Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What to Tell -- And When



Nothing draws more passionate and heated debate than a discussion of what to tell an adopted child, and when. The subject draws strong emotions from a wide spectrum of people with entrenched beliefs that their way is the right way. The question my family is now facing is when to introduce the concept of birth families, especially if you have located them.

Let me start with recent posting on A-P-C:

"Thought I would ask the group this question. Our DD was adopted 9/05 and was 6 months old. She bonded beautifully and is very happy and adjusted 4yr old. We have always shared with her about her adoption from China, but now she is saying she wish she could be back in China with her birth mommy and daddy. She said she misses them."

This question elicited a number of responses, including the following:

"Another thing that has helped has been for us to reassure her that we'll always be her mom and dad no matter what. As she's become older, she's been able to articulate her fear that we'll leave her as well. We make sure to tell her explicitly that while she lost her Chinese family, it was a one-off thing, and we're never going to send her away. We'll always be hers, and she'll always be our kid. She's an insecure child – hardly surprising, really, having lost something as fundamental as her birth family. We do our best to make her feel secure in the family she has now. . . . We'd been having discussions for a while about why her family in China couldn't keep her, and we'd talked about different possibilities, including the fact that many families in her village were very poor."

One last example:

"My daughters both did and do this also. They were both babies at adoption. Around 3 they both began to get tearful and say they miss their birth families, fathers included since I am a single mom. I have talked to them about adoption and their stories since they were babies."

Anybody notice the common thread?

When the China program started, adoptive families wisely reflected on the problems and failures of a similar program -- Korea. It was widely acknowledged that whereas the Korean adoptive families were often reticent to acknowledge their children's heritage (if you ignore their race it will go away), and their histories ("we are your only family"), that this mentality brought with it a host of psychological problems. Thus, many Chinese adoptive families concluded that there were valuable lessons to be learned from these problems, and that they would handle things differently.

But many, I believe, have swung the pendulum to the other extreme: Over-feeding their child information that is both unasked for and often unwanted. Instead of allowing their children the opportunity to form their own identities, they shove the components at the children without even considering if their children are interested or desirous to know. That is the problem I see exhibited in the postings above.

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.

Each child becomes aware of the world that surrounds them at a different pace. Meigon caught on to reproduction at a very early age, and my other girls have generally lagged behind in showing an awareness and interest. There is no doubt that at the age of three or four, a child will begin to notice pregnant women and small babies. 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.

I believe that introducing concepts and information to our children unprompted is a violation of their personal intellectual space.

What is there were some hidden family secret in my own family, possibly one that involved my own biological heritage. Would it be my parents responsibility to bring that out, even if I displayed no desire to know?

Many adoptive families, I am confident, would assert that the best course of action would be to notify me at a young age that Dad may not really be my biological father. "Truth is the most important thing!" they would argue. But what if I don't want to know? What if I am perfectly happy not having any knowledge of that "truth," and simply want to go through life believing that my family is just like every other family in the world? Should my parents force me to confront that "truth"? I believe they shouldn't. In fact, I believe if they pushed that information on me unprompted, that they would be violating my rights to construct my self-perception and identity as I want. Some might even consider it a form of abuse.

Yet often we see this same thing happening with our adopted children. Please don't misunderstand, I am not advocating a silence on these issues, simply encouraging parents to consider the desires of their children. Instead of force-feeding our children from the time they are small about their histories and origins, rather wait until they are emotionally mature enough to know what questions they want the answers to, and which ones they don't. And above all, respect their wishes.

I sat down with my brother-in-law last weekend and asked him about how his adoptive family handled the question of birth families. Although his situation is a little different (he was born in Germany and adopted by a Caucasian family, this he looked very much like a biological child), he told me that his family talked with him about adoption when he was about six. We are, of course, way past that with our Chinese children, since the evidence of adoption is written on all of our faces. But then I asked him if he wished his adoptive family had pushed him to know more about his biological family. "Should they have offered you information that they had then, rather than waited until now?" (He had just returned from Germany on a vacation during which he had made a small attempt to gain additional information). I wanted to know if he was upset that his parents hadn't told him more earlier.

He told me that he has never really had an interest in knowing about his birth family, that his adoptive family was all that mattered to him, and that he has no problem with the way things were handled. His adoptive family made it clear from the time he was young that they would help him find any answers he wanted, but ultimately he never felt the need to ask the questions.

I think that many parents are not as wise as my brother-in-law's parents. I see adoptees around me that are angry because their adoptive parents denied them information that they wanted, or angry because adoptive families created issues by giving information when it wasn't needed or wanted. I think that when a four-year old child cries for birth parents she has never met, that someone is creating issues unnecessarily.

Last weekend I sat down with all of my girls for our weekly "Roundtable". I told them that I wanted them to understand that Mommy and Daddy did research in China for families that have adopted. It is our job. "But I want you to know that if ever you want us to help you learn more about your lives in China, birth families, etc., we are very ready to help. But we will wait for you to ask for it. We won't force it on you." We do have a lot of information, but it is tucked away until the day, if it ever comes, that our daughters' ask for it. I will not even tell them if I have located the birth family, as I think that in and of itself is like putting a wrapped present on a table and telling someone not to worry about it. Like Pandora's box, such information should not even be offered until the person asks for it, since such knowledge has broad and far-reaching consequences.

