Assumptions make an ass out of you.
It’s a shame you left it so late in life to start thinking about having a family.
You must have been desperate to have a child, so you adopted.
It’s shame you couldn’t have a child of your own.
You must be grieving having gone through IVF with no baby to show for it.
Adoption was your last resort.
She’s lucky to have you as her parents.
I’m quite tired of people, some of whom should know better, making assumptions about my life and my motivations, my background, my feelings; I am tired of people not finding room for nuance. In some ways, the age we live in with the hashtag, the tweet, the text-speak, the “here we are with your 30-second news update”, is responsible for our lack of depth. Why bother taking the time to find out how someone really feels when you can hashtag it instead, reduce everyone and their feelings down to 40 characters or an all-emcompassing two-line slogan or even an outright lie? When did it become acceptable to tar everyone with the same un-nuanced brush? As a species we have spent generations, time and effort, lives even, to fighting against the simple, to allowing for complexity, to stop generalisation being the hegemony.
As adopters we all must have been desperate to have a child. As adopters we are buying into a conservative cultural and social, exploitative imperative to form a “traditional” family by whatever means. That as adopters we are putting our own selfish needs ahead of the child’s; that we are supporting the enforced break-up of families to succour our own selfish desires to be parents. Adopters = Desperate, exploitative, selfish.
So here’s some nuance.
I’ve had my script flipped. I’ve recently been thinking that I am not a real parent at all, but a time-limited guardian. That I am only looking after my daughter as an interim step to her eventually being reunited with her real family. It’s a complex switch from certainty in my role as a father, to a somewhat uncertain role as a guardian. It has nothing to do with love; it’s not possible for me to feel a greater depth of love (nor a deeper connection) than I do for my daughter. It has something certainly to do with my age, that of my partner’s; the likelihood of us being alive much beyond our daughter’s 35th birthday being statistically slim. It has something to do with the ties of blood that I certainly feel for my siblings, that my daughter may well feel for hers when she is old enough to understand that she has them. It has something to do with reading about, and seeing, reunions of adopted children with their birth parents and birth siblings; the adopters are ghosts at best in these reunion stories, references to 30 or 40 years of parenting fleeting.
I know that’s the point of these stories; that’s the editorial.
But it came to me as I visited my own father’s grave. Actually, that’s what we all really do; prepare our children not to be with us anymore, however we arrived at parenthood. We love and care, nurture and teach, to let them go, wherever their life’s path takes them. Then our role is to be the net below their life’s tightrope; we catch them if and when they fall.
We are all just guardians, as were my parents, as my child may well be. But done with love, that’s the most important job of all.