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Kohl’s Adoption Video Brings Out the Either/Or Brigade

As part of its #AllTogetherNow campaign, Kohl’s features 19 year-old Raymond and his reunion with his birth mom after 17 years apart. Raymond finds he has a sister, born exactly 10 years after he was.

(click here to see the 3 minute story.)

Pick a side, Raymond.

Within weeks after the video was released on YouTube, there were 148 comments and counting [the video and its comments have since been taken down]. A common theme among many of them originates in the Either/Or mindset of the closed adoption era. Either she is your real mom or the other woman is. Which part of yourself will you embrace, Raymond, and which part will you deny?

  • “I hate this add [sic]. The importance he puts on his biological family is a slap in the face of the people who raised him.”
  • “If I had to choose between the parents who gave me up and the ones who loved and raised me all my life, I would have my holidays with them, and never make my adoptive parents feel at all insecure.”
  • “This video [is] insulting to adoptive parents. Happy he found his birth mom and all that but his real mother is the adoptive mother. The language/script is hurtful.”
  • “Seems a little insensitive to the adoptive parents. I think it would have been a lot better if the adoptive parents had been featured somewhere.”

  • “Kohl’s should be ashamed for perpetuating the myth of the joy of finding birth parents.  I found this video insulting to adoptive parents.  That woman in the video is NOT his real mom.”

  • “This video is bullsh!t. He insulted his mom, the woman who raised him and clothed and fed him. The woman he met was not his mom, she was his biological mother. She did nothing for him yet he dares to give her the name mom when he already has a mom who cared for him. This video insults those who adopt children who given up. Hell he insulted his entire family by saying that woman and his half sister is his family.”

Nerve? Struck.

I understand why some of the commenters would be hurt, insulted that the adoptive parents were mentioned only once in the 3 minute video. I might have felt that way at the beginning of my journey, too. If all you know is closedness, if that’s what you grow up thinking was “the” way, you may be limited in understanding the effect of closedness on the adoptee.

Such comments reveal perhaps one of the most devastating vestiges of the closed adoption era:  the Either/Or notion that demands an adopted person to deny either his biology or his biography. Unlike the non-adopted, an adoptee is not permitted to have both. One or the other, please. We command this of you.

Restrictive or Expansive?

Openness in adoption, however, is expansive. There’s a bigness to it. It enables and encourages the adopted person to embrace both sets of parents — those of biology and those of biography. Openness allows that love multiples rather than divides — and with openness, the adoptee can claim all.

either/or in adoption

Raymond, I and many others, can see that your heart is so big as to encompass all who contribute to you becoming who you are.

Both/And Viewpoints

I find the video heartwarming, as presumably Kohl’s hoped viewers would. Who doesn’t like a good lost-and-found story, a reconnection of that which was once believed lost? These commenters do:

  • “I’m glad he got to meet his bio-mom and bio-sister. Everyone wants to know where their roots are.♡”
  • “I am adopted, and watching this video, I seriously wanted to cry, cause I have wanted to know who my parents were. I understand that yes my adoptive mom loves me, and she takes care of me. But I would like to know who my birth mom is, so I can see who I am, kind of weird, like physical traits, and maybe some Character traits. And I don’t find this video insulting, I find it as hope for me to find my birth parents”
  • “I hope you know how happy I am, as an adoptive mama, for you that you have the chance to bring MORE love into your life with MORE family.”

More on Commercials & Adoption:

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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23 Responses

  1. Love how this makes the adoptee voice the focus. Too much about adoption is from the parents (bio/foster/adoptive) point of view. I would support my kids finding their bio family in a heartbeat!
    -Adoptive Parent

    1. Bless you. I think more adoptive parents are beginning to feel this way. Mine would not have so I waited almost 70 years to search. I found out I had 4 biological siblings and of course I was too late to meet any of them. I have found cousins and nephews and their wives and that has been a true blessing. The people who have been so negative on this story obviously were not adopted. They don’t know that just because we have a curiosity to know why we were given up (I know that now because of my search), who we look like, why we’re like we are, health issues (so important!), it does not mean in any way that we didn’t love and appreciate our real parents, our adoptive parents who raised us and were there for us thoughtout our lives. It doesn’t mean disrespect for them at all. It means that our whole lives we have wondered. Many of us have been loved by our parents but not by other family members as their “own”. I wasn’t “their blood” and always felt that and was told that by both sets of grandparents. When “family” is talked about, you know your family is your mom and dad and that’s about it. Even when you find your birth family, you know you don’t truly fit in there either because they have had an entirely different life. They welcome you, they are so kind and caring, but you don’t feel completely there either. No one can understand it, even your children or spouse because no one knows or really cares unless you were adopted.

