The Illusion of Control
If there’s one ugly monster lurking under the proverbial adoption bed, it is this one: the illusion of control.
The illusion of control is a tricky little beast. He smiles nicely in front of company, as if to assure that everyone and everything will go as planned, but in private, he gnashes his teeth and spews cortisol as he plots and schemes to try to micromanage every moving part around him.
It’s normal to want to be instantly in charge of the variables that impact our lives. But it’s even more important to us when it involves our own bodies, or our innermost hopes and dreams.
Infertility and hyperfertility are two life challenges that shatter the illusion of control, and the adoption process is surely another.
The Adoptive Parents Don’t Have All the Control
Infertility can feel like the cruelest of blows when dealt to those who long to become parents. It shatters our illusion of control to think that those who are most ready in every way to love and nurture a tiny human being are biologically denied the opportunity to grow one of their own– for no “good” reason at all.
To then face a gauntlet of adoption paperwork and endure the indignities of matching challenges anyone’s sense of sanity, much less self-control. To have to entrust the very fate of your family’s future to the care of someone whose own life circumstances may be less than optimal (whether due to poverty or addiction or mental health or poor life choices or whatever else) is humbling at best and maddening at worst, but undeniably illustrates one’s lack of control over their own destiny in the most neon of terms.
It’s no wonder, then, that adopting parents are prone to grasping the illusion of control like a life raft in a turbulent sea. We see this in the actions of adopters who seek to dictate the pregnancy care choices of a prospective birthmom, or who want to attend every prenatal appointment with her, or who daily “overtext” to check in on her every move. It’s evident in the actions of those who want labor induced on demand, who seek to “room in” with a baby not yet theirs at the hospital, or who violate the sanctity of any good adoption plan by seeking to control the birthparent’s final decision, whether by soliciting repeated assurances that they won’t change their minds or by crossing legal lines to offer payment for placement in hopes of controlling the outcome.
Still, no matter how a child becomes yours, nothing will ever shatter your illusion of control like the job of parenthood will. Maybe, then, the true purpose of this exercise is to learn to accept the reality that control is an illusion, and the only real control we have is our ability to cope with life’s uncertainties and embrace its surprises.
The Birthparents Don’t Have All the Control
For birthparents, the very condition of pregnancy (planned or unplanned) is a stark reminder of the illusion of control. You can be diligent about using birth control and yet find yourself knocked up. You can get the very best of prenatal care and still birth a child with unexpected complications. You can walk five miles a day in your final weeks of pregnancy and still go past your due date. You can use the worst of street drugs all through pregnancy in hopes of ending an unwanted pregnancy through miscarriage, and still deliver a baby who turns out to be an honors student who thrives in his adoptive home. You can choose the most picture-perfect adoptive couple and get to know them like family and yet still see the child you so carefully placed with them end up in a home broken by divorce. You can place your child and all your trust in an adoptive family who promises to keep in touch before the papers are signed, yet who forgets all those promises once the ink is dry on their adoption decree.
The illusion of control reminds all of us that the best-laid plans can go awry, and that our daily efforts to control the factors are around us are all too often exercises in futility.
(And birthparents typically understand this better than anyone.)
Adoptive Agencies Can’t Control Everything Either
Adoption agencies have effectively built an entire industry around the suggestion that they can somehow harness life’s hardships and bring about order and success, at least on behalf of the children involved. Sometimes, they make such a good show of control that they believe it themselves.
Many adoption professionals bristle when reminded of the truth that “adoption cannot guarantee a better life, only a different one.” Yet in truth, agency employees control very little, and even the most compassionate of adoption workers should not have the power to substantively altering the outcome of the placement decisions being made by its clients.
Prospective adopters and birthparents alike want adoption professionals to assure them that their stated goals can be easily reached via compliance in adoption planning, but such assurances merely feed the illusion of control in a process in which the unexpected must be expected– before and after placement does (or doesn’t) happen.
To exercise true control over that which you can, remember that anything worth doing is worth doing right. At Abrazo, we often remind prospective adoptive parents of the famous maxim from the movie Field of Dreams: “if you build it, they will come.” This is less about self-manifestation than it is about taking control of your own power to make good choices on behalf of the future.
You cannot fix the world’s problems, but you can make good choices to address your own. You cannot cancel out a diagnosis but you can learn all there is to know about it so you are prepared to deal with it. You cannot control what anyone else is going to do, but you can influence others’ behavior through your example. You cannot avoid the pain of disappointment if a match or placement plan falls apart, but you can learn about the depths of your own inner strength by weathering it. You cannot be guaranteed that the adoptee will never face any issues in life but you can equip yourself to be the sort of parent who will love and support them through anything.
Remember: your ultimate superpower is the ability to dispense with the illusion of control– and in doing so, you just might find you gift yourself with real control over your own fears of the monster under the bed, who is reality is little more than a dustbunny.