The well-adjusted adoptee…

03 Oct

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. 







Posted by on October 3, 2018 in Adoption, adoptive parents


Tags: , ,

23 responses to “The well-adjusted adoptee…

  1. Dannie

    October 3, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    “well adjusted”, “mal adjusted (no issues being adopted”…..”I know xxxx, they’re adopted and they are fine”……so many boxes to put people in. If society itself could just realize it’s an ebb and flow thing and feelings are unique, maybe they would let go of pretty little boxes.

    Been in deep thought since last night….let’s face it TV shows are pretty unrealistic with 99% of adoption story lines…..I was watching “this is us” and Randall who was adopted and part of a caucasion family (he’s black) is very successful, has a great family, loves his family, (so much has gone on in previous seasons so i won’t recap) however, last night at the end of this episode, hes frustrated and tells his wife that he just has a hard time “fitting in”, sometimes he tries too hard, sometimes people think he doesn’t try enough, and he gets lost as to where he fits in….then he was sad because he learned his sister was frustrated trying to get pregnant and saying she’s the only one that can pass on dad’s genes, which then sent him into a funk because again, the “fitting in”.

    I totally went on and on, but just an example that people have unique feelings in adoption and can be really happy with their family, yet it’s still a complication and compilation of feelings throughout life and they can’t just be put in neat boxes. it doesn’t work that way.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TAO

      October 3, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      But how to get people to understand I guess is the age old question…at least you’ve validated that I made sense (somewhat)…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dannie

    October 3, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    entering another comment to say i made a fragment, i meant to finish the sentence of TV shows being pretty unrealistic 99% of the time, but i think they did pretty good last night with the complexity of emotions surrounding adoption events in adulthood.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Mws R

    October 3, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Being an adopted one…
    I feel that your points were made but not so clear cut. Each adopted person has a right to voice their feelings, display their feelings, etc. They are most affected when told to be quiet or not to discuss those feelings, questions, or even concerns.
    I understand your points but sometimes the adoptive parents indirectly or directly impacted their adoptee…the adoptee can feel they have no rights, no opinions, etc.
    You can’t gather all sorts of eggs from all over and get the same yoke, taste, or color. Same with adoption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TAO

      October 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Mws R – and welcome. I really struggled with this post and for the life of me could not make it clear.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. cb

    October 3, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    I have no desire to be someone’s else’s version of a “well adjusted adoptee”. I’m a happy person and I think I’m pretty OK and have handed everything with my adoption pretty well so I just feel like gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes when people do the “other adoptee” thing.

    I also get a bit angry on behalf of the “other adoptee” who has been used by a third party when that third party really has no real idea of how the “other adoptee” has processed their adoption. So people, stop using “other adoptees” to silence others, it is not fair on us OR them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TAO

      October 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      Me either, just want to be who I am at this particular point in the journey.


  5. eagoodlife

    October 4, 2018 at 1:09 am

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    So true!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nara

    October 4, 2018 at 4:37 am

    I think it’s hard to describe. My main issue is adoptees being set up against each other, as if any of them had the control over what happened to them when they got adopted. It’s the ultimate reductio ad absurdum, that an adoptee had any control over the circumstances they found themselves in – the adoptive parents and family they got – and therefore should be lauded or vilified for it.

    Most of the time I think “well adjusted” means doesn’t talk much about adoption or hasn’t really thought critically about adoption or hasn’t examined the problematic aspects of global adoption – but that’s okay. I think the adoptee community can be a bit vicious to those they deem “happy” or “in the fog” and those adoptees have as much right to their truths as any other adoptees. The issue is the polarisation of adoptees which are forced into the false dichotomy of happy/sad (or well adjusted / mal adjusted). It’s not that simple.

    I feel like every adoptee I’ve ever met, no matter how outwardly happy, has some kind of internal feeling about their adoption. Some keep it more well hidden but it’s there. I definitely found it easier in the days when I didn’t really think that much / deeply about adoption. But do I feel regret for opening that can of worms? Not entirely. It has helped me understand more about who I am, even if I haven’t gone that far in doing anything about it.

    I’m probably one who was often held up as a happy / well-adjusted adoptee. And I would say to that: You don’t know the half of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TAO

      October 4, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      The polarization is real for sure and it deeply saddens me – all of us, adopted or not do not remain the same throughout life, our views are shaped by our lived experiences. Thanks Nara


    • subjecttopressure

      November 28, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      What a good point about us being turned against each other, as if our narrative is only valid as long as we all agree about our experiences and have some kind of overarching cohesiveness. Reality is that it takes time to realize what has happened to us and our experiences have layers that cannot be distilled to one simple GOOD/BAD outcome.


  7. beth62

    October 4, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Well adjusted adult human,
    well adjusted adult Adoptee.
    Is it the same thing to some people?
    Which is more important? When? Why? To who?

