With the film Orphan opening today, some factions have raised an uproar about an adoption horror story threatening to scare potential parents away from adopting (http://tiny.cc/lecl8). I don’t think this is going to happen any more than Fatal Attraction managed to put the kibosh on married men seducing women (disturbed or otherwise) and later wishing they hadn’t done that.
But like Fatal Attraction a film like Orphan taps into unconscious fears; the former is all about the Shadow Anima, the dark aspect of the feminine that gets projected out, and then is both desired and feared—an archetypal story that threads its way through Ulysses tempted by the sirens and re-appears as the femme fatale in many a detective yarn.
When it comes to the archetype of the child, we have Peter Pan on the one hand, and then we have the demon child on the other. What’s essential to understand as parents is that the demon child dwells within us, and cannot be avoided either via birth-control nor by battening the hatches on adoption and hanging garlic on the door.
I have seen many a clinical case, usually non-adoptive situations, where a parent is frightened by their child. Often this is the after-effects of an abusive childhood for the parent, and an ardent attempt to not become the abusive parent. Yet what happens in such cases sometimes results in a parent refusing to set limits (to avoid being seen, even by themselves, as the “bad” person), and this causes a child to act out in the quest for calming and containing limits. The parent may then still refuse to set a limit (perhaps now unconsciously projecting their own Shadow parent onto their child, wherein the helpless parent shows anyone who will listen or look that they are certainly an innocent victim and not a bad and hurtful perpetrator). Out of both anxiety, and a wish to please the mom and represent whatever she needs the child to “play-act” at, such a child can take up the mantle of demon child. In such dynamics I have known of a mom locked in her bedroom and literally calling the police to protect her from a slight, albeit angry, ten-year-old. In meeting with the mother and son it was both pathetic and at the same time a bit hilarious to see a big strong mom insistent that she was terrified of a little kid—one who seemed to honestly be, “when off-camera” and in my office at the community mental health clinic, winking at me and smiling about having to play this absurd role. Mom, however, never broke character.
The story-line of Orphan is that a couple loses a biological child and then adopts a strange and troubled child. This makes psychological sense in that the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare to begin with. When loss is unresolved and denied, it haunts like Poe’s Tell Tale Heart. It would be natural, when there is a tragic loss, to unconsciously fear that our secret aggression (and all parents are provoked to feel aggression toward their children at some points) somehow caused the disaster. This is grandiose (we are not actually so powerful that our thoughts cause destruction), and it stands as a defense against our true feelings in such cases—abject powerlessness.
I have worked with many adoptive parents as well as many adults who were adopted and there are always themes of unwantedness layered into an adopted child’s life, particularly because bonding occurs while still in the womb and if there is an attempt to deny the loss of the birth mother it leaves something profoundly unanswered in a person. If it can be addressed and worked through, however, the bond can be all the deeper for it. At the end of the day, while adoption issues are important just as special needs or any sort of differences or trauma issues are important, the relationships we have with our children (biological, adopted and our own child-selves) are so rife with life as to be virtually indefinable.
A film like Orphan doesn’t really tap into our fears of adoption of the “other” so much as it preys on our fears of children in general (i.e. of our own selves—our hearts of darkness which are, after all, half of any story that holds truth about love and life).
Per the Princeton University/Farlex Thesaurus, the word “adoption” means:
- the act of accepting with approval; favorable reception; “its adoption by society”; “the proposal found wide acceptance”
- a legal proceeding that creates a parent-child relation between persons not related by blood; the adopted child is entitled to all privileges belonging to a natural child of the adoptive parents (including the right to inherit)
The privilege of parenting is deeper than a biological happenstance. As “parents” (i.e. those who deliberately choose to care about the world and all its children–from other people’s kids to animals and plants) we need to adopt our world. And if our current world seems a little disturbed then perhaps we need to deepen our understanding of why that might be… and “adopt” it. An adopted world is then clearly entitled to all the privileges we would bestow upon our very own biological spawn.
So, let’s dedicate today to consciously adopting our biological children, our legally adopted children and our world, and bestowing upon them, and all its creatures, the peace, love and understanding that befits a world we might like to live in. And let’s particularly recognize the legitimacy of adoption as a spiritual truth that honors the sacred and interconnected relationship that every one of us shares with every other one of us (Shadow and all).
Tags: adoption, death of a child