They’re Adopted

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a meeting of fellow adopters and was surprised to hear a parent say how unhappy they were that their child’s school had outed them as being adopted. They were clearly upset and concerned and stated that they had made an official complaint.

On a number of occasions since I have heard similar comments and concerns from adopters who were saying that they felt a need and a desire to keep their child’s status secret in certain situations.

It surprises me greatly and I have to say that I am confused as to why any adoptive parent would feel a need not to be totally open and honest about their adoption in all circumstances, as surely that is an essential part of making an adopted child understand, appreciate and embrace exactly who they are.

Isn’t keeping a child’s adopted status a secret suggesting it’s something… well, to be ashamed of? I appreciate that ashamed may seem a little heavy, but to have a child – by default – denying they are adopted is far from instilling any sense of pride.

Having something that you have to keep a secret because of what others may think can only be creating a degree of shame and no matter how open and honest you are around family and friends I can’t see how it would fully eradicate that.

I understand the reasoning – that is sets their child apart and that it may give bullies something to use – and I understand that a parent is supposedly trying to protect their child, but surely what is far more important it how the child feels about themselves.

Regardless the fact that you are keeping it a secret means that you are potentially giving the bullies ammunition to use against your child, to them justifying their bullying. Teasing a child who is secure in an adopted family and secure in their knowledge of being adopted is surely going to have far less impact than teasing a child who has had a secret exposed.

As gay adopters I am fully aware that we don’t really have a choice over being ‘out’ as an adoptive family – as it’s pretty self evident that it was unlikely to have happened naturally – and as such we are not faced with a choice over this. However, I should imagine we would be far less likely to decide to be anything other than fully open.

Gay people know what it’s like to live with a lie, we know how it confuses us and creates a shame – in some cases a self loathing – that is often with us for our entire life. We know how better it is when we ‘come out’ and live openly and freely as the people we are, when we face the world without fear or shame.

Our sons at 7 and 8 declare their adopted status openly and freely to anybody and everybody, just as they declare that they have two daddies. They need to be proud of both and every time they state either fact they are acknowledging and affirming their pride. If they were encouraged to keep either fact a secret surely every time they stopped themselves from exposing it would diminish that pride.

We know that as they get older and are with peers who have been fed prejudice and hatred that it may not be as easy to be so open and in fact that is exactly
why they need to be so comfortable with it now, so they are prepared and can handle the possible abuse with knowledge and confidence.

I think possibly the denial in some straight parents is far more to do with them and their journey to adoption. Declaring your child as adopted is possibly giving out a lot of very personal and intimate details about you, information that maybe just feels wrong sharing with anybody other than family and friends. However it is a reality and absolutely one to be proud of.

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8 thoughts on “They’re Adopted

  1. Anyone who has experience in adoption knows nothing is simple. The children and families are all different.
    We do not talk openly about our children’s adoption because they are at risk. They were not willingly relinquished and there is a threat to their safety.
    The children also have a right to their privacy. My daughter is very self conscious of people knowing her private business because people find adoption stories very titilating.
    As an older placed child, she has a right to come to terms with her life story and to tell her it in her own time, to those she trusts. She has the right to be allowed to feel and be viewed as the same as her classmates. This for her is restbite from the onslaught of emotion she has to deal with when facing her grief and sadness at the sepatation from her birth family. She has the right to come to terms with her story in her own time as she matures.
    We are heavily involved in adoption groups and have told her regularly we are so proud to be her parents and privileged to have been able to adopt her.
    She sees us being open and proud, but adoption is complicated and we should have the right to choose where and when it is appropriate to be open.

  2. This is such a tricky area. Great to have a post and the above comment on it already. This is also very interesting in the light of the blog last week.
    I have been complete out about my son’s status since he arrived – for obvious reasons, but since he started in his preschool I have been more cautious. It is not a secret, but I haven’t forced it either. I wouldn’t like him to be experienced through the label and doubt that other 4yo would know what to do with that information, let alone some parents. I have also heard too many heart breaking stories about bullying because of adoption.
    We too are heavily involved in adoption groups and are proud and happy about being an adopted family, and our son knows about it.
    I do agree with Nicola’s sentiment above that it is our children’s private stories, and their to share and I think we have to be very careful about how we handle that precious information. Personal safety aside. That said, being straight I really welcome the same sex view on this. It is refreshing, and it sounds like you dads are giving your sons a very healthy sense of self. That after all is the key.

  3. Thanks for this discussion, it’s really helpful. I would agree with both views and have found both privacy and openness have been really valuable. We feel it is very important to be open and and not secretive. Partly we have no choice having been heavily involved in our community and suddenly having school age children! We have also found openness to pave the way to understanding relationships with very supportive families, both adoptive and non-adoptive. The openness of others has helped the children meet older adoptees. But we also have an experience of the school disclosing one of our children’s adoption status after the teacher left a list titled “looked after and adopted children’ on her desk. Our daughter, who we encourage to be open and take pride in her identity, was distressed as it had taken away her control over her story and who she wants to share it with. She is open with her best friends, but at this point in her life she also does not want to deal with the anxiety of insensitive questions from other children. However much we prepare her with answers and build her resilience and self esteem, the unpredictability of adoption related questions is emotionally hard work for her. In the future we may need to think of different strategies, but for now and an element of privacy is what our’s need in school.

  4. It’s a tricky one to get exactly right. Our daughter was a baby when we brought her home and much as we are positive about adoption and open about her past and how happy we are to be her parents, she really dislikes it being brought up by us or anyone else. It’s her story and she needs to feel some control over who hears it and when. I think it has the potential to make her feel quite exposed.

  5. As the single parent of a 4yrs old. I am finding this one a challenge. Like the poster of the blog, in my community I don’t really have a choice at being ‘out’. But having just started a new school I want to step back and let her control her story. But t she doesn’t have the tools yet and I find myself in conversations where I have to explain us, taking it out if her hands again. Like so much adoption stuff I am juggling on a tightrope!

  6. Amanda writes: But there’s a huge difference between privacy and secrecy. The fact of my child’s adoption is no-one’s business but hers. She can share it when and where she won’t but it’s not my information to share unless it’s absolutely in her interest. I too would be very angry if my school disseminated this information unnecessarily and without our express permission.
    This is a really simplistic argument and you’re conflating sharing your own information with sharing someone else’s and assuming that keeping something private means that there is shame attached to it. There really isn’t – it’s just that our children have the right to as much privacy around their birth and family as is afforded to all other children.

  7. I have also not really had a choice as it’s so obvious when suddenly you have a pair of fully-formed school aged children! I found myself being put on the spot a few times and did not want to start lying about having recently moved to the area or anything. I don’t mind people knowing and at the moment my children don’t mind either – they even volunteer this information sometimes – but what I don’t like is people fishing for juicy details of what they have been through. Another adopter wrote somewhere that adoption is not a secret but the reasons why are, and that made a lot of sense for my family.

  8. We are a transracial placement…we could try and come up with some crazy story but I’d rather be upfront and honest (I’m not talking about strangers on the street!) If my child doesn’t see me saying proudly my child is adopted how can I expect him to. And he does.

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