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There is Enough Love

From Guest Blogger Dawn Friedman visit her at www.thiswomanswork.com, and click here>> for more information on Adoption Mosaic Bloggers.

On Saturday we had a big celebration for my son’s bar mitzvah and most of our immediate family were there including our daughter’s birth mom, Pennie. We have a very open adoption with Pennie that has grown in the last 5 and half years to something we have integrated comfortably into the rest of our family life. Pennie is not a special event or a separate experience and for our daughter that has been nothing but good.

The night before the celebration, Madison had a hard time falling asleep. She was excited about the party but she was also worried about something. I left the room to get her a drink of water and when I came back, she was sitting up in bed sobbing.

“I don’t want to share Pennie!” she cried. “I don’t want to share Roscoe!”

Roscoe is her new baby brother. Pennie gave birth about four months ago and the transition wasn’t easy for Madison. It was hard for her to understand why she was placed with us while Roscoe got to stay with Pennie. We’ve done a lot of adoption processing these past few months and the result has been a better, stronger relationship with Pennie. This has always been true as we’ve faced our adoption challenges head on.

What I’ve noticed with Madison is that the more permission we give her to claim her kinship to Pennie, the more confidence she has in her relationships with us. It might seem counter-intuitive to people who don’t know how open adoption works but when we – my husband and I – are able to model respect and acceptance for Pennie’s place in her life, the more secure she is in trusting our respect and acceptance of her.

But that night she was crying and crying and crying. She didn’t want to share Pennie with the other grown-ups. She didn’t want to share Roscoe with the other kids.

“She is MY birth mother!” she explained through her tears. “And I don’t get to see her enough! I don’t want to share her!”

So we called Pennie and Madison sobbed on the phone to her. I couldn’t hear what Pennie said but I could hear the cadence of her voice through the phone – soothing, sympathetic. You know, like a mom.

The next day, after the services and the raucous, happy party, Madison cuddled with me on the couch.

“What was your favorite part?” I asked.
“I loved the food,” she answered readily. “I loved the music. I loved seeing my friends.”
“And you loved me, right?” I teased.
“Yes,” she said. “But not as much as Pennie.”

I’m sharing this story for two reasons: One because I want people to understand that Pennie, although she is not actively day-to-day mothering, is still Madison’s mother. A central part of my motherhood is making way for that in ways that are appropriate for Madison. Because Pennie is who she is, that means giving the two of them space to build their own loving, nurturing relationship. Fostering our children’s healthy relationship to their birth families – whether they are present or not – is a vital aspect of being an adoptive parent. Figuring out how to manage this within the circumstances of our kids’ unique adoption stories is an ongoing process.

The other reason I’m sharing this story (of Madison asserting her right to love Pennie best) is to say that there are certainly times my daughter lets me know that I’m coming in second. Sometimes it’s overt and casual like this weekend. Sometimes it’s said in anger (“I wish I lived with Pennie! She wouldn’t make me clean my room!”) and sometimes it’s wistful and worried (“Mommy, would you be sad if I thought Pennie was prettier than you?”).

Here’s the thing: My daughter’s love for Pennie has nothing to do with me although its presence is part of our relationship, too. Because I have two kids, I know that you can love people totally the same and totally different. I know that love is indefinable and immeasurable. I know that “I love you” means a whole lot of things for which words are inadequate. So I think I understand how Madison can love us both as her mothers and how sometimes her immediate feelings will be stronger one way then stronger the other. That she adores me, I have no doubt. The rest (how much, how often) is details and unimportant ones at that.

It’s not a contest. I tell my own kids that all the time when they bicker over servings of dessert or privileges given to one but not the other. While they may be too young to always trust that there is enough love for everyone, I am older and wise enough to know that it’s true.

Pennie had to leave the bar mitzvah party early so she headed out into the crowd of kids to say her good-byes to Madison. Maddie’s friends were sitting cross-legged watching them hug and kiss. As Pennie straightened up and started to move toward the door and Madison turned to run back to her friends, the little girls all spontaneously applauded. They know a good thing when they see it.

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  Guest post over Adoption Mosaic » this woman’s work wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 4:34 pm

[...] for here but they were kind enough to ask for a guest blog and I was honored and happy to share: There is Enough Love. tweetmeme_url = [...]

