Several months ago I was at a wedding and met some extended family for the first time and some I haven’t seen for many many years. I felt really silly referring to them as my “aunt” or “second cousin” or even “brother”. I mean, aren’t those titles really for the adopted child, to acclimate them into their adoptive family. For a child’s benefit? And also the adoptive parents’ when the child is young?
As adults, I think we all know: I am adopted. They aren’t really my “family”. They are people who raised me and who I was raised with. I’m actually ok referring to my immediate adoptive family as my family, but really have to desire to vehemently defend this title to others like I did when I was a kid.
I also do not consider my extended or my intermediate family as my “family.” The only people in my adopted family who I consider family are my adopted parents. I found out a few years ago from my adopted mother that I was kept far away from the rest of the family only because of how badly I was treated/looked at by them. When my adopted parents adopted me and brought me to the states there was no welcome party for them by friends or family, no congratulations, nothing, only because my adopted family (aunts, uncles, cousins) thought adopting me was a stupid idea and wanted nothing to do with me. Of course now, they feel “oh so bad” for how they acted and want to be a part of my life now, but ever since being told by my (a)mom on their opinion of me, everytime I see them, I either tolerate them or fake smile and fake hug them, because really in the back of my mind, I don’t like them. I am not really for adoption at all, but I could never forgive my adopted extended/intermediate family for how they treated my adopted parents or me.
Your situation may be a little bit different from mine, but I can tell you that I was never really raised or brought around any of my “aunts, uncles or cousins” because my (a)parents were trying to protect me from them. But like you, whenever I see them, I don’t really think I feel the need to refer them as my Aunts or Uncles simply because they were never there for me or my (a)parents. But that is probably not the case for all adoptees seeing how some adoptees are very close to their adopted family.
It’s an interesting question and I’d like to flip it around, because these words of relationship have a different meaning in a culture that is not nuclear-family based. I don’t really want to get into that aspect of it growing up, because it is a painful awareness I think for the adoptee to see the limitations of familal monikers. For just one small example, my paternal grandmother would refer to her “grandkids and Danny”. The square quotation marks you use to say “family” exist, whether we admit it or not. The flip side of this is found in my more communally based culture of birth, where to be referred to as “uncle, brother, or son” is an honor and a privilege that can often reduce me to tears, and reveals the pitiful non-meaning of these terms in the culture of my adoption.
I do not consider my extended adoptive “family” to be my family. I am adopted. I did not adopt them. It was very difficult growing up, as my adoptive Mother’s family was a very close knit Italian family. I did not look like them, nor did I act like them. They never really shunned me, but it was very obvious I was not “one of them”. My adoptive father’s family shunned me from day one and went to their graves treating me like an outsider.
I do still call my a Mom’s brother “Uncle”. He acknowledged the fact that I was adopted, and never made me feel like I should try more to be like one of them. He loved the fact that I never denied my own heritage- even though I really did not know what that was.
When I hear my first Mother’s sister call me “niece”, siblings call me sister, etc, it means EVERYTHING to me.
Linda brings up a good point….why are we framing the question this way? Shouldn’t the question be: “Do extended family members consider adoptees to be family?”
Why this extra burden on us?