“Positive” adoption language

The problem with “positive adoption language” isn’t the intent. I do honestly think that the people promoting it (adoptive parents) are trying to make the world less rude to their children, trying to make adoption stand out less, trying to take away the stigma. And that’s all well and good, I guess.

But positive adoption language serves to seat the entirety of adoption discussion from the point-of-view of the adoptive parents, who are the only one who  gain exactly what they want from adoption — a child to parent. It doesn’t consider the feelings of natural families*, which I won’t speak to because that’s not a point of view I can address. It also doesn’t consider the point of view of adoptees.

I’ve been in reunion for almost 5 years now. In this 5 years, I have been through an incredible number of variations on anger. I think I have been angry in large part because my need to search was suppressed, along with any negative feelings about adoption or being different or having a need to sort things out for literal decades. It is a lot to process — one, that I** have all these feelings, and two, that I can see how they have manifested, in the most socially-appropriate ways I could manage at the time, for my entire life. I feel I was forced to deny my actual feelings because I either had no idea how to express them or because I knew that they would be hurtful to my adoptive parents.

I have always needed to be “good” to be worthy of other people’s affection or time and attention. Even today, I quash health issues and uncomfortable feelings so that I don’t disrupt other people’s plans and needs. Feeling out of place or unworthy isn’t allowed — why would anyone want me?

Unfortunately, I think positive adoption language serves to control the adoptee’s narrative so that it matches up with the adoptive parent narrative. I see this as ultimately harmful, both to the adoptee, but also to the adoptive parents and their relationship with their child. If parenting involves putting the needs of your children ahead of your own needs***, maybe sometimes that means being discomfited.

I will share one anecdote that I will guess my a-mom has blocked. I am maybe 9 or 10 years old. My (a)mother, grandmother, and I are in the kitchen, watching some nature program on the little TV with the rabbit ears with giant foil wraps on the end (did that actually serve a purpose??). There is a huge snake, and 10 y.o. says, smart-assedly, “Ooo, he’s a slimey bastard!”

My poor mom. After an uncharateristic silence, she said “Um, do you know what that word means?”

“Sure! It means a nasty creature. It’s kinda bad, but it’s not a swear!”

“Well, it actually means someone whose parents were not married when they were born.”

“You mean like me?”

Another pause, followed by some hemming and hawing as she tries to find solid footing again. “Your dad and I were married when we got you. Maybe you shouldn’t use words unless you are sure that you know what they mean?”

I agreed, but I was secretly thinking, “Yeah, but I was not YOURS when I was BORN. I’m a bastard!”

I never said it again in front of her. This was more language that would hurt my parents, the people who took care of me. And they loved me, I don’t doubt that. But they never really understood that I was confused. I was the product of sinful teenaged lust, unsanctioned sex against the wishes of the Church, and I was the punishment for that. I was also the answer to my a-parents’ prayers? An unwanted child and a wanted child?

It was and is easier to know that I was a bastard child, a shame, and that to cover up that shame, a new family and a new identity was created. That fear of bringing shame onto my first mother kept me from searching for over a decade.

Positive adoption language can be just pure cognitive dissonance. If adoption is so unrelentingly positive, why do we need to bar so many phrases?

I am more than willing to let my mothers define their own terms. I feel the same about other parents and adoptees. But I will not let anyone police my language and tell me my word choices for my life and my story are wrong.

*I use that term because it feels right to me, an adoptee. My adoptive family isn’t unnatural, but it was created by lawyers instead of genetics.

**At this point in writing, I switched to the second person to distance myself from my own feelings. I do this constantly, and since I’m here to be honest with myself, I am forced to go back and rewrite honestly, from the first person. Some other “you” doesn’t have these feelings. I have these feelings. And I find them difficult.

*** POV switch approved here. YOU may have children. I do not.


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