As with any thoughts on adoption, it’s important to distinguish between the context of adoption in the 50s & 60s with that of today. In the former case, it was done without any further reference to or contact with the birth mother or father and very much an attempt at a ‘new start’. Here, I look at the idea of family likeness & mirroring in the development of self-awareness and identity.
Mirroring is a given for those who grow up in contact with blood relatives, as is seeing one’s own face in a mirror. When one has that like-ness around to see, it is completely taken for granted in the sense that it is not necessarily consciously processed. Mirroring is a confirmation of the nature and appearance of one’s self. We see ourselves through others because our features, voices and habits are mirrored back at us. On a much deeper and implicit level it is confirmation of existence, of belonging and of one’s right to be here.
This includes the face, voice, movements, gestures, reactions – confirmed by a likeness in someone near to us. An adoptee can look in the mirror the same as anyone else, but not connect the reflection to anyone in the family. Mirrors are not just visual. When I first met my birth mother I was struck by her laugh because I at last heard my own through hers. In hearing her laugh I became more conscious of the nature of my own. Auditory mirrors are just as important as visual ones.If we can inherit laughter, facial expressions, and gestures, what about our written language style? As an English teacher I taught child language acquisition with my A-level students. Looking at Chomsky’s theory of innate grammar skills, I started to wonder how much of our linguistic ability is in our genes. I know that dyslexia is often considered hereditary. If Chomsky is correct in proposing that part of the brain has the ability to acquire grammar, then could it follow that those ‘deep structures’ as he calls them have similar design features written in from our parents’ DNA? I had email contact with one bio family member for a while before meeting him. A relative had commented that the style was so similar to his that he could have written it. When I looked at our emails I saw what he meant – what linguists describe as a ‘linguistic fingerprint’. Reading his emails was effortless as he, like me, he tended to write compound sentences, some asides, and short exclamations – all very similar to my style. And neither of us sees email as an excuse to drop punctuation.
So family likenesses serve to help create identity as well as a sense of belonging.