Becoming a parent through adoption is not the traditional path of family expansion, obviously. Because of this, sometimes well-intended comments or phrases can pack a huge punch. First, let me start by saying that we have tremendous support, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our fair share of hurt feelings.
When we began telling our friends and family that we were planning to adopt, the initial responses were wide and varied. From the husband’s side, we had the ultra religious comments:
“Why are you rushing God’s plan for you? Remember Abraham and Sarah? She was baron for years…”
“I had a dream that you two would have your own kids some day.”
“Don’t take life into your own hands. God works in His time, not yours.”
“You should wait longer to see if God blesses you with your own child.”
Can you see where I am going with this? Definitely not the responses we were expecting. Even then, I realized these comments were rooted in ignorance about adoption and through a lens in which “all things are possible”. But, I was still taken aback. Through much conversation and education, I haven’t heard these comments since those early days. But the echos of these comments still reside in my memory, filtering my perception and interpretations their interactions with, and behavior towards, our son.
My side of the family was definitely more open to the idea of adoption. My dad was ecstatic! Having entered the foster care system at age 3 and then aging out at 18, he completely embraced our decision to adopt. My mom and the rest of the family was just as enthusiastic (we didn’t have any grandchildren or great-grands and they were all itching for a baby). But we still had to educate them as we educated ourselves. It are the little comments, the ones that have the best intentions, that seem to hurt the most:
“How are you going to handle it when the child want to know about their real mom?”
“Are you sure you can love a child that is not yours?”
When our son was born and he came home, my grandma was happy, but when she talked to our family members who live in another state, she refused to tell them we adopted our son:
“Let’s just let them think you had him. They don’t need to know.”
It was at this point that I had to remind her, and the rest, that we are not ashamed that we adopted. He is just as much ours regardless of how he came into our life and that comments like that really hurt. — This helped. Well, it made them tip-toe around the topic for a while and they eventually came to understand what we meant. My Grandma, well, she means well, but sometimes she doesn’t always think through her comments and qualifies or rephrases them once spoken aloud and realize how awful they sound. I give her a small pass because of here seasoned years-she’s trying.
I do realize this could sound so petty to many people. I guess the goal of this post is to raise awareness that even the most well intended comments or gestures can cause pain. If you know a family who has adopted, planning to adopt, in the process of adopting- please realize that many of us are hyper-sensitive to even the most innocent of comments. Why? Well, the social construction of family in America. Where ever we look (movies, television, magazines, church, etc.) we are reminded of what a “normal” family is. We have been on the receiving end of blatant ignorance and rudeness. So sometimes our perception is filtered through these previous experiences.
Can I give you an example? This is something that has been bothering me for a long time (and yes we have attempted to address it). Remember those previous comments from above? The ones from my husband’s family? Okay, so those comments are going through my mind with every interaction with that side of the family. And I admit, I do jump to conclusions and misread situations, and maybe I am now… I’ll just explain the situation.
My husband has five siblings, two of which are the biological offspring of both parents, and three are his father’s offspring by other women. I am focusing on my mother-in-laws portion of the family- the part of the family we have the most interaction with and visit on a regular basis.
Currently, out of the three siblings, there are only two children (our son and our nephew). These are the only grandchildren and great grands. Our nephew lives in the city with the most of the family (we live 3 hours away). My mother-in-law lives in another state. Our son and nephew have a two-year age difference, with our son being younger. With that being said, when we go visit, everyone is happy to see us, they don’t treat our son any different. Lots of hugs and kisses to go around. However, after three years, our son has yet to receive a gift, card, or phone call for his birthday from any family member (including my mother-in-law) and has yet to receive anything for Christmas while our nephew does–even the aunts and uncles that live elsewhere sends gifts to our nephew.
I am not trying to be materialistic, seriously, and I don’t want it come off that way. What I am seeing is differential treatment between two children. We have made excuses- the first Christmas and Birthday “well, maybe they thought he was too young, he’s not even a year yet. He won’t remember.”- The second Christmas and Birthday “Oh, they didn’t realize we were coming down for the holiday.” – Third Christmas and Birthday -me “What the Fuck?!?” — Maybe it’s because they see the nephew all the time and he is foremost in their minds. Maybe it’s because my sister-in-law isn’t married to the father? – Maybe it’s because our son receives lots of gifts from my side of the family– no, nephew receives a lot of gifts from his father’s side of the family. Maybe they don’t have enough money to spend on both kids– but a phone call doesn’t cost anything. Neither does an email addressed to him.
Where does my mind go? Maybe they don’t truly see him as part of the family. You see, I go back to those initial conversations, and this situation is filtered through those early conversations. There could be a totally rational reason why these differences exist (but I think not).
Why does this bother me so much? It’s not about the gifts themselves- he has PLENTY OF STUFF. It’s about my son starting to notice that his cousin is getting things from Granny, Great-Grands, Aunties, and Uncles and he is not. As he gets older, how is HE going to interpret these differences?
At this point, I am letting my husband deal with his family. But it’s only a matter of time until I address the issue if it’s not resolved (and it will not be pretty).
So hurt feelings? Yes.
~Until Next Time~