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:
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"