Al Trautwig, Simone Biles, and the Complexities of Adoption

164887As adoptive parents, my wife and I have many times been the recipients of insensitive comments regarding the nature of our parental status.  Most of these comments, generally involving someone wanting to know about our daughter’s “real” parents, are offered in a completely benign manner not wishing to cause any offense.  We have taken the approach to simply let such comments slide and give people the benefit of the doubt.  I have found that most people who are not themselves adopted or who have never adopted a child find adoption to be a wonderful thing, but struggle with how to talk about it in ways they know will be affirming.

The situation surrounding NBC’s Olympics coverage of women’s gymnastics is a reminder that understanding and talking about adoption can be a complicated thing. My family oooed and awwwed at the thrilling feats of Simone Biles- a young woman who must certainly be the archenemy of gravity!  We were even more enthralled with her when we learned of her story- that she had been adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife.  Our adopted daughter especially loves that Simone, like her, is adopted.  NBC commentator Al Trautwig referred to Ron and Nellie Biles in the broadcast as Simone’s grandparents rather than her parents. This quickly drew rage from many on social media.  I personally did not think this was a significant issue, although if Simone refers to Ron and Nellie as her parents, then others should, too.

The rub came when Trautwig responded to one of his critics on Twitter by stating, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.”  Admittedly, that was a dumb thing to say and Trautwig has since apologized.  Yes, we may be playing a semantics game here and trying to grapple with the implied or otherwise use of the term “biological” and “adoptive.”  But what I would like for Mr. Trautwig and others to realize before making comments about adoption is to first and foremost see it through the eyes of the adopted child.  One thing every adopted child has in common is some sense of loss and/or grief.  Those who have been adopted have to work through questions like, “I wonder what life would have been like if I were raised by my biological parents?  What are my biological parents like?  What were the circumstances that caused them to be unable to raise me?”  Some adopted children know these answers in part and some know nothing.  Incidentally, there are those in an adopted child’s life who know these answers but should be sensitive about divulging such information as the adopted child needs to grow into their understanding of their own unique situation.  Questions of “what might have been” and “why did it happen this way,” even in very positive family environments, usually leave an adopted person feeling sad to some degree.

Enter the adoptive parents.  To an adopted child, these people are Mom and Dad.  Period.  Any sense of loss or sadness is relieved to a great degree in the love, provision, and comfort these parents provide.  As such, to the child the adoptive parents are Mom and Dad and equivocations about “real” parents are trifling.  Thus, to Simone Biles, Ron and Nellie are Mom and Dad.  And we should leave it at that.  Was Trautwig’s comment on Twitter some kind of statement that we should not ignore the deficiencies of Biles’ biological mother- especially with the word “not” in capital letters?  I don’t know, but I do know that when a person addresses adoptive families in an attempt to be arbiter or judge of the families’ situation it will have an outcome that is off-putting at best and painful at worst.  And we adoptive parents need to do our best to show grace to those who might misspeak regarding our families knowing that most are simply trying to show they care.

In the end, if an adopted child sees their adoptive parents as Mom and Dad then that’s exactly what they are.  Rest assured the adoptive parents see themselves that way as well.  Adoption is a beautiful, powerful thing.  Let’s do our best to not muddle it with presumptions or ill-thought out comments.  Adoptive parents are very much Mom and Dad.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email