August 28, 2007 by multiracialsky
Recent events (and non-events) have forced me to think more deeply about the differences in parenting the children who joined my family through adoption and the children who joined my family through homebirth. Mother On Earth recently wrote about Rebecca Walker’s now infamous comment that the love an adoptive or step parent has for their (adopted or step) child is not the same as the love a parent has for their biological child. The way Walker presents this statement comes across as a slight to adoptive or step parents–that they can’t love these children as much as they would love their biological child.
I am taking Walker’s comment and turning it in a different direction: the love I have for each of my children is not the same as the love I have for any of their siblings. They came into our family in four different ways: through a long-awaited open adoption with 2 months of preparation (and anticipation) after we were matched and before our daughter was born, through a traumatic homebirth in which I was rushed to the ER and don’t remember our son’s first day, through a beautiful homebirth where all 5 of us were gathered together on our bed a couple hours after our daughter was born, through an ‘instant baby’ evening phone call and travel the very next day to pick up our daughter.
Our children have 3 sets of genetic history, 4 sets of medical history, 1 set of food allergies, 2 genders, 3 multiracial mixtures, 4 sets of talents, and 4 very different personalities and temperaments. All these pieces of inborn information are relevant to how I mother my children. I love each of my four children differently–equally, but not the same. I parent my four children differently. We work hard to make things ‘fair’ around here (I remember saying “It’s not fair” a lot as a kid), but fair does not mean the expectations and limits are the same for each of my kids.
Parenting adopted children is more complicated than parenting biological children–and harder, if you’re doing it right. The day-to-day life and sibling relationships are the same. But the parenting has more components, and more unknowns. My children who were adopted into our family have other families, families that came before we did. In my parenting, I am beholden to my children’s ancestors and, more directly, to their birthparents. I am hopefully preparing my children to eventually go out into the world as happy, healthy, self-confident, independent adults. Adults who are culturally and emotionally prepared to be an active part of their birthfamilies, if they choose to. I only have to prepare my biological children to be a part of one family.
With biological children, parents have so much information, more than is available with even the most open (non-kinship) adoption. Whether it is tantrums, early swimming skills, or insomnia, I know which way to point the finger: here. These are all traits my husband or I had (or still have). With our biological children, we know their family/medical history and their complete prenatal experience. We know they have one uncle with eczema and another (on the other side of the family) with milk intolerance. We know that both good teeth and intractable stubbornness run in both our families.
With adopted children, parents worry more. I wonder if they have half-siblings somewhere with an underbite, or who outgrew bow-leggedness. I think about their birthparents and how to foster a relationship between them and my child that is natural, and is comfortable and positive for my child. I wonder about extended birthfamily. I wonder if my child wonders about their extended birthfamily. I wonder if the tantrums or fussiness are related to age, temperament, genetics, tiredness, or hidden anxiety about some facet of their adoptedness. I work to keep adoption a topic on the table, but not to talk about it so much that it becomes tiresome or an overwhelming focus.
I expect all my children will (eventually) tell me all the ways in which I did them wrong, the ways I could have been a better mother. I was too strict. I forced them to be vegetarian. I refused to have a T.V. in the house. But I can’t imagine they will complain that we treated our adopted and biological children differently–based on that fact alone. We have 3 daughters and 1 son; I worry more about treating my gender-different kids equally, more than my arrival-different kids.
Every child requires a different kind of parenting, and their own special love. Figuring out what that is and how to do it–that’s a parent’s job.