Mom, never will be Mom, and I couldn’t get my adopted mom to believe that. Although I wanted to love them both, I felt that would be disrespecting my adopted mom and that hurt me. I believe my steps toward the truth partially killed her. It sent her spiraling downward until she died. Adoptive Parents have to know that their words and actions toward the adoptees natural family are taken to the heart of their children. If you want to be dead before we find our roots, don’t adopt.

  steph wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Thank you for sharing Sue. I am sorry you had to go through that. I agree that adoptive parents need to support their childrens’ rights to connect with their roots.

  Von wrote @ April 5th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

So sad Sue that adopters are so threatened by reunion, our right, when they don’t ned to be.We need to know who we are, adoption took that away.As a senior adoptee I can tell youn it hasn’t taken my whole life to find myself although I know I will never be free of adoption and all of it’s effects.

  Daniel Ibn Zayd wrote @ July 1st, 2011 at 12:36 am

Just to follow up on what John said, there is an added dimension to this which echoes the cultural disconnects he mentions: that of discourse. The culture we are adopted into pays much lip service to “proper discourse”, whether in terms of parliamentary procedure, or Robert’s Rules of Order, or how a court of law works, or netiquette, or what have you. This is culturally based, and allows those in a position of dominance culturally speaking to enforce or change the rules of discussion when that discussion becomes uncomfortable. Thus it starts to be about HOW the discussion is taking place, and not WHAT is being said. The epithet “Angry Adoptee” thus qualifies the interlocutor before he or she even begins to speak; it shows the power differential before any conversation has taken place.

Personally, in the past, I have tried to be the calm, clear-headed, rational explainer, appealing to a sense of justice or fairness. This got me nowhere, and more often than not banned from a variety of pro-adoption web sites. Now, like John, I consider our Voice to be similar to that of other displaced and dispossessed peoples, some of whom he has listed above. In this regard, if APs never spoke again, and every adopted child screamed out loud endlessly for a thousand eternities, it still would only start to equalize what has always been a discussion that promotes those on the power side of the divide. It can’t help but be that.

  Von wrote @ July 5th, 2011 at 9:46 pm

As a second poster here, I find John’s new approach the most valid and honest thing I’ve heard in a long time about transnational adoption and ‘the triad’.There are adopters out there who genuinely get it but that realisation came after adoption, not before.
While we’re telling some truths, adoptees are often told their mothers loved and wanted them, no mother would admit otherwise would she? We are often told this by adopters and when they say this they’d better have proof and be right -imagine finding out it was not true and a sham as many do in reunion! In some senses it is irrelevant, because we still became adoptees whether they left, abandonned,wanted, loved,dumped or agonised over having us forcibly removed.That is not denying their experience but it is time the adoptee experience was recognised equally.Wave after wave of young adoptees will now grow up to join us adult adoptees, each wave may speak out more loudly than the last, perhaps one day we will be more than a second-rate disempowered minority.

  Anne P wrote @ July 6th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I cant tell you how empowering it is for a young adoptee to hear that it’s okay for them to reject adoption without rejecting their adoptive parents. I work with adoptee teen groups, and so many of them sit on the fence with this. Since I am an adoptee myself I believe they feel they can speak with me more honestly than with their parents, and what i’m seeing is that they are scared. They see how the system of adoption is broken, but they are afraid to talk about it with their parents. They are afraid to dig deeper because they see it as a rejection of their parents. They cant separate it.

I felt the same when I was younger. It’s a tough dichotomy for a kid to figure out, and to figure out alone. I want to print this post out and give it to the kids I work with as an example.

