The Second Place Myth of Adoption


Last week I celebrated the one month birthday of my new daughter Maggie. The rewards have been immense and I’ve cried more tears of gratitude than I should probably admit. However, one of the biggest gifts Little Maggie — my first biological child — has brought is something you may not expect. For most people, the miracle of childbirth itself or the relief that Mom and baby are safe are the biggest rewards. These were important to me too but something else of great significance happened.

The experience of my daughter’s birth has given me the gift of being able to remove a myth that runs strong in the minds and hearts of many people (including in myself a long time ago).

I call it, “The 2nd Place Myth of Adoption.”

This is something no one wants to talk about, but now standing on both sides I feel I finally have the right to do so.

Here’s what we say in our heads about the 2nd Place Myth of Adoption but are too polite to say out loud:

“Of course you can love an adopted child but let’s be brutally honest, it’s the second place choice to having a family. Since it’s not your child biologically, and you didn’t go through the birthing process with them, the love and connection you experience with them cannot be as strong as what you experience with a biological child.”

Sounds harsh but if we don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, how can we dismiss it?

One of the strongest indicators of the 2nd place myth of adoption was the innocent dialogue I received from other parents.

“Wait until you have your own child,” was a phrase repeated to me many, many times even before my wife was pregnant.

“I already have my own children,” my inner voice would immediately react, thinking of my two adopted sons.

Maybe the puzzled look on my face gave my thoughts away because a lot of people who knew my family situation would immediately back peddle their statement with a follow up of “Well, of course you have the boys already…but this will be different.”

Let me be clear: I don’t fault anyone for saying this. I used to share the exact same sentiment so how could I fault anyone?

However, I also realized no one who has adopted a child would ever say this to me.

This forced me to stop and think.

Deep down, what if there might be an underlying belief that discounts the love and bonding experience for an adopted child compared to a biological child? And if this was the case, could this myth be preventing new families from forming? Could it preventing existing families from growing? Could this 2nd place myth be holding scores of children back from receiving the love they so need?

I wanted to write about this someday, but I first had to go through it and be sure 100% that the myth is just that, a myth.

Sitting in the hospital alone with my wife the evening after my daughter’s birth she asked me very directly “what are you feeling?” She had no idea what was on my mind, but she always seems to know when there’s something going on in my head. I explained to her that the birthing process was an incredible gift and something I will always cherish. However, it left me feeling no different for Maggie than I do for Alden and Leland, my adopted sons. In fact, I felt like I had already experienced this gift before.

My conviction has only grown as the weeks have gone by. Watching Maggie and her big brothers interact has been priceless. The big brothers are already having fun with her and acting as her protectors. Their first job has been to push Dad away when trying to pinch her cheeks during nap time (I have a cheek squeezing problem I’m working on).

It’s been a great relief to practically laugh off the myth along with any guilt or concerns. It was simply a waste of mind and heart space, like most fears.

Loving Maggie is easy and she will never know anything different than my consistency and love. But with my sons, when you start at the ages of 5 and 7, the vulnerability felt more awkward than asking a girl to dance for the first time. Connection truly had to be earned. I had to take to the first steps, risking that they would not respond in-kind. I’ve never been concerned that Maggie might not love me back.

What people don’t realize is that regardless of whether your children are biological or adopted, you go through a distinct birthing process and concrete memories will form from each experience.

For Maggie’s birthing, I will always remember the first ultrasound and the long labor my wife endured. I’ll remember cutting the cord and holding her against my bare chest to stop her crying. She looked up at me with her curious gentle eyes for the first time and I melted. I’ll remember walking her over to my wife and the two of us holding her together. I’ll remember bringing her home from hospital.

These are the moments that solidified my role of being Maggie’s Dad. They brought me a feeling of deep connection and a desire to be the best Dad I could.

For my sons, their birthing memories are quite different.

With Alden I remember the first night we met. He was too shy to look up from the ground at first but when he finally did, his expression quickly changed to a big smile and he said “oh…hi!” as if he had always known me. My wife and I still marvel over this moment.

I also remember spending a day together, just the two of us on St. Augustine beach. By the time we left, a certain feeling of distance between us was gone forever.

With Leland, I have a clear memory of him taking my hand for the first time and walking me down the beach. All the while telling one of his wildly creative stories like only a five year old can. I also remember a long conversation the two of us had at “Tropical Smoothie” talking about my grandfathers and the importance of family.

I remember the first time each of the boys decided to call me Dad instead of Jim. Alden was out in the ocean behind our house. It was about three years after meeting him. Leland’s decision came a bit earlier. It was a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning with him leaving clues all over the house. All the clues lead back to a little box behind the Christmas tree and in that box that was a note that simply read “From this day forward I will always call you Dad.”

I remember sitting in the kitchen when both boys asked me to be their Dad. And finally, standing in front of the judge giving a sworn testimony to my new responsibilities.

These are the moments that solidified the role of being Alden and Leland’s Dad. They brought me a feeling of deep connection and a desire to be the best Dad I could be.

Different experiences, same end result.

The biological birthing experience was a miracle, but for me, it was no more a miracle than two little boys who asked me to be their Dad.

What’s the difference in love and connection for biological and adopted children?

The answer is: absolutely nothing.

Without going into too many supporting stories or discussing certain laws of Quantum Physics here’s the simple reason why:

When you decide to love a child and go all in, the imaginary line between biological and adoptive disappears and there becomes no difference.

Standing on both sides I know this is absolute truth.

If you’re a parent of adoption without any biological children and you secretly wondered what it might be like to “have your own,” know this: You are already there.

