Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chosen? Words in Adoption

This post might be a little on the controversial side and part of me hopes that I don't press 'publish' at the end of the writing of these words.  But in my endeavour to educate myself about all matters adoption and to be the best parent I can be (which is often not very great, I'll freely admit it), I think I need to say this.  My thoughts are not completely formed on this matter, but I'm going to give it a go and perhaps some of you might be able to shed further or different light on my perspective.

Since adopting, I've had to think through all sorts of issues and even words that I would never have thought to worry about before.  I read blogs of several adult adoptees that push me in how I think about my kids and the trauma-induced holes in their hearts and how I choose to parent them.  I think a lot and struggle a lot and devote a lot of mental energy to how to engage my kids on these and other issues in ways that will give them all the best chances of being mentally/psychologically/spiritually healthy as they mature.

One word that I take issue with in the adoption world is the word 'chosen.'  I hear this word used often and heavily by many adoptive parents, and even occasionally by their adopted children.  It's a pretty commonly used word.  In the past, prior to my kids entering our family, I also used it a couple of times...though I have to say that even then it felt somehow wrong.

The theory behind the word is, I suppose, lovely.  I used to be friendlier towards this word than I am today, simply because the intentions are honourable.  The word is intended to assure a child who has been adopted that they have been selected, chosen - for this particular family, for these parents who have adopted them.  They have been chosen for this family - either by the birth parents themselves, or by God, or by the adoptive parents.  Regardless of who has done the choosing, the idea is that these children are special because they have been selected to be a part of their adoptive family's life forever.  An adoptive parent who's blog I occasionally read, said this to the children she and her husband adopted:  "You can feel special, because you were chosen for adoption by your parents."

Sounds like this comes from an honourable place, right?  It does.

But it's bullshit.  IMHO.

Sorry for the language.

But really.

'Chosen' is a cringe-worthy word for me as it relates to adoption.  It's a word that, in my opinion, is used to help everyone other than the adopted child feel better about a situation that had nothing to with the child's own choices...and yet we continue to use it in application to the child who has been adopted and, with the word, push a meaning onto them that is not our call to make.

The reality, from my perspective, and I've said it here before, the reality is that children are intended for their first parents.  From my perspective as a Christian, I'd say it this way:  If these are chosen children, they were chosen by their Creator to be the children of the parents who birthed them.  Surely, if I believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God, it's not a stretch to believe that He knew what He was doing when he placed that baby into that woman's uterus - I can't believe that He made a mistake by putting two of our children into the belly of their first mama.  It is only because of our screwed up world that the natural order of things got messed up and I was able to adopt my children.  It is my blessing as their adoptive parent to have them in my's not necessarily a blessing for them and they certainly never chose to be relinquished or to be parented by anyone other than their birth parents.

And if one wants to argue that it is the adoptive parents who choose their children, well then, let's push that a little further.  Did Geoff and I really choose the two children that we adopted?  Well, in a sense, I suppose we did, and the obvious answer is "yes" because we engaged in an an adoption process, and ultimately agreed to a referral of children that were proposed to us.  But doesn't choice imply a plethora of options to choose from?  Many adoptive parents have run out of options before arriving at that place - I'm not saying this is wrong, but I am quibbling about the appropriateness of the word 'chosen.'  And when we were presented with a referral, we (appropriately so) were never given an array of children to choose from.  And doesn't choice further imply a sense of knowledge as to what we were getting into?  The reality is that we knew nothing about Seth and Lizzie prior to taking custody of them, and nothing about how life would change after bringing them into our family.  The reality is that we waited a decade to be presented with these children we knew nothing about - I don't know of many/any adoptive parents who say no in that moment of felt more like a leap of faith than a choice.

What about the birth parents choosing the adoptive parents?  Would that make it appropriate to call a child who has been adopted chosen?  I'm not even so sure about that.  Certainly in the world of international adoption, the first parent has no choice about which foreign parent will raise their precious child(ren).  Even in the sphere of domestic adoption (which I know far less about), I sometimes wonder about whether or not that birth mother feels genuine choice, rather than the pressure or coercion of circumstance or individuals or agencies.

I just don't really see how a child of adoption can be considered chosen, other than for their first parents.

Does this change how very much I wanted/want them, how deeply I love my children?  Does it alter the fact that I would do anything, anything for my children?  Of course not.  They are my children now, and nothing will every change that.  They are also the children of their first parents, and nothing will ever change that either.

In fact, I love them so much that I am absolutely and unapologetically and unabashedly sensitive to words that undermine, even though paved with good intentions, the trauma and root-up-ripping that they have gone through.  How selfish and naive and arrogant of me to think that they are my 'chosen' children or that God chose them not for their first family but for me.  Although heaven knows we will do our absolute best to provide them with the best life possible, although hopefully they will live a life that is good and fulfilling and healthy, though I will love them to distraction for eternity, there is simply nothing chosen about what they've gone through...and yet we tend to burden them with that word.  We're making the best of circumstances that neither God chose for them, nor our children for themselves.  (Note: I do believe that God knew before our children were born that their first parents would be unable to parent them through to adulthood and I also believe that He knew and/or planned that we would then be the ones to raise them)  With no choice in the matter whatsoever, Seth and Lizzie will bear for the rest of their lives the consequences of a fallen world and the subsequent actions that their parents (first and adoptive) took.

I trouble over words too much at times, no doubt.  Maybe you think I'm being far too picky.  Some of you may want to wordsmith me away.  My own sister has often accused me of being too "high falutin'" in my verbosity and word choices.   Sometimes I'd like to shut myself up.

I'm not trying to offend anyone, much less other well-intentioned and hard-working and seriously-committed adoptive parents.  I know first hand what it takes and it's not a road easily traveled.  But adoption is far too much about the adoptive parents than it rightfully should be.  Adoption is focused on the needs/wants of the adoptive parents for years before an adoption actually happens and a child, a real child, enters into the picture.

And I've come to believe that this perspective is wrong.  It's not about me.  It's not about me having chosen these children.

It is about, should be about, the children.

As much as my children love me, I don't think they would want to be considered 'chosen' or 'special' or as 'set apart' when those words mean, for them, that they were chosen to be separated from the loving people who birthed and cared for them; that they were chosen to have a hole in their hearts that will always hearken back to that little kebele in Ethiopia; that they were chosen to leave everything near and dear in order to join our family.  Doesn't that sound to you like a pretty big burden to carry on those young shoulders?  I cringe just at the thought of explaining to them how they might be considered chosen.

I don't like to think of my precious, creatively designed, knit-together-in-their-mother's-womb, Ethiopian-born children as being chosen by anyone other than God for their first parents.  Anything else just sounds far too noble a characterization for what these kids have gone through.

It's us, we adoptive parents, who for whatever reason have been chosen - chosen to be blessed by our children's presence in our lives.  We are the undoubted winners in this situation, the ones blessed beyond measure.


  1. Ruth,
    You are a brave person to post this and to face so fully into the trauma your two youngest have gone through. That's a really really hard thing to do when you love them so very much and don't want them to hurt. A while back I watched part of that video you posted that follows the adoption process from beginning to "end," and I must admit I couldn't watch more than 10 minutes, it was so painful. You're honouring that with your thoughtfulness and care now in speaking about adoption. It's not high falutin. It's really deliberate and deeply considerate, and no doubt the words we choose can have a big impact on how we act and live. Your kids are super duper brave and awesome, and we like you all a lot.

  2. Thanks thoughtful! I appreciate your kind words...and we like you all an awful lot, too!



  3. THanks Shauna...much appreciated. I didn't even know that you read my blog...I'm honoured and glad you're here!