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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