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.