    Can being well adjusted to a false narrative, or other people’s narratives, be considered as well adjusted or mal-adjusted for a human adult?
    Can an adult Adoptee be well adjusted to their Adoptive life and family, and be a mal-adjusted or unadjusted adult?
    Or be mal-adjusted to their Adoptive life and family, and be well adjusted as an adult human?

    I think only the adult in question gets to make that call.

    I also think anyone who would label an adult, that they don’t even know, as a mal-adjusted Adoptee, is having a real hard time adjusting well as an Adopted parent.

    I also don’t think “adult” has to be attached to “mal-adjusted Adoptee”. It’s just an extra word thrown in there that adds no meaning to it. Adult has nothing to do with that label.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TAO

      October 4, 2018 at 1:51 pm

      totally different definitions between human and adoptee for sure – one loves life, the other loves all things adoption…


  8. beth62

    October 5, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Started my day with a chuckle. Somebody asked me what I would do the next time somebody uses me as an example of a well adjusted Adoptee.
    Exactly how does a mal adjusted Adoptee behave in public? What is the big sign that an adult is a mal adjusted Adoptee? Maybe I could pull it off 🙂

    Is it all about the fear in the A Mom/The Mom paradox? What is it that triggers the mal-adjusted Adoptee insult?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TAO

      October 5, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      It’s fear for sure Beth. Fear adoption isn’t the win/win/win people unrealistically want it to be because adoptees are human and we feel…

      Liked by 1 person

      • beth62

        October 5, 2018 at 5:55 pm

        Humans really are just entirely too annoying some days.
        I guess there was once a day when I believed humans should, and would, think what I want them to think, too.
        That was a short day for me! 😀

        Liked by 2 people

    • subjecttopressure

      November 28, 2018 at 8:04 pm

      Yes, please – give us a description! Since people have labeled me as “well-adjusted” (which is really ironic considering how my AP insisted I was always very “mal-adjusted”) for being a functional adult human being, what is the inference that the other term means? Addict? Unable to have relationship? In a psych ward? What?


  9. Lynne Miller

    October 10, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Well-adjusted and mal-adjusted are just two simplistic ways to describe adoptees. Adoption is complicated and affects people differently. Let’s respect adoptees and listen to what they have to say about their feelings and experiences before we label them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TAO

      October 11, 2018 at 3:31 am

      Yes please – it seems like such a logical request, but in reality it seems we can’t convince them to treat us as humans.


  10. beth62

    October 12, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve tried to avoid being the annoying history lady. The more I think on it, the more I think I should try to answer the question you asked.

    The first thing that runs through my mind when I hear the adjusted comments?
    Im instantly taken to 1820, 1830.

    Civilize, christianize and educate, or remove.

    I think of my grandparents that started Mission School in Valleytown. Where I just happen to be sitting this morning, enjoying my coffee and beautiful view. I think of my grandparents who were able to adjust their lives and culture so that they could remain in their ancestral lands. I think of my grandparents that did what they had to do politically to remain with their mother, their land of birth, the land where many generations remain deep in it’s soil. I think of my grandparents who were rounded up and forcibly removed and made to walk to their new “home”. I think of my grandfather’s who led them and kept them walking. I think of my grandparents who cried and died along the way, and treated with no respect, treated as animals, not children of our great creater that we all are. I think of my grandparents who escaped and hid in the mountains to resist removal and loss of their way of life. I think of my grandparents that assisted them. I think of my mixed blood red headed preacher grandparents who wrote it all down for me to read one day, in English and Cherokee, when it was safe to speak of with out fear of…. it was their hope, that day would come. I think of my grandparents that were murdered in horrific ways for refusing to relinquish their culture, lands, family members, and those killed by disease. I think of my grandparents who were taken into slavery. I think of Andrew Jackson, and get shivers when I see his portrait hanging behind our sitting president. I think of the bible he attempted to publish to control his society. I think of Hitler stating he used Jacksons ideas for removal, and what a brilliant man he was.

    I could go on. I just ask anyone that reads this to go on and learn the history. It’s out there now, not as hidden, no need to call it false anymore. Or speak of Mal adjusted “humans” ever again, anywhere.

    These are not simple words, a good way to look at humans amoungst us or innocent concepts to me, in any way.
    These ideas are used by people who want something for themselves. A gain, a win. Whether it be gold, god, land, blood or flesh.

    Love you TAO, thanks for resisting this. Thanks for putting light on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. taoistmindset

    November 3, 2018 at 2:28 am

    I found this post very relatable. In using the term “well adjusted adoptee”, especially when talking to an adopted child is manipulative at best. It makes any questions or issues they are having and turns it around to make them seem odd in some way. It happens often to adoptee children, when they have any feelings that don’t go along with fairytale narratives.


    • TAO

      November 3, 2018 at 3:47 am

      Thank you.



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