Sunday, March 21, 2010

What not to say to an adoptee...


Wow, you're [adoptive] parents must be such special/good people to have adopted you.
[Translation: You're parents must be such amazing people in contrast to you--the lowly little charity case. They really must be saints to have been willing to take you into their family and home because, man, obviously neither your original family nor anyone else in their right mind wanted anything to do with you.]

You're so lucky. [Translation: You're so lucky that you don't know a thing about your original family--whether they are dead or alive.]

You must feel so grateful. [Translation: You must feel so grateful that you lost your original family and have no idea what happened to them].

You are so fortunate that someone adopted you. [Translation: You are so fortunate that someone wanted you.]

Don't you feel blessed that you got to come to America? [Translation: The country you came from was such an awful, terrible place and the people didn't want you anyway, so you should feel fortunate that America is so much better and so much more willing to accept someone like you--someone your own country and own people wouldn't take care of...]

Wow, you must be so glad that you didn't have to grow up in [country of origin]. [Translation: The country you came from was such a poor, uneducated crap hole, it is best that you stay away from that place anyway.]

You're not [ethnic origin], you're AMERICAN. [Translation: Just ignore and forget about who you are and where you came from, how different you look and how differently others treat you--it's not important anyway.]

It shouldn't matter to you whether you ever find your biological parents, you already have a family. [Translation: You're being ungrateful and foolish. You shouldn't want to know who or where you came from or what happened. You should just be grateful.]

* * *

I know that when people say things like what I listed above, they generally mean well. That's actually one of the primary reasons I posted this list.

Just because someone is well-intentioned, does not automatically mean therefore, what he or she is saying or doing is helpful or beneficial, and in fact some of the most "well-intentioned" words or acts can often have the most unintended detrimental and hurtful effects.

Particularly when it comes to adoption, many people have good intentions, but they are MISGUIDED or MISINFORMED intentions.

If you've ever said these things or thought these things or they just generally reflect your view of adoption, I'm not bashing you. I'm simply trying to "enlighten" you, or in simpler terms, just trying to educate you and correct your misconceptions.

If you're an adoptee and someone has ever made the above statements to you, I also recognize that such statements may not translate in the same way to every adoptee. Other adoptees may be less sensitive or may have different perspectives regarding their own personal adoptions.

I'm just sharing these things based on my experience and the experiences of other adoptees I personally know.

Certainly it is not an exhaustive list, but I think it communicates the overall point: Generally, most people prefer to see adoption as an act of saintly charity in which the heroes are the adoptive parents and the adoptee is the lowly, grateful recipient of their charity.

Often, ignorantly and unintentionally, people end up coating adoption in thick layers of euphemism and misconceived notions, because the practice of adoption is more comfortable and more digestible that way. To others, it feels better to view it that way.

But it doesn't feel better to the adoptee.

It's not that I do not love my family. I do. More than I can even express.

But it's also not that I do not grieve and ache over what has been lost. I do. More than I can express.

And the ongoing struggles and issues with which I must cope as an adult adoptee do not diminish or magically disappear, simply because I have found my biological family or because I am now an adult. Rather, they grow and intensify. They remain.

In more ways than I know how to explain.


18 comments:

Lorraine M. said...

Melissa, as an adoptive mom, it's awful how many times strangers have told me how wonderful I am for adopting my children, and how lucky they are to have been adopted. I always respond that I am the lucky one. As young children, my kids have heard many of these statements, themselves.

Since there are two of them, I can't tell you how many times they've been asked if they are "real" brother and sister. That is probably one of the more painful comments to them. Of course the answer is always yes. We are as real as it gets!

Thank you for your post. Educating others about adoption is very important!

Harmony said...

Melissa, I'm going to continue my miscarriage analogy here... see if this list doesn't seem eerily similar to yours.

People mean well and they want to say something to make you feel better, but often they do more harm than good.

Thank you for helping me to understand adoption more, Melissa!

Melissa said...

Lorraine, thanks for your comment. I have had all of these things said to me at one point or another during childhood and as an adult. I also realize that I probably will continue to encounter these kinds of statements for the remainder of my life...But I try to take them as opportunities to educate people...

Melissa said...

Harmony, I checked out the list, although, I didn't doubt the similarities that would be there.

Loss and the grief that comes with it happens in many different forms, and that's what I hope will ultimately help others to understand adoption...

Most people have experienced something in their lives that can help them to relate to or at least understand in a basic way the experience of adoption.

But because adoption is so misunderstood, it's hard to get people to even be willing to think about it differently.

As always, thanks for your comments and thanks for your willingness to draw from your own experiences to try to understand the adoptee's experience.

