My 18th birthday didn’t cure an entire childhood of abuse and neglect. There is nothing magical that happens the day you legally become an adult that gives you the life skills to be an adult. I had for a long time however, been well aware of how evil the world really was.
So when my adoptive parents threw me out while saying to me, “it’s time for you to figure out what the world is all about.” – it was akin to throwing someone who doesn’t like water into the deep end of a pool to teach them how to swim. I survived obviously, but I spent a number of years dog-peddling through life trying to figure it out.
I came from a family of 6 brothers. Five of us were adopted twice. The first adoption failed miserably before it was finalized and I was blamed by my biological family for the failure – but that’s a story for another time.
When our second and last adoption was finalized, every local news outlet in San Antonio covered the story. 5 brothers adopted by one couple. I cooperated and gave the obligatory tv interview saying that I was glad.
I wasn’t glad. I wanted my real family back. I wanted out of this cycle of pretending. I certainly didn’t want a news camera, microphone and reporter in my face asking me to contribute to the glamorization of my never-ending nightmare. Yeah, I get that the finalization of my adoption was supposed to symbolize the end of my hurt, but I wasn’t convinced and as it turned out… I wasn’t wrong.
I knew my brothers needed a home and I didn’t want to be to blame for them not getting one. I told the reporter exactly what everyone wanted to hear. TV news aired my clip. Newsprint gobbled up the quote and no one seemed to notice me fidgeting uncomfortably on camera.
My adoptive mother was a narcissist. It was obvious to me early on that she loved all the attention they were getting and it was ALOT of attention.
Prominent businesses donated food and clothing. Six Flags and Sea World donated theme park tickets. Even the Texas DHS asked my adoptive mother to teach adoption classes and tell our story.
Many years later in a drunken slip, she told me that my adoptive father had been running around on her early in their marriage. She chose to adopt us “for the same reason some women get pregnant to save their relationships.” She had contracted venereal disease during her party years and it had rendered her infertile. She said all this to me without a hint of remorse in her voice. The local news somehow missed that tidbit.
She later denied admitting this (gaslighting) but just the same, her strategy for saving her marriage didn’t work.
By the time the media circus died down, she had completely embraced her new role as our saviour. I never bought into it and I paid a heavy price for that. I didn’t get in any trouble at school or church, just at home and it was always with my adoptive mother and I was in trouble all the time.
By the time I turned 17 she had me convinced that I was the worst child in the world. She regularly reminded me that I didn’t appreciate her enough. That I was a spoiled brat and a poor example for my younger brothers.
Dad kept running around and their relationship ended with my adoptive father having an affair, my adoptive mom having an affair with her boss, her boss’ wife having an affair with a co-worker and that co-worker’s wife? Who knows… Just your regular, humilating small town soap opera.
She kicked my adoptive father out, and then kicked me out to live with him a couple days later. Within a month of the divorce, she married her boss and into alot of money.
Roughly 17 years passed and not much changed in my relationship with her. She had settled into her wealthy lifestyle and I was a divorced blue-collar 33 year old with a daughter around the age I was when I was adopted.
We had a yearly tradition of traveling to the family home each Christmas. My ex wife has primary custody of our daughter and as custom, she and I alternate holiday visitation.
My relationship with my ex has always been volatile and we’ve never gotten along so I try to avoid speaking to her when I can. You can imagine my surprise then when my daughter gleefully called me in late 2013 to say that her mother was flying in with her and we were all going to be one big happy family for Christmas. It was my adoptive mother who invited her.
Now I don’t want to sound completely selfish. I don’t get enough time with my daughter so I cherish the opportunities to visit with her privately. I also know that her mother and I don’t get along and I didn’t want to spend the holidays around her. That doesn’t make an ideal situation for our daughter to have a joyous time.
More significantly, I had a lingering suspicion that my daughter was secretly hoping that her mother and I would get back together and that was never going to happen.
It was too late to change travel arrangements and it would have made me the bad guy in my daughter’s eyes if I took away her traditional family visit. So I texted my adoptive mother to ask her why I wasn’t consulted before making these arrangements.
Anyone who has encountered a narcissist knows that confronting one is basically asking for punishment. However, the well being of my child is paramount.
My mother texted back, “Your ex has changed and you need to give her another chance. You two need to work things out.”
I politely voiced my concerns and pointed out that she was undermining my authority as a parent. She wasn’t having it…
After 3 hours of exchanged messages I was losing the argument. Not because I was wrong, but because I was growing angry and confused. I was hurt that my mother thought so little of me.
She used every trick in the narcissist handbook to explain why my authority to make a decision for my child shouldn’t supersede her’s. Everything from gaslighting to guilt trips and reminding me of my failures.
It culminated with her saying that she was starting to understand why my ex treated me so badly and that I needed to see a therapist. That hurt.
I began to self-evaluate and I started to question my own sanity.
Did I misunderstand my past all these years? I did make mistakes. Did that mean I actually deserved everything that happened to me?
Then something remarkable happened… She sent one last message:
“I’m done arguing about this. You will shut up and comply with our arrangements or I will write you out of my will and give your inheritance to your ex.”
I was stunned.. and not because she was willing write me out of her will over the argument.
Was that message intended for someone else? Nope. I was stunned she actually thought my inheritance would matter to me.
It was like a tired boxer reared back and threw a haymaker that missed so badly that the ref had to step in to see if the boxer was brain damaged.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate money. Money pays the bills and puts food on the table. Money can buy nice things for us to enjoy, but these things aren’t needed for happiness. My inheritance would probably have been well over a million dollars but I don’t need it.
If my abusive childhood had taught me anything, it was to value good people and personal connections. Not stuff. I had never considered what would happen with her wealth when she died nor did I care.
Her last ditch swing at me – was SO not me that it became my revelation. I finally saw her for what she was in all her narcissistic glory. It had been nearly 20 years since she adopted us and she didn’t know a damn thing about me.
Her internalized role as my savior had created a detachment between us and because of it, she never really got to know me. She never saw me as anything other than “beneath her.” Little better than a rescue animal, I was a rescue child.
A level below. A second-class human. A secondhand child.
I wasnt just a kid, I was a kid she adopted.
My adoptive father confirmed this later when he shared something she said to him at a younger brother’s college graduation. “At least we saved one.”
Dearest mother and saviour, I’ll be sure not to chew on the furniture or have an accident on the carpet.
While this is another sad truth to add to my childhood, understanding that truth was liberating. How many years and how many tears did I spend valuing the opinions of my adoptive mother so that I could gain her approval when it was never going to happen? The opinions of people who don’t know you are worth nothing.
I knew then I was wrong about my ex joining our holiday plans, because I realized it was unhealthy to be making plans with either one of them.
I wrote back:
“Go ahead and have your visit. Feel free to write me out of your will. I think it’s best if we don’t speak any more. What kind of man would I be if I compromised my principles for money?
I might be worthless to you, but my daughter is priceless to me and she is not for sale at any price.”
Just a footnote for any of my family that may stumble upon this:
I don’t hate my adoptive mother and I don’t think she is a bad person. She has done many good things in life.
I just think she has a mental disorder that has caused her to do some bad things.
Until she is treated for her narcissim I will not subject myself to it.
Yes, I am aware of my own mistakes and no I don’t feel the need to add that disclaimer to this.
– the Secondhand Child