In my new book, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence, I wrote about some of these feelings, and when a New York Times interview recently repeated them, the reaction was swift.
Adoptive parents wrote angrily that they would swim through a swamp filled with crocodiles for their non-biological children. Didn’t I know how wanted adopted children are? How longed for and adored? How could I be so irresponsible, so politically incorrect, so heartless as to suggest that there was any difference between biological and non-biological love?
Their children were not as upset. Instead of public blog posts lambasting me for questioning their parents’ love, adoptees and stepchildren sent private emails, requesting anonymity. Their posts were full of gratitude for raising such a taboo subject, and for attempting to give voice and validity to their unresolved feelings of distance from their biological roots.
I responded to both adoptive parents and adoptees by stressing the need for dialogue about different kinds of love. I asked adoptive and stepparents to recognize that by fighting for sameness with the biological model, they were, it could be argued, re-inscribing biological love as the ultimate standard.
I also wondered what it must feel like to be an adopted child longing for connection with one’s It is impossible to love anyone the same as anyone else.biological parents in a family that insists that their willingness to walk through crocodiles should be enough.
My feeling is that our job as parents is not to pretend that differences don’t exist, but to celebrate them, without making our children feel shame about the variety of emotions they experience. Communication about difference is especially important as families find themselves navigating new and perhaps more complex family configurations than ever before.
The fact is, the idealized step- and adoptive families found in television sitcoms like The Brady Bunch and Different Strokes – which advocated treating all the kids the same – were never real families. The easy relationships between Mike Brady and his stepdaughters, for example, were dependent upon the erasure of Carol’s first husband, the girls’ biological father. We were never allowed to see the long-term effect of his absence on the children.
The need to evolve the old model into a more open dialogue about different ways to love family members came together for me when a radio talk show host told me that he didn’t understand the commotion.
During a commercial break he said that psychologists have long told parents not to tell their kids they love them all the same, because, in fact, it is impossible to love anyone the same as anyone else. You love your children differently, he said, because each child is different, and has a unique relationship with the parent or caregiver.
Which, at the time, seemed refreshingly obvious.