what i want you to know about having parents who were adopted

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Annie Berical.

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I am the child of adopted parents. That's right: both of my parents were adopted as babies by separate families, grew up, met each other, and bonded (I imagine) over their commonality. They were in no other way meant to be together. They are chalk and cheese. It lasted long enough for them to have my younger brother and I, and that was it.

Over the years, I have noticed things about them, though, that I believe are related to their being adopted. First, they trust no one. If their birth parents abandoned them, then surely, anyone else could abandon them too at any time. Including their own families and children. They grew up in moderately normal, loving families, but also felt that they stood apart from them. They were constantly made aware by relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) that they were adopted. They were constantly reminded that they didn't--in fact, couldn't--resemble so-and-so, because they weren't actually blood relations. These things weren't meant maliciously, but just as statements of fact. Regardless, they have a long-term, cumulative effect.

My parents can cut someone off--cut them out of their life--and make it look easy. They do not attach themselves to people because they have always stood apart--alone in some respects. You must force the love out of them, and only then is it painful for them. If I want a hug from my mom, I have to hug her. I have to go to her and TAKE it. It will not be offered. And when I do go in for a hug, her reaction is almost embarrassment that she finds it so hard to reciprocate. Both of my parents have very strong attachments to pets. And in the case of my mother, very serious animal hording tendencies. Animals, after all, cannot betray or abandon you. They will never lie to you. They love, as both my parents will tell you, unconditionally.

Both seem to suffer deeply from the paranoia of abandonment. So much so that they are very lonely because they will not keep friends, and their attachment to family is just as tenuous. Once, when my father was struggling with alcoholism, he quit his job and asked if he could move in with me. At the time, I was barely 30 years old and struggling to keep my head above water, after beginning the process of repaying my student loans. My dad had lived a thousand miles away for my entire life, and I didn't feel these were the best circumstances to really get to know one another. When I told him no, that I didn't think it was a good idea, his level of rejection was staggering. He sent me several letters calling me things I shall not repeat, and that frankly, I don't care to remember. What I didn't realize at the time was that he percieved yet another person abondoning and betraying him when he was at his weakest and most vulnerable.

Both of my parents have always struggled with identity, too. They come from nowhere. They have no lineage as adopted children. They know nothing of "their people." Neither of them seems to have adopted the family story of their adopted parents. As a result, they have both preferred origin myths about themselves over the years, and have, for a time, believed in them with such ferocity that it borders on serious delusion. For a time, my mom was the daughter of an Indian Princess. Dad has been the son of a decorated World War II veteran and hero. Eventually, they shed these personal metamyths, as others around them reject them. It is a sad thing to watch a person believe wholly in a story they tell about themselves, and then watch everyone around them laugh at it, until that story is totally dismantled. Adopted children are much like hermit crabs in one regard: they try on different identities, and when the old identity is no longer suitable, they shuffle it off, and scurry away, naked, in search of a new one.

One thing I've learned is that I have to be forgiving and I have to be compassionate about these quirks. I have to give what I can, but never promise more than I can deliver. I can never expect trust from them. Each bit has to be earned. In this way I hope to help them both settle into the skin they're wearing now, to be who they are. I want them both to know that who they are is "Mom" and "Dad" and that who they are is just fine.



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