My son often forgets that he is adopted. Have I done something wrong?
We’ve told our son that he is adopted since the day he was born. He has a close relationship with members of his birth family. We acknowledge his adoption on a regular – if not daily – basis. Yet at seven years old, he constantly forgets he’s adopted. He even forgets what it means to be adopted.
Recently, a cartoon he was watching made a joke about adoption.
“What does that mean,” he innocently asked?
As I struggled to try and explain the “joke,” he cut me off–
“No, Mom. What does it mean to be adopted?”
In disbelief, I reminded him that when you grow inside your tummy mommy and then live with another mommy and daddy, it’s called adoption.
“Levon, you’re adopted. Remember?”
He processed it for a moment, then nodded and went back to his cartoon.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same kid who consistently asks me, “Who is your mom?”
“My mom is Nina — your grandma.”
My child’s reading and comprehension skills are far above his age level. His emotional understanding exceeds most adults I know. Yet his family structure eludes him.
I always expected my child to be extraordinarily aware of his adoption. I imagined more scenarios like this, with his adoption influencing every aspect of his identity. But so far, my experience of him has been the exact opposite. Maybe it’s because adoption is all he knows. Or because his older brothers have two moms. Maybe it’s because so many of his friends come from non-traditional families.
Or maybe I’ve just done something terribly wrong.
Whenever I mention his forgetfulness to other parents, they’re always quick to congratulate me. “I think it’s great! It’s because he’s so loved.” Most people seem to think that being unaffected by adoption is the goal. But as the daughter of an adoptee and someone who does my best to listen and learn from other adoptees willing their share their experiences, I know that being unaffected is impossible.
For many years, I thought my job as an adoptive parent was to do everything in my power to prevent adoption trauma. Now I understand that my job is to expect, accept, and acknowledge the trauma whenever and however it presents itself. My job is to let my son lead the way. To help him navigate whatever feelings he has at whatever point he has them. And to to understand that my complete and unconditional love will not spare him from whatever feelings he has about his adoption any more than my own mother’s love spares me from the difficult realities of my world.
In the meantime, I will remember and honor his adoption, even when he doesn’t.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.