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bastard in adoption

Do Over: “I’m a Bastard, Right, Mom?”

As you may recall from my last post, Tessa and I began a conversation about the meaning of the words bitch and bastard. We covered the terms and I was feeling confident.

Until she said the words expressed in the title of this post. That means I’m a bastard, right?

bastard in adoption

Though it was clear there was no negative meaning granted by her (it was said matter-of-factly, as she was just trying to put pieces together the way kids do) I myself felt a shock at the declaration and was unprepared both by my reaction and how to proceed in the discussion.

So instead of showing my discomfort or handling it inadequately, I pointed under a chair and said, “Oh, look! Is that bit of tinsel left over from Christmas?”

OK, I made up the tinsel part. But I did use the Shiny Things tactic because is tends to be as effective as it is sneaky.

As my readers pointed out, the conversation did need to be gotten back to. So during a relaxed time together yesterday, I broached it anew.

But this time, I was guided by the collective wisdom of those of you who kindly stopped to leave your insights.


Am I a Bastard, Mom? Take 2

Tessa is breathless, taking a break after dancing for the umpteenth time to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing in our living room. I’ve been masquerading as the entire audience at Radio City Music Hall.

“Tessa, do you remember the other day when you asked about the word bastard?”


“I’m wondering how you heard it used.”

“A 6th grade boy yelled it at a guy who stole a basketball from him.”

“Oh. So what do you think he meant by that?”

“That he was being mean.”

“Yeah, that he was being a jerk, right? That’s usually what people mean when they use that word. It’s kind of like the male version of bitch. And you know that both words are meant to hurt and are very disrespectful and very inappropriate.”

[And that mommy only uses them when stupid people in stupid BMWs cut in front of her when their lane ends, even though they had plenty of chance to merge sanely way back there and not come thisclose to hitting mommy’s car in a stupid game of chicken. But I digress.]

Dramatic: “I know that, Mommmmmm.”

“And you also know that bastard can mean someone who was born to parents who weren’t married, right?”

“Yeah, like Crystal and Joe weren’t married when I was born.”

“That’s true. You know, I always thought it was crazy to have that word be about a kid — even a baby — when the baby really didn’t do anything except be born.”

“Mom. It’s not like they’re saying the baby is a jerk.”

“Of course not. No baby is a jerk. But in the olden days when unmarried people were not allowed to live together, it was a rude word that described a child born to them.”

“That’s so not fair to the baby!”

“Exactly. Sometimes a word says more about the person who uses it than about the person it’s said to.”

“I know, Mom. You’re telling me not to call people names, right?”

[Unless they are really, really stupid drivers.]

“You’re so smart. Hey, another thing. The other day you wondered if you were a bastard. What do you think?”

“Wellll…I kinda am because of Crystal and Joe. But I’m kinda not because of you and Dad.” (pause) “But I definitely am not a jerk.”

“Most of the time” (smiling).

“Mo-o-o-om” (smiling back).

“These days, we don’t talk bad about children for anything that’s really about adults. So no, I cannot think of any way that anyone would consider you a bastard.”

“OK. Mom. Wanna watch me dance again?”

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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42 Responses

  1. see Lori, you rock and Tessa rocks, because even at her age, talking it out, getting down to the meat of it, works for everyone. Letting her make her decision about the word, what it means to her in her life, was genius and that is why i stand in awe of you.

    I can’t tell you how my heart melted and softened with this post. If only everyone could teach their children how to make their own decision about what words will mean to them , taking away their power(the words not the kiddos)


  2. Very well played, mama. I’m keeping this filed away in my brain for future reference. Also the shiny tinsel part- that’s good, too.

  3. Nice job Lori! I like your approach of asking her how she heard the word and what she thought it meant. I think too many times parents may try to explain the technical side of things when all the child really wanted was yes or no, or I really don’t know.

  4. I think you did a great job. I had been thinking about the question ever since I saw it. This is better than anything I came up with.

