Monday, April 20, 2009

Anger & Adoption Books

When Zoe talks about her birth parents, she's quite willing to talk about how she feels. She'll say candidly that she loves them, that she misses them, that she's sad that she didn't get to stay with them. But she has a hard time saying that she's mad at them, even when she's feeling that anger. The first time she told me she was mad at them for abandoning her, she said immediately, "But don't tell Mimi!" She obviously saw it as an unacceptable emotion. Lately, she only expresses her anger indirectly in the stories she writes (see here, for example).

Anger is the most socially-unacceptable emotion for both men and women, but for women it is even less acceptable. As the report of one study says: "A man who gets angry at work may well be admired for it but a woman who shows anger in the workplace is liable to be seen as 'out of control' and incompetent." And we've seen how the "angry adoptee" label is used to dismiss the concerns of adult adoptees -- we see anger as a disqualifier, as reason to disregard.

More distressing than the reaction of others to women's anger is the reaction of women to their own anger. As Lois P. Frankel put it in Women, Anger and Depression:

Much like other women, Anita was afraid to be angry. She had received the message as a child that if she exhibited her anger, she would somehow be abandoned: physically, emotionally or bothHerein lies the basis of women's difficulty with their anger. We learn early on that anger is not an acceptable emotion. We are given strong verbal and non-verbal messages that teach us to deny our anger.

The author even provides a very interesting checklist of reactions to our childhood attempts to express anger. Did any of these happen to you? Are you avoiding these in reaction to your children's anger?

1. I was sent to my room until I cooled off.
2. I was told that nice girls don't get angry.
3. I was ignored.
4. I was punished (physically, verbally or lost some privilege).
5. I was threatened with religious implications (e.g., not going to heaven or God wouldn't like it).
6. I was told to turn the other cheek.
7. I was made fun of, laughed at or my anger became a family joke.
8. I had love and affection withheld from me.
9. I was told my anger wasn't justified.
10.I was told anger wasn't lady-like.
11.I was treated as if I were out of control.
12.I was told I was weak or somehow less of a person for being angry.
13.I was treated as if I had committed a sin.
14.I was told it was a flaw in my character (e.g., "You're just like your father.")
15.I was told I was ugly or in some other way physically unappealing.

With this litany, is it any wonder that "women begin punishing themselves for even having angry feelings. They internalize the messages so well, they can no longer even identify when they are angry."

We have probably 30-40 kids books about adoption (I know, it's ridiculous, but I can't seem NOT to buy them!). But the list of books that include ANGER as an emotion adoptees experience is much, much shorter, and in most of them, there's only a passing reference to anger:

1. The Mulberry Bird

Adopted bird sometimes "felt confused and angry about being adopted." His anger is related to disbelief that his birth mother's situation was as bad as she claimed in her reason for relinquishing him.

2. All About Adoption

The book relates that sometimes adopted children feel angry at their parents just the way all kids do. But they also "might feel angry that they didn't get to grow up with their birth parents. Kids also get angry at their adoptive parents to see how much their parents love them. They don't even know they are doing this sometimes! . . . But people can feel angry at someone they love."

3. Before I Met You

Being in the orphanage with not enough nannies to care for all the babies like a mom would can make a baby not just sad, but mad. In discussing that adopted kids have lots of different feelings, the mom-narrator says, "We will stay together, always, when you are happy, sad, and yes, even mad."

4. Adoption Is For Always

Celia is sad and mad when she understands what adoption means and that she was adopted. She acts out and says mean things, including, "You're not beautiful like my real mommy!" to her mom, who answers, "I know you're angry, but that doesn't mean that you can say hurtful things. . . . I AM your real mommy. [if you've read much here, you know I'm not fond of the "I'm the real mommy, and your birth mother isn't" answer]

5. We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo

Nine-year-old Benjamin, adopted from Korea, narrates: "I began to feel angry because other kids knew their biological families, and I never would." There's a "not my real mom" scene, with adoptive mom saying, "You have a real mom, and that's me."

6. Lucy's Feet

Lucy acts out her anger at not having grown in her mother's tummy like her younger brother by kicking. She declares at one point, "It's not fair! How come I was adopted and he wasn't? I want to come from in there (pointing at her mom's stomach), too." Mom answers with the "you grew in my heart" theme.

7. Allison

Allison realizes that she looks more like her MeiMei doll than like her parents. When she's told she's adopted, she reacts with anger, and destroys an old doll of her mother's and her father's old baseball mitt. She yells, "You're not my mommy! You're not my daddy!" [The book is culturally confused, MeiMei (Chinese for "little sister") wears a kimono!]

Anyone have any other suggestions of books that deal with adoption and anger, or just with anger itself? What do you do to encourage your child to express all emotions, even anger?


Lynne said...

One of my favorite books that is not adoption specific, but nevertheless very helpful in this area, is called PLAYFUL PARENTING by Cohen.

It is full of tips for allowing your child to express anger, and advice to go out of your own comfort zone to do so.

My advice to the reader is to use a highlighter for his ideas so you can go back and reference them later.

Cassi said...

You know I have come to your blog often, though I have never left a comment (not that I remember at least) but I just wanted to stop and take the time today to say that your understanding and help for your children is such a great thing. It is because of moms like you that I keep myself aware to never say ALL whenever I am writing or talking about adoption. It's moms like you that remind me that I can never let my own feelings and experience turn a complete blind eye to those who give the unconditional love to their children, which I see so often in your blog posts.

malinda said...

Oh, Cassi, now you've made me cry! Thanks so much for the kind words.

julia said...

i read your above provided information. the way you have told about anger and depression is really awesome. i feel that you have done a deep study and then reached to a conclusion like this. it feels really good to know that we have such good writers. i m seriously moved by your writing style and your delivery of information, about such a serious topic. you have done a great job. good. keep going all the best....

Amanda said...

Anger in adoption is a very hard emotion to describe because it gets translated by others as resentment or perhaps perceived as almost a grudge (for lack of a better word). I think a lot of adoptees do not talk about this type of emotion as you've described here because they are aware of how it may be misinterpreted by others, afraid it will hurt someone's feelings, and afraid they won't be able to adequately explain it enough so that others will understand. I am glad to know that there are people out there who are willing to understand this type of emotion from adoptees and not interpret it in a way that will make the adoptee feel as though they've intended to hurt someone's feelings.

If that makes any sense--I'm not very good at explaining it.