Anonymous, “An Adopted Mother Speaks,” 1922

This excerpt illustrates two enduring themes in the modern adoption experience: awareness on the part of adopters that their potential for parenthood is being carefully scrutinized and judged, and suspicion that children available for adoption—as well as adoptive kinship itself—are both different and inferior.

As one of a family of ten children I felt great sympathy for smaller family circles, and looked forward to being the mother of at least ten children of my own. After six years of married life, however, I gave up this hope and sought an institution that cared for other people’s children, explaining my crying need for a family. I convinced the heads of this institution that my past was blameless and my future full of promise, that I had paid my debts, did not like alcoholic beverages, had no skeletons in my closets nor any undesirable boarders in my home, that my house was at all times clean and orderly, that I went to church regularly and had only influential friends. Then, and not until then, two stolid, black-eyed brothers of an alien race were bestowed upon me.

The new members of my family were apathetic, suspicious and silent. No amount of coaxing could beguile them into a conversation or a smile. Tears flowed copiously. At the end of a week I was ready to quit and go childless to the end of my days. It took them that long to decide that I did not eat little boys and that I really meant to be kind. Even now, after nearly three years, I do not like to remember that week during which they sat on chairs and looked at me. But patience and love have worked wonders. I am sure now that they have learned to care for their foster parents; and we care for them as much as, if not more than had they been given us by nature instead of red tape. . . .

As we have lived in our neighborhood for a long time, every one knows that the boys came to us from an institution. Nearly every time that they went out at first they were questioned about how we treated them, and whether they remembered their own mother and father. Even now, they are asked many such questions. Much unsought advice is thrust upon me by mothers of “little terrors,” and a great deal of thought is devoted to me by persons who give no apparent thought to the raising of their own children. Parents whose children are more often accidental than desired rave to me about the terrible force of heredity, and the uncertainty as to how orphans are going to “turn out.” That children are without parents seems to be considered an indication that they are naturally bad and for-ordained to be vicious. Yet, for every adopted child cited as an instance of ingratitude and wasted effort, there are thousands from so-called “good families” who, following the line of least resistance, eventually adorn our public institutions.

It has been proven to me to be an almost impossible task to raise an adopted child in a normal manner. If they are dirty the neighbors call them neglected. If they are kept clean, I am depriving them of their natural rights as children. If they obey promptly, they are abused; if they do not obey, they are hopelessly spoiled for all time. Then there are those dear, well intentioned persons who focus their curious eyes upon the children, drop their voices to a funereal pitch and say (always within hearing of the boys): “Poor little motherless babies, isn’t it a pity?”—and give them sundry coins. I wonder if those well meaning but surely thoughtless people realize that they are fostering in the rapidly forming minds of future voters the idea that the world owes them a living, or that they are making two more victims of “self-sympathy.” Perhaps I am unduly sensitive about this; but I want my boys’ lives to stand upon solid foundations that will not quiver under the strongest winds of adversity. . . .

Again, people go out of their way to tell me what a wonderful work we are doing in taking two children of whose antecedents we know little into our home. It is work, and it is sometimes trying; but day by day it pays large dividends.


Source: Anonymous, “An Adopted Mother Speaks,” Survey 47 (March 18, 1922):962-963.

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