Real. A word that in the world of adoption can have a strong impact. This is because it directly points to the biological connection between children and their parents. In adoption we speak of a triad which includes the adoptee, the biological parents and the adoptive parent/s. All those involved in this triangle have a different link to this biological connection, they may all well understand each other and work hard to do so, yet their needs, experiences and feelings will be vastly different.
The word ‘real’ is used to clarify and specify a biological connection, it is seen as inoffensive with an air of superiority because science is fact and fact cannot be offensive. Yet, what is obviously missing is that it says to an adoptee or adopter ‘you are not their real child / parent’. This begs the question ‘what is a parent?’ and as every person who has ever asked themselves that question would realise that the biological connection is not imperative to develop a parental bond, thus being a real parent.
There are numerous ways in which we develop unbreakable bonds with other people, friends or spouses for example. Why then is a word like this used? It is because of the way society sees adoption. The understanding of it is certainly limited. One thing to consider is the way in which adoption is portrayed in the media. People in the media are of course members of society, so in this way they are simply portraying what they know, what they learned in society. Media in turn is a tool for social education creating a complicated cycle to break. This is why I believe it is crucial that we revise the way in which adoption is portrayed in the media and develop guidance to be used by those working on it in order to make this necessary improvement.
Jokes about adoption are incredibly common, more than I had ever realised. It is one of those things that you have never thought about and once you do, you start seeing it everywhere. I do not mean of course that one cannot joke about adoption, nor that all adoptees should be angels. Just like with every other issue of representation, it is a matter of the overall image and how it is commonly portrayed, that is, if there were one story about an adopted child who is ‘evil’ it would not be something to worry about, it becomes an issue when there are so many instances, so many ways in which films, tv shows, the news and every other form of media gets adoption so wrong.
This is certainly not the only area where the media and society in general must revise the way we communicate, whilst I do not know with certainty it truly is every social issue, I would venture that indeed all social issues have this in common, the need to agree on the vocabulary we use and likely to develop new words. It is common to hear cries about word policing and how one cannot joke or say anything anymore. Now, the misunderstanding about the particular issue of the way we communicate about a subject where someone takes issue, is not so much about the words but the attitude. Our language is far too limited to account for every single concept and nuance of each of them. This is where we need the cooperation from those receiving our message and make an effort to understand what we are trying to convey. I do not claim to have the answer, my aim is solely to highlight the need for the mentioned guide.
Adoption is not the only area where the media and society in general must revise the way we communicate. I would venture that all social issues should have an agreed vocabulary and language. You often hear cries about word policing and how one cannot joke about anything any more. I would suggest it is not so much about the words as the attitude.
I didn’t want to go into specific shows or movies because I figured that it would be distracting from my point and opening the door to discuss whether such example is the best example and what other film may have sinned worse as well as debating whether it is or not the big deal I make it out to be… however, I guess it does need to be illustrated with examples. It took 1 minute and 49 seconds for the first joke about adoption to appear in the tv show ‘Young Sheldon’. This one is a classic example of sibling rivalry where one of them is particularly different from the rest of the family so the joke is that they must be adopted. It was also in the first episode of ‘Maradona: Blessed Dream’ where another common adoption joke appeared, this other one is where a parent tells a child if they do not do something they will be put up for adoption. Those are common jokes and I see them as indicative of a society that does not respect nor understand adoption.
More worrying is the case of the character of Kramer in the tv show Seinfeld. This one, I have to quote “Yeah, well, you know why Rifkin was a serial killer? Because he was adopted. Just like Son of Sam was adopted. So apparently adoption leads to serial killing”. The character of Kramer is someone who says idiotic and crazy things which would be the reasoning to justify having someone saying such thing on a tv show. However, it is very much a popular show and he is a beloved character so ultimately the terrible thing was still said on the popular show by the beloved character. Satire, in a society that lacks so much cohesion can be an irresponsible comedic approach.
In any case, that joke does speak of this idea that adoptees are violent and generally misbehaved, perhaps the comedic epitome of this was 90s sensation ‘Problem Child’.
Adoption, like all other social subjects, crosses paths with other subjects, for example, racism. The film ‘Luce’ speaks of this. This film uses one of the main archetypes that adoption is used for, the ultimate ‘other’, an adoptee is someone that comes from somewhere else, without biological links to anyone around and this vague concept gives an air of mysticism to the story of the character. Think for example Superman, Luke Skywalker, Tom Hagen, Webster, Punky Brewster, Randall Pearson and many, many others.
However, I do not think that the writer is thinking of the reality of adoption, it seems obvious that most did not do sufficient research on the key themes such as trauma, loss and bonding. Instead, the point seems to me that adoption is simply a way to create this image of an outsider. Back now to Luce, where a white couple adopts a black child who grows up to be the ideal student. The film seems to use adoption merely as a tool to speak of racism seemingly choosing to ignore how they would be intertwined for these characters. It was quite disappointing [SPOILER – Continue reading from the next paragraph], it uses this approach to make the audience question whether the title character of Luce is good or bad, while showing you everyone around him, including his parents, immediately doubting him just to end with a clear indication that yes, he is bad. So a rather weak ending. Were the parents ever truly on board with the adoption?
Are parents truly on board with adoption? This, I think, is ultimately one of the key elements where we need to make progress. To understand that an adopted child is not a replacement, plan B, last hope or consolation prize. Adoptive parents are not heroes, adoption is not charity and adoptees don’t owe their adoptive parents anything (at least no more gratitude than any child would owe their parents). These are unresolved issues that I see in the adoption community, in how society in general seems to view adoption and how the media represents it.
Adoption is real, the bonds developed are everlasting and that is also a fact.