Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adoption = A Single Event?

I remember reading something when Zoe was little that I thought was very clever -- say that your child WAS adopted, not IS adopted, because adopting is just a single event in the past, not part of who your child is now. I thought it very clever because it fit so neatly the "same as" narrative I was sure was right -- adoption is the "same as" having a child by birth, just another way to become a family. What a clever way to render adoption irrelevant to our daily lives, to my child's identity!

What I believe now is that adoption is a life-long issue, and cannot be relegated to a single event in the past. The Evan B. Donaldson report on promoting healthy identity development in adoption emphasizes the fact that adoption affects identity formation, and identity formation doesn't end with the teen years:
Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults. A primary contribution of this study is the understanding that adoption is an important factor in most adopted persons’ lives, not just as children and adolescents, but throughout adulthood. Adoption grew in significance to respondents in this study from early childhood through adolescence, continued to increase during young adulthood, and remained important to the vast majority through adulthood. For example, 81 percent of Koreans and over 70 percent of Whites rated their identity as an adopted person as important or very important during young adulthood.
This finding was actually contrary to the researchers' initial hypothesis, that the importance of adoption to identity would taper off after adolescence.

So the truth is that adoption was, is and will be an important part of an adoptee's identity. It cannot simply be relegated to a single event in the past.


mama d said...

Labels are always problematic.

I truly believe that the act of adoption is a singular event and use "was" or "were" to refer to the point at which we all signed our lives over to each other. It's neither clever of me nor marginalizing to my kids' identities to use the past tense for an activity that happened in the past.

However, to be a family of adoption, to be an adopted person, is a central part of all our identities.

It's that difference that's the most difficult to manage in a world uneducated in adoption. Because the minute you choose to use "adopted" as an adjective, most folks begin their conclusion chain and start to make assumptive comments or feel that you've opened yourself to a variety of ill-conceived questions. Kind of like the exaggerated, "oooohhhh" I hear every time I mention I /am/ an only child. Well, I /was/ an only child and now I'm a partnered adult with three children. Neither reality is cancels the other.

mama d said...

(Apologies for being a bit snarky. It was IEP morning at school and I'm somewhat rant-y.)

Mei-Ling said...

"I truly believe that the act of adoption is a singular event"

The act of becoming a parent by legal ties through a signature is a singular act.

The ongoing duty of a parent is not. And nor is the parent who surrendered.

It's not a singular event -because- it affects so many people. Take my reunion for example - you could say it was a one-time event because it happened over 20 years ago.

But for my mama and baba... it still affects them. Every. single. day. It was not a one-time event for them - it has lasted permanently.

mama d said...

Mei-Ling: On all of this we agree. Even for my children's foster parents, their gain and subsequent loss of our children (in at least two cases) is a daily process. The legal event is singluar. But, as I said, adoption is "a central part of all our identities."

YoonSeon said...

Adoption isn't one single moment in time. I'm adopted. I always will be. End of story.

Meryl Dorf, Ph.D. said...

What an important conversation. To me, the best part of this blogging stuff is the opportunity to talk and think together. This point seems so relevant to me. Adoption is a word. A piece of paper does not bond people together (any more than marriage, I guess, nowadays). Loving, caring, claiming each other forever takes a moment and... a lifetime.