I am not a particularly noticeable person when I am out and about. I kind of like it that way.
With my messy bun and leggings I look like almost any other millennial at Target and just sort of fade into the background. Blending in is quiet and comfortable for me – and is the key ingredient to a relaxing Target run.
For better or for worse, my Target runs (or any other sort of outing) are very rarely done solo these days. I often have my whole crew in tow, which means I am a mom toting around a 4, 3, and 2 year old. Automatically our anonymity is out the window. We are loud, we talk about weird things like our poop or ask questions like who is stronger – Jesus or Iron Man, and sometimes we have meltdowns. And if all of this weren’t enough to make you notice us, we are a transracial family, which basically is the cherry on top of our blinking neon sign that says notice us.
We have all adjusted to being so noticeable when we are in public – it is just part of life for us now. I honestly don’t even always notice that people are noticing me anymore, which is a sign of huge personal growth if I am being honest. What we haven’t gotten used to though, is all of the uninvited commentary on our life. It truly amazes me the things people come to us and say. Some of it is super encouraging, some of it is super discouraging, and some of it just leaves me raising my eyebrows in wonder at the gumption of people.
There is a whole library of things that people say that they probably shouldn’t, but one of the most common things we hear (typically from strangers) is how lucky our kids are. On the surface this phrase seems innocuous and even encouraging or positive, but it can carry with it a lot of baggage. The intention behind the phrase may be good and pure, but we need to do the hard work of going deeper than our intentions and take the time to understand the negative subtext that the phrase can carry.
The dictionary defines lucky as coming into something desirable by chance. Really thinking about the definition of the word can help us start to dissect why telling an adoptee they are lucky is not the best idea.
First of all, adoption doesn’t happen by chance. Children are not just randomly adopted. There is a lot of thoughtful decision making that goes into any sort of adoption. In our situation, our kid’s birth mom thoughtfully decided to place them. She made a conscious and educated choice. My husband and I thoughtfully and prayerfully decided to present ourselves as an option to their birth mom. There was no luck involved. It was intentional decision making by us, by their birth mom, by the agency, etc. that resulted in our children being placed in our family. Chalking adoption up to luck diminishes all the hard and intentional decision making that everyone participated in to bring about the adoption plan.
Secondly, in our culture, luck can often imply that something went from bad to good, or at the very least, that it went from mediocre to significantly better. When phrases are used to imply that adoptees are so lucky to have their adoptive parents or be in their adoptive families, it can suggest something about both their biological family and their adoptive family that may not be true.
I am going to say something that might ruffle your feathers here, but not all adoptive parents are good parents. Just because someone adopted does not mean that they are automatically a great parent or that they should have adopted. In a similar line of thinking, biological families are not bad families – in fact most are great! Just because a child is placed for adoption does not mean that they got “upgraded” in the family department. Using the word lucky can imply that though.
In the case of our kiddos, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were well loved and well cared for prior to placement. They have always been cherished and their mom is incredible! We did not save them from an awful situation, not even close. Instead, we partnered with their mom to do what she thought would be the very best for them. I hate that the word lucky could imply anything else to them.
Thirdly, the implication of the word lucky typically diminishes any sort of negative consequences. If you have been around the adoption world long, you know that EVERY SINGLE adoption brings with it trauma. When we tell adoptees how lucky they are, we are not making space for them to acknowledge or process through the trauma of their adoption. Adoption is not all sunshine and roses. It is hard, it is messy, and it is full of heartbreak and trauma. Slapping the word luck on it doesn’t diminish the truth of all of that, it just makes it harder for adoptees to process through all of it in a healthy way that is authentic to who they are and what they are feeling, which could eventually lead to significant long-term ramifications if they never are able to feel truly safe processing all aspects of their adoption, including the hard stuff.
If all of this isn’t enough, we really should consider the fact that we have no business declaring truths over other people that may or may not be true. Our view of someone’s life doesn’t trump their own view. This is true in any situation by the way. But we don’t get to declare things for adoptees. We don’t get to decide how they need to think and feel about their adoption. We should support, encourage, and love them through the journey of figuring out how they view their adoption. And the answers they come to are probably going to be complicated and messy with lots of layers and that is okay and good and healthy.
Some adoptees are going to process through it all and feel truly lucky. And that is fantastic and we should support that! Some adoptees are going to process through it all and feel truly unlucky, and we should support them in that – without question or judgement. And some adoptees are going to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum with mixed emotions about it all, and we should support them in that – again, without question or judgement. I know that can be hard to do, but it is so important because we don’t get to decide those things for other people – and since we are each created so uniquely no two people are going to process things the same way. Our kid’s have nearly identical adoption stories, and yet because of their unique personalities, they process their adoption in entirely different ways.
At the end of the day there is a lot of yuck that comes with adoption and a lot of good that comes with adoption. As people who desire to be supportive of adoptees, we need to make space for that, and most importantly, stop telling adoptees how they feel in order to make ourselves feel good. I am sure the person who stops me at Aldi to tell me how lucky my kids are is just trying to be encouraging within the confines of their own understanding of adoption, but we need to stop declaring things over people, especially when we don’t know the whole story. Instead let’s be intentional in being a safe space for adoptees to feel and process whatever they need, without pushing them a certain way based on our understanding or desires.
So, I implore you, next time you see our hot mess express at the store, please don’t tell my kids how lucky they are. Instead just smile and laugh as we walk by arguing about who gets to press the button to shut the car door next. And if you really must say something, tell us how beautiful the kids are – one because they are beautiful, and two because what person doesn’t like a compliment like that.
Guest Blog By: Caylee Swanson
IG Handle: mama.swanson
Adoption Constultant with Cradled in Grace in Texas