Saturday, April 26, 2014

So Your Character is Adopted ...

Society tends to put all sorts of people into stereotypes. Some of those are accurate, but often times people groups are misrepresented in media because of this stereotype image. The stereotype is derived from true features of these people groups, but usually people believe all people of these people groups are like the stereotype. The dumb Southerner, the heartless hunter, and so on.

When you're a writer and you need research for a character, it's sometimes hard to find people to interview to make sure you're portraying this character accurately. So I've decided to write a series of posts showing my personal experience about being part of some uncommon people groups in roughly ten tips. I'm adopted, homeschooled, Southern, a hunter, a Christian and a geek so I plan to cover all of these people groups.

Yes, I'm adopted. No, I'm not horribly scarred. No, my life isn't totally different than everyone who lives with their birth parents. My life is pretty normal. I often forget I'm adopted. I know many other adopted kids that are pretty normal too. Adopted kids appear often in books. Adoption is a good plot device, but often several adoption no-nos are committed.

Here are ten bits of advice for writing an adopted character:

1.) Real Parents & Birth Parents - When an adopted kid refers to the parents they share genetics with, they're called "birth parents" not "real parents." Often the adopted kid's birth parents have nothing to do with their upbringing whatsoever. The adopted parents are the "real parents" because they raised the kid. They were involved in their lives while most of the time the birth parents are not. The adopted kid receives the same parental bond as if the adopted parents were the birth parents.

2.) The Birth Parents Aren't Always Dead - It seems like a good part of the time in media the birth parents are dead. Perhaps that's the reason why the kid was adopted, but it would be nice to see more stories with birth parents that are alive. My birth mother is alive.

3.) Birth Parents Aren't Always the Parents of Your Dreams - It seems
like in media often times the birth parents are rich and solve the adopted character's problems. Birth parents aren't always rich. They're average people and birth parents can be jerks. They're not always the dream parents.

4.) Adopted Parents Aren't Always Mean - I've also seen adopted parents portrayed as mean people. That's not always true. My parents were very kind to me, the same with my adopted friends' parents. They don't constantly remind you you're not their "real child."

5.) Age Makes a Difference - When the kid is adopted at an older age, it does make a difference. They already spent time with their birth parents, but they often can still bond with their adopted parents as older people. This could happen to a foster kid or a kid adopted from out of the country.

When the kid is younger they don't remember their birth parents and their adopted parents become the only parents they know. But there could be potential tension between a kid adopted when they are older since they aren't used to the new parents. I was adopted from infancy so I have no personal experience in this, but I do know some foster kids that have bonded with their new parents well.

6.) Just Tell Them They're Adopted - Have your adopted parents tell your freaking kid they were adopted. Unless the parents have a great reason not to tell the kid they are adopted then please have them tell the kid. That is a huge and unnecessary shock for the child. Unless you have got a great reason just have them tell the kid. Perhaps if their parents weren't good people they can hold off details, but the kid knowing they are adopted is important. I've known for my entire life and I'm glad I have.

7.) Expectations About Birth Parents - Often us adopted kids fantasize about our birth parents. What we think they are, if they're kind or if they have other kids. It's sometimes disappointing when they don't turn out like we imagine them to be.

8.) The First Meet - When meeting or talk to birth parents or even members of birth family for the first time it is nerve-wracking. The adopted kid wonders, "Will they like me? Are they good people?" The meeting is fraught with awkward silences and the most frequent questions are each other's lives.

9.) Sometimes the Adopted Kid Knows the Birth Parents - I've known my birth mother and my half siblings for my entire life because her aunt adopted me. I've never seen anything like this done before, and I think it would be cool to see it done in media.

10.) What-Could-Have-Beens - Often adopted kids find their minds straying to think about what life could have been if they'd stayed with their birth parents. Sometimes it seems better, sometimes it seems worst. This doesn't happen often, but when something reminds the adopted kid of that, it does.

Some media that portrayed this right: 

Smallville & Man of Steel: Both Superman stories, one a show, one a movie, but in both shows the relationship between Clark and his adopted parents Jonathan and Martha was portrayed accurately and he was told at a young age he was adopted.

The Missing by Margaret Peterson-Haddix: The main character in this novel named Jonah was adopted and his relationship with his parents was portrayed well.

Gimme Shelter: This movie showed the darker side of birth parents, but still accurate.

Switched At Birth: This show had a lot of neat tension about birth parents and such and it's interesting because the parents didn't know their kids didn't share their genetics.

Are you writing an adopted character? Do you have any questions I didn't answer?

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  1. Regarding adoptive parents telling their children, would this be an acceptable reason to not tell them?:
    Her parents faked their deaths to escape from certain people, and then they created fake identities. They adopted her using their fake identities. Would it make sense for them not to tell her because she is actually their child, and she might want to meet her birth parents or something, which might exist their fake identities?

    1. That sounds like an interesting idea, but is their a particular reason why wouldn't they just tell her she's their parents when she's old enough to know how to keep a secret?

    2. *they're her parents.
      Typos galore today haha.

    3. Anywhere could be bugged by the people who they're hiding from (even their house or themselves) and if they found out...well, let's just say it wouldn't be good.

    4. Well if it's that treacherous. I guess that's a good enough reason lol.

  2. This post was great! One of my characters is a modern day Sleeping Beauty, and I am trying to figure out what I should do about the aunts-that-turn-out-to-be-fairies. Do you have any advice on what to do about them?

    1. Thank you. :) Well an aunt to niece relationship isn't the same as a mother to daughter relationship. What kind of advice in specific are you looking for?