    BTW, I have a commenting confession to make. I tend to let your posts stack up in my reader because I have the idea that I want to be able to take time to read them and comment thoughtfully. The flaw in this plan is that they tend to multiply, not quite like rabbits, but you know. I then end up with an intimidating number of posts so that I must put off reading them even longer (see reason above). (You are not the only bloggy friend I do this to.) I often end up not commenting at all, or feeling like so much time has passed, so what’s the point. I am going to try to stop doing this and actually read and comment as I always intend, but I’m still me, so no promises.

  5. well done… I don’t know why we so often think we have to address everything as soon as it presents itself but those few bits of time space between arise and solution can make all the difference in the world, literally.

  6. “These days, we don’t talk bad about children for anything that’s really about their parents. So no, I cannot think of any way that anyone would consider you a bastard.”

    Sorry to rain on your parade, but this part feels weak to me. It implies that we talk badly about the children’s parents. Do we do that?
    If I stretch my imagination all the way to Bastard Nation, I can easily think of ways that some people might consider adoptees bastards.

    Fortunately life is just one big do over and over again. Thanks for sharing.:)

    1. Hi, Janet.

      The point is (in simple terms for a child to understand) that what parents do shouldn’t determine who children are.

      And I am hoping that these days we don’t judge the parents harshly, either. But such judgment/bad talk was the fallout from 17th century inheritance laws, and has been the case through much of the 20th century, as well.

      How would you approach it if this conversation was with your 9 year old daughter?

      Marching on….

  7. Oh Lori, this was such a pleasure to read!!!! So funny how kids process things then move on.

    A great lesson to all of us. I love this post!!!

  8. Well, you could have squirmed and acted all flustered, but I believe you handled the situation no different than I expected as such a wonderful, caring mom. And my friend :). I tried to put myself in your daughter’s shoes, which was not hard to do. Open conversations, nothing is taboo, and to be able to speak our feelings freely and simply. I believe that is what’s most important any mother-daughter relationship.

  9. That’s a really tough conversation to have. I love the way you handled it, helping your daughter understand how those words are used to hurt people, and how they don’t apply to her, even if the literal meaning might be *accurate*. It really got me thinking about the difference between the conventional use of a word and it’s literal meaning. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    ICLW #32

  10. I’ve read your posts from time to time through links from Tongu Mama. This one touched my heart because I grew up as the child of two unwed parents and after I learned that the word bastard was more than something to throw out in traffic, it hurt my deeply. I never understood why we’d chastise the innocent child. I’m thankful that you reached back out to Tessa and had this conversation. I wish someone had had it with me long ago.

  11. You handled it perfectly. It’s such a hard word to explain — I think moreso than others. It somehow feels more amorphous. But it’s also a great explanation for how we use words simply to hurt, that we turn into something meaningless beyond being a weapon.

  12. When I read your previous post I thought to myself, what a tough situation that can really be supported to go either direction. And then I thought, since Lori is such a thoughtful person and devoted mother, she’ll make either direction work.

    See? I love it when I’m right. 😉

  13. Lori, I’m so far behind on blogs that I’m almost ahead of myself! lol

    If I am ever blessed to be a parent to humans, I hope I am a quarter as insightful and wise as you. Even though you seek input from the Internets, you still make such wise decisions and give them lots of thought. I wish I could say the same for myself.

  14. You handled this so perfectly perfect. Great job, mom! I remember my brother telling me during a fight that I was a bastard (I was). I told him that he was an accident (he was). I can’t remember how my parents handled it but can say that YOU handled it the best best way.

  15. Hi Lavender: I’m popping over from Erin Bohn’s Adoption Talk linkup. 🙂

    You handled this so well. You rock! Do you want to help me out with explaining the hard stuff? lol (Kinda).

    By the way, I am totally with you on the BMW thing, and I’m glad you digressed. Luckily I took American Sign Language in college and can cuss the driver out, without my kids knowing it.

    Thanks for linking up. I enjoyed your post. 🙂

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