|Photo credit: Devon Goldstein|
Living in the United States (the adoption capital of the world) makes it very possible that each of us has some connection to adoption. If not in our own family, then a friend's family. Every person I have ever spoken with about adoption, shares with me the connection to adoption in their own life (I love that part about adoption conversations). However, sometimes, the sharing of their story is a way to invalidate what I am sharing with them.
invalidate [ɪnˈvælɪˌdeɪt]vb (tr)
to render weak or ineffective, as an argument
Let me give you some examples:
1. "My son has never asked any questions about adoption so he is fine with being adopted".
I'm just wondering how one person knows another person is fine with a major life event that happened to them. Is somebody fine when their spouse dies suddenly? Is your neighbor fine when her child is bullied at school? No. Then, don't assume someone is fine who lost their entire first family and may have been (or is currently being) lied to about their lives. Don't assume that adoptees are told they are adopted. Don't assume that people like being adopted. Don't assume what being adopted means to other people when you are not adopted yourself. In fact, even if you are one of the adoptees who has "no issues" - don't assume others are in the same camp.
Maybe they really are fine. Yes, it's possible, but don't assume it because of your own limited views of adoption. Only adoptees understand what it feels like to be adopted. Do not project your own beliefs about adoption onto them ("adoption is always a win-win and you should be happy!") and decide they are "fine". You cannot know another person is fine as we all keep deep pain to ourselves for the most part unless we trust another human to hear about it. And remember:
Adoption is a lifelong experience -- not a one time event.
2. "I never knew you had so many issues with being adopted. My brother's adult children are adopted and they don't have any issues with adoption."
See No. 1 above and then ask yourself if you had lost your first family, had to mitigate and facilitate family relations between two (or more) different families (similar to divorce), had to manage loyalties, hurt feelings, ultimatums, lies, grief, fear, rejection, sealed records, DNA tests all the while dealing with judgment over something you had no control over as a child, how would you feel?
3. "my best friend's daughter is adopted and she has never wanted to search"
How do you know she has never wanted to search? Do you live inside her head? We all have secret longings that we keep to ourselves for fear of ridicule and judgment. Adoptees have even more pressure to keep their secret feelings to themselves because of loyalty conflicts, myths that abound in general society about adoption, and knowing that as soon as you open yourself up to another human, you will get commonplace statements like the one above.
This statement is another way to invalidate a person for wanting something that others may not want. Who cares if she never wanted to search? I do -- I did -- and I'm standing right here sharing my story with you. The last thing I need is for you to try to make me feel like I'm doing something wrong because someone (unknown to me) did the opposite. Listen instead please. You might learn something.
Searching is a normal part of being human. Genealogy is not just for the non-adopted. People other than adoptees search for family who they have been separated from. This is not a difficult concept for people to understand. We all want or need to know "our people". If you understand this concept, then there is no need to make an adoptee feel bad for doing the exact same thing the rest of the world does.
4. "Johnny doesn't care about his birth family because (whispering) his birth family members are in prison and on drugs"
By assuming a child does not have strong feelings for a family member because of poor choices by that family member, is being naive at best or insensitive and unloving at worst. Children love their parents and extended family regardless of choices or what somebody else says or believes. This love extends to birth family members as well.
I know that you are an upstanding citizen who plays by the rules and goes to church, pays your taxes and does the right thing as often as possible. We all like to view ourselves in these ways. And the "birth family" has made choices, many times, to put them in a position of not having their own child with them, right? For the most part, yes. But judging birth family members in a negative way, does not change a child's feelings for their family members. The child does not love family any less because of poor choices. The child may feel hurt, rejected, confused, sad and angry about these choices and his separation from family, but he/she may not verbalize these feelings to outsiders. On the contrary, he may state emphatically that "he doesn't care" but as any wise parent knows, this is not true evidence that a child does not care.
5. "Adoption was for the best because the child went to a home with a married mother and a father".
This thinking is exactly what the social workers touted during the Baby Scoop Era when 20% of newborn, white babies were "scooped" from perfectly good, decent, caring birth mothers. Their only crime? Being unmarried.
This statement is judgmental all by itself because it assumes that a child is better off with two parents who are married, rather than the woman who bore him. I understand that married parents are the ideal standard for raising families in this country and there are many studies to back this opinion up -- that two intact parents can raise a child better (better outcomes in school, less teen pregnancy, etc.)
However, this statement completely ignores many potential realities. This statement bothers me because of it's assumption that adoptive families are superior to birth families and that adoptive families are not subject to the same kind of life stresses birth families are.
There is assumption hidden in this statement that since we cleaned up the initial problem (single/ unmarried/teen mom/battered woman/lack of finances/orphan in another country) that everything that follows, will continue to "prove" that this child is better off with the adoptive parents.
I beg to differ. Adoptive parents are not immune to divorce, financial problems, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect or (surprise!) realizing they are gay. Birth families recover from many times, temporary issues. The mother finds a a good job, gets married (many times to the birth father), loses the abusive boyfriend and matures.
Wait a minute!!! You mean, married, adoptive parents aren't superior to birth mothers who aren't married?
Exactly my point.
A very short time after my mother relinquished me, she met her husband who is a wonderful man. He would have been my father most likely if she had kept me (or not, but I don't have a crystal ball). They have had a long, in-tact marriage and family since my relinquishment. They are an average, decent middle class family. Fortunately my adoptive parents did not divorce, but statistically, they could have. Did my adoptive family have issues? Absolutely. Did my birth family have issues? Probably (I wasn't there). My point is: don't assume the adoptive parents were better than the birth family because the mother was unmarried then. Don't assume that a problem in 1972 lasted until 2013. Circumstances change. People grow up.