When I started my blog, I had a list of topics.  Poaching was the number one item.  It irked me the most.  But I never wrote about it.  Why?  Because the weird feeling an adoptive parent gets when another adult presumes an adoptive child needs care and attention he/she isn’t getting is nearly impossible to describe. So I’ve kept putting it off.  But it’s still on the top of the list.

The root of poaching is the presumption that an adopted child is still an orphan. Related to this presumption is the thought that the bond between the adopted child and his/her adoptive parent is casual or, if not casual, less significant than would be a biological bond.  It is this perception of casualness – that the child is only very loosely connected to the adoptive parent – that seems to invite a peculiar kind of interloping.

Sometimes, it’s a small intrusion.  Say, an adopted toddler becomes upset and starts crying in the presence of his/her adoptive mother and maybe a neighbor or a teacher.  If the mom doesn’t respond quickly enough, the poacher will intervene, figuring that she needs to fill a gap in caring since the child’s needs are so obviously not being met.  What I am getting at here is that the normal resistence to getting involved in others’ parenting interactions is relaxed when the target is an adoptive parent/child pair.

There are levels and types of poaching.  Underneath them all is the unarticulated assumption of casual connection; that, if circumstances were slightly different, anyone could have been the adoptive child’s mother. The teacher, the nurse, the neighbor, the friend, the sister, the aunt, anyone could be mom.  While that may actually have been true, at least, in the abstract, at the time of the actual adoption, once the family is formed, it ceases to be true.  An orphan may be up for grabs but an adopted child isn’t.

It’s hard to describe the offense poaching inflicts on an adoptive parent without sounding petty or mean or unappreciative of the good will and caring exhibited by other adults.  It’s hard to say with any real descriptiveness — this much caring is fine, that much caring is too much.  Trying to explain a particularly egregious episode of poaching to a friend, I finally blurted out, “She (the poacher) kept acting like my child needed to be rescued.  But what she didn’t get is that we had already rescued her.”  We had rescued her from an orphanage, from poverty, from loneliness, from fear, from ill health.  We had rescued her and given her our name, made a place for her at our table, included her in our family, comforted her at night, made her safe, loved her and raised her.  She was no longer an orphan and she was no longer up for grabs.

I think adoptive parents need to know it’s ok to tell poachers to back off.  It’s ok to tell them, subtly or not, that your adopted child has parents and they’re on the job.  I’ve done this but I’ve had to get powerfully angry in order to do it.  But over the years, I let tons of poaching just slide because I couldn’t figure out how to name it, expose it, and insist people quit it. Sometimes it takes decades to figure out how to call something what it is.

Anyway, that’s what I have to say about poaching.  And because I’ve finally written this post about the #1 item on my blog list, I can now go back to analyzing rock lyrics and describing my myriad athletic feats.  It’s very freeing.

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Photo: Daiga Ellaby