When family building becomes family breaking

“Family building” is a euphemism. It is a nice sounding phrase that hides unethical practices.

Euphemism means: “a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.”

OK, so if it’s a euphemism, what is the harsh or blunt aspect?

Here’s an example. Check out this resolution by a group called RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association:

RESOLVE believes that everyone facing infertility deserves access to all family building options.

It means that infertile couples have a right to obtain human beings by whatever means. That’s the harsh or blunt aspect.

Hey look, I have heard heartbreaking stories of how painful infertility is. I have no doubt about those stories. I empathize with their pain. Let me be clear that I don’t like pain and I don’t want people to feel pain.

But no amount of pain gives people a right to parent an unrelated child. 

Notice the part that says, “… all family building options.”

I don’t think they thought that through very well. There IS such a thing as unethical “family building.” In fact, I would argue that anytime you see the phrase “family building,” it referring to an unethical practice.

Do moms and dads who are married to each other use that phrase? I don’t think so. There is only one way to ethical “build” a family and it goes like this:

  • Save sex for marriage.
  • Marry somebody of the opposite sex.
  • Don’t deliberately wait until the woman’s peak childbearing years are behind her.
  • Have children in marriage.
  • Stay married and raise your children.

I know there will be detractors and nit-pickers who say, “What about death? What about divorce?” So let me be clear: a family that loses one parent to death is ethically the same as if the parent didn’t die. Sometimes a divorce must happen because one parent is being horrible. But those things are not “family building,” are they?

Here’s another sad fact: what we call “family building” is in fact “family breaking.”

For the sake of the custodial parents, it:

  • Chops off a child’s family tree entirely (adoption)…
  • Or it splits the child’s family tree in half (remarriage after divorce)…
  • Or it chops off one-half of the child’s family tree (surrogacy; egg donation; sperm donation; single-parenting-by-choice).

I can hear it now: “But ADOPTION is all sweetness and light. It is always beautiful and wonderful.”

No, it isn’t.

Adoption is supposed to be an institution that finds parents for children who need them. Adoption is supposed to be a child welfare intervention of last resort.

This means that the kid is in dire straights. It can mean any of these things:

  • The parents are dead or incarcerated or have abandoned the child.
  • There is no related family that can be found, or that wants the child.
  • There are no measures available to help the mother or other family members keep the child. Poverty.

When people adopt in those circumstances, that’s not for “family building” reasons. That’s because a child needs a family, not because certain couples want a family.

Unfortunately, there are far too many instances where adoption is used to give children to parents who want them. That’s not now it’s supposed to be. So please stop using adoption as an excuse to cut down a child’s family tree.

This is what “family building” looks like to me:

Family building is chopping or dismembering a child’s family tree so that certain people can have their pain relieved.

It shifts the pain from the adults to the child. Now the child has to spend his life pretending that he’s OK with having a family tree that was deliberately cut off or dismembered. He has to navigate the world without an intact ontological understanding of himself.

Worse, the very parents themselves often have intact family trees. So they can’t relate to the pain of a lost or fractured ontology and what it is like to live in the liminal space this creates.

I’m sorry for the pain caused by infertility, I truly am.

But it is not an unrelated child’s job to remedy that pain.

Instead, join a support group. Start a blog. See a counselor. Talk to friends. Yell at God. Cry. Repeat over and over.

I hate to say this but I know from my own experience: some things in this life won’t be healed. I know because my family tree will never be healed. The psychologists and psychiatrists were wrong. Very wrong. Divorce was not a one-time shock from which I recovered. It permanently split my family tree, my ontology, into two distinct halves, then the remarriages were like inserting wedges into the split. Divorce taught me to lie, to pretend, it created confusion and doubt, loneliness and emotional isolation. Nobody shared that experience with me. Nobody else had that family. I was truly alone there, always feeling that one-half of myself wasn’t welcome no matter which home I was in. There is a place in my heart that has ached for over 40 years from the split and I do not see how it will be healed in this life.

Some things won’t be healed. But that doesn’t mean we stop living. It doesn’t mean there is no joy or comfort. There is joy and comfort amid the pain.

So I get it. I get how some things hurt for a very long time. I am totally sympathetic to that idea and to anybody who feels that way for whatever reason.

But it’s not fair to push that pain onto somebody who has no choice or voice or language to even express it. Don’t you agree?

I hope I have convinced even one person to refrain from separating a child from his family tree (the whole thing or parts of it) as a way to relieve the pain of infertility.

Because when that happens, family building becomes family breaking.


Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I'm writing in order to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I will also discuss problems with other non-triad family structures, since there is a lot of overlap. People often think that better parenting skills will overcome problems in non-triad arrangements. While I agree that parenting skills are important, they cannot overcome the problems I discuss such as fractured ontology and perpetual liminality. I converted to the Catholic faith in 2012, and will discuss Catholic things from time to time as well.

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