Friday, September 28, 2007

"Family of Origin" -- Some terminology slight-of-hand

What is a "family of origin"? Well, if you didn't know any better, and read the forums at the website "Soul of Adoption" or the Evan B. Donaldson-sponsored "Ethical Adoption Conference" (anyone else think that this is an oxymoron?) webpage, you might think it referred to natural families (i.e. the natural mothers, fathers, and siblings of children separated from them by adoption).

I first encountered the term misused at "Soul of Adoption." Surprised the heck out of me. Since when was the natural family considered to be the family of origin for an adoptee, unless said adoptee had only been adopted as an adult?

A "Family of Origin" is a term with a distinct meaning and purpose. In psychotherapy (especially in what is known as "Family Systems Theory" or just "Systems Theory," i.e. counseling theory and practice expanded beyond the individual to examine that individual's part of a larger "system" of people in their lives), your "Family of Origin" is the family you grew up in. This interactive and ongoing system of people -- and hence communication, behavior, relationships, and especially roles in the family -- plays a large part in creating the person you have become as an adult. A huge part.

That is the purpose of the term "Family of Origin". To define a specific dynamic, interactive, and circumscribed network that a client belongs to and functions as part of, which not only affects them but which they also affect in return. You need the term, the concept, in order to find and identify Family of Origin issues that might be affecting an adult in their current lives. It is very often used in marriage counseling, career counseling, family therapy, and in general psychotherapy. Genograms are often added as well, to plot out relationships and areas of conflict and enmeshment.

Important Family of Origin constructs that are analyzed and explored in therapy include differentiation of self, triangulation, fusion, emotional cut-off, family projection process, object relations, life-cycle dynamics, etc. This is just a small part of it -- family therapy literature includes the work of Bowen, McGoldrick, Carter, the Milan Group, and many others.

"Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally." -- From "Bowen Theory".

Unfortunately, once again it appears that a term was chosen and externally applied onto natural families for the sole reason that it would not offend people who have adopted. Once again, our rights, our dignity -- our worth and respect -- are ignored in order to please those whose consumer demand for our infants was considered more socially acceptable than our own desire and need and love for our newborns. And this time, it is with a term that was unapologetically lifted from therapeutic practice. And the problem is that it very much looks like whatever smarty-pants decided to use the term "Family of Origin" to refer to natural families had NO idea what the term means!

Just like if a lay-person decided to take a medical term -- let's say, pancreas -- and apply it to a tibia, it would not make sense. Doctors would say, "Listen, you have that wrong! A pancreas is an internal organ, and a tibia is your shin bone!" Thus, family therapists could similarly point out that a technical term, "Family of Origin" is being directly misapplied to refer to a totally different concept. And unfortunately, it makes everyone affected by adoption who uses it, look ignorant of the technical meaning of the term.

If you were adopted as an infant or toddler, your Family of Origin is your adoptive family. What was your natural family? Certainly not your family of origin unless their played distinct and ongoing daily interactive roles in your life in a family system.

And, let's say, an adoptee went to a counselor, marriage therapist, psychologist, or what-not for help. When the professional asks them about their family of origin, they sure aren't referring to the natural family! So, once more, we're left without a term that we have been able to choose and apply to ourselves, as any other group in society is permitted to, without worrying about the frail and fragile egos of other social groups (brokers and their customers) that wielded power over us (in this case, the power to have taken our children and keep them from us).

If you are going to create a new term, don't steal an existing one from a reputable profession. A tibia is not a pancreas.

Murray Bowen would be rolling in his grave.

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On a related note, if you read here, you would think that EBD has actually decided to use a term of respect for natural parents and natural families.

But two things: (1) they instead have substituted the term "families of origin" (see above for my comment on this), and also (2) I still count half a dozen uses of the b-word on their conference website, including the preposterous term 'birth child'. Not only is this a non sequitur as a child not give birth, but this term essentially reduces adoptees to being "birth products." If you are a natural mother, this term separates you from your own child. As the word "birth mother" is a term that intentionally defines us as no longer being mothers past the natal event, the implication of the term "birth child" it is not (no longer) your child you gave birth to (as you are not their mother, they cannot be your child) -- thus in terms of the natural family, are nothing more than a birth product that was expelled along with the placenta, blood, and amniotic fluid. That is what 'birth child' implies. Just as putrid as word as "birth mother" (i.e. incubator).

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BTW, about that EBD conference, i see that several very "aware and awake" (i.e not brainwashed, not in denial) natural mothers will be attending it, including Claud. so, maybe it is not a lost cause. I don't hold out much hope that the brokers and adopters will listen to these natural mothers though. They haven't so far listened to any of us. ("But adoption is soo different, so wonderful these days! and you CHOSE to give your baby a better life!" ... puke)