Notes on Adoption

A Twitter thread from the other day that had an unexpected response. I wanted to pin it here for posterity.

On BBC Woman’s Hour, former journalist Eleanor Bradford came out defiantly as a mother who had returned her adopted son to the care system, because he was a problem child and the family was struggling. But the whole way the conversation was framed, by Woman’s Hour and Bradford herself was deeply disappointing. (You can listen to the clip here.)

There were thoughtful threads that I found heartening from @piercepenniless and @SzMarsupial. My response went as follows:

This is painful to listen to for lots of reasons, but primarily because it takes as a given that adopted kids should automatically be grateful for wherever they end up, as if a “better” life means anything to a kid who remains at the mercy of things beyond their control.

I’m adopted and my relationship with my adoptive mother was never anything but fraught. Constant feeling of not being who she wanted me to be, as this ideal child chosen rather than left up to chance. But whilst it wasn’t until my teens that I rebelled, kids are v self aware.

I briefly had a “sister” in my first years of primary school. She was under 4yo and her parents, who were v elderly, couldn’t cope. She came to live with us but hated it. Used to accuse me of hurting her, trashed her room, acts of protest you wouldn’t expect of a 4yo.

But kids know. The trauma of being given up, at any age, stays with a lot of people. I’m still dealing with it aged 30. The worst thing about our adoption systems is they’re seen as virtuous with v little understanding of what kids go through.

It’s an ill-fitting solution to a complex social problem, and this woman isn’t revealing more of its complexity. She’s revealing how many adoptive parents don’t know what they’re getting into. The kids you take in aren’t blank slates, nor are you as a parent devoid of hangups.

I wrote about this a few years ago and need to go back to it.

The further thing that really bugs me about this is her framing of her actions as somehow heroic, because she’s asserting her agency in a difficult situation, whereas others don’t or can’t cos safeguarding, etc.

My mum used to do this when we’d fall out, asserting her authority in front of school teachers, calling up to complain about me and stage interventions, with me having no leg to stand on as a minor. It fuelled resentment and solved nothing.

Because this is a powerplay that hits different to one between biological relatives. She’s lashing out, perhaps for similar reasons to those causing her kid to make trouble, re: grief and abandonment. Understandable, perhaps, but no less manipulative and uncomfortable.

(Humbled a lot of people who work in social care are responding to this. I have no expertise, only my own ruminated-on experiences. I’m glad they resonate.)

Originally tweeted by Matt Colquhoun (@xenogothic) on November 30, 2021.

I’m planning on returning to “primal wound” stuff after I’ve wrapped on the current book project, as there’s lots more to be said there. I’ve toyed with the idea of making it a PhD project, even, but it also terrifies me how close to the bone a lot of this stuff is. Something better worked out in therapy than academia, no doubt…

And as much as I still like that Lapsus Lima article, the older I get, the less and less I like academic concision. I want to untangle all the knots and lay it out flat, because this is a topic seldom discussed. The most moving thing about the response to this has been all of the Twitter accounts we’ve shared or sent messages who are open advocates for adoptees’ voices. They are so rarely heard.

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