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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home

Raising Children with Thankful Hearts



My eight-year-old daughter, Lemlem, adopted five years ago from Ethiopia, unexpectedly came to our Thanksgiving table with a list of 20 things for which she is grateful. She proudly read them aloud at the start of the meal. Every item on the list was beautiful, but Number 20 was the kicker: "Having a family that loves my (sic) very much."

Inspired, the rest of us took turns sharing some gratitude off-the-cuff -- and I almost fell off my chair when 10-year-old Didi, adopted from India four years ago, announced, "I'm thankful to have parents." Could this really be the same girl who'd muttered, "I hate you" a few hours earlier, when I'd asked her to turn off the TV?
 
The notion of gratitude in adoption is a sticky, uncomfortable one. Complete strangers will exclaim that an adopted child is "lucky" -- and that adoptive parents are "special people." Some adoptive parents tell their kids that they are the "special" ones, or that they are "chosen children," which can be a loving message, but also a loaded one.
 
All the "lucky" and "special" baggage that adoption carries comes packed with implied expectations of gratitude from the adopted child -- burdens I've never wanted my children to carry. My husband and I have always avoided that kind of "special" talk with the kids, because although adoption may have brought them good luck, we are always mindful that it was loss, pain, and bad luck that brought them to adoption.
 
A recent article in The New York Times called "A Serving of Gratitude" reported on the considerable benefits experienced by people with thankful hearts, including "better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life, kinder behavior toward others," and more. But, for me, the most interesting point journalist John Tierney made was this:
 
Don't confuse gratitude with indebtedness. Sure, you may feel obliged to return a favor, but that's not gratitude, at least not the way psychologists define it. Indebtedness is more of a negative feeling and doesn't yield the same benefits as gratitude, which inclines you to be nice to anyone, not just a benefactor.
 
Too often when people talk about gratitude in adoption, they really mean a sense of indebtedness -- and as Tierney points out, indebtedness is a negative and potentially corrosive emotion. The fact is, I'm the (second) mother of my children, not their benefactor, and they owe me nothing. Love doesn't come with a debt. I'm just thankful that Didi, Lemlem, and their brother Gobez seem to be developing a healthy attitude of gratitude toward all that is good in their lives.


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8 Comments

I really like this entry, Sharron.  It has bothered me before when I heard the “lucky” comments.  Now I understand why - it was clearly the wrong word for the situation.  I’ll educate others about this too.

Thanks for sharing!

By Danielle Pennel on Friday, December 09, 2011 at 2:35 pm.

Thanks, Danielle!

By Sharon Van Epps on Friday, December 09, 2011 at 9:16 pm.

I couldn’t understand when Some says they were Proud of me and my husband or when they said our kids were lucky to have us. I didn’t and don’t understand that. They don’t say I’m lucky or proud that I had my biological son.

By Jmiller0636 on Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm.

Hi! I just joined the site and I found you while searching for India adoption information-I was wondering if there is any advice, links, etc that you found helpful during your journey that you could suggest. My family very much wants to start the adoption of a little girl from India and I just contacted the Catholic Charities in NC (where we live) as well as the http://www.csa.org.in site to get more info on where to start. Anything you can share, since you have been through the process, would be wonderful! Thank you smile

By MichelleZeren on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm.

Email me .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

By Jmiller0636 on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm.

Hi Michelle,
Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier!

A great source of information on adoption from India is the Yahoo group IChild, if you haven’t already joined! The adoption process from India has changed a bit in the past five years, so that’s a great place to find veteran families like mine, as well as those with more up-to-date information. Best of luck!

By Sharon Van Epps on Monday, February 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm.

I so loved this entry. We recently brought our now 8 month old daughter home from Ethiopia and she has a cleft lip and palate. Everyone that sees her walks up and says how lucky she is and it has alway bothered my husband and I because we don’t ever want her to feel indebted to us. We also hope that she is grateful to be a family and that she will know that she will never “OWE” us anything. We always say that we are the ones that have been so blessed because she has brought so much to our lives and she is a very sweet girl.

By overjoyed on Monday, September 03, 2012 at 12:46 am.

While I do not wish to put a damper on the wonder of saving a child from an orphanage in India or a life on the street, I want you to be aware of a specific health issue that can arise with children from third-world countries. S.S.P.E. Sub-acute Sclerosing pan Encephalitis. A fatl complication of the measles virus. My husband and I lost our beautiful daughter, Emmalee, on Sunday January 2 2011 to S.S.P.E. We had adopted her from an orphanage called Preet Mandir in Pune, India in July 2005. She became seriously ill in August of 2010. We lost her 5 months later. The measles virus can stay in the body and mutate. Whie it appears the child recovered when they had the measles, it stays as a ticking time bomb in the body. If you see any signs that appear to be tremors, poor coordination, learning disabilities, explosive behavious, head drops, sudden tripping or falling, get health care fast. It comes on like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, the kids don’t receive timely measles vaccines in many orphanages and they are exposed to the measles as infants, the most dangerous time. Your pediatrician has never heard of S.S.P.E. Go straight to a children’s hospital. There was a doctor from India in the e.r. when we took our duahgter the first time and he knew right away what was wrong by the symptoms and the history of being in an orphanage in India. Our duaghter, then Snehal, had been in the orphanage since she was 11 days old. If you wish to discuss this further you can reach me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

By Riki on Wednesday, January 09, 2013 at 2:34 pm.

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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps

California

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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