The Olympic Games in Rio have unexpectedly brought the topic of adoption to the center stage of public discussions. In case you missed it NBC Commentator Al Trautwig was ask
ed in a tweet to stop referring to the stunning gymnast Simone Biles' adoptive parents as her grandfather and his wife, and properly refer to them as simply "her parents". He shot back a tweet stating, "they may be mom and dad, but they are not her REAL parents." This insensitive reply set off a firestorm among adoptive parents who are unfortunately too often not thought of or referred to as "real" parents. Journalist and adoptive mother Carrier Goldman adeptly addressed this affront to adoptive parents in her blog "Portrait of an Adoption", which can be read here http:/www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption. In response to the pressure that followed, Trautwig was forced to rescind his tweet and NBS posted an apology. Meantime, Simone kept her eye on the prize and her comments short and sweet, stating, "my parents are my parents and that's it."
A silver lining to Trautwig's blunder may be that it not only generated an important discussion about the need for adoption sensitive language among the media and the public in general, but it also highlighted the valuable role that adoption plays in forming families. Biles is not unlike so many of the children we support here at Family Connections. Her biological mother struggled with addition and was unable to care for her and her sister, so she entered the foster system. Her maternal grandfather and his wife fostered and eventually adopted girls. The discussions and articles the controversy has sparked has likely increased public awareness not only about the issues of adoption, but also the fact that there are more than 400,000 children in the US foster care system (Children's Rights).
Simone undoubtedly is having the last laugh, as she is bringing home four gold medals from the games. As a play therapist, I cannot help but recognize the symbolic meaning of these awards. After each play therapy session, I refer to my play therapist's bible, the Symbolic Meaning of Toys Expressed in Experiential Play Therapy [(Norton, B & Norton C (2010)] to help me interpret the symbolism and metaphors that the child was using to tell me his or her story. When I look up "gold coins" the meaning for the child who is in the therapeutic growth stage of treatment suggests the child is experiencing increased self-esteem, a sense of value, empowerment, worthiness and competence. While the tangible medal may reflect Simone's athletic prowess resulting from years of training, the symbolic meaning of the medals she is taking home are even more powerful as it underscores the healing and inner strength she has developed, undoubtedly through the efforts of her REAL parents.
For those of you who may want a fun Olympic-related activity to do with your children, take a peek at Dr. Terri Rose's August 12 Facebook post about how to make gold medals (https:/www.facebook.com/drterrierose/). She provides suggestions on how to link this activity to a number of developmental domains (e.g., coordination and movement, language and communication), but I would also encourage you to consider how you might take this opportunity to let your kids know through a tangible metaphor and symbol just how valuable they are to you.