As an adoptive parent, you sort of get used to hearing little phrases flying around about kids that are mildly irritating. Usually, you give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they didn’t mean anything by their careless usage of language, but some days… well, some days, it just bugs you. Today, for example, I encountered these words: They wanted a child of their own.
The context was utterly, predictably ordinary. So and so already had an adopted child or a child with someone other than the person they were currently with, but now they wanted one of their own. For some reason, that harmless little phrase got under my skin more than usual, and I’m not sure why. I don’t tend to be the type of person to go hunting around for grievances or things to be offended by. God knows our culture already contains more than its share of victimhood and oversensitivity, and I don’t need to contribute to the pile. But still. It bothered me.
I remember when our kids first came home and we began to encounter all kinds of well-intentioned but, well, stupid comments. People would ask us about their “real” parents, about what they looked like, about how tall they were, etc. Or, if people found out our kids were indigenous, they would ask even dumber questions about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, medical histories, and various other “concerns” that served as a very thin veil indeed for the racist assumptions at work behind them.
After a while, it got kind of amusing—especially if my wife was around. Someone would ask some question about our kids’ “parents” or, worse, the aforementioned “real parents” and I would glance at my wife (who isn’t shy about, um “helping” people correct their language), take a step back, and feel sorry for the poor soul that had uttered such bravely ignorant words and who was about to drink generously from the fire hydrant of correction. Well, we’re their real parents, and we’re about 5’10 and 5’5, so there you go! Or were you asking about their BIOLOGICAL parents?! But that was in the beginning. Eventually being offended gets boring, and you just sort of assume people wouldn’t say dumb things if they thought about it.
So why did it bug me today? I’ve been thinking about it all day, and a few things come to mind.
On an obvious level, it bugs me because of the implicit assumption that my kids are less ours because they don’t share our biological material. I can’t imagine loving any kids more than the ones I have, even though I contributed nothing to bringing them into the world. I can’t imagine ever referring to them as anything other than my kids (not adoptive kids). To whatever extent it is appropriate to use possessive language when speaking about individual human beings with their own hopes, fears, aspirations, and dreams, I can’t imagine any kids being more mine than the ones whose stories I am blessed to be a part of.
Another reason might be that this language of “a child of their own” highlights a discomfort that I’ve always had with certain Bible stories. In the OT in particular but throughout Scripture (and far beyond, obviously, in the ancient world) there is this ideal of a direct lineage, an uncontaminated blood line. You have this recurring motif of the barren woman who eventually has a child, which is kinda good for people who struggle with infertility, but it also communicates that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of suffering is a genetic child, someone to carry on the name, the line, the race. All these heroes of these stories eventually get, what? A child of their own. This is the sign of God’s favour and blessing! But if the sign of blessing is a child of their own, what about when this doesn’t happen? What is that a sign of?
Perhaps more significantly, though, I suspect there is an implicit longing that occasionally bubbles to the surface when adoptive parents hear questions like, “What did their real parents look like?” or statements like “We wanted a child of our own.” Many of us would love to have a child with a genetic connection to us. Many of us think it would be sort of neat to hear things like, “Oh, that’s just like ____” or “When she does this it reminds me of _____” or, “His eyes are just like _____” or “I bet he’ll do ____ just like his dad!” Hearing the things people say is sometimes a reminder that there is still a barrier in many people’s minds—even in our own minds, at times—between families like ours and “normal” families where everyone springs from familiar genetic soil.
At any rate, when I have these fleeting moments of self-righteous anger/pity/outrage at the way people use words, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself of the big story that we are a part of. It’s a story that is actually quite a bit less concerned about “real” kids and pure blood lines than my highly selective accessing of it would first suggest. It’s the story of a pretty big adopted family, and a God who really couldn’t care much less about genetics. The door is thrown open wide, and all of the tribes and tongues and configurations thereof are welcomed in.
Part of the good news of the gospel is that the walls that we construct and fortify, the lines that we draw, the definitions and demarcations that we rehearse to give us identity and meaning (whatever they are)… all of these must give way to the beautiful, mixed up, diverse, abnormally normal (or normally abnormal) family of God that Jesus has made and is making possible.