Gratitude and the complexity of an adoptee's experience

Gratitude, it is a word we hear quite a lot this time of year.

By seeking moments of gratitude, one could say that we can cultivate more happiness in our lives. And as we live during such a chaotic time with this global pandemic, some of us are looking to feel grateful even for the simplest things: a nice cozy pair of socks; a hot cup of coffee in the morning; and especially our families' health. … The list is endless, right?

During Thanksgiving, there can be a lot of expectations and assumptions about gratitude. In my work with adoptive families, one of the most common things we hear families cringe about is the assumption that others make about an adopted child’s thankfulness — “oh, your son/daughter must feel so lucky and grateful to have been adopted by your family!” While remarks like this are well-intentioned, they produce an ulterior, defensive response from adoptive families — “WE are actually the lucky ones. WE are so thankful for this child in our lives”.

Healthy adoptive families don't feel owed gratefulness from the children they've welcomed into their homes through adoption. They understand that an adoptee’s experience is one of both joy and grief. It is a complex experience that includes the joys of everyday life with people who love and care for them, as well as the grief of the question “who am I”. Adoptees may struggle with the loss of a birth family well after their adoption into a loving adoptive family has been finalized.

As we look inward at what we are personally grateful for today, we can also be mindful of the realities of others, the complexities of their experiences, and how the expectations and assumptions about this holiday may impact others differently.