When I was young, a crazy and wonderful uncle, my mother's younger brother, drove a car like this:
And it had a sticker on the back that looked like this:
And I thought that the whole combination was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Obviously I had no idea what the sticker meant. I knew it meant something cool, because my uncle was cool, and the car was hilariously cool, so the sticker must be cool, but I didn't know what that cool meaning actually was. So I asked my mother.
"Mummy, what is a parra-digg-em?" I asked, my little eyes as round as saucers.
"Why do you ask, O beloved daughter of mine?" she no doubt replied.
"I want to know what it means to subvert the dominant parra-digg-em".
And then she said "Oh" because she had seen the sticker too, of course. Then she answered "Well, a para-dime is like an idea or a way of thinking, and the dominant paradigm is the most common way of thinking, the way that everybody thinks. Subvert means to work against something, so subvert the dominant paradigm means to think differently from how everyone else is thinking and act to change it". (I've said before that my mother is a teacher, right?)
Well, okay then. I was duly impressed. My mother ended up driving that car, sadly sans sticker, but I've thought about the sentiment off and on in the years since. And I'm thinking about it again now, obviously. I've been reading back through a lot (and I mean a lot) of blogs over the last few days, (for reasons that are very sensible (trust me) but which I don't want to go into right now). Anyway. It's been particularly interesting to read a lot of adult adoptee and first mother blogs at the same time as a lot of adoptive parent blogs. What I'm noticing is just how unexpectedly similar we can all sound, while drawing totally different conclusions. I've been interested to find just how often different triad members say:
Everybody thinks that adoption is like this, and they are wrong, and here's why.
We are all trying to subvert the dominant paradigm.
The problem is, we don't agree on what the dominant paradigm is.
Speaking as a fertility-challenged adoptive parent, when I wonder 'how does the world view adoption?' my answer would probably be: everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids'.
This was especially true when we were at the beginning of our process - making decisions and telling people. These painful messages were what I felt like I was getting. It hurt. It was really, really important to me to speak out against that attitude, to write about it, and to do what I could to act to change it. (It still is). I had never talked to people very much about adoption before that point in my life. When people said "you're adopting? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that" it really shaped how I felt like the world viewed adoption, how the world viewed my family. Negative, negative, negative. Comments like that helped to build my view of the dominant paradigm.
But this is obviously not the dominant paradigm that many adult adoptees (and first mothers) see.
If I was going to summarise the dominant paradigm, the 'everybody thinks' that I think is often operating on the other side of the triad fence, it would be this: everybody thinks adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up.
And thinking about me, thinking about my own life experience, thinking about what I have experienced, that doesn't feel like the dominant paradigm to me. And honestly - that's why I sometimes get really frustrated reading adult adoptee blogs. Not for the reason that is sometimes assumed - because I want to deny adoption loss - believe me, I'm fully convinced of the reality and importance of adoption loss. Nope - it's because I disagree about what the assumptions are about what everybody thinks. Because honestly, I don't think any of those things. And anyway, I know what everybody thinks, everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids'. Right? Right?
And then I think about my kids, as they grow up. I really didn't think very much about adoption before I decided to do it. My children are going to live with adoption every day of their lives. And we're in different positions, so we will get different messages. I'm the parent, so people relate to me as someone who might have had other, biological, children, and didn't. That affects what they say to me about adoption. But my children are going to get their first, and by far their most dominant, adoption messages from us, from me and J. My children will grow up hearing how much we love them and even if we don't do the happy-shiny-look-there's-a-unicorn version of adoption (which we won't) they are still going to get the overwhelming impression that we are glad we adopted them (because we are) and that we think their adoption was, on balance, a good thing (because we do). (For them, in their specific situation. Not saying adoption is always good, so please don't hear that). Positive, positive, positive.
And my children are going to get a very different set of messages about adoption from the wider world than I do. Honestly? Most of the time, nobody is talking or caring about adoption. Which is a separate issue. But when they do talk about it, if some people feel a bit sorry for me because I don't have bio kids (which is stupid), an equal number of people will probably feel like my kids should be grateful because they get to grow up in the West (which is equally stupid). These are two equally ill-informed messages about adoption being sent. Two different ways to build up what I see, what they see, as the dominant paradigm. The one I get is a message telling me adoption is bad, the one my kids get is telling them adoption is good.
Equal ignorance about the issues, totally different messages. I guess that is one of the reasons why adoptees experience as much dissonance reading AP blogs as we do, the other way around, even when everyone is well intentioned. They see that we are operating under an assumption of everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids' and want to spew milk out of their collective noses. Seriously? You people think THAT is the dominant paradigm?
But we're all getting different messages. So when I say everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids' please believe that I really experience this, in my specific situation as an adoptive parent.
And if you say: everybody thinks adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up, I will believe that you experience this, too.
I think that it would be a good thing if all members of the triad were able to remember that we are all getting a different set of messages from the world. We all get a different set of messages about what everybody thinks. I can't know what it's like growing up with parents who always talk about my adoption as a wonderful, lucky thing, because that hasn't happened to me. I can't know what messages I would find most painful as a first mother because I haven't been there, either. You can't know what messages it sends when people look at your beloved children and feel a little bit sorry for you, if that hasn't happened to you.
So many different messages. There really is no one dominant paradigm in adoption. And that is its own lesson, I think. We probably need to be careful - all of us - about drawing conclusions about majority opinion from the minority who make our hackles rise. Most people are not stupid. Most people are not unkind. Talking to myself most of all, here. And where possible we should probably try to keep it in the first person, speaking for ourselves, using 'feeling words', rather than deciding what other people think. "I feel like everybody thinks the following terribly offensive thing" is probably an improvement on the same sentence without those first three words. (One important fact I've learned recently in
arguments discussions with my husband is that if I put the words "I feel like" in front of my argument, I cannot be wrong. It's awesome. Try it).
But in the meantime:
'adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids' &
'adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up'
I think both of those paradigms are worth subverting. Where people do think either of those things, or anything else that we know to be wrong or unkind or unhelpful, we should act for change.
So I guess we should all keep on writing. Back to your keyboards, girls.