Tuesday, February 06, 2001

Married with adopted children

The recent breakup of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, splashed across the TV and the internet and every supermarket tabloid in creation, gives me cause once again to think about the media's ever-so-sensitive treatment of adoption. Every report I heard or read was careful to mention that the couple had been married for 10 years and had two adopted children. What their adoption status had to do with the story is never revealed. So why does it even have to be mentioned?

Maybe because it always has been. You never read anything about Tom and Nicole's two except that they're adopted. It's been in every news story about this power couple. And somehow, I've never felt it was intended in a positive light, never an indication of how nice it is that these two beautiful people formed their family through adoption. It's always seemed to me to be a snide little comment on how something's not quite right with these two. Sure, they look great, they're big stars, they have everything, but their children are adopted. Not quite perfect, are they?

Maybe I'm just being sensitive. It's not like I keep my kids' adoption a big secret. I've been known to blab about it and then wonder why I felt a need to. But I think, in my own defense, that the revelation usually has at least some relevance to the story I'm telling. The media seems to feel no such compunction.

At what point, one wonders, does a family just become a family and not an adoptive family? Alas, the Cruise-Kidman kids may never find out. As their parents move on to other relationships, they will always be the kids adopted in this one. But even for non-celeb, non-divorced, non-disrupted families, I suspect that the adoption label never really goes away. In happy times, that may be fine. But in tragedy, it becomes a curse. A child with problems is heartbreaking under any circumstances, but an adopted child with problems is a heartbreak you asked for.

I'm reminded, in all of this, of the time recently when someone pointed out a young woman in a wheelchair to me and said, "Now that's a real adoption horror story." Turns out she was adopted as an infant, contracted a degenerative disease in her teens, and was now paralyzed. And yet, of course, the most important fact about this was not the tragic disease, but the fact that she was adopted. Would someone, in a similar situation, call it a real childbirth horror story?

About as likely as the media talking about childbirth methods used the next time a married-with-children star couple implodes.

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