You’ve probably seen Annie or Oliver so you know about adoption? The tear stained lovable but unloved child that overcomes adversity to make good with some benevolent and well healed adoptive parents. Happily ever after I suppose. Perhaps. I’ve been an adoptive parent for 18 years and my family’s lived reality unsurprisingly doesn’t quite reflect that narrative.
It’s an uphill struggle to get the truth about the reality of contemporary adoptive life out. When people realise I’m an adoptive parent they mist up, smile and tell me I’m doing an amazing thing as they gently pat my forearm. I try to tell them about the reality and the challenges of parenting that are unique to adoption but they’re not having it. Issues of identity, hyper-vigilance, stalled grief and the long-term physical, emotional and behavioural challenges are often unpalatable and unimaginable, after all little orphan Annie was ok wasn’t she?
Popular perception of adoption remains influenced and reinforced by films like Matilda and themes in films like Lilo and Stitch and Elf, where happily ever afters are always possible, even after a little struggle, hold sway. Added to that, popular programmes like Long Lost Families present the ‘it will be ok in the end’ narrative, where much loved children are reunited 50 years after they were given away under duress. All is fixed in the end, the music swells and presenters discretely step back to offer privacy in this special moment.
The reality for many children adopted now is very different. The threshold for placing children adoption has raised since the 1950s & 60s and now a much larger percentage of adopted children have lived through abusive and traumatic experiences that cast long shadows across their lives. Shadows that cannot be erased by the application of a little love, clean sheets, routine and a song and dance number. Ask an adopter why their child isn’t ‘over it’ yet and don’t be surprised if you’re given short thrift.
Before we adopted, my wife and I bought into the ‘happily ever…