  Peach wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I really enjoyed reading your post ~ thank you for validating your daughter’s reality.

  andy wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

What a great post! I can only hope that through people sharing their story like you do, that more and more people will understand that “it’s not a contest” and that you can love “people totally the same and totally different” Well said!

  Socialwrkr24/7 wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Perfectly put. I wish I could say more – but it wouldn’t do you justice! :)

  Elise wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I truly appreciate your ability to put into words what I have been feeling. We have been getting to know my daughter’s birthmother via facebook for the past few months. It has been challenging and wonderful, but many friends, whose reality is different than ours, do not understand my need/responsibility/desire to facilitate this relationship. I also find the more room I give my daughter to express her love/grief/excitement/anger the closer our relationship becomes. Thank you for sharing!

  Shelise wrote @ February 8th, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing. As an adult adoptee, your post helped ease some of my adoptive parent loyalty angst.

  Campbell wrote @ February 9th, 2010 at 8:43 am

I talk about how important parenting without ego is and this is another amazing example of it. I’m in awe.

  Jennifer wrote @ February 10th, 2010 at 6:04 am

What a wonderful post. As an adoptive-mom-to-be who is hoping to have an open adoption, reading this post gives me hope that my own open adoption can work. I’ll also echo what Campbell wrote – I am in awe of your ability to parent without ego, Dawn. What an inspiration.

  Dawn wrote @ February 10th, 2010 at 9:57 am

During the first year parenting Madison, I definitely was trying to find my way but thankfully there were several adult adoptees (online and off) who were able to give me new perspective and lovingly, gently give me new ways to think about parenting Madison. Watching her blossom within this open adoption makes me realize what stellar advice I received!!!

  Bee wrote @ February 10th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I enjoy reading your essays Dawn and I appreciate learning your perspective on the world. This blog entry made me think a bit of a situation we had with our son and his two grandmothers. While I’m sure he had enough love for both of his grandmothers and he did love both of them, he had a strong preference for one of them.

If at the age of six, our son choose to tell his less preferred grandmother that he loved her less I would have considered it my responsibility as a parent to help him understand why telling people you don’t love them as much as another person is not kind. And, if he continued on an ongoing basis to try to engage the grandmothers in discussions about which considered to be prettier or nicer I would find that even less acceptable and again I would consider it my responsibility as a parent to help him with that. I believe my child is a kind person and would like to understand how to behave in a way that is not unnecessarily hurtful to other people.

I’m wondering what you would do in the situation of a six year old child telling a grandmother she isn’t as nice or pretty as his other grandmother. Would that be something you would discourage as an inappropriate way to treat other people? How do you see this as similar or different from this situation?

  Dawn wrote @ February 11th, 2010 at 6:55 am

Hi Bee, I do consider that different. And I identify both with you and your son in this situation since my kids have gone back and forth about which grandma is their favorite and I had a favorite grandma as a child, too. I’m assuming that your son’s relationship with you is more intimate than his relationship with either grandmother (I could be wrong about this, I’m basing it on my own kids’ relationships with me and their grandparents) and so likely he confides in you more about lots of stuff that’s private. My kids can come to me or their dad with feelings about their grandparents for help processing them and likewise they can come to me or their dad with feeling about US they need help processing.

Another facet to this is that I know that many adoptees have huge issues of loyalty with their parenting parents that gets in the way of figuring out how their adoption stories matter TO THEM, which is to say that we adoptive parents can be barriers to our kids as they grow and integrate their adoption stories as part of their normal developmental process. Because of this, I think that we need to be explicit about being strong enough to withstand ALL of their feelings and not just the ones that are easy for us to handle. I remember telling my mom that I loved my dad best and I felt compelled to tell her because I felt so GUILTY for loving my dad best and I needed her to forgive me. And of course she did because my mom understood and also knew me well enough that she could take my love for granted, which was a security that holds me TO THIS DAY so I hope I can give that to my kids, too.