Mei Ling said...

"Often, ignorantly and unintentionally, people end up coating adoption in thick layers of euphemism and misconceived notions, because the practice of adoption is more comfortable and more digestible that way."

It's not even that. Adoption goes against a biological mother raising her biologically-related child. It goes against nature.

But people can't wrap their minds around it, so they search for the next most logical thing: the mother must have not wanted her child.

"The country you came from was such a poor, uneducated crap hole, it is best that you stay away from that place anyway."

This made me LOL. In a horribly ironic way.

I mean, I get that ALL THE TIME from outsiders. And then they're like "Well, no, I don't mean it that way."

And I feel like saying, "Well, then, in WHAT way did you mean it?"

GAH.

Melissa said...

Good point, Mei-Ling. And actually, I think I was saying the same thing as you, but stating, in general, rather than in specifics.

When I mentioned the categories of "euphemism and misconceived notions" I personally was thinking of how many times I hear, "Your birth mother loved you enough to give you away" (euphemism) or somewhat conversely what you mentioned: When people think the birth mother is an awful person and must not have cared enough to keep her child (misconceived notions).

People can digest the practice of adoption much more easily as opposed to understanding that in so many cases the issues are socioeconomic, sociocultural, etc.

It's much easier for people to use euphemism and misconceived notions to understand adoption than to think about the true root issues.

The Byrd's Nest said...

This is my first time to your blog and I understand your feelings on these questions. We have four children. After we first adopted and came home I used to welcome questions but now my little ones are five years old and I just can't risk the questions in front of them anymore. I find myself not even making eye contact with people for fear of what they will ask me in front of my daughters. I wanted to help educate them in the beginning but I think it is just something that some people cannot grasp. I appreciate your words of wisdom and I plan to come back here often and be educated myself as an adoptive mom. Our daughter Eun-Ji from South Korea was 23 months when she came to us and she just turned five. Her birthmother tried to keep her for the first 17 months of her life but she was only 17 years old herself and could not afford Eun Ji's medication for her asthma. She put her in a children's home and was devastated on how they treated her there and felt like her only other option was international adoption. Eun-Ji is a happy child but she grieves often and I don't blame her....she has lost much. We have the name of her mother and her grandmother and one day...I pray...that Eun-Ji will want to find her and we will certainly help her because without her first family....we would not have her in our lives. I have tried to send pictures and letters to Holt but they tell me they cannot get them to the birthmom unless she comes to check for mail. (sigh) At any rate, we will continue to try and communicate with her and we are oh so thankful that at least we have the names of her family. We love her so much and cannot imagine a day without her but I realize at some point in her life she will want more information. Thank you for your honesty and I look forward to learning more.

Mia_h_n said...

I think Mei-Ling touched on a very profound reason for people's view on adoption. I'm probably getting myself into hot waters with the crowd in here, but adoption goes against nature. It's instinct to want your own offspring. It's not instinct to love someone else's, so people who choose to do so are seen as special. And I think they are.
To be fair, not very many people grow up dreaming of a family of adopted children, and the vast majority of couples try the natural way. My parents did. Even gay people often try to have one of the partner's natural child because they want biological children even if their sexuality doesn't allow it.

I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting a biological child. I do however feel personally insulted on behalf of both me and my parents, when people imply or straight up say that biological kids are better. It makes me feel second rate, not just second hand ;)

I don't think people ever viewed my parents as "good samaritans" for adopting us, but almost everyone called them lucky for getting us - which I see as a compliment.

People have also called us lucky or asked if we didn't feel thankful or grateful for being adopted. I've always agreed because I take questions like that as relating to our post relinquishing. I'm glad I didn't have to grow up in a fostercare system or whatever, but that I got my great family instead. I feel better off this way, and yes, I feel lucky that I got not just a family, but a good one at that. My parents have always been very loving and understanding towards adoption issues.

What they don't ask and what I don't hear is "aren't you glad your birth mother gave you up so you could come to Denmark?". People have never been that ignorant, but I do understand how people might get confused sometimes. If you're not an adoptee yourself (and sometimes still maybe even then) feeling like you wouldn't swap your adoptive family for ANYTHING, but also aching for your birth family can seem contradictive.

Oh, a final thought to Byrd's Nest. I understand that the question can be difficult and hurtful to your daughters, but it's also important to be aware of the message you might be sending them about being adopted, if you avoid the subject like it's something to be ashamed of.
- If I understood your comment right :) If not, please disregard.

Melissa said...

Thank you, Mia, for always sharing your perspective...

The Byrd's Nest said...

