Katie Naftzger, LICSW

family therapist, adoption specialist, speaker, author


The Good Adoptee

When I went to Korea several years ago on a service tour, I went to learn more about my relationship to Korea, to volunteer in the community, and to experience being adopted in ways that would deepen my awareness as a person.

I got into Seoul later in the evening after a long delay and a cancelled flight, was jet-lagged and feeling the weight of being there, so far away from my “real” life and family.  Given that I had searched twice and not found, I found myself wondering whether this was all a mistake.  I had searched and not found while most of the others on the tour were meeting their birth parents and families, what was I doing?  It’s hard enough to feel lost and alone in your everyday life, but it felt even worse to feel lost when in a way, the others around me had been “found.”  Their search was over.

I shared a room with my adoptive mother who agreed to come with me, and we were staying on the same floor as the infant care unit for the agency.  I didn’t actually volunteer there until the end of the week and so I didn’t hold the babies for several days, but as I lay down that first night, all I could hear was crying.  The crying never stopped, there was always someone crying all through the night.

There I was, listening, still lost and I found myself wanting to run in there and tell the babies who were crying, “Shut up!  They’re not going to choose you if you cry.”  

And, it was then that I felt overwhelmed by what it meant to be a “good adoptee.”  If you’re a difficult baby, a crying baby, a hard-to-soothe baby, does that lower your chances of getting adopted?  The good adoptee doesn’t want to risk finding that out.  The good adoptee wants to be easy, adoptable, easy to love, easy to parent, so that the parents feel good about themselves.  The good adoptee knows that they can’t afford to take that chance of being a “mistake” twice.

And, yet, although there was a part of that wanted to run in and shut down the evidence of pain, I also knew that their voice, their needs their anger is theirs to share because this isn’t the way it was supposed to go.  As I listened, what I heard was, “Where the f— is my mommy!”  They deserve a mother who’s there, they deserve an explanation, an answer for how their life fell apart, and no one is giving them one.  And, they should be able to cry without fearing that it will change things.


2 Responses to The Good Adoptee

  1. Mary Lou Eshelman says:

    Yes, I think many adoptees want very much to be so good that their parents will keep them, and not get rid of them, as they might (some, certainly not all, believe this) think their original parents did. And other adoptiees internally, subconsciously, see it a different way. Many of these children were adopted at an older age and they think, “I will try out every behavior I can, to see how bad I have to be before they throw me out.” “Like my parents did…” And, of course, there are many along the whole continuum, many who have a little of each reaction, and many for whom their adoption is NOT the story of their life. Yet for many, it IS. Being sensitive to the nuances of each person’s unique adoption story, and what it means to them personally, helps parents, counselors, teachers, social workers, and others to understand them. Just as each person is different, so is each adoptee. Always a challenge to hear the story openly and without personal bias, and for parents of adoptees, trying hard not to inject their own issues into their child’s story. Whew, a real job!

    • admin says:

      I know, it’s true, it can be so overwhelming to decipher what we need and what our kids need. I think you’re talking about testing which is such an important issue in families. The “good” adoptee can hide their testing and vigilance extraordinarily well, too well, sometimes. They don’t feel entitled to the help they deserve and need, and they hold back for fear of being a disappointment.

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