It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

A Different Story

Maybe you are here to be uncomfortable and dig deeper. When you find yourself uncomfortable, that is a sign you need to consider what I share here more realistically.  Triggers tell us where our issues are.

The fact that society has crafted adoption as this great, positive, wonderful thing for everyone adopted as well as those who adopt is the very core of my concern with adoption. It’s the very reason adoptees can’t speak freely in general society without being dubbed ungrateful or hateful or negative. It’s the very reason expecting moms feel unworthy to parent their own child.

Adoption isn’t negative or positive. It’s complex. It’s not simple at all. How someone feels at 5 may not be how they feel at 13 or 30. It is not wrong to fight to change the narrative as I seek to do here everyday

It is not wrong to want those that cannot be raised by their parents to have the tools and the right to understand how adoption works, what it means for them now and in the future.

There is no shortage of places you can go to hear how great adoption is.  I am here to be as real about adoption as I have developed the ability to understand something that is rampant in my family’s life even though not as directly my own experience as others in my family.  Even so, I wasn’t able to raise my own daughter and she grew into an adult guided by others and with no small amount of shame and guilt in my own self to deal with for not being a “better” mother to her.

If you want a space where adoptees will tell you how wonderful their adoption was and how grateful they are because that feels really validating to you – then there are other places that will do that for you.  Don’t expect to find much of that here.

Adoptees can have a loving and caring adoptive family and still not believe adoption is the answer. No one’s story is identical to another’s. I try not to say that here.  I certainly don’t expect a one size fits all explanation of all things adoption.  In fact, that is why I can always find something new to write about this  topic every day.  Each adoptee and/or former foster care youth will have a different viewpoint about their own story.  This is as it should be. I certainly know this. There are a variety of “stories” and a variety of “outcomes” among my own family members who have been impacted by adoption.  Bottom line – there is no single story.

With my own blog I seek to educate my readers on the harder parts of adoption, not the rainbow and unicorn fantasy parts (even if those are actually mostly true for the one experiencing it as such).  You can find plenty of happily ever after stories related to adoption if you only go looking for them.  My own daughter said to me once – you seem to be on a mission – and I didn’t deny that.  After over 6 decades in the dark about something so immediate and personal as adoption is in my own family, I came out of what is often referred to as the fog.  It is the concepts and beliefs that society puts out there about adoption.

Being uncomfortable isn’t bad thing. That includes adoptees too. If you never allow yourself to be uncomfortable, you miss learning about a larger reality.  Pushing through discomfort and emotional reactions can yield any one of us so much personal growth and character development.

Not A Blank Slate

The trauma of being separated from your mother can’t be ignored. No matter the age of the child. The trauma is intensified by the fact that an infant can’t understand, healthily process, or vocalize what’s happening to them.

One of the first things I learned about Georgia Tann was her assertion that the babies she provided to adoptive couples were a blank slate they could mold in their own image and preferences.  This is decidedly obsolete and archaic thinking. You can’t try to put a square peg in a round hole and expect it to fit.

This blank slate idea was never the truth as many adult adoptees can tell you today, as families in reunion discover where their natural traits actually came from.  One such story from an adoptee is this – I really never related to my adopted family. We didn’t enjoy the same activities, foods, interests etc. When I finally found my birth family the very first night I felt like I was finally home.

However, even biological children can’t be molded after their parent’s ideal. So why should any adoptive parent expect a child (that’s not even from their own genes) to turn out according to the adoptive parent wishes ?  Natural biology is real and shows through. DNA is a thing that exists. Being adopted doesn’t mean that your adopted child will all of a sudden biologically come from your adoptive parent genes. Even if the adoptee’s birth certificate lies and says they were born to the adoptive parents.

My own daughter and two sons have often reminded me of how much they are their own person.  My daughter may have some personality aspects that feel very much like my own but she is not a mini-me.  Even our two boys raised under very similar circumstances are different from one another, reminding me to treat each one as individually as they deserve. Any adoptive parent who expects things to be any different is simply fooling themselves with a fantasy that cannot be fulfilled.

And people can be so clueless and ask the most awkward questions.  Case in point.  One woman shared – I am a brown Latina woman. I went to a birthday party for my daughter’s friend (4 at the time) and I was holding our foster son and as soon as I walked in a woman said to me, ‘how did you get a ‘white baby’?! I was so shocked that I could not think of what to say. I’ve practiced a lot since then. LOL.

Or how some people after an attempt to “educate” them will say something like – “God clearly put you together and meant for you to be a family.” At that point, an enlightened adoptive mother might get more forceful and say that if their god had intended us to be a family, he would have made it so without putting my child through adoption trauma. The woman who shared this went on to say “I don’t really stand for people who think they can speak for their god, especially when it comes to adoption.”

One of the uglier remarks come from a person who upon learning a child had been adopted, went on to say they are so glad the child won’t turn out like their original parents.  In front of the child no less.

As for the blank slate theory, regardless – no one should become a parent simply to enforce what they want on their children. Parents to help their children become the best version of themselves, find their own path and passions, and are supportive of the child along the way.

 

Does Gender Make A Difference ?

My dad as a toddler.  I believe this photo may have been taken at the Salvation Army home in El Paso Texas at least a couple of years after my dad was adopted.  His original mother was probably still working there at this time.  This photo came from her own album, even though he was adopted at 8 months of age.  I do know that my Granny went back to them to adopt a baby brother for my dad and so this may have been when she went there to get my Uncle Buddy.

The look on his face leads me to reflect on what it might possibly mean.  His original mother was fond of taking photographs and so it may be that she actually took this photo.  Did he recognize her now ?  There is no way to know really.

What I do know is that my mom and my dad, both adoptees, responded to that fact of their very lives differently.  It never seemed to matter much to my dad.  His adoptive mother was the prime source of security for him and the reason he was adopted.  She actually kicked my dad’s first adoptive father out of the house for abusive behavior.  My nephew says my Granny (what we called this woman growing up) said he was hurting one of the boys and she threw him out the window.  Whatever the truth was, she was that feisty, and he died young because his liver was too damaged by alcohol.

My dad was actually adopted twice.  At the age of 8, he was adopted again by my Granny’s new husband and he was a good man and they stayed married until death did part them.

When my mom wanted to search for her original family, my dad warned her against it saying she might be opening up a can of worms.  I believe that statement represents his thoughts about his own adoption.  Preparing for this blog, I went looking to see if gender makes a difference in one’s feelings about having been adopted.  At least one story I found seems to indicate as much.  He said, “I still do not wish to find my biological parents, but I am thankful every day for the love and the sacrifice they made for me,” even though he now has biological children of his own.

Maybe it is because mothers have a different kind of relationship with their children than fathers do.  My mom once explained her effort to find her mother this way, “As a mother, I would want to know what happened to my child.”  My mom really seemed to have zero interest in her father.