Definition of Ignorance ˈɪɡn(ə)r(ə)ns/- “Lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated”.
It is certainly true that the more attention you pay to a subject, the more you become aware of your own apparent ignorances surrounding it. ‘Ignorance is bliss’ … so they say. When it comes to challenging social issues, ignorance seems to be the norm. The less you know about an important issue, the more you want to avoid becoming well-informed about it, actively choosing to remain unaware. For adoptees however, ignorance is annoying. It means coming up against the perceptions held by those you know and those who are external to your circle. Their ignorance is their perception about what is real and what is not real about adoption. Furthermore, it means coming up against the assumptions made as a result of unanswered or unasked questions. Attempting to dodge ignorance does little to inhibit identity issues carried out by adoptees. Having to figure out how to deal with the confrontation that comes with awkward and difficult questions or comments from other people conflicts with a lack of self-knowledge for an adoptee about what adoption means to them, or their own understanding of their background.
After speaking to many adoptees about the ignorances they have previously faced, outlined below are some examples of these. Of course it is not feasible for every single encounter to be listed, so I have picked out a few I believe are quite important and the most common amongst adoptees.
“I wish I was adopted”
Definition of ‘wish’ : /wɪʃ/ “Feel or express a strong desire or hope for something to happen”.
This also includes when someone jokingly expresses that they’re nothing like their siblings or parents - be it looks or personality - so they must be adopted. To use the state of adoption as the butt of a joke is terribly distasteful and insensitive. It is as perplex to say you wish you were adopted as it is to say you wish your parents were divorced. No one would wish that upon themselves.
One is simply not adopted one day and that is that. Being adopted is a life long struggle with identity that is usually carried onto children of that adoptee. It is a life long struggle with trying to uncover history about yourself and records which are sealed and inaccessible. It is a life long struggle with obsessing over people who you know nothing about but nevertheless cause disruption to your life. So for someone to wish their life be a certain way without really thinking about or acknowledging the repercussions it comes with is ignorant.
“So they’re not your real parents?”
Definition of ‘real’ : /ri:l/ “Actually exists as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed”.
Well.. if it were to be said that, ‘no they’re not my real parents’.. this would be inconsistent. Surely it would imply that they didn’t even exist? Of course they’re real and of course they are parents.. So yes, they are my ‘real parents’. They have nurtured and raised multiple children, instilled values - arguably not always the most commonly agreed upon - but they have supported and understood the needs of their children. As any parent is obliged to do.
They are the ones who changed the nappies, checked over homework, and taught us how to read and write. Yes, in such a case an adopted mother was spared the painful hours of labour but that doesn’t make her any less of a mother to an adoptee than a mother who chose to conceive her child. Similarly, this also applies to such remarks as “So you’re not really siblings” - well yes. yes we are. DNA is not a sufficient defining characteristic of our relationships. It isn’t taken into account when we speak of relationships with friends even though they are our ‘real best friend’.
“You must feel so lucky”
Definition of ‘lucky’ : /ˈlʌki/ “Having, bringing or resulting from good luck”.
Hearing it be said that ’you should feel lucky you were adopted’ begs the question well lucky for what? Lucky for the identity crisis consuming my many years? Lucky for the strained relationships I didn’t ask for? Lucky for the assumption that a better life makes it worth losing all biological connections?
Admittedly, there are many adoptees who truly appreciate their adopted parents and have a great relationship with their adopted family. Sadly this cannot be said for all adoptees so to be told ‘you must/you should/don’t you’ - ‘feel so lucky’ does nothing to diminish the mental and emotional struggles. No situation is perfect, and growing up as an adoptee means you have to automatically prepare to be inadequately equipped to deal with the unfathomable. You aren’t told or taught how, you just have to. Essentially you are forced to be an adoption expert whilst having to deal with and learn about the impact it is having on you all whilst establishing your sense of identity or lack there of, finding your voice, your feelings and ways to understand yourself.
Thus to have the assumption that one must be obliged to feel so lucky or grateful is arguably an ignorant comment to make. Becoming adopted doesn’t automatically entail a happy ending even if the family you’re adopted into is a respectful and stable one.
With that being said... In a society that continuously tries to teach us what the norm is, and that being part of an adopted family is not part of this norm, it is only fair to empathise with those who have had no experience with adoption but are still interested in becoming educated in all adoptee related issues, even though they are unsure how to formulate questions which do not offend. What is important to remember, is that ignorance doesn’t mean stupidity nor does it make someone a bad person. All people from all societies are ignorant in one facet of life or another. However, rather than accept the lack, we should each strive to better educate ourselves individually and become better well rounded people. Ultimately, sometimes saying nothing is saying something and if you ask a question or make a statement make sure you express it in a way that makes educational sense.