Friday, June 19, 2009

forever schmorever

Just a little note today to question a well-worn term in the adoptive community (generally EXTREMELY careful with their words) that makes me bristle. Yes, forever folks, I have to quesiton the use of the term Forever Family. It's not just that I don't like it, or that it doesn't resonate with me. Maybe it is because at one time I was pregnant unexpectedly and considered making an adoption plan and I know that if I had let go of my son, I still would have loved him FOREVER. I would still love him now.

This might get me thrown off the six adoption yahoo groups to which I belong, but I actually think it is unethical, in most cases, to use the term Forever Family. Here's the gist of it: I think my kids' first family was/is EVERY BIT of Forever as we are for them. I think they live on in my kids' hearts, and that to label me as Forever Mom would steal away something very important to every child: the knowledge that my first mom loved me and didn't stop loving me. Same with dad, and I don't really even care what kind of damage was done, whether there was abandonment, neglect or abuse. I think it is very important to make a distinction between the idea of love, the concept of commitment, and the assumption of every mommy or daddy's ability to choose to parent well.

I don't like creating a distincition between the birth family and the adoptive family. Every one in each of these families is integral in the life story of the child. To be whole, even someone who has been abused or neglected because of their parents' inability to parent well (for whatever reason) needs to get through all the stages of grief - the shock, the denial, the anger, the blame - and find that place called acceptance that acknowledges that even though mom and dad left (or died or hurt me), there is this link, a forever link, between that person's story and my story. I know, it might take a whole lifetime to get there in some cases, but in most cases of adoption, I think there is no way to justify cutting the birth parents out of the forever circle of the child's life.

In cases where the birth parents were not able to parent due to illness, death, or poverty, it seems cruel to me to count the adoptive family as Forever. It automatically begs the question: my first parents didn't ever plan to be forever mine? It sounds a little snobby to me, like the first family wasn't committed enough to you, but we are: we are forever. We are better. Ugh.

I think MAYBE it might be a good term to use with little kids (pre teenhood) who have been through several different foster placements. Maybe it is a good term to use with certain special needs kids. I can't say that it is never appropriate.

Here's the question I always feel when I hear someone talk about being a child's forever family: What if something awful happens, like both "forever" parents die in a car crash, or of cancer, or whatever. Not so forever. What if one parent just can't handle it all after a few years, has a breakdown, and leaves. Then the parent left gets married again after a few years. Do you introduce that new parent as the New Forever Parent? That old forever parent wasn't really truly forever, but this new one is?

Of course you think you'll be around forever, but how can you promise something you have no real control over?

I think only Universal Love is forever, only g-d by whatever name or namelessness, is forever. I want my language to teach my kids that no matter what, there is love, forever, but that all human beings are fragile and to be honored and loved each moment because you never know when loss will happen. It is one of the great lessons of grief, and I will not cover it over by naming myself Forever Mommy, no matter how infinate my love for my kids feels. And it feels pretty darn forever.

It's not that I'm not committed. It's just that I can't say I'm committed forever, because I don't have forever to be committed. I only have today. I'm committed for as long as I have this body, this heart, this mind. I'm committed for as long as Love lets me be here.

ps: This bright shining light is coming home soon!


Amanda and Co. said...

I love this post.

And, congratulations on getting your daughter home soon! :)

the pedersens said...

I love this post...thank you so much for sharing your views on a word that most of us in the adoption community use without putting enough or any real thought into what the word or words actually mean. There are a few other adoption issues that make me bristle - we'll have to chat at Tana soon.

Anonymous said...

I SO agree!

We don't use the term "Forever Family." We refer (all the time...) to our kids' "Ethiopian family" and their "American family." This is an easy distinction. One is not real or fake, temporary or forever, right or wrong.

Bottom line: we are ALL family now.

Our kids have been in our family for nine months and they call us Mom and Dad, but they also refer to their Ethiopian parents as Mom and Dad. Sometimes, in the midst of a story, I have to ask my son or daughter, "Are you talking about your Ethiopian dad or your American dad?" It's no big deal. How can I be threatened by a woman who died seven years ago or a man who made the most difficult choice of his life? No, I honor them.

Raleigh, NC
mother of three

Thankfulmom said...

This is a truly fantastic post. I have big issues with "Gotcha Day" as well, it pains me to hear the term. How much more glib could we be toward our children's grief?


Jennifer said...

Great thoughts. I am uncomfortable with that term also. To me, our families are now intertwined.

Bethany said...

Wonderful post! I agree with you about Forever Family and with Lisa about Gotcha Day. Very insightful and wonderfully written.

Bob said...

We have used the term Forever Family and at the same time honor my daughter's birth mom in her life book. I think people use it to reassure a child of permanence.

You have an interesting and very thought-provoking perspective. Thanks for making me think about this.