For adoptive parents, discussing adoption with their children is a lifelong conversation starting (hopefully) as soon as they arrive to the family and continuing on for the rest of their lives.
It can be difficult to know how to share, what to share and when to share particularly as our children grown and their developmental, emotional and practical needs change. When do we tell them difficult details about their origins? How do we support their need for connection or their need to push away? How can we anticipate what they are likely to need from us as they grow into teens and then into adulthood?
In February, I’ll be offering my Talking to Kids About Adoption workshop as support for adoptive parents who are trying to figure it all out. You can learn more about it and register here. I’ve also been invited to write about the topic at the Adoption Circle web site and you can see the first in that series by going here.
We will do a quick overview of the research and discuss recommended best practices and there will be lots of time to ask questions so we can address the particulars of your family’s situation and your child’s history. I’ll also share a list of resources so families can move forward on their own after the workshop.
Because there’s tremendous need for this support, I will continue to offer this workshop regularly. If you want to stay up to date on the speakers, workshops, classes and groups that I have upcoming, be sure to sign up for the newsletter by filling out the form below.
On our way to an adoption conference in Portland in 2008. The moving sidewalk at the airport during a layover was her favorite part.
My daughter and I will be sitting on the Adoption Academy panel this Monday hosted by The National Center for Adoption Law & Policy and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I will be there to encourage my daughter and hopefully she’ll be doing most of the talking when it’s our turn to share.
The Adoption Academy is a great (and inexpensive!) opportunity for prospective adoptive parents to get an overview of many different kinds of adoption to better understand what way of building their families might be right for them.
Because I was asked to speak as an adoptive parent (not as a professional specializing in adoption) I asked them if my daughter could come with my support instead. I did this because a few months ago when I was on my way out to another speaking engagement my daughter (who is 10 as of this writing) said, “Why don’t they ask me? After all, I am the adopted one!”
She had a good point.
We adoptive parents tend to seek each other out for information and support and sometimes that’s appropriate but if we don’t widen our cultural view we run into the danger of assuming that our vantage point is the only one or the most right one.
Fortunately there are more and more opportunities for us to hear from the other players in adoption. Publications like Gazillion Voices, events like the Ohio Birthparent Group‘s All Adoption peer support meeting (every second Tuesday in my office at 7pm), and the blogs of first parents and adoptees allow us to listen and learn, giving us the chance to be better, more inclusive, more understanding parents.
What we’ll hear isn’t always easy and we won’t always agree with what is said. But the experience will give us a better understanding of adoption in all of its complicated nuances, which will make us better parents to our own adopted kids.
I’ve been dragging my daughter to adoption conferences since she was in diapers and so she has been fortunate to hear from adult adoptees, birth parents and other adoptive parents and she has been chomping at the bit to add her own voice to the discussion. Over the weekend we’ll be practicing and playacting some of the questions she might get so she can think about how she wants to respond. Right now she knows that the message she is most anxious to impart is that there doesn’t need to be competition between adoptive parents and birth parents.
“It’s all family,” she explained, trying to decide how she wanted to articulate this.
There’s a strong possibility that my daughter will want to take a step back from participating in events like this as she edges closer to her teens and I will support her in that, too, but as long as she wants to share her story and her experiences, I want to help her do that.
So we’ll be seeing you Monday. It ought to be a good time.
I will be facilitating a workshop in partnership with the Central Ohio Families with Children from China. There are three tracks available and I encourage you to contact COFCC if you are interested in learning which one might be appropriate for your child. (Note: This workshop is open to children who have been adopted from other countries or domestically.)
POWER OF “ME” is a workshop for children with the goal of empowering its participants with the skills necessary to enhance their development in a fun and friendly environment.
Track A - W.I.S.E. Up! (9:30 - 11:30)
For children, in Kindergarten and up, who have not taken WISE UP before, or would benefit from a refresher course. W.I.S.E. Up! provides a simple, but powerful way, for adopted children and their siblings, to handle comments and personal questions about their adoption journey and their family.
Presenter/Facilitator - Vickie Hobensack, CPNP-PC
Track B - “MY” Life Book (9:30-11:30)
For those who already took W.I.S.E. Up! Children will have the opportunity to work on their own adoption story, their own life book! Their adoption stories in their own words.
Presenter/Facilitator - Dawn Friedman, MSEd, LPC-CR
NOTE: Make sure your child knows his/her adoption story. Once you sign up, a list of photos suggested for the session will be emailed to you.
Track C – Tweens & Teens (9:30 - 11:30)
Annie was 8 when she started school in the USA. She had to adjust, fit in and learn to navigate an all new world. She, and others, will share how they made it thru the tween and teen years.
Presenter/Facilitator - Annie Chen
COFCC Children: $20 per child
Non-COFCC Children: $25 per child
To Register, please go to the COFFCC website here.
(This is an edited repost from my defunct personal blog, which is why it references other posts from four years ago and Lost, for goodness sakes, like the olden days or something.)
Malinda posted about this parenting advice from Brian Stuy:
We have never brought up, unprompted, our daughters’ birth parents. We have discussed adoption, conception and pregnancy, and other corollary issues from time to time, but I have never, without having the subject introduced by a daughter, initiated a conversation by saying, “Do you wish you knew your birth mother?” Or, “Do you want to know more about your abandonment?” I have always indicated a willingness to answer any and all questions (not just about adoption but about anything), so I am confident my kids know that if they ask any question we will try to provide them with a good answer. But the point is, I wait for them to ask. Those that force-feed their children the deep issues of abandonment, birth parents and adoption, risk, I believe, getting the kinds of responses displayed above. In fact, by presenting the reality of birth parents before they are mature enough to handle it, for example, I think we risk diminishing our own position as parents to our children.
