Beware any article that paints open adoption as terrible. Beware any article that paints open adoption as wonderful. Open adoption — which occurs when people come together under less-than-optimal circumstances — is a mix of the sublime and the sorrowful.
I was encouraged when I saw a headline for a TODAY Parents article: “Open Adoption is not something to fear.” That statement, I believe, is true. If parents are entering into the lifelong responsibility of adopting a child, they need to be willing and able to give her, over her lifetime, all she needs to become whole and integrated. This means adoptive parents must be willing to identify and resolve their own fears and insecurities about not being the Only in their child’s life. (As the author says, she was “scared to death” about having to share her child. But she worked through that fear, as adoptive parents need to do).
So I’m on board with the title. But much of what comes after that is problematic. Here are the top 4 issues that jump out at me.
1. The Word “Our”
The article’s subheading “Finding Our Birth Mom” violates two oft-invoked rules in cross-triad groups, groups that seek to understand the perspectives of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents.
Gayle Swift here, guesting in Lori’s space. She wasn’t ready to take on another adoption expert so soon after the last one, but seeing as how I have strong feelings about Gotcha, as well as ideas on a more attuned approach, I am happy to step in with my own advice.
Dear Abby: Three Reasons to Rethink Gotcha
Abby, you recently responded to a letter from an adoptive parent who wanted to share how she informed her child about his being adopted. Her solution was to celebrate his “Gotcha Day,” the day he joined their family. By making it a party day she hoped to take the sting out of telling him he was adopted (how and when to tell are a whole ‘nother issue).
While the intent of this unfortunate term is positive, the reality is a bit off the mark. It is good that Mom wants to strengthen her relationship with her child and tell him the truth, and you affirmed her celebration of this significant day. But please consider why “Gotcha Day” needs further evaluation.
First, “Gotcha” focuses on the parental experience instead of the child’s.
Second, it objectifies the child, like a prized toy that was finally acquired.
Third, “Gotcha” is often a term used to indicate victory or advantage over another person. Adoption is a life-altering experience for a child. “Gotcha” frames it in negative or depersonalizing language. This is not the best foundation for building a family; it almost certainly was not what this mom intended.
Alternatives to Gotcha
An adjustment in language can help. Some more suitable titles are: Arrival Day, Homecoming, Family Day, Johnny’s Day. They are all better choices because they affirm relationships and center on the child’s experience. Remember there are two sides to his special day: the happy part about joining a permanent, loving family, and the sad part, losing the family to which he was born. Be prepared for your child to feel mixed emotions. His attitude toward this day may evolve over time as he comes to understand how adoption delivered losses along with gains.