Marriage Equality, Adoptive Families and Adoptee Identity

July 1, 2015


A happy African American man and boy, father and son, family sitting together at home

The recent Supreme Court decision has repercussions in the adoption universe. In states that require and/or prefer married couples, it opens adoption as a possibility for married same-sex couples. This is life-changing news for children who languish and await a family. I suspect they focus on whether a potential parent will love and care for them properly not on whom that parent is partnered in a loving relationship. Expanding the pool of potential parents is critical; we cannot rest until every child who needs a family finds one.

How does this legal, cultural shift affect adoptee identity? Because of this SCOTUS ruling, LGBTQ adoptees may reasonably infer a deeper level of acceptance and security for the reality of who they are, who they can become and who they may choose to love in the future. Certainly, adoption challenges identity in many ways. Children struggle to distill their various threads of “biology and biography”² into a unique tapestry: a healthy, confident and capable identity. The LGBTQ¹ subset of adoptees faces additional constraints on being accepted for themselves without a need to hide, camouflage or deny their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court’s ruling provides a welcome guardrail for them.

Happy family  in a cabriolet convertible car at the sunset in summer

This new level of “equality” shifts attitudes and beliefs in society. It also reverberates in the adoptive family. Adoptive parents are familiar with traveling that extra distance in parenting, of living with a highly developed AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient). In addition to sensitivity to trauma, loss and grief factors, we must add sensitivity and acceptance of our children’s gender and sexual preferences.  Our children must be convinced—convicted even—that we accept them for whom they authentically are (not whom they perceive we wish them to be.)  Gordon Neufeld calls this establishing a secure “invitation to exist in [a parent's] presence.” That statement might seem absurdly obvious. Of course we want our children to be with us, to spend time together, to be a family, to know and feel how much we love them. We must ensure that we routinely convey this unconditionality and constantly convey that we love our kids and have released any expectations--overt or unconscious-- that they fulfill the role of our perfect fantasy child. Additionally, cell phones and other  technology, present significant challenges to sustaining that connection "of relating" unconditionally and one-to-one. Adoptive parents must be intensely intentional at establishing and nurturing that invitation to be real.

At some level, however, adoptees are painfully aware that a family is something that can be lost; it has already happened to them once (in some unfortunate case, more than once.) To avoid a repetition of that loss of family membership, some become chameleons adept at embodying their impression of who they think we want/wish/need them to be. Having been relinquished by one family, adoptees may fall vulnerable to role-playing that parental fantasy expectation even if it is not who they want to be and whom their DNA has prepared them to be.

Even to those readers who cannot embrace the recent SCOTUS ruling, there is a fundamental take-away: embrace a commitment to love unconditionally, to encourage our children to feel free to actualize their full potential and to live in authentic relationship. This results when we allow them to live their truth not our fantasy. In the absence of that permission, we fall prey to a painful dance of "preten" that serves no one and prevents genuine relationship. That depth only occurs in the sunshine of truth and honesty.

¹Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

²Lori Holden, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption

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