November 10, 2008

If Not a Gift, Then What?

Luna asked about what language we use to talk about our kids' placements, given my comment that I'm uncomfortable talking about them as gifts given to us by their first parents.

I should back up and say that somewhere in K's home there is probably still a card in which I go on and on about what an amazing gift she and R made in placing Puppy with us. So, you know, this is an evolving thing for me. It can be a profoundly moving experience to have someone entrust their child to you and "gift" language seems to fit at first blush. After all, someone literally gave us their child to parent.

It was in the early months after Puppy's adoption, as I talked to folks and practiced telling his story to him, the "gift" concept started not sitting right with me. It felt--to me--like it made the story all about the adults, reducing him to an object being passed between us. It was as if we were the story's heroes, our plotline finally being resolved when we at last had a baby tucked in our arms.

I instead thought about what I was trying to communicate with the "gift" imagery. I was relying on it to describe the actual transfer of him into our family. I was also trying to convey the sense of gratitude I have toward his first parents for trusting us to raise such an amazing kid. So I started working on other ways to say those things.

We keep things pretty matter-of-fact when we talk to Puppy about adoption. So in talking about the actual placement, I might say something like, "After you were born, K and R and Daddy and I were all at the hospital taking care of you. K and R decided that Daddy and I would be your parents. You came home to live with us and we get to be your Mommy and Daddy for always." If I'm talking about them selecting us, I might tell a story about K and R looking and looking until they found just the right family to take care of their little boy, and how happy we were that they wanted us to be his parents. It seems more self-centered from our adult point-of-view to phrase it that way. But I think it more accurately coveys to a toddler what was going on for his first parents. From their perspective the adoptive family was a gift they were giving to their child, not the other way around.

T and I went to a great talk by Jane Brown of adoption playshop fame last week. One of the things she warned against was relying on euphemisms or metaphors when talking about adoption with kids. Sometimes we do this because it's the first language that springs to mind (this is why I practiced talking adoption with baby Puppy), sometimes it's to avoid facts we think are too painful or uncomfortable. We need to think through our answers from their point-of-view. For a child Puppy's age, that means everything will be taken literally and filtered through his limited life experience. Telling him, "Your birthparents gave us the precious gift of you," wouldn't really help him understand what happened in that first week of his life or where his life started. It would probably only make him think he was wrapped up in paper and tied with a bow.

It occurs to me now that Luna may have been asking what language we use when we talk with other adults, not with our kids. Maybe I will talk a little about on another day, because gift/sacrifice language is being used differently in those contexts, but is equally loaded. Especially when used by adoption workers or in advertising.

Not everyone will react the same way I do, of course. And I should add that not even all the first parents in our family share my perspective on this. I'd be interested to hear how others approach this in their families.


SassyCupcakes said...

This is a brilliant post. Thanks so much for sharing your insight.

Guera! said...

This was really good. What great insight. This is something that I will file away and remember.

Dawn said...

Oh I'm so envious you got to see Jane Brown!!! Hope you'll blog more about it?

luna said...

see, that's why I asked, because I knew you'd provide a thoughtful response. this makes so much sense.

btw, yes I think the word sacrifice is also so loaded. when you keep a child-centered focus it seems a good description revolves around entrustment. curious if you have other thoughts for another day.

thanks as always for your insight, heather.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the words. It seems I'm poor at selecting the right ones and reading yours helps immensely.

millie said...

I loved loved LOVED this post. This fits so nicely with my own thoughts but as always you are much more articulate. Thanks for giving me actual words to use that fit within my framework.

Anonymous said...

honestly I like my birthchilds parents to tell others they were a gift to my birthchild. They could also say they were 'chosen' to parent. I think the way to tell if something is right is to apply it to yourself and see if you like being called 'a gift' or 'chosen'.

Sonya said...

We talk to Silas about his birthmom asking God to help her find a family with a mom AND a dad (her words-his bfather skipped out) and that she gave us such a *blessing* in letting us raise him. Also, the reason we don't use "first mom" is that it implies that I am "second" mom, and sometimes the world looks at that as second best. Also, we don't want him to think that there will be a third!

cynthia said...

wonderful post. i am a big fan of straightforward and explicit language, with kids and adults both.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...