THE BLOG
09/09/2013 10:00 am ET | Updated Nov 09, 2013

Biological and Adoptive Parenting: The Motives Are the Same, Even As They Change

Of course I have heard what wonderful people my wife and I are for adopting. It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. What biological parent wants to hear how wonderful they are for bringing another child into the world? Was that their motive? They wanted to do something good? They wanted to make the world a better place? Most biological parents would look at someone like they had a lizard crawl out of their ear if that person praised them for adding to their family biologically.

I used to tell people that in most cases, adoption, too, is a selfish act. That statement is true. However, it is far from complete. The bottom line is that while there are some different challenges involved, there is little difference between the motives of biological and adoptive parents. That continues to be the case, even as parents advance in their understanding. My wife and I have had children biologically and through adoption. We have adopted internationally as well as here in the United States. We have adopted an infant, teens and children in between. Because of the many ways that we added the nine children we now have to our family, we have a broad view on family building.

There are some biological parents who didn't "decide" to add to their families, but did so anyway, after taking five pregnancy tests, each confirming the first "positive" one. But those who planned, then added to their families the biological way, did it for selfish purposes. The parents wanted a child. They weren't out to save the world, or to contribute to humanity, or to solve some world problem. Deciding to have that child was a selfish decision. While there are exceptions, and there are those who adopt to save the world, most adopting parents are as selfish as those who build their families biologically. We want children. We want them because we want them. If the adoption helps with some "world problem" then so-be-it. Great. Fine. Beautiful. That wasn't the reason we decided to adopt, though.

We selfish parents, whether adding to our families biologically, through adoption, or by some other form, all go through an evolution. At some point, we realize that our family building is supposed to be about the child, rather than our own selfish wants and wishes. If we don't figure it out on our own, before the child reaches their teen years, they are more than happy to help us along with our education in the fact that they have their own life. They get to make their own decisions. And hey, they didn't ask to be carried around in someone else's body for nine months. They didn't ask anyone to go through 36 hours of labor! They certainly didn't ask anyone to spend 20k to adopt them. "If you didn't want to do it," seething teenagers can be heard to scream in retaliation, "then you never should have done it!" Touché! Guilt trips (when parents are desperate enough to use them) are always wasted when used on any child, biologically obtained, or otherwise. Parents who adopted to save the world are in no better position to deal with apron-string cutting, where teenagers can play dirty, but parents aren't supposed to. What teen wants to be the mess that his self-absorbed adoptive parents thought that they had to clean up, even though it wasn't their "fault?"

People are people and we are creatures who need a sense of community, even family. However, regardless of our need for community, our desire for family, people get to live their own lives, determine their own values, make their own choices and live their own consequences. Whether people became parents through the biological process or some other way doesn't change that very basic fact. The beauty in this circle that we call life, is that for a very short time, little people need big people almost as much as big people need them. For a short time, we big people can have a large amount of influence over the little ones. We can start them along in the course that we believe will bring them the most success and/or happiness. In most cases, parents start down the path of family building for selfish purposes. Those who end up successful in long-term, multi-generational families, eventually learn that family building by any means, is, and should be about a child.

I believe that everyone has a right to a family (though in too many cases, those rights will be denied). I believe that no one owes a debt of submission of will, or even of gratitude, for simply being included in a family. Besides, gratitude, coerced, is not thankfulness anyway. Gratitude is a gift that can only be given freely, because it has been earned, and usually when not expected. Good parents will seek the happiness and success of their children much more than they will expect gratitude from them. And good parents will realize that their reward was a chance to help someone along, giving them every opportunity to excel. That in itself, is the reward for parenting.

When we do it right, we decide to be parents for selfish purposes. As our understanding evolves, if we continue to do the right thing, we realize that as in so many other situations, our actions should cease to be selfish and should be used to benefit someone else.

It's a funny thing in life how we start out worrying most about ourselves, and then learn that true happiness comes from seeing happiness in others. It's also funny that parenthood, no matter how it is achieved, parallels life in general, so closely.