  Von wrote @ July 6th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Excellent idea,adoptees are best supported by adoptees not by non-adoptees and certainly in my experience not by mothers who have an agenda which is not helpful..the ‘loves and wanted’ agenda which so often is not true.I’ve also seen a mother write that she believes the adoption trauma of mothers is the same as that of adoptees!! Adopters are not the only ones who don’t get it.The insistence by some mothers’ groups that all adopters are ‘vultures’ and that adoptess were ‘ripped from their wombs’ may keep their trauma alive but it is of not help to adoptees. It seems that In order to be an ‘acceptable adoptee’ it is necessary to reject your adopters along with adoption.Adoption may be broken and badly,but some adopters do their best in difficult circumstances. All adoptees suffer loss whether their mother wanted and loved them or not.

  Dinerlee wrote @ July 6th, 2011 at 6:35 pm

It doesn’t make much sense to argue against how someone feels and it is simply painful to have the person making that argument be your own parent.
It makes even less sense to fear that merely being exposed to someone else’s anger makes another person feel the same way. On the other hand, if people share a common experience and one of them can name what they feel and that resonates with another, it’s not because the latter was “infected,” it is simply that what was dwelling in them was finally identified and given a name. This is knowledge and validation, not brainwashing. Brainwashing is when you deny the facts and feelings that are true.
Beneath most if not all anger is hurt and it needs to be examined, aired out, expressed, and most of all validated, acknowledged as true, and comforted. It can only be a very painful thing to have your own honest hurt denied by your parent. This is a place where the adoptive parents need to “man up” to their responsibility as parents, and find a way to give comfort for a loss, an abandonment, a helplessness, rather than give in to childish fears, possessiveness, or demands that everyone play their pre-determined part in this play.

  Margie wrote @ July 7th, 2011 at 6:53 am

Thank you for this post, and thank you Dr. Raible, and thanks Anne P for this:

“I cant tell you how empowering it is for a young adoptee to hear that it’s okay for them to reject adoption without rejecting their adoptive parents.”

Now, how to get APs to understand this, too …

  Kris Beisel wrote @ July 7th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

John Raible wrote “Adoptive parents want one thing–loyal, obedient children that they have invested thousands of dollars in to give them a particular experience of parenting.” Wow, as an adoptive parent, I never knew I wanted this.

I adopted my kids from social services and I have answered all their questions as honestly as I possibly could, kept lines of communications open and developed relationships with birthfamilies (when it was safe to do so), and support them in their quests to find birthfamilies and rebuild relationships with them. The last thing I ever wanted as a parent was gratitude – my kids are who they are because of their birthfamilies and if we don’t honor them, we don’t deserve to be parents.

Now this doesn’t mean that worries or jealously (and at times anger for how my children were treated by their birthfamilies) don’t pop up in me at times, but I have to put those aside for the good of my kids. I’ve encouraged my kids to express their anger about their adoptions, anger at me for not being their birthmom and for “taking them away” from their birthfamilies. We talk about all of these things.

So, please, John, do not give up on educating the parents. If I hadn’t educated myself about these issues, I would have been caught off guard by my children’s feelings. APs need to know (as best as they can) what feelings to expect.

Kris

  Kelly wrote @ July 7th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Long before our daughter was placed with us, I just started reading everything I could find, blogs, books, news stories, news papers, magazines, about adoption, the effect on the adopted, adoptive parents, and birth parents and siblings. I learned so much, and when we had our first foster placement, it helped me so much. Even reading posts of the angry, hurt, confused helped me become a better parent. Whether your children are by birth, by adoption, step parenting, or foster parenting, learning and knowing helps. I know first hand how much it helps because I have been a mother as all four of these means. It’s great to have a sounding board. It’s great to have people to go to with questions, or concerns. Every situation is different, you never know how different situations will effect different children. If as a parent you try to be prepared it can make all the difference.

  Tara wrote @ July 8th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Thank you everyone for your comments, on a post that I wrote almost a year ago.

To Anne P, I too, have worked with adoptee youth and teens, and have found the same thing, that they feel safer discussing some aspects of adoption with adult adoptees that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking to others about, including their adoptive parents. I think it’s easy to forget that adopted teens and young adults have a voice too. They also have access to the internet. I know several who read this, and other adoption blogs.

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