I’ve heard it about a dozen times, usually from well-meaning strangers who realize our family was built by adopting. “Thank you for adopting,” they’ll say, “You did a wonderful thing.” The first couple of times I heard this, I just smiled, but now I say something.
This weekend was my first experience being thanked by a fellow adoptive parent. I guess I just assumed all adoptive parents were in the same boat where being thanked for raising their child seemed ridiculous. It’s my privilege to raise my children, and it’s silly to be thanked for a privilege. But this weekend, a man stopped me as I was carrying my daughter. “Is she yours?” he asked. When I answered yes, he said, “Thank you for adopting.” I told him she was a blessing to us, and that we were thankful to be her parents. He explained that he had four children – “two of our own,” he said, “and two adopted.” It’s a topic for another article, but my children are “my own.” I love them, they belong with us, and I claim them. Their birth parents love them, they belong amongst their birth family, and they claim them, too. Our children are loved by too many to be claimed by none when they’re labeled as “adopted” or anything other than “our own.”
I have a few reasons why I don’t like being thanked for adopting, but the first is so obvious: I didn’t do anything worth being thanked for. My dream of being a mother was fulfilled by two birth families who put their faith and trust in me to love their child. I get to wake up every day and see the smiles on my kids’ faces. I get the satisfaction of knowing I had something to do with those smiles. I have the privilege of hearing them call me “mommy.” I get the snuggles, tender moments, and art projects. I am there the first time they walk, know their special languages, and have their needs down to a science. I have cried alone, worrying for their safety and their feelings, wondering how I can possibly love someone so much that it hurts like this. I don’t need to be thanked for doing the most special thing I’ll ever do in my life. I’m honored. I would never walk up to a random woman on the street and say, “Hey, thanks for parenting your kids!” It’s our job.
Most of us chose adoption because we wanted to be parents, and we felt adoption was right for our family. Others adopted children because of situations that arose out of nowhere, but even those families made a choice to welcome those children. We are parents, plain and simple. We don’t need a stranger to thank us for doing our jobs.
I think about my children as they’re older, hearing a stranger thank me for parenting them. I imagine how that might feel, and that gives me the direction I need to interpret how I feel about being thanked. What self-worth are they capable of achieving if they feel I deserve to be thanked for being their mom and raising them? They will undoubtedly realize that people don’t just walk up to one another and say thanks for being parents. They’ll realize they’ve been singled out, yet again, because the path of their life was forever changed when adoption was chosen for them. They’ll hear someone say “thank you” to me, when it’s them who will forever have a bruise because of adoption — one that causes pain out of nowhere sometimes, and when poked, hurts a lot. They’ll have no choice but to feel like a burden in those moments; a child whose parents have to be thanked for raising them. Or perhaps they’ll wonder why people felt they had to be saved from their birth families, many whom would have done a great job raising their children, but just chose differently for them. But I have a choice as their mom. I can either smile and go along my way, or I can say what I need to say for my kids. I can wave away the compliment, put my arms around my kids’ necks, and say, “I don’t need to be thanked for adopting. It’s a privilege to be their mom. They are not a burden, and I am no saint. We’re just a family who loves each other.”