February 09, 2010

My T-shirt Today is a Solid Grey

I'm generally not one to make statements with my t-shirts. (Save my "This is what a feminist looks like" tee, of which I am ridiculously fond.) And I'm a little resistant to most things that reduce adoption to twee soundbites. So it probably goes without saying that I don't have any adoption-themed shirts in my closet. Or in the kids' closet, for that matter. Just not my cup of tea.

But there's twee and there's offsensive. I thought we had hit the lowest point with that Adoption is the New Pregnant shirt* that came out a couple of years ago. Remember that? The one that manages to demean adoptees (you're a fad!), first moms (sure, you actually were pregnant, but whatever), and adoptive parents (we're just being trendy, plus all we really really want is a pregnancy) all at once?

Then the other night I had the misfortune of finding this:

offensive adoption tshirt

If you can't read the text, it says, "Parenthood is an act of nuture, not nature."**

My fellow adoptive parents, we're better than this. C'mon. Are we really so insecure that the only way we can feel good about our families is to tell the world, "Birth parents are nothing! We're everything!"? Then let's just print up some shirts that say "I'm the only REAL parent" and be done with it already.

I know (and am grateful) that Todd and I get to be Firefly and Puppy's parents. We're their everyday parents, their publicly recognized parents, their legal parents. I get that we are the ones parenting Firefly and Puppy. But we're not their only parents. They each had a mother and a father before we entered their lives. Every single person who was adopted did, even if those parents weren't very involved, were abusive, or (in the case of some dads) didn't even know about the pregnancy. The fact of their parenthood still exists; adoption changes the shape of it, but it doesn't erase it. It's like the most elemental truth of adoption: your kids had parents before you, regardless of whatever birth/biological/first/natural/genetic qualifier you choose to add. And that fact makes all the difference in the world. If it didn't, there wouldn't be umpteen books and blogs and magazines and workshops devoted to adoptive parenting. And no one would feel the need wear a shirt insulting birth parents just to feel like more of a parent themselves.

Thanks to open adoption, Puppy and Firefly are able to be nurtured by some of their first parents, too. They get a little bit of that nature/nurture combination that a lot of us non-adopted folks took for granted growing up. It matters to me, as their adoptive parent, that I can affirm their "nature" connections and make emotional space for them to think and talk about their first families. It's about affirming the whole of who they are, both nature and nurture (plus their own unique-to-them bits). About not sending the message that they are only allowed to think of themselves as my son and daughter. By saying "nature" is nothing and "nurture" is everything, this shirt tries to erase a big chunk of their identity.

The website copy says that it's a shirt for "all adoptive parents." But this is one who would never let it anywhere near her closet. And before an adoptive parent buys it, I think they need to answer the question, "Would you wear this in front of your child's birth parents?" And if the answer is no, why would you wear it at all?

* Under sizing, that website notes, "One size fits most bumps." For a shirt clearly designed for adoptive/adopting parents. Way to know your target audience, there.
** See also, "Fatherhood requires love, not DNA"


Alissabeth said...

thanks for this post - I agree, many of those t-shirts from that adoption products site make me very uncomfortable.

You know, there is an OA roundtable in here somewhere...something about how to realistically be proud of having a family that is built through adoption, without resorting to cliches like the one above, or belittling first parents. Or resorting to dishonesty, which is the root problem of that "nurture not nature!" theme.

Hilary said...

Thanks for this post. It makes me really sad that people disrespect first parents so much.

Kristina said...

