Photograph

June 7, 2014

I spent a lot of time with another family while I was growing up, and after we adopted children, that relationship fell apart.

Years later, one of family members got in touch with me on the occasion of their marriage.  It seemed as if nothing had really changed, so I wished them well, declined the invitation (which I don’t think included our children), and sent a gift.

I included a family photo with the personal note I sent.

I got a note back sometime after the wedding that mentioned how they had used the photo in a presentation they had made during the festivities.

My kids are adopted, one through a closed domestic adoption, they were young when this use of the photo occurred, and I was accustomed to schools and extracurricular organizations asking permission to use photos of children.

I was taken aback by the use of the photo at the wedding.

I felt that my privacy had been invaded and I felt that the prevailing cultural norms had not been followed.  I felt that while our relationship had changed for the worse over our children (at the outset, when the children were newly adopted infants and toddlers), the wedding person was happy to use a photo of them, even against the children’s best interests, if it helped the wedding person with what they wanted to do.

On the other hand, I could see that the person probably had no clue about how it would feel to me, and that that was part and parcel of why there is no longer a close relationship.

For me, a big challenge in life is letting go of my apparently airbrushed versions of people, and to see them as they are.  It’s not that I condemn them for how they turn out to be, but on the other hand, I don’t owe people a relationship if I find it doesn’t work for me, especially if it causes me harm.

In this case, the issue falls under the heading, “I don’t know how to accept you in my life if you don’t accept my relationship with my children, if not the children themselves.”  In many cases it has felt as if I were being asked to collude with the relative or person I was friends with or teacher or neighbor against my child, to gang up with someone else against my child.  The answer is no.

I found myself discussing this issue with my internist at my annual check-up this spring, and he said he couldn’t do it either.  He’s a brisk and upbeat person, and had never experienced this himself, but he allowed himself to enter into what I was saying my world can be, and he could see why I handle things as I do.  That kind of acknowledgment I find helpful, not only because then the person isn’t asking me to do something I feel is harmful (and would require me to try to twist myself into some kind of emotional pretzel), but also because it allows me to move on more easily.  It’s not that I haven’t shared this experience before, and learned from others that it has happened to them, over adoption, interracial issues, etc., but somehow getting a little understanding from someone on the outside felt noteworthy.

Of course, it doesn’t provide a road map for going forward, but I try not to expect that from other human beings at this point in my life.

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