I was watching Lost on Tuesday, which is chock full of obvious and less obvious adoption issues and adoption cliches and stereotypes and I was thinking about how deeply ingrained our presumptions are about “real” parents and changelings and lost orphans and false parents. I was thinking about fairy tales and mythology and thinking that our collective unconsciousness already feeds us these ideas. (I am typing this to avoid spoilers.) It doesn’t matter if they are “true” or not — they are part of our belief system.
So unlike Brian, I think that even if we never ever ever breathe an unasked for word about our kids’ birth parents that our collective unconsciousness is already, in some ways, defining our own position as parents to our children. And our kids need to figure that out for themselves, which I think means we should be more explicit in welcoming that discussion. Not because we need to sway them but because we need to hear them out (or at least say to them, “I am bringing this up because I will hear you out”) so that they know whatever direction they choose, whatever belief feels like home to them, we will love them and accept them and never ever leave them. Even if they feel more attached to their birth countries, families and origins than they do to us. They may reject the “blood is thicker than water” belief system or they may not. But they will wonder about it.
Brian also says:
They might ask at that point if they were born of their adoptive parents, and that would be a good time to answer, “No, you were born to a woman in China.” That is the type of answer I would give. But many use this opportunity to go ahead and answer questions not asked and not even thought of: “No, you were born to a woman in China. She is your birth mother, and she wasn’t able to keep you, so she left you at the gate of the orphanage.” This is the type of over-feeding that overwhelms most kids, and creates, I believe, unnecessarily emotional issues.
There’s a third response, “No, you were born to a woman in China. What do you think about that?” or “How do you feel about that?” or “I know that might be confusing. Do you have some questions about that?”
I mean, culturally? We romanticize birth ties. I’m not willing to say that this romance is more true or less true. I’m not willing to say that it’s a cultural bias we need to question or reject or welcome with open arms. I think it’s one that’s interesting to explore and for any adopted child, it is an absolutely vital exploration because it is a conflict she is living and she will need to make sense of it in whatever way she needs to.
This is why we need to bring it up. We don’t say, “Hey, my lovely child, do you feel so much more tied to your birth mom than you do to me? Since she’s your real mother and all?” Instead we can say, “How did you feel when so-and-so was talking about this thing that might relate to adoption?” If I was Brian Stuy in a closed adoption from China, I’d surely say, “Sometimes I wonder about your birth mom. Do you wonder?” Because I would wonder. And if I’m wondering, it’s not such a far stretch to think that the child herself wonders.
I do not think that birth ties are any more magical and true than love ties but I do believe that birth ties are rich with meaning. I do think that in a culture that romanticizes our genetic origins that those genetic origins have an important weight.
For example, gender has tremendous cultural weight, agreed? We can say that gender is a social construct but it does not negate the weight of it. We can say it is a figment of our collective imagination and we can choose NOT to believe that gender matters. Individually, we can do that. But culturally, gender still has weight and our questions and struggle with the cultural construct of gender is practiced against the beliefs that we are questioning. Which is to say, no matter how much we choose to believe that gender does not matter for ourselves, it does matter. Our personal practice of gender exists in contrast to the larger cultural construct. In other words, Lady Gaga owes as big a debt to Phyllis Schlafly as she does to Madonna.
I know many adoptees, and although this is not true across the board adoptees will never be pigeonholed, i’ve found that more often than not, when you look beyond the surface, the adoptees whom a casual observer may most likely label as an “angry adoptee” or see as being the most critical of different aspects of adoption, are often the very ones who have the closest and healthiest relationships with their adoptive parents. It seems counter-intuitive, but I see it over and over again.
When an adoptee makes a critical statement about adoption or adoption practices it doesn’t automatically mean that they are “angry” or have a bad relationship with their parents. Often, the opposite is true, and all it really means is that they’ve been paying attention.
via blog.adoptionmosaic.org » Angry in a Whole New Light.
There’s a myth that goes around adoptive parent circles, which says that if you are a good adoptive parent your child will never grieve, never be angry about his/her adoption and never “need” to meet their birth family. Many of us know that it’s a myth and yet it persists. And it presupposes that adopted people should not be angry or that we should not want to raise children who have their own opinions, thoughts and feelings about their experiences.
You can’t look at any child who isn’t expressing negative emotion and assume that means the child isn’t feeling negative emotion, not when it comes to big ticket items like adoption or divorce or moving or deployed parents, etc. It may be that child is very private. It may be that child doesn’t want to disrupt things for other family members (issues of loyalty, guilt or responsibility can make talking about our feelings that much more difficult). It may be that the complexity of those big ticket items make it too hard to talk about.
In other words, giving your child safe space to say, “I miss my birth mom” does not MAKE her miss her birth mom; it lets her know that you are strong enough to be there for her while she struggles with any and all of her feelings.
This isn’t to say that “angry adoptees” are modeling the only way or the most healthy way for an adopted person to feel. Adopted people are not a monolithic population and so there are adopted people who are happy about adoption and adopted people w ho are angry about adoption and adopted people who are grieving their adoption and very often those people are many of those things all at the same time or they will change their feelings as their experiences change. Just like those of us who are not adopted, we all have a right to make meaning of our experiences with room for ambivalence and room for growth and room for change.
We adoptive parents, we do not get to define the adoption experience for our children and we do not get to take their emotions and decide it says something about us (making their feelings all about us).
Being critical of adoption — being critical of our participation as adoptive parents — is the right of any adopted person. We get to have our experience of adoption; they get to have theirs.
When they are very young children and then bigger children and then teens, our job is to help them make sense of their stories and give them room to eventually tell their own narrative. Our job is not to control that narrative and it is not to limit their authorship of their own story because, as I said, giving your child space to be critical does not create the criticism.