And if you are a child of adoption and if you have ever had any doubts or a belief in this 2nd place myth, please take heart. You never have and never will be 2nd place. Your birthing experience may have been different than the biological with your parents, but that does not make it any less memorable or meaningful.

Love and support are a choice we make. (Click to Tweet!)

If we can choose this for adopted children, where else can we choose to love?


biophotoJim Sheils is co–founder of the popular “Board Meetings” strategy that is now helping parents worldwide reconnect with their children in fun & experiential ways. His talk “3 Steps To Connection” has received standing ovations on some of the biggest stages for business, wealth creation and personal development. Jim’s company, Board Meetings International LLC, specializes in parent/child retreats that use ocean activities (like surfing) along with the principles of experiential education to teach the lessons not taught in school and strengthen the relationship between successful entrepreneurs & their children. He and his business partner have been best friends since the age of 3 and also run a multi-million dollar business venture that has done over 500 Real Estate deals. Jim is an avid surfer, enjoys traveling and spending quality time with family and friends, especially his beautiful wife Jamie and two boys, Alden & Leland. Jim’s most recent adventures led him to donate a kidney to the greatest guy on the planet, his father.

Comments

  1. I agree. Our Julie was 7 weeks old when she came home to us. Seven years later, I gave birth to Jacob. Both are now young adults. Their personalities are as different as night and day. The connection with each of them is grounded in the love their dad and I shared with them. When my husband died suddenly 2 1/2 years ago, both Julie and Jacob grieved the loss of the man they knew as dad. They express their grief differently but not because one was his adopted daughter and the other his birth son. You are so very right. It is a myth.

    • Linda thank you for helping me debunk the myth and sharing your personal story of Jacob and Julie. How lucky they are to have had you and your husband to ground them in a loving family. All the best!

  2. My case was a step-daughter who was all of 15 months when her dad and I married. I truly love her as much and as deeply a my son I have birth to 9 years later. She has my corny sense of humor and is as much my daughter as if she lived in me.

    • Thanks for sharing Jayme, we are blessed individuals to stand on both sides of this family equation and know the equal love and rewards of our biological and adopted children. All the best!
      Jim

  3. This may very well be true for parents. But I can assure
    You it is not true for adoptive children. I say that
    With all the love in my heart. Adopted children
    Do have special needs that largely go unattended
    Because the perspective you just shared in your blog.
    There is a very scary one sided narrative to the adoption
    Experience that completely silences the inner agony
    Of an adopted child who has been seperated at
    Birth or any other time in from their natural parents.
    I think it’s unrecognized because adoptive parents such
    As yourself actually experience the same level of love
    For the child. But make no mistake, your child (if seperated
    From natural family is grieving, alone, quietly. Keening and doesn’t
    Understand why. All adopted children should be
    Supported throughout their lifespan. There are many good
    Books, and great strides being made to widen a dialogue and
    Ensure it becomes more multi-faceted. I only mention this
    Because it sounds as though you care for your children
    Immensely. As an adult adoptee, my adoptive mother
    And I are thick in the grief over the loss of my natural
    Family. She of course always beside me. As we read and research
    She continues to ask the same question…why didn’t anyone
    Tell me the trauma you suffered. They always made it
    Seem like things would just be okay if we moved
    On as if you were our own. She consistently says she
    Would have worked with me as a child to move
    Through my grief. I thought this was relevant to share
    Because Christina’s work is with grief. It’s beautiful how
    Much you love your sons. Start with “primal wound”. They say
    It is easier to raise healthy children, than to fix broken adults.

  4. As an adopted child (who is now on the verge of 50 years old), I was so happy to see this piece!! Yay!! Yes, the family formed by adoption is just as loving and legitimate (and crazy!) as the family formed by birth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was recognized in every aspect of our culture??

    Of course, this isn’t always true: for some families, adoption was a second choice, and the parents may be very aware of this and consciously or unconsciously let their child/children know that. And in some families with a mixture of adopted and birthed children, adopted children do get the sloppy seconds – I have a good friend who was raised in that agonizing situation. (And I was always so grateful that I had gotten my parents, not hers, since we were adopted from the same place at almost the same time!)

    But of course, that’s not just an adoption problem – some parents just do favor one child over others. The adoption part of the equation is merely another gross justification for not-very-nice behavior.

    And then I got to Megan’s comment… in which she basically says, “yeah Jim, that’s great that you can love your kids but they’re in a form of pain you aren’t even tuned in to.” REALLY? She says “…adoptive parents such As yourself actually experience the same level of love For the child. But make no mistake, your child (if separated From natural family is grieving, alone, quietly. Keening and doesn’t Understand why.” (I’m not sure what keening is here, but we get the point that Megan feels that all adopted children are in pain.) I think this is no more true than that all adoptive families are like Jim’s!

    When are we going to understand that individuals in similar situations experience those situations quite differently? I have not been “grieving, alone, quietly” for my birth parents for the last 50 years. What brought me to this site is that I do continue to grieve the loss of my parents (yes, my “adoptive” parents) even though they have been dead for many years. My relationship with my mom and dad was absolutely crucial to my understanding of myself – and I now know that I need some help to reconstruct my identity and move into what I need to do in this next era of my life. I am deeply grateful to my birth parents for being the channel that brought me to this earth – but I can’t say that I mourn not knowing them.

    Megan, I do hope you find comfort as you come to terms with what you lost. And I thank you, Jim, for validating my experience as an adopted child!! Best wishes to you and your family!!

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Christina Rasmussen

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