Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adoptee = Perpetual Childhood

In the video Vital Records, an adult adoptee recounts a conversation she had about open records with a legislator. He kept talking about how the child shouldn't have access to the original birth certificate, the child can't do this or that, the child, the child, the child. She refuted his argument, and said she was an adult, not a child. As she tells it, he then shook his finger in her face and said, "You are a child."

That conversation replays in my mind each time I think about reform efforts to allow adult adoptees to have access to their own records, their own original birth certificates. If you'd like to help change the rule of sealed birth/adoption records, go to and vote to return to adult adoptees the right to their original birth certificates.

But that perpetual childhood for adoptees applies to other issues, too. In an interview with Jane Jeong Trenka about her latest book, Fugitive Visions, and her first memoir, the Language of Blood, she had this to say:

Q: How is “Fugitive Visions” different than (or similar to) “The Language of Blood?”

A: “Language of Blood” extends the adoptee’s (my) timeline into the past, to connect with the Korean family. Fugitive Visions extends the adoptee’s timeline into the future, into middle adulthood. I’m saying that it’s an extension of a timeline because adoptees are usually thought of within a very short timeline — the span of time in which they live in their adoptive homes — which they only inhabit from the point of separation from their birth families or countries to young adulthood.
Is that right? When we think "adopted," do we inevitably think "child?" Consider the Evan B. Donaldson report on adult adoptees-- there were children on the cover, an insight I have to credit to Sang-Shil's Land of the Not-So-Calm blog.

I've noticed this tendency in some adoptive parents who have adopted transracially, particularly when it comes to race. I know readers sometimes think it's weird that I'm already worried about Asian Fetish Man, about Asian American standards of beauty, about makeup tips for Asian women with monolids. After all, my kids are only 6 and 9!

I tell my kids that they are my babies, and that they will always be my babies. But the rest of the world won't see them as my babies forever. So I feel that I really need to be thinking about preparing them for an adulthood as a member of a racial minority. While my kids are with me, they are clothed in my white privilege much of the time. But that will end when they leave my house.

Not only do I have to make sure they develop a moral compass that helps them choose right from wrong even when I'm not at their elbow, not only do I have to make sure they develop academic and critical thinking skills to that they can succeed in college and in their work lives, not only do I have to make sure they develop life skills like exercise and healthy eating and learning to relax and have fun, I also have to help them develop a healthy racial identity and life skills to handle racial discrimination and stereotyping. Whew!

One of the things we learned from the recent Evan B. Donaldson report on adult adoptees is that adoption issues do not end with the end of childhood: "Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults." Duh! Adopted persons still have to work to develop healthy adoptive identity and healthy racial identity into adulthood. Adopted persons do not stop being adopted after their reach adulthood. And reach adulthood they will, despite all desire to keep them children forever.

So, we need to stop thinking about adoption as just a childhood issue, we need to acknowledge that adopted adults are just that -- adults -- not perpetual children, we need to extend the timeline of adoptees beyond the time they live in their adoptive parents' homes. We adoptive parents need to keep that vision in our minds -- our children as adopted adults -- as we parent them as children.


Lora said...

Malinda, I want to say you are a voice of reason and understanding in the adoption world.

I am an adopted adult, probably old enough to be your mother. Yet when I post I have had people react as if I were a child who needs further parenting. If only I would have gotten those perfect parents so I would not have any adoption issues. :) And yet when I said adopted adult I was reprimanded for always bringing up that I was an adoptee, wasn't I over it yet?

I was actually fine about my adoption til I was 45. By fine I mean I had totally repressed it , did not even know I had any feelings about anything I worked so hard to stuff things down and please people.

윤선 said...

I'd go further to say that your children are only clothed in your white privilege when they're actually in your home. As soon as they walk out the door, they're prone to that privilege being stripped away from them, regardless of their age/s.

atlasien said...

Very true. Adoption issues always keep resurfacing. My father is adopted, and he's passed some of what I now realize are adoption issues on to me... so that's a 65+ year aftershock.

Anonymous said...

Please also vote on for:

"Release Original Birth Certificates To Adoptees"


"Make Falsifying Birth Certificates For Adoptees Illegal"

It would be so cool if all three made it to the finals where over 1 million people will be enlightened to the cruel discrimination that sealed birth records perpetrates on adopted persons!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna try these links again by cutting them into. Please paste together and vote for adoptee rights!!!



Jeff and Madeline said...

Thank you for the links.
Our children must be prepared for how they are viewed when they are not in our presence. Actually, I wish all parents would educate all children about racism--it is the only way to combat it.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Sandy said...


The feelings as a child being adopted are nothing compared to the complex reality of being adopted as an adult with lifes experiences that have matured you.

We are forever children in the minds of others and real life adults in reality who most often are simply negated, dismissed and denied.

Thank you for seeing that and for trying to show others that we do not stay children forever but forever live the life of being a child adoptee...

Adoptee closing in on the half century mark...and still considered the baby...

Mei Ling said...

"Yet when I post I have had people react as if I were a child who needs further parenting. If only I would have gotten those perfect parents so I would not have any adoption issues."

That's exactly the type of blog comments I have received in the past.

I am treated as a perpetual child, and when I remind them that I am an adult and have gone through contact/reunion, they say "Well, what more do you want?"

Triona Guidry said...

"As she tells it, he then shook his finger in her face and said, "You are a child.""

I would have informed that legislator that I'm an adult with the ability to vote his @$$ out of office.

I, too, am sick of the "adopted child" label. Thank you so much for bringing this up. People think I'm crazy when I correct them, then want to know why I'm "dwelling" on being adopted, why I didn't "get over" my adoption issues before I hit adulthood. For the most part I didn't understand how adoption has affected me until I became a parent myself. I think people prefer to think of adoptees as perpetual children because then we remain dependent and voiceless. The EBD study with children on the cover really ticked me off, considering it was one of the largest studies of ADULT adoptees thus far. Even people who ought to know better make this assumption.