Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Grateful Orphan

Admit it. One of the fantasies that we adoptive parents have is that the child, an orphan from a poor and distant land, will snuggle up to us and with a near tear in their eye say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for adopting me. I am so very grateful.”

What is a fantasy for us can be an expectation for others. On the plane ride home from Ethiopia, a gentleman from Africa was talking to me and telling me how lucky Anna was and how much she will thank me. He expected that Anna would be grateful. I also recall hearing about a disrupted adoption where the mother had said, “I was expecting a grateful orphan.” She was unprepared to parent an ungrateful child.

Sometimes I fall into expecting more gratefulness from my adopted children. When I give a hand-me-down bike to one of my adopted children (as I would to any of my children) and they complain because it is not a new bike (as any of my children might) I find myself wanting to say, “Hey, wait a minute. You wouldn’t have a bike at all in Ethiopia. Maybe you should be grateful you even have a bike.”

There is likely a continuum among adopted children. On the left are those who have an acute sense of localized justice. If you are passing out jelly beans, they want to know how many each child has received to make sure they were not slighted. On the other end of the spectrum are those who have an acute sense of the unfairness of their new found privilege. These children realize they have bikes, beds, and bathtubs. More than that, they realize they are one who has survived where others have not and they suffer from survivor’s guilt.

I suppose there is a narrow slice of adopted children right in the middle with just the right balance – grateful for the privileged life they now live but not burdened by the guilt of being a survivor - but to expect that your adopted child will be from this narrow slice is probably unrealistic.

So the adopted child may be no more grateful than any other child. That is just fine. In fact, it is probably a good sign. It shows that the child can simply be a child again.


Norah said...

I get uncomfortable when people say how lucky my children are. I feel selfish...because I wanted them SO badly and consider myself beyond lucky. A wave of guilt comes over me when I hear those words...

Leslie said...

That is so true. Someone asked me the other day if my daughter was glad to be in America, and I was off guard and said, "are your kids glad to be in America? sometimes!" I think we all need to learn how to appreciate our lives, to be grateful, which is not the same as saying I want her to be grateful for me doing the things that a mother should do.

Jim & Laurel said...

Good words! I just wrote a post last week on Expectations vs. Entitlement.


B.E.C.K. said...

Great post. I remember when some family friends adopted two kids from Peru. We were at a family brunch and the kiddos were complaining that they didn't want to finish their food; their mom beamed and sent them out to play. Later, she told us the kids used to eat two adult portions of food at every meal because they were accustomed to being underfed and also had intestinal parasites. She was so happy that the kids were finally getting enough food -- and trusting they would get another meal later -- that they could afford to be picky. It was a very lovely moment, and the kids will probably never realize it. :)

Sharla said...

great post...I have a mix of gratitude levels among my kids, both the adopted ones and the bio. much of it just seems to be personality. I am glad to have stumbled across your blog today. We have five children and are in process of adopting another two, this time from Ethiopia so I can relate to your fears about how much the food bills are going to be when they are teenagers!!!

Anonymous said...

While I can greatly appreciate your honesty about expecting more "gratefulness" from an adopted child, I think a lot of people would have this mentality without even thinking of it....I applaud your ability to be self aware

However with an adopted child all they are doing is accquiring a sense of entitlement that all children should have had from the start. Then an adoptive parent resents it ? Do we maybe see where the problem with this is?

I adopted becuse I wanted a child, I, me, myself wanted to be a parent, not becuse I wanted my daughter or anyone else to be grateful to me for adopting a child who clearly needed a good home. Or becuse I wanted the neighbors to see me as a good giving person.
What if I adopted a child from a wealthy home ? Should mine or my childs sense of gratitude be different?

No one owes me a sense of gratitude...but it is I that is grateful that my daughter has chosen to accept me as her mother and bless me every day with her love and affection.

pintabians said...

Could I have permission to post this on Facebook? Very good and helpful information! Also, do you know a family of seven from ND who adopted four from Ethiopia? I ran across them somewhere and now cannot find their blog again. Thanks!

CrazyD said...

Hi "Pintabians,"

Feel free to link to this post. That is not a problem. We do know of a family in ND. Email me at welovebigfamilies [at] gmail [dot] com and I can pass along some contact info. Maybe it is the same family.