Thanks SO much for being who you are, and yes...YOU and Todd and all of the other A-Parents out there ARE better than this.
Well, you are anyway xox
So, I've been struggling with the acceptance of my Birth Daughters A-Mom as of late.
I have been totally and completely dismissed by her. I suppose looking back at the verbage of all the letters (well, one a year) that she has written for the past 14 years, she has always expressed Fear, It just never hit me until now.
When M found me on the internet in November, I was floored. She's 14..I was not expecting this - I was and am Thrilled however! Yay!
So, her mom did not know {about this pseudo-reunion} and I asked M to tell her Mom as soon as poss, b/c her mom needed to know and M needed her support, love and understanding...right??
I gave M a few weeks, then I wrote A-Mom "the letter".
It was a great letter! filled with stuff like, YOU are M's Mom, I respect You, Thank You, I am behind you 100%, I would never do anything to interfere with your parenting, etc... etc...
What I got back was...Nothing.
What I recieved was a call from the Agency saying that A-Mom in No Uncertain terms wanted M talking with me and vice versa...until she became an adult - Whaaaaat? Okay, Deep Breath. Where's the Let-Go and Accept button??
WOW!!! She may in fact have been the one who designed this T-Shirt! Ugh.
M clearly is forming her identity right now, and i think could truly benefit from ALL the Love that is at her disposal!
But, I guess i'm Taboo. I am not important. And what's really sad is that i think she is sending M the message that what M needs now is not important either....
That A-Moms fear takes precedent over all.
Could this be? I don't know. But it feels awful.
You are always a voice of reason for me, can u help a mama out?
Maybe some clarity from your end would help me put some of this in perspective. Jeesh.
Love to You and your Fam...& Kindest Regards xox
Mama K.

Unknown said...

Okay, I clicked through to Fatherhood and DNA, and saw the 'Motherhood: No stretch marks required" shirt. Who ARE the people who would wear such shirts? People buy them, really?

It's horrible on so many levels.

First of all, odds are that SOMEONE is in fact getting stretch marks--just not the wearer of the shirt.

Second of all, it seems like it's begging someone to stop and tell you that if you're not willing to have stretch marks in order to be a parent, maybe you shouldn't be one.

S.I.F. said...

The T-shirts people come up with are crazy. I've seen some totally offensive and off the wall nonsense... Wonder how much t-shirt designers get paid??? :)

mama2roo said...

"would you wear this in front of your child's birthparents?" Well, of course not, but I'm guessing that those who buy the shirt are probably not much around their kiddos' firstparents to begin with. :)

Jamie said...

thank you so much for this post ~ i never really thought about it (however i'd never wear one of these t-shirts either). i did make milo a little t-shirt for our local "walk of hope" last year that said "i am proof that adoption is beautiful". i hope that there was nothing belittling in that because I DID send a photo of him in that shirt to his b-mom. i completely see these t-shirts in a brand new light now ~ thank you. :)

Tammy said...

Your take on this is spot on. I just don't get this line of thinking at all. The only shirts with slogans I might consider wearing would say...

"Second Mother and Proud" (or something like that)


"Parenthood is a Privilege. Stop pretending it's a right."

Anyhoo... could go on and on...this really gets to me.

More and more, as you said, it seems to me these are the tangible ways that insecurity in being a parent through adoption, or

Elly said...

The one that made me grind my teeth was the outfit for the a-child with 'chosen' on. I thought we moved past this concept some time ago in adoption??? He wasn't chosen: we were!

I think if the t-shirt you were talking about combined the two: parenting is nature and nurture, that would be different? Values all contributions to our little ones.

Lavonne said...


Anonymous said...

This is one of those that leaves my sighing and rubbing my forehead. Why not "I Got the Kid, I Clearly Win"? Not an awesome sentiment.

Heather said...

@A - That is a good roundtable topic idea! I'll have to ponder a way to word it that's not just from the a-parent perspective...

@Hilary - Thanks!

@Mia - I know, they're all pretty bad. I always wonder who buys these things. Someone must, right? I mean, they keep selling them all over the internet.

@mama2roo - Touche!

Heather said...

@Jamie - I think that falls more into the twee category. I personally wouldn't get all ranty about a shirt like that. :)

@Tammy - You left us hanging! And you always have such good things to say! "Or" what?!? ;)

@susiebook - That was the vibe I got from the shirts, too--a bunch of a-parents standing around high-fiving each other or something. It's not a freaking competition, people. We can be confident in our parenthood without treating it like a zero-sum game with first parents.

Heather said...

@Kristina - First, you're too kind. Second, I'm so sorry this happened. Is there a way I can email you?

Tammy said...