Finally there’s another difference between my daughter being hurtful to be hurtful and simply sharing her feelings. This is something I wrote about here:
http://www.thiswomanswork.com/2009/12/07/hate/ (madison’s birth mom commented on this one, too, with a pretty funny comment)

  Dawn wrote @ February 11th, 2010 at 6:57 am

Found another one in my archives!
http://www.thiswomanswork.com/2008/10/02/im-swell-but-not-that-swell/

  Bee wrote @ February 12th, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Thanks for the links Dawn. I don’t believe children who are adopted are less capable of developing age appropriate understanding of feelings and appropriate ways to communicate them. It is a parental responsibility to teach this. Typically developing six year olds are capable of learning to be consider the feelings of other people.

Coming to a loved one and expressing worries about feelings or testing to find out if you are loved certainly could be the basis of a good discussion where adults share information about love. I see that as very different from a child on an ongoing basis attempting to engage a parent by saying they are not as pretty or loved as somebody else. I do not believe this behavior makes the child feel more secure or understood and in fact being so disrespectful could over time reinforce feelings of insecurity. If you ask again and again “where is the limit?” and you get the message no one trusts you enough to tell you that doesn’t promote feelings of security. I believe it is disrespectful to the child’s capabilities to treat such behavior as all they are capable of because they are adopted.

  Dawn wrote @ February 13th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Bee, I’m not sure if you’re saying that I’m giving Madison special consideration? Because I’m not — I’d react the same way if my son came to me and told me he loved his dad more than he loves me. It sounds like we have different values and beliefs about how our children speak with us about their feelings? I don’t automatically perceive preference as an insult and fortunately neither did my mom, which is why she was comforting to me when I worried about issues of loyalty between her and my father. (Because we became a divorced family, this set the tone for me to be able to trust her with my very complicated feelings about my dad and my new stepmom and my new half-sisters when they came along.) Anyway, I may be misreading you and for the record, neither of my kids have never attempted to engage me by saying that I am no as pretty or as loved as anyone else so that is absolutely not the issue in this discussion.

  Bee wrote @ February 13th, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Thanks for clarifying that this is a general parenting approach and not an adoption specific one.

Yes, I think you misunderstood my comment. My suggestion was not that parents should “automatically perceive preference as an insult.” Quite to the contrary. Parents play a vital role in helping kids understand the complex and conflicted feelings that are part of being in human relationships. My parents were divorced too and I greatly appreciate the efforts my parents made to encourage open discussion including getting us family therapy.

Where we may part company is I see a significant part of learning to understand feelings is learning how to express them in ways that are appropriate and kind to other people. Of course there is a developmental component to this process and our expectations for a two year old and a six year old and a twelve year old should not be the same. In my opinion a typically developing six year old should be capable of understanding that saying to a parent over and over again (a thousand times over) that they prefer another person or think you are not as pretty or whatever insult isn’t cool behavior. There is a difference between testing out the waters and intentional button pushing which can easily lead to escalating button pushing in a desperate search for the limit.

Would you feel comfortable if Madison brings this same communications style out to her relationships with other people in her life? Is it fine if she tells her friend she’s uglier or less cool than of the rest of the girls at homeschool group? just expressing her feelings?

I also think it is worthwhile to consider that kids learn a lot about how they deserve to be treated by seeing what expectations we have for ourselves. I personally wouldn’t be comfortable modeling for a child that part of a loving relationship is having people you live with repeatedly insult you.

  Dawn wrote @ February 14th, 2010 at 5:58 am

Bea, where do you read that Madison says over and over a thousand times over that she prefers someone else? And where do you read that I would not address that? I agree that there’s a difference btwn testing the waters and intentional button pushing (did you read the “I hate you” post? Because it was specifically about that).

I feel like you’re reading way more into my writing than is there. Because I don’t write about the times Madison compliments me (because there’s nothing interesting to me about that — kids adore their parents and Madison adores me — it’s pretty typical) you assume she doesn’t. Because I do write about a handful of times when she’s expressed having more love for Pennie, you assume that this is a constant when actually I think that 99% of the time it’s not in her head at all (who she loves best).

I also don’t understand why you assume that Madison WOULD bring that communication style out with friends since I’m sure that you understand that a family’s private rules are not always the same as the family’s public rules. Although we may have different family private rules, you are wrong to make assumptions about what our family’s public rules are.

It’s wrong, Bee, to make so many assumptions. You have basically said, “If you allow your daughter to address her issues of loyalty with you in this way, she will be rude to other people and perhaps will end up participating in an emotionally abusive relationship.”

