Saturday, March 19, 2011

Keep Talking!

Today a very irritating review of my novel claimed that I believe all children should be raised by their biological parents.
Considering that I was raised by two people who were in no way biologically related to me, I can say I wholeheartedly believe no such thing.
Here's what I do believe: children long for their parents, and in their absence, create fantasies of belonging and identity and perfect love. It’s the same kind of longing that happens when the person you're in love with suddenly dumps you. You're sure there has been some mistake. You hope against all odds and fervent declarations to the contrary that the person will come back and want you and love you again. But your longing doesn't mean the relationship was working or right or good for you. In the same way, a child's longing for her biological parents doesn't mean those parents should be or could be raising her.
One of my characters is adopted. His adoptive parents clearly love him and are very good caregivers. What derails him is not the fact of his adoption, but how this fact has been hidden from him, and how, when he finds out at age 14, his adoptive parents are utterly unable to discuss the matter with him. This part of the novel is set in the 1950s, when adoption was a matter of secrecy. It was a matter of shame for the mother who had “got into trouble,” and a matter of dark speculation for gossipy neighbours who nodded knowingly at each other and muttered about what was bred in the bone.  My character senses this, and in the silence, he imagines the worst. He doesn’t turn out the way he does simply because he was raised by two people who have no genetic connection to him.
The parents in my novel lack balance: the ones who effortlessly pour out their love and physical affection are poor providers, while the competent providers can’t say “I love you and I'm glad I have you.”  Some parents are unreliable and missing in action; others are overly rigid and all-too-present. If only they could be blended into one perfect parent! Or, more realistically,  since they're all part of the same family, if only they would stay in touch and keep talking, they could make up for each other's shortcomings.
Every Time We Say Goodbye is not about how all biological parents should raise their own children, but how the deep imperfections and imbalances in families can be overcome if everyone stays connected and keeps talking.

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