OMgoodness... I'm have postop foggy brain right now. I've looked at my previous response and for the life of me can't remember what else I was going to say! ...blush...

okay, maybe it was something like... this is one of the many ways I see insecurity in motherhood coming out in some of us adoptive moms, or even worse, defensiveness, as if to say, biology really doesn't matter that much. I COULD HAVE (not!) done it without her, when in fact, there comes a time when we have to admit (and most of us here do) that adoption is not at all like giving birth and we have to grieve that if in fact, it was a big deal and to me, anyone who wants to wear a shirt that states that nurture is the only thing that matters really still has some deep issues to work through.

I'll be the first one to admit that I am struggling right now with the end of my fertility (as miniscule as it was) as I heal from a hysterectomy. I would never say that I am at peace with never giving birth, or right now, I'm not there. HOWEVER, I am VERY much at peace with how my children came to me, and the fact that I am a mother only because another mother made a choice for adoption. And that by their very being, nature and who they are "in spite of me" is firm reality, and I better get used to the fact ~ and I am ~ my kiddos are only who they are at the core (would this be nature?) because another mother gave life to them. I would not have a job of nurture if it weren't for her. And that's that.

Ok there. Guess I did have a thought to finish after all. I might just have to blog about it sometime.

Kendra said...

Most of the adoption-themed t-shirts really annoy me, too, but (and I'm clearly in the minority here) the one you featured in this entry really doesn't. I still don't think I'd WEAR it, but I really see that message as being much broader than just about adoption. I think that's true for any sort of parent. My first impression of it was: it doesn't matter if you're the biological parent or adoptive parent or someone else raising a child, it's what you DO as a parent that matters. But, like I said, I'm in the minority...

Heather said...

@Kendra - Right, but then the shirt still excludes birth parents from parenthood because they aren't DOING the parenting. Which is my whole beef with the text, you know?

Thanks for speaking up, though. It's not easy to be the lone voice! :)

pi said...

I think that almost all adoption related shirts are just wrong. In fact, I have yet to see a good one. No matter what you put on it someone is going to be upset.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to add one more voice to Kendra's minority. I see Heather's point, but I, too, see it as about more than just adoption.

I actually don't think it excludes birth parents. Though they may not be actively parenting, they still nurture their children.

The shirt is defensive, but adoptive parents get a lot of "natural" parents, "real" parents, and so on, so I think it's understandable that we would get defensive sometimes.

I actually wrote a blog post about adoption-themed t-shirts,

Heather said...

@rredhead - Although, just to press the point a bit, my daughter's birth dad has not nurtured her thus far in her life. At all. In fact he's gone out of his way to do the opposite. But I don't deny his parenthood, nor would I deny her right to say she's his daughter.

And he'd still be one of her fathers even if he didn't know she existed.

I don't mind us confidently responding to those who deny that adoptive parents are totally parents, too. But this is the wrong way to go about it, IMO.

Now, off to read your post!

Barely Sane said...

My first reaction to the shirt wasn't all that negative because I thought it really could be a generally worn shirt and not necessarily specifically adoption related.

The DNA one, not so much. And then I linked to the site and my stomach lurched: MOTHERHOOD, no stretch marks required.

That's not cool and I can safely say I would never wear the shirt - EVER.

DrSpouse said...

When I saw these in passing I read them as a comment on the effort it takes to be a parent, and as something for biological parents who are parenting, but who want their hard work acknowledged. They do seem weird in the context of adoption (same as Barely Sane).

I actually don't mind the DNA one as much (though obviously it requires both), I guess because stepfathers are even less acknowledged than adoptive OR birth parents and if it read something like "I didn't provide the DNA but I do provide love" then I'd think it was appropriate for a stepfather.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm a long-time reader, first-time commenter :) So I, too, didn't take immediate offense to the Parenthood t-shirt - I think perhaps because it's not as blatently ignorant as the Fatherhood or Motherhood t's. Really?? Fatherhood doesn't require DNA? Um, I'm not a biology major, but I'm pretty sure it did... and the Motherhood one, dear goodness! That's one of the snotty "are you really asking me this?" remarks I give to ignorant people who want to know why my husband and I "don't try to have our own children first" - as if somehow conceiving a child biologically would be better for us AND implying that an adoptive child isn't "our own"

Kristina said...

Yes Heather :~)

its widespreadhope@gmail.com




Dee said...

