Meeting an already born child that you are now mummy to is an experience it is difficult to plan for. There is lots of positive forethought about the experiences you will have together. The bit that’s trickier to prearrange is managing the experiences you don’t have in common. What went before and led to the child’s loss. The fact that via a strange process that loss becomes your gain.
I remember thinking about it all during my preparation. I had decided to do a degree as a mature student before making the biggest commitment ever. My social work degree done as a young woman had taught me lots about work practices, organisational structures, social care and the politics of exclusion. I wanted to take that knowledge further and examine it in a more selfish and creative way to help inform my own personal future.
One of the themes I examined was the creation of narratives through the media and arts. Going back through history to the different representations of people’s voices and the creation of a given and fixed cultural history in that process.
In this country our adoption narrative is one which fairly consistently presents the idea of a fallen woman given “charity” through the permanent separation of her child from her. This progresses into the more emotive stories of children being removed from “feral” or “evil” families under the threat of death and being given to “good” families who look like models in the DFS catalogues.
Of course in stories there are truths, however buried under the “no grey area” headline or sound-bite presentation.
My daughters mother was cruel in her ignorance of appropriate care. My daughter was at risk of harm and was seriously harmed by this parenting. Her family and next of kin should have been supported much sooner. Her parents were not evil. However, with a permanent lack of budgets and a punitive social care system unprepared to mentor or invest, removal would have been kinder if done sooner.
For a young adopted child working out the complexities of their position is really tough. The set adoption narratives present themselves in everyday ways. Most adoptive parents know how often this can happen through the media, children’s stories, television, films and other people’s attitudes and opinions.
“You’re so good taking her on like you have.”
“Aren’t you a lucky girl getting such a good mummy”
I felt I would be helping my daughter prepare for her future identity as an adoptee if I could teach her the ability to question perceived and given truths and history. This could be done in lots of areas and in an age appropriate way. Why is something good or bad, a boys toy or a girls toy, a rich life or a poor life, a weakness or a strength?
I tried not to do it in a strident way but just opened up the possibilities to question and allow in the powerful feeling of personal choice.
In the quite early days this meant the ability to have a little mini me was short lived as my long haired, dress wearing daughter soon refused to buy girls clothes and became as certain as any fashionista in her individual shaved head style.
I also, as a vegetarian, had to cater for a prolific sausage and bacon eater.
We went to as many different cultural events and settings as possible. Art galleries, theme parks, classical music, pop concerts, Macdonalds, posh restaurants. Out of these experiences she was able to consider a wide choice of likes and dislikes, beliefs and disbeliefs.
As in any family the history and culture of that unit is strong and I’m sure as any parent I have forced my opinions in some areas. This has often been about what we consider to be good manners. She laughs to this day about me being a “posh twit” because I think spitting in the street is not cool or burping at the table is distasteful. More serious rules existed around behaviours or opinions which show racism or sexism. I feel proud and certain she carries with her good moral values in these areas that are of her own choosing.
Now that my daughter is eighteen and despite her struggling in many areas of her emotional development, I am sure she knows herself and has a strong self identity. She has, against the odds, successfully bridged the cultural gap between her two families and does not see one as “good” and the other “bad”. She has more of a sense of social politics than many people her age. She is confident in questioning and forming opinions.
Most importantly she can position herself in her own life story as a survivor of the unfairness and inequalities in life rather than a helpless victim born of bad blood.
Being an adoptive parent is a difficult balancing act at times. A natural wish to see your own family traits pass down but wanting to see your child’s heritage and genetic history remain intact and not be squashed or hidden.
We share lots of likes and dislikes and disagree on many things. She revels in her identity as a “Chav” and her view of me as a “posh twit” but we have one important shared personal and political view. We both love fairness and hate cruelty and we both love peace and hate war.