Monday, December 30, 2013

"It's my Job to Pay Attention:" New Conversations in the Shifting Paradigm of Adoption

From a scrapbook my maternal
aunt made me.
The other day, I had an interesting exchange with one of my best friends.  She is not adopted.  Together, we spoke of family, life, and the holidays.  As I so often do when speaking of both of my mothers, I prefaced "mom" with each mother's first name. I have gotten into the habit of prefacing "mom" with each mother's first name for the sake of clarity.  Simply using "mom" when talking about both mothers in conversation seems to cause confusion.  People interrupt me mid-sentence, "wait, which mom?  Your real one or the other one?" so on and so forth.  The false dichotomization of mothers in adoption as "real" or "unreal" is a microaggression I try to avoid.  Apparently, I have adjusted my speech accordingly.  This friend stopped me in mid-sentence to offer commentary on my use of the word "mom," as so many people have done in the past.  However, what she said was something new and entirely different.  Something new and entirely amazing.

"Amanda, do you call your mothers by their first names?" she asked.  "Do you really think of them by their first names, or both as 'mom'?"

"They are both 'mom'," I replied.

"Then why use their first names in conversation with me?" she wanted to know.

"For clarity," I replied.  "I think it makes conversation easier to be clear."

She paused for a moment, "You focus on being true to yourself.  It's my job to pay attention."

This is yet more evidence of the shifting paradigm of adoption.  It is a shift that acknowledges adoptees as experts on the experience of being adopted, as the community with the key to solve problems adoptees face, and as irreplaceable members of the larger adoption discourse.  The shift moves us toward honoring and recognizing the reality of every adoptee and their family, rather than demanding they define their family composition in ways that make others more comfortable.  I love that this paradigm shift promotes empathy, creates a smoother foundation for understanding, and enables new conversations to take place between friends.