The One -Two Punch of Spring
When the sins of my father
Weigh down in my soul
And the pain of my mother
Will not let me go...
Of all holidays, Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day are perhaps the two most fraught with deeply ambiguous emotion for adoptees. May and June, the months when the new life of spring bursts forth in a celebration of fertility and fresh hope for the coming growing season, are also the months that deliver the one-two punch of Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day straight to the gut of adoptees in the form of attendant questions and ambiguities.
For most -- but not all -- of us, it's a time of genuine gratitude and love toward the parents who have loved us, raised us with fierce devotion and hard work, and launched us into life with all the support and resources they had to give. But spring is also a season complicated by the task of finding a suitable Hallmark card to express our authentic but often conflicting feelings.
If you, like me, are "lucky" enough have a birthday that falls during these months, the fundamental questions and ambiguities about our very existence can whip up pesky emotional dust devils that easily grow into cyclones. Everyone, whether adopted or not, carries the legacy of our ancestors, whether real or imagined. Our idealized visions of parenthood, which millions of adoptive parents do a remarkable job of living up to, usually visit in the form of statements like:
"Your father was a kind and good man who made great sacrifices out of love for his family," or
"Your mother was so radiant when she was pregnant with you. She couldn't wait to meet you, raise you and be there for you in all the small things, no matter what."
Adoptees, however, do not begin from a place of such glowing assumptions, and at least one study of (who else?) more than 800 sets of twins has linked character traits with genetics. Financially stable people of solid character in committed, loving relationships rarely, if ever, give their children away in order to fulfill the family-building dreams of another couple. Relinquishing their offspring simply doesn't cross the minds of people who are not in crisis. Much has been written about the destructive stigma and shame foisted on birth/first parents and the moral judgments associated with our origins. So, like the above lyrics, adoptees often unknowingly begin life with our new families carrying the visceral weight of the sins of our fathers, and too often manacled by the pain of our mothers. Or vice versa. Or both.
Who are/were these people?
What drew them together?
What factors led to my conception (was it love? lust? laziness? alcohol or drugs? lack of effective prophylactics?)
Am I even supposed to exist -- let alone breathe the air and take up the space I do?
What if I never know?
Does it matter one way or the other, especially since I have another family who loves me?
Because the Sisyphean burden of the sins of our fathers (i.e., in many cases denying responsibility, or in fewer cases, forcing themselves on our mothers) and pain of our mothers is both mysterious and massive, it's easy to teeter between going (back) into therapy, stocking up on mood-altering beverages or substances, and burying ourselves in busyness at this time each year. But avoiding or numbing pain, grief and ambivalence is never a satisfactory long-term solution.
I am a firm believer that each person must carry their own load in life, with the help of others as needed. As the saying goes, "Everybody's got something," and there are plenty of people who would gladly trade their problems for mine. I've met a surprising number of people who tell me with great sincerity that they wish they had been adopted into another family.
But, circumstances around individual upbringings aside, there is something deeper that "weighs down" in the soul, as Foy Vance wrote in his lyric. Something about the sins of the fathers and the pain of our mothers (or vice versa) goes far beyond the injustice and shame implicit in sealed adoption records. It is something visceral, implanted in our hearts and minds like a microchip, a pulsating signal emanating from our DNA that asks, "To what degree am I like them? What would I have done in their situation? What if I don't like the possible answers to the questions, however speculative they may be? Am I a 'bad seed' doomed to repeat their mistakes?" Or worse yet, "has God placed a target on my back as He waits to 'visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation'?"
To let go of the weighty boulder we push up the mountain is to risk being flattened by it. But to continue to embrace the false, burdensome mission imposed upon us by the mysterious, sometimes unsavory or even violent circumstances of our conception and birth is to consign ourselves to a lifelong burden and punishment for something in which we adoptees are completely innocent.
The consequences and -- in many cases -- subsequent blessings that came into adoptees' lives were not caused by us, and therefore do not fall on our shoulders. However, responsibility for our own self-sabotage and self-destructive behaviors as a result of believing the wicked, false whispers that attack our minds and souls regarding our worth and worthiness to exist does.
What if, this year, we decide to throw off the toxic lead blanket of our fathers' sins and our mothers' pain?
What if, this year, we decide to embrace the belief that the very fact that we are here means that there is an excellent chance we are supposed to be here?
What if, this year, we decide to stop (or at least minimize) recapitulating and obsessing on past trauma, and take ownership of our immense power to create our own stories instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by theirs? It's never too late to make a shift.
What if, this year, we decide to accept the things about the past which we cannot change, treat ourselves with respect, and integrate the gifts with which we have been blessed through both nature and nurture? It's easier said than done, but try taking a first step.
The mere fact of our existence did not destroy someone else's life, as I've been tempted to believe. As one therapist put it to me, "You were a baby. You didn't have that much power over their lives, but you've given their stories far too much power over your life." Wait -- what?!?
The ambiguous, visceral melancholy of Mothers' and Fathers' Day may never completely go away. But we don't have to keep rolling the boulder up the mountain. We don't have to just stand there in the ring, taking punches to (or punching ourselves in) the gut -- unless we choose to do so.