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, LPCC-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.
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.
Adoption Network Cleveland‘s Executive Director and founder, Betsie Norris, has been working on legislation for all Ohio-born adoptees to gain access to their original birth certificates for years. Ohio has a wacky three tier system that has allowed adoptees born before 1963 and those after September 1996 to get copies of their original birth certificates but all other adoptees were left in the dark. That’s all about to change thanks to the tireless efforts of Betsie and her team of volunteers, which includes Kate Livingston, founder of the Ohio Birth Parent Group.
This is their press release in its entirety:
Governor is Scheduled to Sign Adoptee Rights Bill — Affecting 400,000 Adoptee Records
Columbus, OH – Governor John Kasich is scheduled to sign Substitute Senate Bill 23 into law on Thursday, December 19th in a private event. Once enacted, this new law will allow 400,000 adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.
Adoption Network Cleveland founder and Executive Director Betsie Norris has been working tirelessly on this cause since founding the organization in 1988. This is the sixth bill in 25 years that has attempted to address this issue in Ohio. Norris stated, “We are grateful that Governor John Kasich has decided to act quickly to sign this bill into law. With the stroke of his pen, he is positively impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands Ohio adoptees.”
The bill passed the Ohio House on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 with a vote of 91-2. The bill had passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. Senators Bill Beagle (R) and Dave Burke (R) sponsored the bill. An identical bill was sponsored in the House by Representatives Dorothy Pelanda (R) and Nickie Antonio (D).
The bill allows Ohio’s most disenfranchised adoptees, those adopted between 1964 and 1996 who currently have no direct mechanism to access their original birth certificates, access to this important personal document upon request. It also creates a mechanism for birthparents from that era to have a voice and indicate their preference regarding contact from their adult child. In addition, an amendment to the bill also allows birthparents a one-year window during implementation during which they can request that their name be redacted from the version of the birth certificate given to the adoptee. If they do so, they must provide a detailed medical history. Based on experience in other states, it is anticipated that very few if any birthparents will seek to remove their name.
After a 90-day enactment period, the bill has a one-year waiting period before any records will be released, therefore “opening day” will be in March 2015.
Original birth certificates in Ohio adoptions prior to 1964 are already available to those adult adoptees under current law. In September 1996, Ohio law changed to allow adoptees adopted from that date forward access to their birth certificates upon reaching age 21, or to their adoptive parents when the adoptee reaches age 18, unless the birthparent has asked not to be identified. The current legislation does not affect the laws governing these other time periods.
Equal access to original birth certificates has been a public policy goal of Adoption Network Cleveland since its founding in 1988. The Cleveland Foundation provided grant support to Adoption Network Cleveland for its work on this public policy initiative.
Adoptees and birthparents affected by this new law are available for interviews upon request.
ABOUT ADOPTION NETWORK CLEVELAND
Adoption Network Cleveland, a non-profit organization, provides support, education and advocacy for adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, foster youth and parents, foster care alumni and professionals. Founded in 1988, Adoption Network Cleveland recognizes adoption as a complex, lifelong and intergenerational journey for all those whose lives are touched by it. www.AdoptionNetwork.org. Adoption Network Cleveland is a member of Greater Cleveland Community Shares. www.communityshares.org.
In my practice (and in my personal life), I’ve found that tween adoptees tend to be thinking about adoption and about their birth families more than their adoptive parents may realize. They’re not always talking about it but they’re thinking about it. The Adoption Institute linked to a study that looked at this in last month’s newsletter, here’s the abstract:
The adopted children, between the ages of 8 and 12 years, and their parents answered questions about the children’s thoughts and feelings about adoption. Descriptive data and scores on four scales – family, adoption, birth culture identity and discrimination – were obtained. Compared with same-race adoptees, transracial adoptees scored significantly higher on birth culture identity and perceived discrimination. High levels of convergence between the children’s and parents’ viewpoints on the experiences of adoption and related issues were found. Nevertheless, the adopted children scored higher than their parents on birth culture identity, suggesting that at this age adoptive parents may underestimate their children’s connection to their cultural origins
I think there are several reasons why adoptive parents may underestimate their children’s interest. For one thing, just because kids are thinking something doesn’t mean they’re talking about it; they may not even have the words to share what they’re thinking and feeling. But absence of discussion on their part doesn’t mean it’s not on their minds.
The other thing is that many adoptees worry excessively about hurting their adoptive parents’ feelings. They pick up on any jealousy or insecurity on the part of their parents real or perceived and they act accordingly.
They may also fear being different than the rest of the family and expressing their interest in their birth origins can exacerbate this worry.
So what is a concerned adoptive parent to do?
- Talk about adoption early and often. Don’t wait until “they’re old enough to understand.” Don’t wait for them to bring it up. Make adoption part of your everyday lives and discussion. Practice, if you need to, with a friend so that you can talk about adoption without blanching. Your child should know everything you do (expressed age appropriately) by the time they hit their teens, which means if there are some tough things to talk about, you need to get ready to talk about them. (If you need help, talk to a counselor or a teacher or a spiritual adviser or someone else who knows how to discuss difficult things with kids.)
- Assume your child’s interest even if they don’t express it. Remember that every adoption outside of family adoption (and sometimes even then) is a transcultural adoption so even if your child looks like you and everyone else in the family, she or he has a birth culture that is worth exploring. And that birth culture is part of your family culture now so welcome it the same way you welcome your own culture of origin.
- This doesn’t mean forcing them to assume an identity of your making, mind you. Your daughter from China may not particularly want to identify as Chinese and that’s OK. What you’re doing is creating opportunity so that she has room to decide for herself. Just like families connected by biology may drag their kids to Irish step shows because they want to remind them of dear old Granny Murphy, adoptive families should celebrate connection as a family. And just like bio kids may grow up to loathe Michael Flatley, so your son adopted from Ethiopia may grow up to loathe injera. But what they’ll remember is that it mattered to the family and trust me, that part of it will matter to them no matter what.
- Don’t spend so much time on culture that you forget biology. Your child likely wants to know about his or her birth family, too. If you have information, share it. If you don’t, share what you do have. If you have nothing, talk openly about that. Be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Be willing to do research. And it’s best that you do this exploration before your child hits those tween years so that you’re prepared for their questions.
- If you do have access to birth family, help your child have access, too. How this should look will depend a great deal on the reasons behind your child’s adoption but you can get help by talking to other adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptees or by talking to a knowledgeable therapist.
- Find someone for your child to talk to. As I said before, sometimes we parents are not the best people for our kids to confide in so find a trusted adult adviser whether that be a therapist, another relative or friend of the family, or an adoptee mentor.