Should My Child Forget They Are Adopted?

The adoption ethics of forgetting

Elizabeth Curry November 16, 2014
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In a discussion on Facebook this past week, a parent was mentioning that while filling out medical paperwork, she had briefly forgotten her child was adopted. Another parent commented in response and by the end asked, “Don’t you love it when your child forgets they are adopted, too?”  I was surprised by the visceral negative reaction I had upon reading that comment.  I had a sudden sense that it would be wrong to want my child to forget that she was adopted. What caused that reaction?

On the face of it, nothing was really wrong with the comment; I understood the intention behind it. I think most adoptive parents have had those moments where we forget that our child does not share our genes. Those moments are always a surprise, because we share so much else with our child that we wonder that we don’t share this, too. To forget that we don’t share the same genetic make-up implies a level of comfort and connectedness that validates our parent and child relationship. It feels doubly validating to have our child share those same feelings. There are so many misconceptions about adoptive families which call into question their familial ties that we cling to those things which validate those ties.

Even understanding this, I was still feeling unsettled about the conversation. It felt a little bit arrogant. I wondered, do I really want my children to forget they are adopted?  I want them to feel loved and secure and really know that my husband and I are the final set of parents they will have. However, just because I desire them to feel safe and loved, does that give me the right to want to erase the first years of their lives?

No matter how much I wish I could have been a part of my children’s lives from day one, I can’t make it so. Those parts of their lives were inhabited by other parents, other caregivers, other people. Each of my children has a different story and each one had people in their lives who loved them. Their first parents gave them the gift of life and for at least one of my children, many years of care before societal forces caused the need for a new set of parents. How can I truly love my children and yet want them to forget a part of who they are?

There are a lot of questions here which I think illustrate the tensions that adoptive families need to learn to live with. We love our children because they are ours, but they weren’t always. We have to learn to share that special place in our children’s hearts with those people who came before us. In doing so, we don’t dilute the love our children have for us, but enable them to love us better because we have given them the permission to embrace all of who they are.

So how do I answer my own question of whether I want my children to forget they were adopted? I’m not sure I do. I want them to be fully comfortable with who they are. I want them to be able to acknowledge and love the people who came before me. Adoption involves great loss and great love, often held in equal tension. These are the forces that have shaped my children and as a result have shaped me. We are all different from where we began and I cannot forget that.  I have concluded that I don’t want my children to forget either.

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Elizabeth Curry

Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing the experiences of her family she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, home schools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.


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