Thursday, August 16, 2012

Adoption, Destiny and Magical Thinking

At the NYT Motherlode blog, a topic I've found fascinating enough to post about many, many times (like here and here and here and . . . you get the idea!)  -- adoption and "meant to be:"
So in researching my recent book on magical thinking, I interviewed a psychologist about personal narratives — the way we tell stories out of our lives — and about how they might relate to perceptions of fate. He pointed me toward one of his collaborators, Miriam Klevan, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, who had interviewed 38 adoptive parents. It turns out that most of the parents had told her that their children had been brought to them by destiny.

This phenomenon grabbed me. I spoke with adoption professionals, who confirmed that most adoptive parents feel their children are meant to be theirs. And I heard from other like-minded parents. To me, seeing destiny in adoption was such compelling evidence of the strength — and occasional benevolence — of magical thinking. And, not having kids of my own, I was touched by the power of parenthood. Apparently the connection with one’s children can be so strong it feels as if the universe conspired to make it happen.

* * *

Ms. Klevan points out that adoptive parents might also feel more motivated than birth parents to believe in fate. Narratives of destiny provide a sense of legitimacy. Take one woman who told Ms. Klevan, “One little thing happening a different way would have kept us apart, but all these miraculous things happened.”

“She could have said ‘this is just a series of coincidences,’ but that’s such an unacceptable way to feel about your child. For most people, if you start going down that road, then this child isn’t yours … in order to parent effectively, parents must feel entitled to their children,” Ms. Klevan told me. It allows them to be disciplinarians and teach right and wrong. “Fate is a really useful way for adoptive parents to entitle themselves. ‘Of course I’m your mom! I was meant to be your mom! God said I was your mom! This isn’t coincidence! So go clean your room!’”
Surprisingly, the article actually acknowledges that this "magical thinking" isn't an unmitigated good thing:
But of course not everyone is as sold on the idea of destiny — even when adoption goes right. Another mother offered a more nuanced and conflicted perspective, one that resonates with how I think I would feel in her shoes. She wrote:
I don’t know if I’d say my children were “meant” to be mine — it does seem like a slap in the face to the sacrifices of their birth parents, as well as turning a blind eye to the losses my children may (or may not) feel about being adopted as they grow up.
Exactly. The "meant to be" meme is so dismissive of the pain and loss and grief of birth family and adoptees.  As I've posted before, it's what allows adoptive parents and others to talk about the baby being "born in the wrong tummy" before getting to the "right" adoptive parents.  It envisions the birth mother as a "pass-through body," on the child's journey to the inevitable family.  And for the adoptee, it shuts down any dissenting view, any ambivalent feelings, about adoption:
After all, if it was all "meant to be," doesn't it remove the ability to be sad or angry or confused or ambivalent, to express any less-than-happy emotion? You were meant to be mine, God chose you for our family, there's a special reason you're in our family, your adoption is part of God's plan -- all of these strike me as ways to make adoption inarguably positive -- and when it's inarguably positive, no dissenting views are allowed! A child may internalize that view, and then feel unable to work through the dissonance it causes when they also have feelings of pain and loss. And they may feel they can't talk about that dissonance with their parents, making it even more difficult to work through it.
My guess is the comments at the NYT will be overwhelmingly in favor of the "meant to be" meme in adoption.  It is a powerful concept for adoptive parents.  But it might not be healthy for adopted kids coming to grips with the meaning of adoption in their lives.


susan said...

Actually, the comments over there are refreshing--lots of push back against that meme, several written by bloggers I recognize. So that's good. Because you are so, so right about the problems of that way of thinking.

Bukimom said...

I, too, have thought about this "meant to be" idea and have responded to your comments before. As a grammar teacher, I know that the passive "meant" assumes that someone is doing the meaning. Since I believe in a sovereign God, I have to believe that nothing in my life happens by accident--or in my child's life.

I think the problem is in assuming that things are "meant to be" from my perspective as the adoptive parent. . . for my happiness, fulfillment, etc. Even though being my daughter's mother does bring me much happiness and fulfillment, there are days when it is frustrating, tiring, and filled with unanswered questions. I don't think I was "meant to be" her mother for my benefit alone, or my family's benefit, or even her benefit alone. I think it is to fulfill God's plan for her life and our lives. That plan includes all of her life, the part before we knew her and the part after she's an adult and making her own way in the world.

I don't consider myself more deserving than her birth mother. I'm just the person God chose for the job. He has his reasons. They most likely have as much to do with my weaknesses as my strengths. The hurts that come with adoption are part of the plan, too. We can grow through hurts. They can spur us to change things that need to be changed, in ourselves and in the world.

So, I don't think an idea that it was "meant to be" means that it's a perfect life for anyone. I just need to recognize for whom it is meant, and who is giving meaning to it.

Kris said...

The whole "meant to be" mindset is pure utter garbage. The child was meant to be with his or her birth parents, but unfortunately things don't always work out the way they were meant to be. I also think adoption is a very human institution, one God and/or destiny has nothing to do with. The whole idea of God sitting there switching babies from one family to another to fulfill some grand plan or destiny is just cruel.

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie said...

As a mother who has been told by my son's adopters that "god allowed the conception of my child for them"; and by my own child that his god "put him where he was supposed to be", if one more person looks me in the face and spews this garbage I don't know if I could contain myself.

I was not supposed to suffer for the rest of my life so they could all gain, then proceed to be treated with the malice and disdain I have been subjected to, for no reason.

My take, "they" (as in my son's adopters)are attempting to make me pay for their supposed infertility for the few years they were trying to conceive and could not. As sick as that sounds, that is what I believe. Even though they did have their own child, that was not enough. They had no business adopting mine, this I know.

Bukimom said...

Stephanie, I am so sorry you have been treated so poorly by your son's adopters. They sound very self-centered to me. You are a person who is loved by God, so don't let anyone else define who you are.

Stephanie said...

Bukimom, I do not believe in any "god" so no, I don't believe "it" loves me. Moreover, "god" did not choose my son's adopters to be my son's parents. My being young, vulnerable, brainwashed to believe I was not good enough because I was not married, etc. are the factors that led to my son's adopters being called mom and dad by my child. Their lies, bogus promises and deceit are among other factors and they know it. I believe they get through each day by spewing this "meant to be ours", "god willed it" b.s., to make it easier on THEM, not me. How people who call themselves "good Christians" and look at themselves in the mirror after the way they have treated me is nothing short of astounding. They could care less about me or how losing my child affected me.

"God" had nothing to do with it and no one will dictate my story as such. Selfish, entitled, cold-hearted human beings did, thanks.