Because you clearly value manners and kindness so much, I wonder why you have extended so little towards me?

  Campbell wrote @ February 14th, 2010 at 7:58 am

On a strictly parental basis, in fact regarding my son who’s biological, I always made clear the difference regarding what he could say to me (which is anything and everything) wasn’t necessarily was what he should say to just anybody. To this day, he’s soon to be 20, there are things we talk about that he’ll make sure I know that it’s not something he’d say to anyone but me. I think our kids need to have a safe place to talk about feelings or thoughts that could be hurtful, offensive, controversial, etc. and even though it may cause me to raise an eyebrow at times I want that safe place to be with me. For kids to be honest they need to be able to trust, and what better way to earn that trust than being the place where they always know their safe. As an adoptee I think this would apply to adopted persons as well.

  Bee wrote @ February 14th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Huh? Say What? If I’d posted: I assume Madison hates you, never gives you a compliment, calls kids names at homeschool group and is loathed by all I would find your response to be perfectly appropriate and on target. Of course I posted nothing of the sort. I don’t know you. I don’t know Madison. I said nothing about whether not she compliments you but I would assume that she would.

I was attempting to share a difference approach to the issue of communication about feelings that had not been discussed – nothing more.

I did not assume it would be okay if she spoke to people like this as homeschool group. I’m not psychic and that’s why I asked what your reaction to that would be. We are long time homeschoolers and I have known several families who embrace a total honesty approach. Their public and private policy is the same. I understand philosophically where their idea comes from. I was trying to sort out where your position fits. It is interesting to me that you have two different policies for public and private. As you explained the private policy is not an adoption specific one as it equally applied to your son.

  Dawn wrote @ February 15th, 2010 at 6:09 am

Bee, it sounds like we disagree about how we communicate with our kids and how we are open to them communicating with us. This is no surprise because we don’t agree with how one communicates on the internet in comments. I feel like you’re focusing on details that take away from the central thesis (children have loyalty issues, adopted children in particular; parents need to help them with these issues) and make it all about manners. I feel like your focus on those details so misses my central point that I am increasingly frustrated. I am going to operate on the assumption that we cannot get to the same place here because I have tried and you feel (I believe) as if you have tried and it hasn’t worked. Maybe it would be different in person, maybe not.

  Bee wrote @ February 15th, 2010 at 7:53 am

“I feel like you’re focusing on details that take away from the central thesis (children have loyalty issues, adopted children in particular; parents need to help them with these issues) and make it all about manners.”

Manners is a word with many definitions but at any rate manners is not something I mentioned even once in anything I posted. My concern is not about helping kids win an etiquette prize. As I mentioned in everything I posted it is about helping children understand and express feelings and act with consideration toward others. A child who can understand we don’t tell friends at homeschool group they aren’t as pretty as other friends, can fully understand doing so to a parent is also insulting. The question is not just about a parent’s ability to rise above hurt feelings as that is clearly established here. It is about whether or not this sort of behavior helps children ultimately learn to trust and feel safe in themselves and in their relationships. I do not believe insulting loved ones is behavior that helps meet these goals and in fact can actually promote insecurity as the child continues to look for the limit and doesn’t find it.

  Do our kids owe us kindness? » this woman’s work wrote @ February 15th, 2010 at 8:35 am

[...] I have agreed to disagree. I am confused by the specifics of her disagreement so I’ll just quote her comment here: As I mentioned in everything I posted it is about helping children understand and express [...]

  ROSEMARY wrote @ February 15th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Thank you so much for writing this! It’s very beautiful. My son’s other mother lives in Thailand but I wish we got to share an everyday relationship like this. I loved reading this!

  rox wrote @ February 15th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Wow! To make it adoption specific, Bee, what would you say if your child said they loved their biological parent more than you? Would you say, “No. I am your real mom, you have to love me more!”

As an adoptiee and bioparent, you sound like that’s where you’re going with it. It reads to me like you might be uncomfortable with the idea of your child REALLY LOVING TWO MOMS. This can be confusing for adoptees and I think that Dawns approach sounds more helpful in encourage Madison to feel like there is a safe space for her to work those feelings out. (And letting her daughter know that it’s safe to love both moms)

When you factor in that Madisons biological mother looks very similar, it would be hard to see the “I think she’s prettier”as not having something to do with that.

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