Thursday, December 15, 2011

Just because the word is the same does not make every part equal.

I'm just going to put this out there with little editing because by the time I figure out my thoughts about it, I may never get around to writing it down, and I think it's something worth discussing.

Someone told me today that her son, a friend of Abe's, asked her what adoption means. She answered him something about how it's what happens when a mom and dad have a child they can't take care of, so another family decides to make that child their family instead. Fair enough. I was impressed by the simplicity of the explanation.

But then. Oh, but then.

She followed it up with telling me that she talked to her son about how it's the same as what happens when people adopt dogs who don't have someone to take care of them. Her eyes lit up when she told me that this last bit about abandoned dogs is what really hit home for her son (as if a child in need of a family is less real to him?).

I knew that it hit a nerve with me but I'm still processing my thoughts about why I bristled at my children being compared to abandoned animals.

I put a query out there about it on fb and got some interesting responses, some people even telling me that I shouldn't be bothered by it because our kids are going to hear this kind of stuff and better to talk about it openly with them than get all upset about it. Again, fair enough. I agree. But it did bother me, and I'm torn about whether to talk to the woman about it or not. Is it worth it to try to explain to her that we don't compare our own children to dogs in animal shelters, and that this concept might be hurtful to our kids?

A friend of mine who hasn't adopted herself but who is a new mom and who has more sense and understanding than most anybody I know told me, "People have shitty dumb ideas about adoption and they’re going to keep passing them on without ever seeing their stupidity even if you point it out to them. If you do, in their minds, you’ll be oversensitive. The best thing you can do for her boy is to show him “adoption” by having him be around your family. He’ll know Abe isn’t the world’s saddest dog with a yeast infection and British teeth."

It made me laugh. I think she's probably right. It's just that in my protective yearning to keep my kids from ever experiencing pain of any kind makes it really hard not to say anything. Another plus to bringing it up with the other parent is that maybe she truly is unaware that this comparison is hurtful and she could actually learn something. Maybe bringing it up with the teacher is the right way? I'm really not sure.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, should anyone still read this blog.


Anonymous said...

Lori: My two cents for what it is worth. I understand from your side why this would be hurtful having your child compared to an animal, but for the Mom I am guessing she was seeking a way to help her child relate. In their world that is the closest thing this child probably has seen to a living being needing a home and someone to care for them. Of course your children are more sacred and precious than animals but for kids I am not sure the distinction is as clear. Think of what they relate to in much of their programming, books, etc. animals used to represent humans. If a story were written about adoption using animal characters would you be offended? For me as someone who adopts her animals with a "no matter what you are ours, and I am yours" mentality some of the comparisons if stated the right way do not seem negative unless they are framed that way.

Step Morgan said...

Thanks for posting this, Lori. And thanks for inviting us to respond. My guess is there are a lot of us who read but rarely comment. I hope that won't be the case with this post. The issue is definitely worth discussing.

Like you, I had a strong reaction to the idea that the adoption of kids and dogs is more or less the same. I appreciate your friends' counsel to expect these sort of comments and handle them carefully. But I don't think we have to give up hope that people might be persuaded to change their mind. The one friend is right, pointing out someone's stupidity certainly isn't the approach to take.

I think you are already on the right track. Voice your concern and have a discussion. What if you followed up by saying, "I've been thinking about our conversation. I'm troubled by the idea of comparing our children to animals in a shelter. I'm concerned it might be hurtful to our kids. Can we talk about this?"?

That she bothered to tell you about it, even if it was just in passing, seems to suggest she feels like she has some sort of relationship with you. I hope you will find her to be someone who is willing to engage in thoughtful discussion.

Regardless, please do continue the discussion here. I think your story raises two very important questions: "what is the value of a person?" and "how should we relate to the people around us?".

What do you think?

Sharon said...

I cringed when I started reading about the comparison to dogs in an animal shelter. You are not oversensitive-it's so hard to know how to deal with these situations. Just ran smak dab into a situation of our own today and thinking about how best to deal with it...and not let myself be completely irritated the rest of the day.

Tim said...

I guess I'm with Anonymous, but that's probably because my dog is one of the great loves of my life. Also because I tend to like animals more than people.

I feel zinged all the time by carelessness and sometimes I wish I'd gracefully put a hand up in the moment. After the fact it's always loaded and weird and I end up apologizing for even bringing it up and then I blush and stammer if the person is good and kind enough to apologize for being a bonehead. Sometimes it's worth such bumbling.

I wonder if it's important to recognize that this woman hurt your feelings, or troubled or frustrated or enraged or whatever feeling she provoked. She didn't hurt your child's. Abe might not find that comparison off-putting or awkward (though I probably would if I was Abe or Ava).

Tim said...

Also, yeast infection and British teeth? Is this the equivalent of "yada yada yada"?

Anonymous said...

