Q: I’m a single mom to two daughters, 20 and 17. I adopted both from China, three years apart. I always wanted to adopt, and once I heard about orphan Chinese girls during middle school, I knew it was for me. The birth movie they showed during eighth-grade health class also cemented my desire not to have a birth child, even though my teacher assured us that birth was something women have been going through for centuries and that we would change our minds. (I ran into her years later, pointed to my kids and joked that I never did “get over” the film.)
However, now my oldest has decided that she never wants children. She is studying to be a teacher, so it’s not kids she dislikes; it’s the process. She asked me whether I would be ashamed if she never had kids, and I assured her that it’s her life and that I will support her in whatever she wants. I had enough pressure from my mother to produce grandchildren for her to show off, so I do not want to be “that” mom.
I’ve been open with my kids that I always wanted to adopt, but has my preference for adoption made my daughter refuse to have birth children because I didn’t want them? Or do I just add this to the “mommy guilt file” and move on?
A: Thanks for writing. This letter is yet another example of women feeling guilty by having choices and, although I’m not surprised, I’m always a little disappointed. For time eternal, women have had no control over whether they wanted children, and they certainly have had no choice regarding how they would have said children. Traditional pregnancy and vaginal birth remain the standard by which mothers are measured, and it’s exhausting.
For many reasons, you did not choose a traditional route to motherhood. (I’m guessing there was more to it than a video you saw in eighth grade.) And the truth? You don’t need to provide anyone an excuse for not having children through the traditional routes — and neither does your daughter. Although your guilt is understandable, it’s quite the leap to assume that her decisions have had everything to do with you. Isn’t it possible that your daughter has a different vision for her life, like you did? And isn’t is also possible that she may change her mind?
The power to change our minds is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and your daughter is only 20. Provide lots of emotional space for her, and remember that your role as a parent of an adult means that you have to stay curious and open to listening. Curiosity will keep you from making assumptions. Try saying: “I’m curious. You worried that I would be ashamed if you didn’t have kids. Tell me more about that.” And if you’re committed to listening, you may learn more about your daughter.
And although you aren’t saying anything about this, we have learned quite a bit regarding the trauma surrounding international adoption (and adoption in general). I’m not saying adoption is good or bad; it’s binary. It is a trauma to leave your biological mother, and there is another wound or trauma associated with not sharing a race or ethnicity with your adoptive parent.
Adoption can be and is a beautiful way to create a family and protect children, but we cannot pretend that the lived experiences of adopted children don’t affect how they understand childbirth, parenting and family. By staying curious and simply listening to your daughter, you can begin to understand her emotional world, whatever that means for her.
You sound like a strong woman, one who chose a different path from the expectations of her mother. That’s courageous. Use that same courage to be there for your children. If you need support, contact Sandi Lerman (adoptionrootsandwings.com). The mother of an adopted young adult, she is also a trauma-informed parenting expert specializing in adoption.