I'm new to adoptive parenting and find your blog very real. I am horrified to see such remarks about adoption on tshirts. Doesn't anyone think of how our children feel about the things we could be wearing. I have a closed adoption due to safety issues but wish my son had the opportunity to know his nature and hopefully one day he will. Thanks for your great posts. Keep 'em coming

Anonymous said...

"if you're not willing to have stretch marks in order to be a parent, maybe you shouldn't be one"

I think it's stupid because even those of us who have biological children sometimes don't get stretch marks. *shrug*

Just a lot of stupid shirts on that site.

Lori said...

Why do people use t-shirts to say things they probably wouldn't have the guts to utter out loud? It's the newest form of passive-aggression.

The Semi-Domesticated Mama said...

I have a different take on the shirts. Personally, as a adoptee, I would have been really uncomfortable with my mom walking around wearing a shirt that announced me as an adopted child. That just feels icky to me. Like she picked me out of a catalog or something. Maybe I'm weird. Oh who am I kidding, I know I'm weird.

As an adoptive mom, I think adoption is an amazing thing and we're blessed to have our two boys. But I would never wear any of those shirts. My son is 9 and he's a really cool kid who is unique and happy with who he is. I asked him about some of these shirts and he had a very good simple point. He asked me if I would also buy a shirt that said something about our biological children. No I wouldn't so why would I buy a shirt that talks about his adoption?

Anonymous said...

I wrote a while back about the "adoption is the new pregnant" shirt and I think I'm glad I was away from cyberland for a few days so that I didn't think about this one all weekend....

And this:

"And before an adoptive parent buys it, I think they need to answer the question, "Would you wear this in front of your child's birth parents?" And if the answer is no, why would you wear it at all?"

I think this is a really great point.

Anonymous said...

As a birth mom, I find this shirt is a little annoying, but in the end, it's just a shirt with some words on it.

Honestly I personally don't like it when people use their bodies to tell people something.
I mean...I just don't think it is neccessary or useful.

If people have to carry a message about something that affects their families(like adoption)I would rather they tattoo it on their bodies.
At least that would be a constant reminder for everyone and they would probably think a little harder about the kind of message they wanted to send...

JenJo said...

I think that everyone has made some excellent points. I'm a birthmom and I think that there are a TON of shirts that are awful that I could never bring myself to wear. I would be really upset if my birthdaughter's mom was wearing the Parenthood shirt, or the Motherhood one for that matter.

I think the unfortunate thing about a t-shirt is you only have a few words to make a statement and it's usually something fairly bold. But that small statement leaves so much unsaid.

The only t-shirt that I will ever wear that talks about my children (I have 2 older children that I am parenting) or the fact that I'm a mother of any sort is one that says, "My kids rock". Short, sweet, to the point and wonderfully appropriate for birthparents and adoptive parents.

Because even though I'm not parenting my little Ladybug, she DOES rock!

Sam said...

I would read the shirt differently if I didn't know it was about adoption. To me it says that parenting your kids, loving your kids, is more important than genes, like in the case of Chicken's bio father. He sees him once a year, rarely calls, and doesn't know him in my opinion. But he's his "Father"? (This is not an adoption situation but one of divorce and an asshole, negligent father.) I am sorry that I am rambling on tonight!

Kitwench said...

As a parent who does not have a place in the adoption community, I'd like to add an outsider's perspective that may not be thought of by those 'in' the community.
I have 3 kids, and I work with very troubled teens who are hoping to be better parents than those who so badly harmed their souls and psyches.
This shirt would go over as an *affirmation* to these teens.
They need to know that they are NOT locked into the cycle they hope to break.
It wasn't until I saw your post that I realized that one version of this shirt is marketed to adoptive parents, and might be insulting to birth parents in that context.
I hope that if you see someone you don't know wearing this that you consider that perhaps they are coming from a very different place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post... when I first saw this T shirt, I had a blah-to-neutral reaction. Granted, I am not a parent and spent my 20's doing donor egg cycles so I saw it through a different lens.... the other t-shirts, instant negative reaction to say the least.

But as soon as I read your post, I 100% agreed with you. Thanks. I love it when someone can point out kindly and clearly flawed logic and help me understand different view points. Ta!

Anonymous said...

worst shirt I've ever seen?


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