The Meaning of “Adopted”

I don’t spend most of my time focused on the fact that I’m adopted. That’s not to say that I am not acutely aware of it, but I don’t obsess about it or spend every waking moment thinking about the implications of being adopted. Most of the time it’s just like any other fact about me – it just is and doesn’t demand much thought or explanation. Granted the reunions with my natural families have brought it to the forefront in the last two years, but even that has just become part of the fabric of my life now. On most days, I’m just being me and that means I have lots of families. All of this is true on most days. Today is not one of those days.

Today, I am wondering what it really means to be adopted. My day started innocently enough. I went to the gym, led a lunch and learn opportunity, ate a late lunch with a client, and answered emails. Then, I went for an afternoon haircut. And that’s where my day shifted. The conversation in the shop was pretty casual and focused on the fact that an individual’s mom just celebrated a birthday. The lady telling the story explained that her mom is now 83, but they put the candles on the cake backwards so it would say 38. Of course, her mom got a big kick out of that fact and snickered because the daughter always says she’s 39, which prompted the mom to say, “Oh, I guess I couldn’t have had you. You must be adopted.” The daughter laughed while telling the story and noted, “Well, if I was adopted at least I was wanted by someone.”

Ouch. Is that what adoption really means? That someone wanted me – with a heavy dose of implication that someone else did not? I have to admit, that thought stinks. Not just for me, but for all adopted kids. I’ve always thought it was a bit more complicated. That my parents probably did want me, but life circumstances led them to make a decision to give me to someone else rather than keep me. Now that I’ve heard their stories, I think that is true. But not every adopted kid has heard their parents’ perspectives. And that means there may be a bunch of kids who really stress over that heavy dose of implication. Wanted by some, but not by all.

Interestingly, I’ve often struggled with what it really means to be adopted. As I was growing up, my parents had a tendency to “claim” people – meaning they would take them in (sometimes physically, but always emotionally) and support them. In fact, they still do that, which I think is cool. But in introducing those folks to others, they would often say something like, “this is our adopted son/daughter.” In some ways, I knew I was distinguished from those individuals because I was never introduced as adopted, but because I knew I was adopted, I wondered if there really was a difference between them and me. I have always been a good thinker, so I often rationalized the distinctions – for instance, I was living in the home and the “adopted son/daughter” was not – but I still struggled with the idea that I might not be so different from one of those people. That in reality, it could have easily been one of them living with my family rather than me if the timing would have been different.

One of the cool things that has come from my reunion with my natural families is that I’ve seen where I belong with both families. But on days like today, when I struggle to understand what this whole adoption thing really means, I wonder if it’s more like I don’t quite belong to either family. And that thought does not help my already well-established tendency to believe I should rely only on myself because you never know when someone might walk away (by the way, this is apparently a common reaction in adopted kids).

I realize this post isn’t exactly encouraging, but it’s real. And because I was still thinking about it after a 2-hour lawn-mowing expedition, dinner, and an ice cream cone, I figured I better get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Here’s to hoping the next post is more positive. In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop thinking and get some rest. Hope you guys have a great night!

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3 comments on “The Meaning of “Adopted”

  1. Betty says:

    Becky – that is a very heart touching post. So much so that i plan to share it. When we talk we might think the things we say are only words with ‘my’ meaning; but to the listeners (each being different) they can have so many different meanings than the one intended. Betty

  2. Adoptive mama says:

    I am an adoptive mother. I read many, many adoptee blogs, hoping to grasp and be able to fully understand how my toddler will feel. One thing you said in this older post grasped me. I am not adopted. However, I never truly felt I could rely on anyone either. As a teen, I often felt that I in no way belonged in my family. I love them. We are close, but I am on the outside looking in sometimes. The more I read, the more I know that adoptees and non adoptees often experience the same feelings and pains. I believe that there is this brokenness in many forms because we live in a fallen world. The only one we can count on in is Jesus. In a perfect world, there would be no adoption because every child would be born into homes and families that could take care and love on the child as much as they needed. But alas, we are fallen, we mess up. But behold, there is a God who takes ashes and makes beauty. Identity found in earthly relationships will never be able to entirely fulfill us. The loss we feel when we feel that we cannot rely on others is misplaced. We cannot rely on ourselves either. We can only rely on a God who’s ways are higher than our ways and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts and let go of the fear that He might not be good like we think good should be. He knows our frame, he knows the beginning from the end and He is love. The place we are put in is exactly as He would have us be. Human failures don’t surprise Him. We only need to trust Him and thus experience the peace and take pleasure in the beauty He is making out of the ashes that surround us.

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