So, I doubt that, if you are in the foster/adopt community, you haven't heard about ABC's new reality show - Find My Family. And you have probably already formed an opinion of it - even if you haven't watched it. I know I had! From the very first commercial I knew two things - 1) It would make me cry and 2) I was against it.
I did not plan to watch it - I felt that it was exploitive and was sure I wouldn't like the sure-to-be cheesy way it would all be presented. However, my VCR had a mind of its own the night of the premiere (okay, it was set to tape DWTS) and once I realized it, I couldn't stop myself from watching.
Well, I was right about one thing - I HATE THE CHEESE FACTOR.
The whole thing feels incredibly contrived and I find myself wanting to slap at least one of the cohosts every week. Both hosts, Lisa Joyner and Tim Green, were adopted - and in some cases that might make them ideal people to support the participants through this process. But in this case, not so much. They both insert themselves into the scenarios WAY too much and project their own feelings, past and present, onto the adoptees and birth families. I believe that a professional (social worker, counselor, therapist, etc) should be the one facilitating these discussions. I think that the show would be more honest if the participants were allowed to have their own feelings - instead of Tim and Lisa's being injected into each discussion. And I simply cringe each and every time one of them asks someone for a hug - which they do, constantly, and at the most inappropriate time.
The "searcher" is also instructed to write a letter to the person they are looking for - which is then read OUT LOUD by that person in front of whichever host has come to tell them that their family is looking for them. How nerve wreaking to have to read that letter and feel all those feelings in front a virtual stranger (and a camera crew).
I also hate the "Family Tree" that all the participants are flown to in order to meet each other - how would the hosts like it if they'd been forced to wait to find their family until they were under some stupid tree? The hosts and the tree make the whole thing feel...I don't know... icky... to me. It feels exactly how I was afraid it would feel - like these people are being manipulated and taken advantage of at one of the most desperate times in their lives.
But I was wrong about completely hating it.
Its hard to hate the show when you see the reunions - as cheesy and contrived as they are, these are people who may not have found each other if not for this show. And if only for them, I am glad it exists despite its flaws. Also, I hope that when people watch it, they are given a better understanding of the experience of adoption from all sides. I know that it has already helped me to understand somethings that I have wondered about and helped me tap into some ugly realities about adoption that I've never quite believed. Here are some of the situations that have played out so far and some of my thoughts:
Ashley/David/Danielle - Siblings. This seems so obvious, but I know first hand that some adoptive parents don't think that biological siblings are important. Well, it certainly was for Ashley - she'd been thinking about and searching for her brother since she'd first discovered she was adopted (by accident no less!) when she was 10 years old. David hadn't been searching for quite as long - because he'd been told his baby sister died at birth. He only discovered the truth after his (2nd) younger sister, Danielle, was told that their parents had given Ashley up for adoption. Along with the obvious storyline pull - siblings searching for each other - I was struck by the lies that both families had told surrounding this adoption. Both Ashley and David express that they felt betrayed by their parents (adoptive and birth) when they discovered the truth. This is a grave lesson that I hope parents take note of - honesty is the best policy.
Judith/June - The first example of a transracial adoption - but that is mostly glossed over with a "race didn't matter in my family". I'm not knocking that its Judith's perogative to be fine with being the only black child in a white family - I just hope that FMF does address the other side of the coin at some point. What was interesting was the feelings expressed by Judith's daughters - "It makes me feel kinda sad, that you don't know your mom". Out of the mouths of babes - of course a child would understand the loss of a parent, much more so that us adults who can rationalize some of the "loss" of adoption. June was a foster child, living with a foster family when she got pregnant - she was given no choice but to give her daughter up for adoption. She tells a tragic story of sneaking out of her hospital bed in an attempt to see her child just one time - but the nurses caught her and she left the hospital without even getting to say goodbye. Listening to her read the letter from Judith was heartbreaking.
Kari/Vickey - Kari is the first example of an "angry adoptee", someone who didn't insist that everything was peaches and cream in her adoptive family. This is what Kari said about her adoptive family, "I never doubted that I was loved, but acceptance I went back and forth with", despite the insistance of her adoptive mother that there was no difference between Kari and her sister (biological child of adoptive parents). And why wouldn't she have issues feeling accepted? The only information that she has about her adoption state that "the child, a girl was given to the [state agency] by her mother who refused to care for and did abandon her". She felt "trashed" - simply discarded without feeling - Kari couldn't understand how "you could carry a child for 9 months and then handing that child over to someone you'd never even met".
Kari's story enraged me more one single reason: she was told she was 'abandoned' by her birth mother. But she wasn't. When FMF located Vickey she told a completely different story - she'd not abandoned her daughter, she'd made a conscious decision to give her child a better life because she already had a child, didn't have a job and was living with friends. Despite her original request that she not see her baby - she did, and held her for four hours. She wrote her a letter, told her she loved her that she hoped that they would find each other one day. And she even tried to regain custody of Kari three months after her birth when her financial circumstances changed dramatically. Can you imagine how she felt when she was told that her daughter never got that letter? That her baby was told that she was abandoned? Thrown away? Made to believe she was never wanted or loved? Horrible. And for that, I blame the person (some type of social worker, I presume) in charge of Kari's adoption. As I watched this episode, I thought about the way I talk about birth parents to their children and how important for children to know that their parents care about them. Even if their parents have hurt them, even if their parents neglected them, even if their parents did not do the things that were neccesary to have them returned to them - does not mean they were not wanted, or cared about or loved. And these things are important - for the mother and the child. Kari lived for years with pain surrounding her adoption - some of it could have been spared if someone had been diligent about making sure a simple letter followed that baby girl.
Sean/ - The first father, searching for the son that he wasn't given the option to raise. I have often felt like this is the biggest travesty in adoption. That fathers are brushed aside - their names not even required on a birth certificate nor is there any recourse for a woman claiming she doesn't "know who the father is" when signing away her rights to that child. searched for his child for almost 30 years - and Sean never knew that his father hadn't consented to his adoption. Sad. Tragic.
For these reasons, and I'm sure there will be many more - I am glad that the show exists. One of the reoccuring themes that surprised me was even when the child had their birth parents' name(s) and sometimes even the names of relatives - they could not find them, even with a private investigator. Even though adoptive parents were "open" with their children about their adoptions - it didn't make finding their biological family any easier. It was a stark reminder of how hard it can be to find someone - even if you know who you are looking for. I certainly hope that we are moving in a direction (albeit much too slowly) with adoption that will mean this kind of show won't be neccesary in the future.
Have you seen the show? What are your thouhts? If you haven't, you can watch the last few episodes here and form your own opinions.
Oh, and I was right about one more thing... It makes me cry every week!