‘I thought these are your real parents, no?’
‘So you are not real brother and sister then?’
I guess most adopters have experienced questions such as these being asked of us or our children at some point. It’s frustrating to say the least and at worse it can feel insulting and indeed be quite painful, even so I am surprised at some adopters reaction to it. Adoption language is something that is learnt and consequently we adopters are usually a big step ahead of those around us, unlike the vast majority of people we face in our day to day lives we have been through the adoption process and have been immersed in the world of adoption and have literally been taught the right from the wrong. Yet so many adopters get truly upset at what is nothing more than ‘incorrect use of language’, upset at comments that may well be ignorant and indeed for us are quite simply wrong – but that are not being said with spite or malice. I had certainly never heard the term ‘birth parent’ until my partner and I started the adoption process and without knowing what the correct term was I am pretty sure I would have said ‘real’ as well – as wrong as it is, is it not the most obvious choice of words if you don’t know any better? No matter how ill at ease it puts us the adopters, is it not our responsibility to accept it as inevitable and to simply inform those who don’t know any better what is expected of them? Yet I regularly see on-line and hear adopters condemn people for their lack of this knowledge and to display quite a bit of anger and upset. I can share a good – although quite extreme – example of that. We were with friends and our four children were chatting between themselves. The mother and I were talking when she suddenly stopped mid sentence and turned to her son and said ‘I told you we were not to talk about that, remember that I explained that it can upset people’, my son was responding to the question he had been asked and was saying ‘yes we are both adopted and he is my brother’. I asked if she was referring to adoption and she said ‘yes’, I responded that it was no issue at all for her children to talk to ours about what is of course simply their reality and in fact it was pretty understandable as children are often curious and it was to be expected. With a perplexed look she responded ‘oh, but we have recently had a very different and upsetting situation with another adopted family’ and went on to explain that her son had been playing with the adopted brother and sister and had started to ask questions that had resulted in the children getting visibly emotional, resulting in the parents getting angry and then the family being told ‘I think it’s best if you leave’, which of course has caused great upset all around. What had been said were exactly the questions that start this blog and they were being asked by a child, who is (and I think this makes what happened even more shocking) autistic. A child who does not have the ability to understand social etiquette (even if it was relevant), a child who in all innocence is quite naturally curious about anything that does not fit into his regimented and orderly world order, a child who will use the only words available to him until he has been taught others. Through no fault of their own this child and his mother found themselves in a situation that clearly had expectations of them that they were quite simply ‘unqualified’ to meet. There had been an innocent – and I would argue totally predictable – use of words that had caused great upset and quite a problem between the two families. As an adopter I can’t help but feel that the blame here lies totally and completely with the adoptive parents, who are in fact the only people who have a full understanding of the situation and of what is expected, to be honest I feel quite angry that they have in fact put that blame onto a 9 year old autistic child – who quite simply had NO idea. Of course my heart goes out to the adopted children who were faced with something that they were ill prepared for and that clearly hurt them and I am not for one moment saying that is OK, but is it not the responsibility of us adoptive parents to protect our children by teaching them to be wholly proud of who they are and of their full story, in addition to make sure that we give an understanding of the terminology (correct and the incorrect) that our children will inevitably face, so that they can in turn educate those around them. When our sons are asked if they are adopted they answer yes, with a smile and a real sense of pride. When asked where their real parents are, they answer that we are their parents and that they are 100% sure we are ‘real’ and that ‘the other parents’ are their birth parents. When asked if they are real brothers (which they are) they answer yes they are brothers and that they are two of 9 siblings and talk openly about where they all are. To date none of those answers have been challenged, they have simply been accepted for what they are – the truth.