The other day a conversation took place between an adoptive parent and adoptee, things got somewhat heated. Days later it’s still bothering me and it took me a while to figure out why that was.
The words used:
When you hear an adoptive parent tell an adoptee what a “well-adjusted adopted adult” said to them and how that adoptee feels about being adopted in response to a comment made by the adoptee about being adopted – what’s the first thing that runs through your mind? When I hear an adoptive parent speak that way, use those words, it bothers me deeply and hopefully by the end of this post you’ll have a clearer understanding of why.
The problem starts with both the term and how it was used:
When you hold out another adoptee in a conversation with an adoptee and you use the term well-adjusted to describe that other adoptee, then your definition of a well-adjusted adoptee probably means = someone who has never told you anything about adoption and being adopted you didn’t want to hear. (Trust me, we’ve all known that person and haven’t wasted our time). And your definition of a mal-adjusted adoptee = has just told you something that you didn’t want to hear about the challenges of being adopted.
The problem goes deeper than the term and how it was/is used:
While it seeks to divide adoptees into either good or bad, and seeks to silence the adoptee, more than that, it’s also a term I don’t think is typically used today to describe adults, and that’s problematic when used to describe an adult adoptee. Ask yourself if you’ve ever had anyone refer to adoptive parents as well-adjusted or mal-adjusted, the same for first parents, or if you’ve ever heard it used to reference an adult. Then ask yourself why would a term used most often to describe the psychological well-being of a child be used to describe an adopted adult, unless it was used to diminish the validity of the one speaking.
The impact and price paid by the one adopted:
The power and privilege held by adoptive parents in the adoption community is what allows some to feel it is completely acceptable to divide adoptees into two types of people: “the well-adjusted ones” and “the mal-adjusted ones”. Which then feeds into the existing stereotypes that tell others that adoptees are either good adoptees or bad adoptees.
That either/or attitude comes at a price for adoptees:
It strips the adoptee of their voice to tell their own story, it tells them to be heard they don’t have the right to feel however they feel about their experience and the journey they’ve travelled. That if they want to be part of the community their primary objective is to make everyone else in adoption feel good. That by being honest in any part of their story that isn’t positive, has repercussions because adoptees are just there to be the cheerleaders and validate the adoptive parents choices.
It also speaks directly to the power imbalance within adoption:
I’d challenge you to examine if your default assumption is that adoptive parents are good, know best, that they should be believed and respected. If you do, do you have that same default belief for adoptees, or do you have some hidden biases that would have you nodding your head when someone brings out the well-adjusted adoptee they know to contradict the other adoptee.
Note: This took me a while to find the words needed to get my point across and days later I’m not sure I succeeded, I look forward to hearing your take. I guess the underlying message is to be aware of the gaslighting that happens in the adoption community (all sides do it), but the power imbalance factors into it and the hidden biases need to be understood.