Mister Rogers’ Adoption Story
There was surely no adult who understood kids like Fred Rogers, yet for all the grownups who grew up with him, few seem to know Mister Roger’s adoption story. This Father’s Day weekend, we can’t help but remember a great father whose life also happened to have been touched by adoption, although not, perhaps, as you might be thinking?
Fred Rogers was an only child until he was eleven years old. That’s when his parents adopted a six-month-old baby girl, Nancy Elaine. Before then, he had no siblings, and turned to his piano for emotional release. He fondly remembered his sister’s adoption well into old age, and spoke of it in one of the segments of his show, that she made a brother of him: Mister Rogers on adoption and he later published a book on adoption, as well. Mister Rogers even later named a character on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood Lady Elaine Fairchilde in honor of his adopted sister.
Fred Rogers grew up to be an ordained Presbyterian minister and his wife became the proud parents of two (homegrown) sons. A documentary on his life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is earning rave reviews, and we urge the families of the AbrazoNation to see it together.
Given that Laney Rogers’ adoption occurred in the Baby Scoop Era, one can presume that this was a closed adoption, of course. Still, given his gentle and kind nature, and his innate understanding of children and their need for honest answers, we can’t help but think that Mister Rogers would surely have embraced the gifts that the open adoption process offers both parents and children.
To that end, let’s look at how Mister Roger’s words apply to open adoption:
“Your family is special, because of all the ways you belong together.”
Fred Rogers acknowledged publicly that his adopted sister did not look like him and his parents, and that this was perfectly okay. “Nobody’s exactly like everybody else, whether they’re adopted or not,” he told his audience. He reads a book “Exactly As I Am” in one segment, reinforcing the message that differences need not define nor separate families. It’s all right to acknowledge (and yes, celebrate) contrasts within families, and to honor reminders that families belong together however they are formed. In fact, it’s good parenting to do this, and to do so often.
“I hope that you’ll remember even when you’re feeling blue that it’s you I like, it’s you yourself, it’s you, it’s you I like.”
The adoption process can often leave all of the triad members feeling inadequate. Birthparents worry that they won’t measure up to adoptive parents’ expectations. Adoptive parents worry about whether their adopted children and the birthfamilies will see them as “real” parents. Adoptees worry about being fully accepted by their birthfamilies as well as their adoptive families. Mister Rogers would surely remind all of them of the importance of loving and being loved, fully, not for anything they’ve done but just for who they are.
“Please don’t think it’s funny when you want the ones you miss; there are lots and lots of people who sometimes feel like this.”
Even in open adoptions, people can miss each other, and not always feel able to free to express it. Mister Rogers made it acceptable for children to say what they feel, and adults would do well to learn that from him, as well.
The classic song “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny” by Fred Rogers surely speaks to the grief that any parents and children touched by adoption feel. There’s a German word, “fernweh” which describe’s one’s longing for a place to which they’ve never been, and this is a common theme for many whose lives have been touched by adoption. Couples who experienced unresolved infertility can miss the child they never knew. Birthparents miss the parental roles they forfeited to adoption. Adoptees long to know what life may have been like had their grown up in their families of origin. It’s all normal, and it’s important for children and parents to know it’s fine to feel this way– and to share it with those that love you best.
“You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.”
What a precious message for every child and parent to live and breathe, and to freely share with each other all their whole lives long. Adoptees need to hear this from their birthparents and from their parents-by-adoption. Birthparents need to hear it from the parents who adopted their kids, and from the adoptees, too, And adoptive parents need to hear it from their children’s birthparents, and to have unsolicited assurances coming from their sons and daughters, as well. Nobody has the corner on the confidence market; everyone needs to feel valued and appreciated, and in the adoption community, this is especially true. As Abrazo frequently reminds its clientele, “Forever families should include everybody– forever.” We know that Mister Rogers, with his emphasis on acceptance and integrity, would almost certainly agree.
“Always look for the people who are helping. You’ll always find somebody who’s trying to help.”
Fred Rogers said, in a soothing message to children after the 9-11 tragedy, that this was the advice his mother always offered him in times of trouble. Not only is this an important mantra for parents to repeat to their children, it’s a truth of which birthparents and adoptive parents should be frequently assured, as well. Parenting is not a job for sissies. It’s hard work, and nobody does it all right all the time. If you are struggling with the many multi-hued challenges of being a birthparent or an adoptive parent, there is help out there… you don’t have to go it alone! Call your adoption agency for referrals for post-adoption counseling or behavioral therapists or attachment experts, as needed.
As Mister Rogers himself reminded college graduates in a commencement address: “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has —or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
(That probably sums up beautifully how any Mister Rogers adoption story should look and feel, doesn’t it?)