Family is complicated. Truth is not.

One of my adopted cousins, someone I’m fond of but not close to today, had posted a photo of her child on his birthday. Lots of “Happy Birthday!” comments and “how adorable!” comments followed the post, but there was a short exchange that pointed out how very odd it is that people have a giant blindspot about adoption.

It went something like this:
Friend: “That smile is JUST like Uncle Fred’s!” Mom of Child: “I know! I think we also get our love of music from him.” Friend: “Aww, how sweet.”

Until 4 years ago, I did not have an Uncle Fred.  Until 4 years ago, I was this quirky mass of likes, dislikes, and features that weren’t very much like anyone in the family I was raised by. I met my mother and her family, and I found a lot of my quirks and interests. I found my sense of humor. I still didn’t find my smile or my features, and I haven’t met the side of the family I do resemble.

Wanting to know who you look like, who you get your sense of humor from, where your musical or artistic talent originated — these things are so utterly normal that they are taken for granted by the majority of the world. For those who have always known, whose family have talked about how you have Grandma’s nose, or great-Uncle Earl’s time sense since you were a baby, they can’t even imagine life without these things. These passing comments don’t even seem important. But they are important.

Context is important. How we relate to what comes before us, what surrounds us, and what comes next are inextricably intertwined. People who have been affected by adoption are missing pieces. Adoptees are missing their past, what comes before us. Adoptive families are missing the future that included children who did have “her” nose and “his” smile. Original families are missing a member. We don’t take these things for granted. We’ve never had that option.

Welcome to #FlipTheScript Month. Adoptee voices are here to be heard. Adoption is supposed to be about our best interests, and we have a few thoughts about that.

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4 thoughts on “Family is complicated. Truth is not.

  1. 3 of the 4 children in my family were adopted. When adults were dumb enough to say “Oh you must look like your father or mother(which ever parent wasn’t there at the time) We would look at them and laugh hysterically and say “No we don’t we are adopted”. In my family this was not an issue…we knew lots of families that had adopted children in it

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    • I had people say it to me and my adoptive mother — and me and my adopted brother. People see things that aren’t there sometimes. We did not know lots of adoptive families, though. Just our own.

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  2. This is interesting. I’m a foster parent (moving towards adoption) and I’ve gotten the comment several times that my son looks like me (he doesn’t) or he looks like my dad (he kinda does). In reality he looks like the spitting image of his mom. What is the appropriate response to the ‘you look like’ comments? I understand that it will depend on each person but I’m interested in hearing from adoptees. My conflict is that its his choice who he wants to share the details of his life with but if I object and say he actually looks like his mom that will make it clear that I’m not his mom and he may not want everyone to know that. He’s only 4 so most of the time he just wants to talk about superheros but eventually these comments will have more meaning and I’d love some perspective on ways to potentially handle it.

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    • Maybe the nicest thing you can do for all of you — you, your child, his other families, and the questioner — is to ask what, specifically, they see. I’d love to know what similarities people saw between me and my mom, because if some of them wereally more personality traits, I might be flattered. I hope I’ve picked some of those up after all these years!

      Mostly, I think people areally trying to be nice, but it’s dissonant to hear.

      My natural mom and I have the same dumb photo smile, and my adoptive mom saw and commented on that just this year. It was the oddest most revelatory experience.

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