Friday, October 2, 2009

Adopt a Liberal

Just saw a news report about an organization creating a prayer program, where members were to pray for liberals. Oooookay! Didn't surprise me -- I remember when Pat Robertson asked his followers to pray for the . . . um . . . "retirement" (death, anyone?!) of certain Supreme Court justices.

What did surprise me was the name of this prayer program - Adopt a Liberal! They even have a "waiting child" list of liberals you can adopt. Or you can go into it looking for a match by choosing the "Unknown Liberal (Tomb of, implied). I confess, it made me laugh from the sheer ridiculousness of it. What the heck does praying for someone have to do with adoption?!

I've never been that exercised about "Adopt-a-Whatever" programs, despite my preference that Katherine Heigl not put pictures of her newly-adopted daughter just above an "Adopt A Pet" announcement on her website! I understand why many prefer that there not be this usage, and Dawn Davenport of Creating a Family sums up the arguments well:
I don’t underestimate the power of words. Words both reflect and influence attitudes, and attitudes matter. The argument in the adoption community against
the use of the word “adoption” for highways, rubber ducks, or even pets, is that is lessens the meaning of the word. To adopt a child means forming a lifelong commitment to love, raise, and cherish this child, the same as giving birth to a child. When you adopt a highway or flower bed, there is no life long commitment or even caring, it’s all about money. With the family pet, it’s a bit trickier, but even the most ardent animal lover, like me, feels a different commitment to pets than to children. If one of my children developed an allergy to one of our cats, or if one of our dogs started to bite unprovoked, I would find another home for the pet.
She then goes on to say:
That’s the party line, and it’s true, but there is something about all this that leaves me unsettled. It’s as if our adopted children and the very institution of adoption are so fragile that using the wrong word can cause major confusion or fundamentally undermine self esteem. This simply doesn’t reflect the reality that I see. I asked this question to two adult friends who were adopted, and it isn’t their reality either.

Dawn also offers this conversation with her 13-year-old daughter (you know how much I love conversations!):

Daughter: What’s up with these adopt-a-highway signs? What exactly do they mean?

Me: [Surprised by serendipity and not one to miss an opportunity especially when it drops in my lap, I jumped right in.] Funny that you should ask since I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. How do you feel about them? Do you think they should use that word? How does that make you feel?

Daughter: [Painfully long pause while she looks at me with an expression that could politely be called quizzical, but more likely could be interpreted as “What planet did you come from?”] Huh???

At this point, I feel a bit like the parent in the old sex ed joke. The kid asks where did I come from, and the parent launches into a complete discussion of the mechanics of sex. The kid responds, “I mean was I born in Minneapolis or St. Paul?

Me: Um, what was your question again?

Daughter: Why is that girl’s name on the adopt-a-highway sign? I thought it had to be a business. [A high school student had adopted the section of the highway running by the school, and her name was on the sign.] And what were you talking about?

Me: [After briefly explaining how adopt-a-highway worked, I explained myself.] Some people think that the word “adopt” shouldn’t be used casually like for cleaning up a highway or giving money to a zoo by sponsoring an animal. They think it is offensive to people who are adopted. What do you think?

Daughter: [Clearly intrigued by the question, she pauses to think it through.] Well, until you just mentioned it, I’ve never thought about it. I hear that word all the time, and it doesn’t bother me at all. It just means to take care of the highway, and that doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s like with our pets. We adopted them, and they are a part of our family.

Me: But I think adopting a pet is different from adopting a child. My commitment to you guys is totally different and much deeper than my commitment to our pets.

Her: Yea, but you love us both. You can love things differently. Like, you love Thai food, but you wouldn’t want to marry it. You can adopt things differently too.

Me: English is a funny language that way. Words can mean so many different things, but I do think we have to be careful with what words we use.

Her: Maybe, but this just seems silly.

What I love about this conversation is that, despite Dawn's feelings about the word usage, she doesn't direct her daughter to feel the same way, and explains objectively the views of others she doesn't necessarily agree with! Perfect "adoption talk!"

What do you think? Would you encourage your child's teacher to change the name of a project from Adopt-a-Zoo Animal to Sponsor-a-Zoo Animal? Do you equate pet adoption and child adoption when talking to your adopted child about your family pet? Have you ever written a letter complaining about that pesky "Adopt-a-Highway" sign? Have you ever spoken to your child about those pesky "Adopt-a-Whatever" programs?


Anonymous said...

I also love the conversation, but for a different reason. I think we often project our feelings (and insecurities) about words, ideas, perceptions, etc., and fear that our children will be hurt by it. Usually, however, there is no feelings of harm from the adoptees. Like her daughter said, "Until you mentioned it, I never looked at it that way." Thus, I think that often we, as overly sensitive adoptive parents, create anxiety where there often is none.

Personally, I love the "Adopt-a-Highway", etc. because I feel (and I have no idea what my kids would think, perhaps I will ask them!) that it normalizes adoption, makes it look common. That is what I want my kids to grow up thinking -- that adoption is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.


Mahmee said...

I agree with Brian on this issue. I've caught myself projecting my own insecurities as an adoptive parent onto my child on occasion. Something she wouldn't view as an issue, maybe I've made it into one? I am far from a perfect parent and am not an adoptee so, what do I know really? Having said that, I do think the word 'sponsor' is probably more appropriate in the instances outlined in the post however, I don't personally view it as a large issue.
'Adopt a Liberal' defintely made both my WTF?! and Asshat lists though...not for the word 'adopt' but, for the intent behind the phrase. Geez.

Lisa said...

Yes, this is one of those situations where you don't know "if" it will be bothersome for your child's psyche. Some adoptees have complained about the insensitivity of "adopt a...."

Having said that, it's not a cause I think is worth fighting as an AP. Because, as Mahmee states, this may very well be our "own" issues and insecurities, not our child's. Pick your battles!

I'd rather obsess over injustices and happy situations that directly affect my child and friends / family.

Anonymous said...

Our son's preschool recently "adopted" a whale. I sent his teacher an email with a few posts regarding my concern about the word adopt being used in that context. She agreed that it might be confusing for a 3 year old and we decided to use the word 'sponsor' if it comes up again. And I sent an email to the whale people.

I don't think I'd go to the wall for it but I also think (for ME) it was worth stating my concern. If my kid was 8, not 3, I'd let him decide how he felt...for now I have to be his advocate.

-Samantha (from the recent racialicious thread...thanks for the invite!) :)

Anonymous said...

I think the uproar over "adopt-a-whatever" is ridiculous. Almost every word in the English language has more than one meaning. I would use it as an opportunity to teach my kids about how words can have many different meanings and leave it at that. There are bigger fish to fry -- like adoption ethics and racism.