Thursday, 1 May 2014

Behaviour, not biology, makes a real family

Watching television recently, I saw an advertisement for the RSPCA.

It was designed to encourage potential pet owners to adopt rather than buy - a great idea and an important issue. 

In doing so, the dialogue went something along the lines of the following (I'm paraphrasing as I can't recall it verbatim and I may have taken creative license with the names). 

"Fido, we have something to tell you, we think you're old enough to know"

*Dog stares back at its owners. 

"You're adopted."

*Dog continues staring. 

"Miffy isn't you're real sister."

*Dog cocks head and camera pans back to reveal a duck. 

"Neither is Mitzy."

*Camera pans back to reveal a cat (or another animal, the specifics escape me). 

The concept in itself is a good one, it's presented with humour as the dog cocks his head in apparent confusion. 

But while the message is positive with regards to pet adoption, I feel the dialogue sends a negative message to children who are adopted who may be watching. 

It's just the one simple line really: "Miffy isn't your real sister."

Simply saying, "so is Miffy.  And Mitzy" followed by the wider shots of the other animals would have delivered the same message to adults watching, without the underlying message that adopted siblings aren't real siblings. 

And herein lies the problem. 

Despite how far we've come with adoption awareness, our society still seems to place undue importance on biology, reducing adopted and non-biological families as inferior or somehow not quite real. 

And this simply doesn't reflect reality. 

I think most of us know someone whose relationship with a non-biological family member is far more real than any biological relationship could ever be. I know I do. 

Yet we see this ingrained obsession all the time in multiple facets of society, from the government's obsessive focus on reuniting biological children to unfit parents despite terrible abuse, at times resulting in more serious abuse, even death; to the media's continual reference to celebrities' adopted children, as opposed to simply referring to their children.  Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as well as Woody Allen are recent notable examples of this.

Back to the ad, you can imagine the importance parents place when advising children of their adoption, in reassuring them that they are indeed a real family with real parents and real brothers and sisters.  

The words in the RSPCA ad contradict that. 

And while it might seem insignificant to many people watching, and I understand it's supposed to be light-hearted, it's probably less so for a confused young child whose recently found out about their adoption. 

When in reality, it's behaviour, not biology that makes a real family. 


  1. That is so true. And I agree, there is FAR too much emphasis placed on returning children to biological parents which devastating consequences. I haven't seen that RSPCA advertisement but it does sound like a poor choice of words - I'll keep my eye out!

  2. I can say with 100 per cent certainty that biology definitely does not equate to a real family.