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Stop telling my adopted kids they're lucky to have us — we're not their saviors

I'm a writer, wife, and mother to three exuberant children who make me very tired. My writing has appeared in The Sun Magazine, Adoptive Families, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Redbook, Huff Post, Motherlode at The New York Times, and ...

My kids should not have to feel indebted to me for adopting them

“Thank you for being my mother.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Thank you.”

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The kids and I were having lunch at our favorite Thai place when, out of the blue, all three decided to make me feel like the luckiest mom in the world with those words. I don't recall how we arrived at that sweet moment or what we said next. I only know that I tried not to cry because it was all so unexpected. Remember this, I thought, because they will be back to normal any minute now.

I am a mother by adoption. My husband, John, and I adopted our 14-year-old daughter from India when she was 5. Our son, 13, and our youngest daughter, 12, are biological siblings from Ethiopia who joined our family at ages 3 and 2. Through the years, friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers have exclaimed that our kids must be so "lucky" to have us. Others have made a big deal over how “special” we must be to have adopted.

"Oh, no, we're the lucky ones," my husband and I always say. "They’re great kids."

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Here's the thing: My husband and I aren't saviors. Our children are our children, not a service project. We're a family, and we're not looking to be anyone's inspiration. All the "lucky" and "special" baggage that surrounds adoption in our culture comes packed with expectations of gratitude from the adopted child — burdens I've never wanted my children to carry.

Some adoptive parents tell their kids that they are the "special" ones or that they are "chosen children," which can be a loving message but also a loaded one. My husband and I have always avoided that kind of "special" talk because even though adoption may have brought our children good luck, we are always mindful that it was loss, pain and bad luck that brought our children to adoption.

More: 3 ways to avoid being offensive when talking about adoption

Too often when people talk about gratitude in adoption, what they're really referring to is an expected sense of indebtedness from child to parent. Adoptive parents who believe their children are obligated to feel grateful for being “rescued” establish a corrosive family dynamic. Love doesn't come with a debt.

The fact is, I'm the (second) mother of my children, not their benefactor, and they owe me nothing. Of course I'm happy that my kids feel grateful to have me as a mom and beyond thrilled to have them tell me so. I also know they hate me sometimes. They're teenagers, after all — reportedly the only teenagers in the state of Washington whose mother refuses to buy them the iPhone 6.

As a family, we try to cultivate a sense of gratitude for our common life together, for our home, the food on the table, for the crappy flip phones Mom and Dad have chosen to provide, and for the love we share. Guarding against any sense of obligation leaves room for genuine feelings of gratitude and love to emerge among us all.

More: The secret no one tells you about unmarried adoptions

Originally posted on BlogHer

My kids should not have to feel indebted to me for adopting them
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