Thank you Mia. You are probably right....it might be sending my girls the wrong message. But at the same time, it upsets one of them so much when people say they are not really sisters....that is probably why I am uncomfortable with that particular question right now. At the moment, we are living in a Spanish speaking country so the little ones can't even understand what people are asking me...I appreciate your advice....this is the very reason I am trying to educate myself.

Mei Ling said...

"It's not instinct to love someone else's, so people who choose to do so are seen as special."

I don't understand what you mean by that. Are you referring to the "oh, you're such a good person for taking it upon yourself to adopt" stereotype?

"What they don't ask and what I don't hear is "aren't you glad your birth mother gave you up so you could come to Denmark?""

No, they aren't asking that. They're asking about the post-adoption placement. But IMO it's *because* of the "your mother gave you up" that the post-adoption placement happened.

When someone asks me if I feel lucky, they're not *asking* me. They're stating how I *should* feel. If I were to give my opinion on the aspects that do NOT make me feel lucky about having been adopted, people look at me like I've grown an extra head.

Michael said...

I appreciate your writing on this subject. I am an adoptive dad of 3. Each is from a different country. The oldest are both adults with families and adopted me after I taught them in high school. I am a second parent (not second rate) to each of my oldest two - Oldest Son and Darling Daughter. Darling daughter's mother died of cancer and is estranged from her bio father. Oldest son legally has 2 sets of parents as he was adopted as an adult. We have little interaction with his bio-parents, because of language and distance, but all interaction is positive.

Our little guy is from China and we have talked to him from the beginning about his story and our journey to him which was 25 years in the making.

I do not feel like I or my wife are saints and nicely explain this to those who try this line. We are "lucky" (not a good word - blessed is better) to have him in our lives.

Adoption is about loss. Loss goes both ways, but is harder on the adopted child. Our loss is the bio-child we could not have. We cannot say those are Grandpa's eyes, or that is so and so genes. These are real losses, but in my mind minor, but for others the desire to carry on your family's gene pool is a big issue.

His loss is much more profound in my mind. He lost his culture which is thousands of year old and wonderful in many ways. He is a stranger in a strange land, but is in a loving family and with friends. He has not just adapted but is thriving and proudly claims his heritage and birth country even at 4.

Our journey with him has just begun, but we are mindful of all the issues and the losses. We never forget them, but we always look for the good in each situation though it is not easy. That is our philosophy and I write this not in response to your post or any of the comments.

Thank you for your insight. I will continue to check in and read as I need this perspective to help me parent him and answer his questions as they come in the future.

Melissa said...

Thanks, Michael for stopping by...I always appreciate comments and insight from others...

As an adoptee, I mostly discuss my experience of loss as an adopted person, simply because that is my realm of experience. But as you stated, really the WHOLE PROCESS of adoption is based on LOSS.

The adoptive parents have lost having biological children, the biological parents have lost their biological child, the adopted person has lost all connection with biological family and in the case of international adoptees, all connection with the original country, language, and culture of birth.

That is why so many times, I am astounded at the general lack of awareness among not only the general public, but often among adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents who have been unable to conceive biological children actually have a great capacity to understand the adopted person's loss and grief, but in order to do so the adoptive parents must deal with their own losses. If they don't, then they can inadvertently end up suppressing the adopted person's need to grieve...

There, are of course the cases in which adoptive parents choose to adopt even though they already have biological children, and in those situations the misconceived "charity case" or "Great White Hope" perspective can be particularly strong and difficult to overcome...

I appreciate your openness and willingness to delve more deeply.

Thank you again for stopping by.

Janet said...

Would you mind if I posted this, or linked it to my blog? It is just SO good.

Melissa said...

Janet, thank you for even checking with me first, even though, by the way, that's not necessary.

But of course! Please! Feel free to post this, link to this, however you see fit.

And thank you for stopping by!

KimchiFilms said...

I have heard this one...

Why don't take out your cousin? You aren't blood related after all. [barf]

Melissa said...

KimchiFilms, disturbingly enough, I have received similar comments in reference to my brothers. Not cool. Makes me want to hurl.

emotivation said...

One more I would like to add to the list, as a French Korean adoptee.
A sentence from an ex boyfriend, while I was talking to him about my adoption and the difficulties linked I had to face sometimes: "biological children also have their own problems"
Translation: your problems are meaningless, you should look around to understand that anyone does have problems.
First of all, I was your girlfriend. I'm not anyone. I'm the one you're supposed to support.
And, never minimize troubles other can have, they are important for the them. At least, respect their pain if you're not able to feel empathy.

Thank you for your blog Melissa and sharing your experience!