Monday, November 17, 2008


Some adoptive parents seem so threatened by the idea that the first parents are real parents that their adoptees may love and even consider parents. They may say this outright. (I've seen adoptive parents say things like "I'm the real parent.") Or they may simply imply it with the language they use. (In some cases, the language they use, the "birth" qualifier for instance, may be used because that's what they've been told by adoption workers. But some continue to use it after the problems have been pointed out.)

The whole issue strikes me as strange, and perpetuates one of the most unfortunate myths of adoption: adoption is no different than having your own child. This isn't true, and we, as a society, need to get over it if adoption is allowed to continue. (And for me, that's a pretty big "if.")

Let's start simply. Parents can have more than one child. And, if they are to be believed, they can love more than one child. But if that's so, why can't adoptees love more than one mother or father? Loving one set of parents doesn't rule out loving another set. And, it seems to me, there is no reason to think that we shouldn't consider all of them real parents.

The only reason I can imagine for not accepting this is that, while it's normal for parents to have more than one child, it's not normal for children to have more than one set of parents.

But the only reason this counts against considering all of them real parents is because we are trying to make adoption fit our understanding of "normal." We want to believe adoption is a perfectly normal way to form a family, so we have to pick only one set of parents to call "real." The others are consigned to the trash heap.

But adoption isn't normal. And there are no good reasons to think the standard categories apply. In adoption, four parents conspire to bring a child to adulthood. You cannot eliminate the biological parents and still have a child. Adoption forces us to rethink the way we order the world. And thinking that the old rules apply, where there are two and only two parents (if ever such a rule really applied), ignores the basic fact of adoption.

(Many parallels occur to me regarding divorce and remarriage, incidentally, which also serve to undermine the standard "I only have two parents" paradigm. But I won't belabor the point anymore.)

Mostly, I find it offensive that people assume I couldn't love more than one mother or one father. I am able to love two parents. Why is it so hard to believe I could love three or four? Certainly my relationship with my first mom is no threat to the relationship with my adoptive mom.

But to hear some talk about it, I should have to choose one or the other. The only reason ever offered seems to be the implicit assumption that how I feel about one person must threaten how I feel about another.

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