Friday, April 13, 2012

Adopted/Foster family bonds

There is a tele - serial that we watch regarding adopted children and the affection showered on them by the adopted father. It is a very touching story with the father fearing that the children may come to know of their adopted status and leave him forever. The children are also equally fond of the father but of course they do not know that he is the adopted father. What they would do when they learn the truth I often wonder. My husband however feels that the adopted status ought not to matter the affection he has showered on them will not allow the children to ever leave him. The question I ask is -Is there truth in the statement that blood is thicker than water? Will all the affection showered on an adopted child go waste when he/she realizes that the couple who brought them up are not biologically their own parents?

My husband recalls the incident of a child Chinna who lost his mother when the family fled from Burma during World War II and was brought up by his maternal uncle and aunt in Jamshedpur for a while till his father found a job. In fact his older brother and sister also stayed at the uncle’s place but they were aware of a life they had spent in Burma while the youngest was a mere baby. When the children’s father found a job and was in a position to support his family he came to Jamshedpur and took them to Bombay where he worked. The older children had no problem but the youngest fell sick and had to be brought back. The aunt for her part would not touch food after he left and pleaded with her husband that the boy be brought back. Chinna loved his aunt dearly and would call her ‘amma’. She was an aunt by marriage but the bond was such that outsiders believed that he was her own child. He lived with them till their death loved and accepted by his cousins. Chinna was okay with his father too but could never consider moving in with him permanently. Chinna was in his twenties when I got married and I remember him bringing home Tamil magazines that I looked forward to. The family moved out of our township within a year of my marriage and we heard no more of them.

There is another case of a seven year old girl Ammu who came to work as a domestic help for a family known to me. A few years later she lost her eyesight partially following small pox. By then Ammu had become an indispensable member of the family and managed the running of the household and extraction of work from the servants. With her around one could stop worrying about routine matters. The children of the household loved her dearly and the master and mistress almost forgot that she was just a domestic help. Her own brother and sister in law found the arrangement suitable and led their own life peacefully. She would visit them occasionally but would return with a whole lot of complaints about them. She found her sister in law unrefined and her niece and nephew ill mannered.

It was then that differences cropped up. Ammu once took the liberty of approaching the master for spending money that the mistress normally gave her. This was unaccounted petty cash that was given to her to run the household. With this money she would buy vegetables and fruits from roadside vendors, pay for the gas cylinder and buy trinkets for herself and the master’s 11 year old daughter. It was her spending money and she used it prudently. She found nothing wrong in asking the master for money when she ran out of cash. She had lived with them for more than 20 years and had never felt that her role would ever be questioned. The mistress thought otherwise. She felt that Ammu ought to have approached her instead of the master.

“Even the children do not ask their father for money directly” she said. “How could you even think of doing so?”

Initially Ammu did not read much into her words but there was a subtle change in her attitude. She found fault with everything Ammu did and stopped talking unless absolutely necessary. Finally she packed Ammu off to her brother’s place saying that since two of her three children were married and a daughter in law had arrived on the scene, they could manage without her.

As expected Ammu did not get on well with her brother’s family and came back after a month. Things were never the same but considering her selfless service to the family they found her accommodation in a home for destitute women and I hear that she is happy over there.

This brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Chinna and Ammu were able to gel with their adopted families. May be not exactly adopted but both were treated well by the family they lived with. Chinna was loved by his foster family and so was Ammu. In Ammu’s case the difference could have been sorted out but it appeared that there was no real intention of resolving the issue. It was not as if her mistress felt threatened or insecure by her presence. The only reason I can think of is the class difference that marks out a servant from the master. Had she been a relative like Chinna her lapse may have been overlooked. I feel that treating a servant like a family member is not the same as accepting her as one.

I may be generalizing the issue and each case of adoption may be different. Like in a TV program where the real mother and adopted mother were fighting a custody battle, it was the adopted mother who said that it was well past the child’s ‘milk’ time and even if she did not get the child back she would request the real mother not to let the child go hungry.

“He cannot wait till I mix the milk powder in hot water, cool it and pour it into the bottle and give him. We can sort out our differences later. Please give him his milk first” she said.

And I was left wondering if it was fair to give the child for adoption and place a claim for the same child without a thought for the woman who brought him up like her own. Who was the real mother, I wondered? Was it the one who worried about the child’s hunger pangs or the one who was reclaiming the child after initially abandoning him?

I guess there is more than one correct response to this question.


Anonymous said...

mmmmmmmmm.....blood ties cannot be ruled out can they? in chinna's case he was a blood relative right?

Destination Infinity said...

Ammu's foster parents seem quiet opportunistic. Maybe class was another issue. I know a family who adopted a kid from their sister/brother-in-law. The child was legally adopted and the child knows this. Both the families are very close and the original mother (she has one child too) can't really 'claim' her son back (both because of legal bindings and good faith). Things are pretty normal with that family, as far as I know.

Destination Infinity

Hip Grandma said...

Destination Infinity: True. It all depends on individuals. Ammuwas like a family member but her foster family never forgot that she was a just a domestic help. Ammu apparently got carried away with the importance given to her and took the liberty of a family member.

Sangitha said...

These two aren't adoptions. Blood isn't thicker, relationships are...sometimes blood relationships work, most often these days, they seem to break down more often than not.

All mothers are real, there's no 'own' or 'real' in this. When there's no legal adoption and the mother who gave birth still has legal status as the child's mother, where is the question of claim at all?

These are cases of sponsorship and convenience. Calling it adoption is not right - you know where I am coming from, adoption is one way of becoming a parent, with intention to parent permanently. Didn't see that in either cases you mention.

Hip Grandma said...

sangi:True. The cases mentioned are not legal adoptions. That is why I took care to mention adoption/foster family bonds in the title. I have a an aunt who had no children and did not adopt one but she was a second mother to all of us. In her case there was no real need to adopt a child. But in chinna's case whether he was adopted or not did not matter. He was accepted as member of his uncle's family and he could not bring himself to return to his father whereas his brother and sister had no problem going back.

May be we could say that a child would respond to affection and would get attached to anyone who gives it.

You are right. ammu's case was one that was maintained for its utility value and once her service was no longer required she was given the golden handshake and packed off.

hillgrandmom said...

As reader Sangi says, there is a world of difference between legal adoption and fostering--as in Chinna's case. In Ammu's case it most definitely was just a good relationship with an employee and probably Ammu mistook that for deep affection.
In any case, for a child to love a parent and to have a permanent bond, the child has to have felt the love of the parent figure, whether own, adoptive or foster.