    2. In fact, it is about the natural parent and the adoptee. It was/is inhumane to seal records “permanently” for either side.
      The system is cruel and barbaric to say the least. In a capitalistic world, ownership of humans is the norm. In a compassionate society a natural mother wishing to find her child is normal and supported by her community.
      Good luck to your adoptive children in finding their birth mother.

  2. Not too long ago, I would have been in the either/or camp. Hearing Raymond talk about the joy of meeting his bio mom and learning he has a sister would have felt like he was somehow negating all his adoptive parents did to raise him. But now I know better. Love grows and him finding his bio mom in no way lessens the relationship he has with his adoptive parents. If nothing, it can only expand it as they now have an opportunity to learn more about their son and develop their own relationship with his biological family. And isn’t that a beautiful thing that love grows? That isn’t not limited? It’s at the very heart of and/both.

  3. This video is so heartwarming. It makes me sad that people are criticizing him for using the term “real mom.” He specifically says he has much love for his parents, but he wants to know his biological roots. Who can blame him?
    I have some bias here, as a birth mom in an open adoption, but I truly don’t see this as a slam to the parents that raised him. Mostly because it’s not about them … it’s about him and his need to find and know his biological mother.
    Thank you for sharing this ~ I hope he doesn’t take the many negative comments to heart.

  4. Lori,

    While it is an insecure closed-mindset, I don’t think relegating the either/or comments to the closed-era thinking is correct. I see the same mind-set today, and think, it is an adoptive parent mind-set, regardless if their adoption is open or closed. The adoption version of mommy-wars if you will – continually plays out still today in who is the best, who is real, who is MOM.

    I’m going to guess that Raymond’s mom and dad used; your mom and dad when referring to his other set of parents, and didn’t subscribe to today’s requirement to add a pre-qualifier to the title of mom to designate to the child, and the world, she isn’t REALLY mom. Hence his comfort in using the terms in front of a camera during a highly emotional event. I say that, because many adoptees had parents like mine in the closed era. Mine used your mother and father, never birth, biological, etc., before it, just who they were to us.

    It makes me sad that some parents today, still don’t have the ability to look at their parent / child relationship, and accept it at face value. Instead they allow whatever thoughts that make them insecure, question their relationship, and put that burden on the child to be the forever protector of ‘their’ feelings.

    Whether it was the closed era or today’s open era – insecure parents existed/exist, secure parents existed/existed. Nothing is either/or…

    1. True, closed thinking isn’t isolated to the closed era, but openness is what will help adoptive parents — and the general public who comments on adoption videos — more easily embrace a both/and heartset. I’m glad that your parents (and possibly Raymond’s) didn’t have the need to use qualifiers when talking about parents, giving you the freedom to use the language and conceptualization that works for you.

      An aside: I would suggest that “open adoption” and “openness in adoption” are not exactly the same thing. I don’t think that “open adoption” automatically brings us out of the closed era, the closed mindset. It’s a component, but contact isn’t the whole enchilada.

  5. I’m always struck by the irony that the pro-adoption culture we live in tells mamas and expecting mamas that they are heroes doing noble things when they speak of relinquishing their children but that same culture can become indignant (as illustrated in the first set of comments in his piece) when those first parents are given love and respect reflective of what they were told at the outset. That was really evident in the Colin Kaepernick discussions a few years ago when his first mother wanted to meet him. The same woman who was, I am sure, told she was selfless and loving to relinquish him all those years ago was referred to, now, as the horrible woman who didn’t want him. The narrative – and the pressure on women to relinquish, as well as the pressure on children to maintain “loyal” to their adoptive parents – is not in the best interests of children, but the multi-million dollar adoption industry.

