April 27th, 2010
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Categories: Articles, Current News

Fat exclamation mark made from jigsaw puzzle piecesI had the initial strong reaction to Jillian Michaels’ comments about wanting to rescue a child via adoption. I had no issue with her desire to avoid pregnancy (though I can understand why some struggling with fertility issues balked at what came across as a casual remark but, as we later found out, wasn’t casual at all). My issue was with her word rescue and the implication that all children who are adopted needed saving by their superior adoptive parents.

The truth is that words have come and gone in adoption over the years. What was once acceptable is no longer tolerated when it comes to how we describe certain aspects or people in adoption. Here are a few examples.

  • Bastard
  • Illegitimate child
  • Unwanted child
  • Adopter
  • Natural mother
  • Foreign adoption
  • Give up for adoption
  • Natural mother

These are just a few terms that have been phased out over time. In fact, natural mother is still used in some states’ legal wording on the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR), a hold over from days when this was the accepted terminology. If you try to tell an adoptive mother nowadays something about her child’s natural mother, you’re likely to get an earful. Similarly, while I may not verbally attack you if you tell me that I “gave my daughter up for adoption,” my poor (loving) husband is going to hear about it later.

It’s not just in adoption where words change over time. We no longer throw around the slang that we once did, aware of how words and names affect others. We are careful to choose our words not because we’re overly concerned with being politically correct but because we care about others’ reactions to those words. Because we care about other human beings.

On a post about this subject over at BlogHer, an adoptee commented saying that the term rescue offends her. She goes on with something I think everyone needs to read.

“Its hard enough to deal with dual identity issues and the mystery of ones origins without being reminded constantly by people who ought to know better that our adoptive parents are saints, that we are apparently second best, and that we should be forever grateful because we weren’t able to be raised by our family of origin.”

Should we tell that adoptee (and those who feel like she does) to sit down and shut up? Haven’t we gotten past that era of silence in adoption in which we expected everyone to be grateful that they had a better lot in life now? If we allow adoptive parents to speak up about the hardship of parenting children, shouldn’t we be allowing adoptees to speak up about their emotional concerns? Shouldn’t we welcome discussion from birth parents about their grief and loss? Or should we all go back to the era of silence in which we helped no one?

Similarly, my issue with the rescue terminology is that my daughter didn’t need rescuing. More over, it’s not how I feel being told, time and time again, that I am somehow less than adoptive parents but how I worry my daughter will perceive this information, this terminology. Her biological family was not one she needed rescuing from; we are great people. We’re intelligent. We’re kind. We’re pretty darn awesome! We just made the best decisions we could during a very difficult time in life. If she sees adoption being referred to as some sort of rescue saving mission, will she think that her genes are somehow flawed? Will she feel as though she always needs to be grateful to her parents for saving her from herself? Is that fair to do to adoptees? These are worries I have when I see people talk about adoption in such a negative light.

Do I think Michaels deserved to be called names at the same time? Not at all. I made terminology flubs in my day as I learned about adoption. Of course, as I received no education on the topic prior to relinquishment, I was really baptized by fire, making mistakes after I already bore my title. I still make mistakes. I’m still learning about the different aspects and issues we all experience in the adoption world, this unique journey. I am hopeful that once Michaels gets past the sting of the mudslinging, just as I got past my initial sting of her choice in terms, she can learn about how words are so loaded in adoption. I hope she can learn about the ethical implications that surround the adoption industry right now. Quite honestly, I’m still waiting for a celebrity to take on ethical adoption reform as their personal soap box. Maybe after all this blows over, Michaels will find a true passion for it.

I can hope, can’t I?

Photo Credit.

2 Responses to “Weighing In on the Jillian Michaels’ Drama”

  1. followerofchrist25 says:

    I am so glad that you posted this! I agree completely, although my experiences are from a very different perspective. I am the oldest biological child in an a family of ten children. Eight of my siblings are adopted, six from Ethiopia.
    My hope is to help lower the alarming number of disruptions, especially in families who go the route of international adoptions (specifically older children and sibling groups).
    One of the reasons I believe there are so many disruptions, is the number of expectations that the families have of their children, such as the expectation that the children will be grateful. This expectation blows my mind…a child is taken out of his or her original home and either taken from his or her family or has lost his or her family all together. The child is then placed in a new home, often in a new country that is unfamiliar to him or her (and can I just emphasize here that the expectations orphans of third world countries have for us? they believe the U.S. to be a paradise, they expect to get everything they have ever wanted…How do you think that child feels, when all his or her hopes and dreams and expectations of us and our country, are shattered?).
    So this child, after going through all that he or she has endured, is expected to be grateful. Um NO!!!! There is no way that anyone should expect this of an adopted child. Each and every orphan and child waiting to be adopted is already heart broken, lost and confused. In the minds of these children, the adoptive family is no hero, they are just strangers, people who have taken him or her away from all that is familiar and safe.
    How can anyone, especially a child, be expected to be grateful under such circumstances? It is completely unreasonable.
    As adoptive families, our job is to help these children re-learn the language that they were born speaking, but forgot through the heart wrenching and earth shattering road that their lives have taken; the language of love, the language of trust and hope, and the ability to communicate with the people who really care about them and want the best for their futures. If this is done, then the adopted children will be able to find healing and their lives will no longer be so confusing. Then these children can begin to live up to the expectations that the parents have for the biological children, but no more than that. They can never be expected to be any more grateful or respectful that any biological child, and why should they be? Once they are able to find healing, they are then on equal terms with biological children, as it should be.
    But having standards and expectations set for these children before or very soon after they are brought into a new home, is the best way to ruin all the hopes of everyone involved and to break the hearts of both the adoptive family, and of course the adopted child…again.

  2. thompscl says:

    They *SHOULD* never be expected to be any more grateful or respectful that any biological child, and why should they be?

    True, you know I’ve grappled with that a lot. with the whole ‘you aught to be grateful’ concept. Forced gratitude is basically being a servant. Not to say I’m not grateful, but I think I’m kinda confused as to how to be normal about it. Like, medium gratitude.

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