I can understand the comment hitting a nerve. Especially, if it is in the context of one adult speaking to another would be out of line then. Yet, in this situation, I think one needs to put things in context in how a child thinks and what they can relate to in their world. Most understand the concept of animals and pets as we have them in our homes and if not, we have close family/friends who have them which the children learn to know and love. They learn to feel great affection for them. I can remember growing up with my pet dogs, cats, horses, etc...being acutely aware of how they felt and feeling heartsick if I knew they were hungry, alone, hurt, etc. and my parent's reinforcing those emotions with me when we tended to them and helped them. In the end, the emotions I felt towards animals directly effects how I sense emotions in people I deal with today (in life, work). So, I guess my point is I can see why the mom may have related this concept to her clicks with me and I understand why she put it in that context. I'm an adoptive mom to a little girl from Ethiopia...she loves her cats, dogs, and horses too and I would do the same for her.

kn said...

They kill animals in shelters who are not adopted.

I would talk to this woman. I think we should have higher expectations of our friends. I think it's fair to say "I need your help and your explanation of adoption was so simple and perfect but the part of about the comparison with animals still has me unsettled."

I think if we expect to have real relationships we owe it to ourselves and others to discuss things that bother us. I have a one week rule; if it is still bothering me one week later I mention it. Plus it's good practice to talk about small things for later when bigger issues come up.

I would also emphasis to her how good her fist explanation was and that you feel you could talk to her because she seems to get something about adoption that others don't. 5 honest compliments to one criticism. I think most people want to know what to say.

This stuff is so hard. I still find myself saying stuff I regret. I wonder if that will ever change.

Tim said...

Nah, I've thought about it and I think in the moment it'd get my back up too, especially if the woman was glib or pleased with herself about her handy dandy comparison.

hotflawedmama said...

I like kn's response.

As a side note, a few months ago we adopted a cat from a shelter. In no way did I compare our adoption of the cat to our adoption of our kiddos but don't you know they did? The boys were all over it. My Tariku at one point said "now I know how excited you were for me to come home because I'm so excited to bring Mitigu (cat) home."

So I agree that perhaps this was a way to relate it to the kid (depending on age of said child) but I would also be apt to point out why the comparison is lacking and how to elaborate depending on age.

Anonymous said...

The first time I tried to respond to this post it was 2 am and my response was incomprehensible. Unfortunately, I don't think this will be much better.
First I must lead with the fact that I worked in animal shelters for 12 years. And working for the adoption of pets in need of homes did play a role in our decision to adopt. At the same time - even before I had children - I always knew a pet and a child were not the same, no matter how many times people call them "my fur babies."
I do think all of us in the triad are concerned about language and often sensitized to a degree that it can get in the way.
I believe Hot Flawed Mama's comment says it all. As A parents we might see the similarities and differences and the details of how we explain this to children might depend on their developmental stage - but our children probably get the comparison on a compassionate loving level.
I believe your friend was using the example of an animal in need of a home to relate adoption to her child. People use both birth and death of animals to help children relate to those occurrences with humans.
Still, the comparison doesn't necessarily sit right with me. But before I would confront someone about it, I would have to understand what her believes were. I think I would find out your friend understands the current state of animal welfare in places like PDX. She probably knows the following things....
First, most animals in shelters do not have yeast infections and nasty teeth. Most our wonderful animals who are there through NO FAULT of their own.
Second, most animals arrive in shelters after their families can no longer keep them. Their families then make a plan to work with experts to find the animals a new home. Sound familiar?????
Finally, and I am not sure if this matters, but relatively FEW ANIMALS are killed in shelters anymore just because the facility could not find a home for them.
I was afraid to read the comments on this post because I was sure some would be incorrect and offensiveto me. It is difficult for me to not just respond to KN's first sentence. Only because I respect her so much and everything she said after it, can I even move on. But I will say, many kids "age" out of care centers. And while they are not euthanized like an animal, life as young sex workers on the streets of developing countries can't be much fun and might actually be a death sentence.
I think it is most important to note - I do NOT think your friend was comparing your children to animals. They were comparing the process of a sentient being in need of a home, to a human in need of a home. The same way when we use animals to teach kids about birth or death we are not saying - your grandmother was an old dog - or I chewed through the umbilical cord when you were born just like that cat did.
I have always found it offensive when people say the animals they adopted from the shelter "seem grateful." Really? Hate the sentiment for pets, hate it more for children.
For us it became an issue of - if I will work this hard to help animals find their forever families, how can I ignore the fact that there are kids who need homes??? Again, I don't think the kids should be grateful, AT ALL. I just think we were a family with room for another child and instead of bringing one onto the planet because of our desires, we decided to try and grow our family by joining with a kid already here.
One of the biggest problems I see in using animal adoptions to explain to kids human adoption, I think your kids are going to look at you and say, "What, there are kids who need families? We need to help them. YOU need to adopt them, Mom."

Claudia said...

I honestly don't know what I think. But I'm learning a lot from the comments!

Claudia said...

(Oh, and for as long as you are writing this blog? I'm reading it!)