[I spent some serious time last week writing an entry for this blog, but forgot to give it a title – required – and off to the non-blogisphere it went never to be retrieved. I couldn’t bear to try to rewrite it. Thus the gap in time between entries.]
I have been in the adoption field for many many years now, and I am well aware that all adoption is subsequent to deep loss. The loss of one’s birth family, no matter the reasons, cuts very deep. But all loss is not the same. A young teen mother, creating an adoption plan for her newborn, whom she recognizes that she cannot take care of is not betraying her child. On the contrary, focused on the good of her baby, she is making a decision to love her child.
During the Holocaust, there were a significant number of Jewish families, who gave over their children to Christian families, lest the children be killed. Too few of those parents lived to come back to get their children. Terribly sad and painful – sometimes even for those who did return – but in no way a betrayal of their children. Rather, a decision to love them.
Even many of those parents who lose their children to the foster care system permanently because of drugs or alcohol, or some other expression of abuse or neglect, can be viewed as not competent to care for their children, rather then as betrayers. Admittedly, the line there can be rough to delineate, but the power of addiction can only be known fully by addicts. And incompetency is understandable, even to its victims. Perhaps a decision never made to love their children. But even that would not be betrayal.
But what of parents who give up one child yet hold onto their others? And worse: what of adoptive parents – who have been taught to know better – yet do the same? Even if there are no sibs? Is there any way to describe their behavior other than betrayal? Can the child understand his experience without understanding the concept of betrayal?
One of biggest lessons I learned in going through sex abuse training over two decades ago, was that it is always the adult who is responsible for the abuse. Not half responsible, nor even mostly so. Totally. It was a revelation to me that even the most seductive fifteen year old, had absolutely no responsibility for being abused. It was, I learned, the power imbalance in the relationship that determined the responsibility. That power imbalance always also determines who betrays whom in child-parental relationships. Parenthood is – over and over and over – an adult permanently claiming a child. When the claim is real, it is irrevocable. And, I think, for children who have had that experience (and then, say, the parents died), adoptive parents would become second parents, though no less real. Such was my own experience with my aunt.
But for parents who do claim a child, and then later renounce their claim, it is almost never based on the good of the child, but rather on how the parent feels. No child should remain with parents who renounce their parenthood, so it can be stretched into a decision “made for the good of the child.” But that would be a lie, no matter how technically true.
When parents choose protection of their feelings – even if the child’s behavior is outrageous, or perhaps criminal – over protecting the good of their child, there is only one word to use: betrayal. When adoptive parents do it, they do it, by definition, with children who have already lost one set of parents.
That makes it a parental betrayal like no other.
There are no words for that.