So, say you want to start a family, and you can’t decide between adoption or having your own kid (I’m not a fan of the wording here because when you adopt, you still “have your own kid,” but I think you know I mean creating a biological son or daughter). If you’re weighing the two options, you may be likely to think, as many often do when trying to make that tough decision, “Well, I want my kid to look like me. I want my kid to share in my family history. I want my kid to inherit my talents and gifts and those of my ancestors.” I can certainly understand why those reasons may be on your list. Who doesn’t want a mini version of themselves? Even Dr. Evil wanted his own replica running amok to create chaos in the world.
And at the same time, when biological inheritance is held over and above adoption, as if to imply that your relationship to your mini version of yourself will be more special than your relationship to an adoptee, that perpetuates a second-class citizenship and contributes to negative attitudes toward adoptees in our culture. Let me be clear: there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting your kid to look similar, to share gifts and talents and family history. But when those things are cited as reasons why you shouldn’t adopt, it’s proof of how misunderstood adoption is in our society.
Say, for example, you’re a mother who adopts a kid into your family at birth. Are you immediately disappointed that she doesn’t have your nose? (Some of us might actually be thankful our kid didn’t inherit our noses). If she has golden blonde hair and everyone in your family has black, curly hair, it might be fair game that you would be worried how other people might perceive that, but here’s an interesting question: are you, as a parent of Goldilocks, more than likely to take up for her when and if people start asking annoying questions that highlight the differences? Are you offended when they question whether she’s your daughter, because, “Damn-straight she’s my daughter; stop being racist jerks,” or does something like that make you wish you’d never adopted someone who looks so different? In other words, will you look at her with disgust and wish she had your naturally curly hair, or do you just love her and her beautiful, blonde locks?
As the kid gets older, and you’re helping her cultivate her own talents and gifts, do you love her less because she wanted to take ballet instead of your old gig – soccer? Do you see that choice as related to the fact that she’s adopted, or do you figure it’s just as likely that your biological kid might have made some of the same choices that didn’t always match what you were hoping for? If she loves art, something you and no one in your family was ever good at beyond stick figures, do you discourage her artistic talent? Do you think you’ll be earnestly disappointed that your kid is a natural Leonardo da Vinci (or Mary Cassatt), or instead, are you just a proud parent knowing your kid is exploring their gifts and damn good at a new talent?
Say, you’re on a visit to see your biological Mom and Dad (I’m calling them your “biological Mom and Dad” to point out how stupid that sounds). Do you show your adopted daughter old family albums and let Granny and Paw-Paw tell her old family stories about that one time you got a woopin’ for trying to run away? Or, do you assume that she has no reason to care, because she’s adopted and it’s not literally her family history? Do you even let her call them Granny and Paw-Paw, or have you created some name that reminds her and everyone that you think the relationship is artificial: “This is Steven and Brenda, my parents.” Do you, like Royal Tenenbaum, always introduce your daughter to friends and extended family: “Hello, this is my adopted daughter, Margot Tenenbaum.” In other words, do you make a point to constantly remind your kid that they’re adopted, which sets them aside as “different,” or more simply, do you just love them like they’re your own – to the degree that the word “like” is irrelevant, because they are your own?
Some of those questions may seem like false dichotomies. Deciding to adopt can be a lot more complicated than “do you just love the kid or not.” Sometimes, in fact, there are some important differences between biological and adopted children, and a healthy discussion about those differences can be really important to consider. After all, differences (and likenesses), even in the biological family, should be celebrated and discussed, not hidden.
And yet, sitting back and contemplating how you might respond to each of these questions raises an important point about adoption: most of us would generally want to believe we would fall into the category of being able to love the kid no matter what. We’d like to think we could see past the adoption and let the kid be our own. After all, that’s exactly what adoption is supposed to do. It doesn’t exist to create a fictive kinship. It’s not an artificial relationship. It says to would-be parents: this is a relationship born out of choice. It’s the very same kind of choices biological parents have to make every day if they’re going to be good parents – choices to love, choices to nurture, choices to do what’s best for your kid. The only difference, really, is that adoption asks parents to consider and commit to the choice before the child is theirs. Biological parents are not afforded that luxury as blatantly.
And so with every one of the questions above, for parents struggling to decide whether to adopt, if you can’t understand that this kid is going to be your very own kid, as if they were your very flesh and blood, then maybe you should think very seriously about not adopting. In fact, maybe you should think very seriously about not having kids at all. Because if it’s that important to you that your kid look like you, act like you, and share your genetic code, that probably says a hell of a lot more about you than it says about adoption.