  6. It makes me so sad that people were so angry about this beautiful video. I actually thought that there were lots of implicit ways that the adoptive parents were mentioned, even if they were only mentioned once explicitly. But really, what was the video about? It was about Raymond’s first meeting with his birth mom and searching for his roots. NOT about the adoptive parents, who I gathered Raymond respected and loved and very much thought of as family. Why can’t everyone be “REAL?” Why does anyone have to be “Fake?” One comment in particular really bothered me, that Raymond shouldn’t have made his adoptive parents feel insecure. Huh? Someone can’t make you feel insecure. That’s a job that’s all on you. It really highlights the skewing of opinion towards adoptive parents exclusively without considering the needs of the adoptee, the undeniable need to know where your roots are. That lovely little girl is absolutely Raymond’s family. The woman crying tears of joy is absolutely Raymond’s mom. The faceless grandma is Raymond’s family, too…and so is Raymond’s family who raised him, who weren’t by any means forsaken by this meeting. ARGH ARGH ARGH. Thank you for highlighting the responses to this ad. I hope someday Both/And is more the norm, for the sake of all the children who have more than one REAL family.

  7. Raymond explained, articulately, the conflict he experienced in wanting to know his natural mother. Natural parents societal guilt is foisted onto the adopted child as well for having been “saved” from what, we can never be certain.

    Clearly, he loves his adoptive parents and they love him. I take issue only with one of his last comments: that he would not have the life and college education if his natural mother kept him. How can he know this for certain; especially, given today’s access to grants and loans for any teenager desiring higher education. Raymond, as it were, is experiencing a different life, not necessarily a better life regardless of the circumstances at the time of his mother’s pregnancy.

    The anger and resentment toward this commercial video from some people is based on fear, the unknown, and lack of understanding and compassion as a consequence of a historically pathological cruel system of killing off the baby’s mother and past history while attempting to create a faux reality for an infant which, as we have learned from the “baby scoop era,” has failed miserably.
    I was shamed once by this system. I won’t be shamed or deny my truth again. If there is any shame to meter out it will be to those who profited greatly from adoption: lawyers, courts, adoption agencies, hospitals, churches, etc., complicit in stealing from a huge population of mothers their flesh and blood rather than provide compassion, options and social support to pregnant women and their families.

    Let us not shoot the messenger. Let us relearn instead compassion and humaneness.

    Peace and Good Tidings to All

  8. So beautiful, Lori. I always appreciate your insights – I’ve learned so much from you and you have changed the way I speak about adoption and how I’m able to be present for people in my life for whom adoption is part of their story. Thank you.

      1. Is this a good opening to recommend Angela Tucker’s documentary about her reunion?

        People who found Raymond’s meeting with his original mother insulting to his adoptive parents might be surprised, and possibly introduced to the Both/And world, by a reunion story that is driven by the adoptee and also includes her aparents at every step.

        The movie is “Closure,” and it’s fascinating. (Disclaimer: I am friends with Angela’s parents and our kids know each other from our adoption support group gatherings.)

  9. I echo Anna’ comments, Lori — I have learned so much from you over the past few years! It’s a complex subject & you always bring a thoughtful perspective. Thank you! 🙂

  10. I thought this was incredibly beautiful and my bio mother and I couldn’t stand each other.

    It’s not about his adoptive parents who he did say will always be his parents–and because they feel secure in his love—don’t have to do, I have no idea what.

    This is about him and his bio family. And possibly forging a relationship. Looks like they will but it’s too soon to say

  11. I have no idea what my sons personal thoughts will be the day he is reunited with his biomother and siblings. However, knowing him for all the 6 years he’s been alive, I kn ow that he has enough love in his heart for all of us.

  12. I don’t have much/any personal experience with adoption, but I have read your blog and a couple of others. So for me, I love that love can multiply! Maybe having divorced parents where my mom, dad and stepmom all got along (most of the time) and loved all of us kids unconditionally showed us that love multiplies and doesn’t have to be either/or?

  13. In our experience, the children who know their bio family and have a relationship with them are the most secure. I know it isn’t that way for everyone. I understand my childrens desire to know their bio family. As someone commented before, “My children have hearts big enough to love two families.”

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