In conclusion, I see many adoptive families, acting out of deep concern and love for their children, unintentionally creating issues for their children. By introducing images of a birth family that almost certainly doesn't exist ("Your birth family couldn't take care of you, but loved you very much") we must ask if this in any way informs our children of their identities, or does it introduce ideas that in fact undermine our relationships with our children by introducing concepts that they are not emotionally ready for.

59 comments:

malinda said...

I don't think there's any one-size-fits-all solution for all families. Kids are just too different. But I do think that the child's adoption story HAS to start with their birth and their birth parents, not with us meeting them for the first time in China. Different children with react differently to the information, and it is quite normal, actually, for a 4-year-old who knows she grew in someone else's tummy to wonder why she isn't still with the "tummy lady" and to cry because she misses that first family.

I'm agnostic on the topic of the "primal wound," which some say all adopted children have since birth and relinquishment, but I firmly believe in real grieving of "learned loss."

Regardless of when it happens, adopted children will grieve the loss of first family. To try to postpone that by hiding the first loss won't help them understand the loss and it is likelly to damage the trust they have in us.

Of course, ALL information has to be conveyed in an age-appropriate manner. But because of all of the issues adoptive parents have about infertility, not wanting to share the child with another parent, insecurity in the parenting role vis a vis birth family, worries about encrouchment on our parental role, and the like, I find that APs overestimate how old their child needs to be to be able to understand their story.

By age 4, my kids knew they had birth parents, knew they were not able to parent them the way a parent would want to, knew that they were taken to the orphanage to be cared for, knew that I adopted them. And it was at age 4 that my oldest started to get an inkling that she had lost something before she gained me. I consider that completely natural. And I considered it completely normal when she made pretend phone calls to her birth mother to help her process that information.

I think that NOT talking about hard adoption issues with kids for fear that we'll raise "issues" they're not already thinking about, is far more dangerous than talking openly about those issues -- in an age-appropriate way. If we don't talk about it, our kids will learn that it's an issue not to be talked about. Period. And general statements of "I'm always ready to talk about anything you want to talk about" won't change that.

And when we don't talk about hard adoption issues with our kids, they'll simply learn about it from other people. I managed to talk to my kids about the Russian boy sent back by his adoptive mom ONE WHOLE DAY before someone else brought it up in front of them. I was there, so I knew it had been brought up. If I hadn't been, and my kids had heard about it for the first time, I'd only know if they told me. And they might not have. And they might have spent a lot of time brooding about whether they would be sent away.

Research-China.Org said...

I think you are spot on when you say there is no "any one-size-fits-all solution for all families", or even for an individual child for that matter. That is why I tend to default to letting my kids steer our adoption discussions. There is definitely no "fear" of talking about it, just a desire to let our kids determine what they want to know and feel. I think that is of most importance for our family.

moya said...

I think it is understanding your own kids and making sure they know they can talk to you about anything. I do not believe introducing our kids to this info is going to make then "miss their birth parents" as you seem to insinuate Brian...it won;t bring up feelings they don;t already have. I do believe though as Malinda said,no one size fits all solution. You do what is best for your family.
Most of our kids (whoa...all.. have suffered trauma and I believe we need to be sensitive to that and the dance that us figuring out what works for your family. Openness and honesty is the answer, in an age appropriate way. There is no one right answer...just what works for your family.
Brian, this looks familiar. Did you post it before...or on your subscription blog?

Research-China.Org said...

I agree that introducing our kids to these topics will make them miss their birth families. What I see happening is adoptive families spend a lot of time reading books or introducing discussions about birth families that instill a fantasy relationship in their adopted children. In the mind of a child, this could cause them to long for people that are in fact non-existent -- not that birth families are non-existent, of course, but the people that the adoptive family conjures up are fictitious.

"Openness and honesty is the answer, in an age appropriate way." -- Absolutely!!!

Yes, I shortened this posting a bit from the subscription blog.

Brian

Sharie said...

I agree and disagree. I agree that we need to let our kids guide the conversation - let them ask the questions. However I also believe that the concept of adoption needs to be brought forward before a child asks about it - especially in trans-racial families. This can be as easy as reading books, that talk about different kinds of families, but our kids need to be prepared to face a world. My daughter wasn't even 3 when she was asked why she didn't have a dad and why she didn't look like me. I am glad another child asking her wasn't the first time she had thought about it.
I try not to bring up adoption or her first parents as it is so upsetting to her. I do know in my heart that she longs to know what her life in China would be. She asks me questions I didn't expect until she was much older, but I do believe that reading books about adoption - answering her questions and correcting her misunderstandings regarding her first months is the right thing for her. Even though it does hurt to see her hurt - and she does hurt.

OmegaMom said...

My husband's mother died a week after he was born. NO-ONE would talk about it with him as he was growing up; every time he asked about her, he was steered onto a different subject. Therefore, he was quite open to talking about our daughter's birthparents. He didn't want her to feel there was a big deep secret scary thing that she couldn't talk about with us, and he knew that even small children will want to know about these things.

So we talked about birthparents with her from the very beginning, in age appropriate ways. After all, how can you tell the adoption story without some mention of the child's birth? How can you celebrate birthdays without talking about the people who gave birth to the children?

My daughter feels very free to talk about her birthparents to me (well, her birthmother; somehow her birthfather doesn't really enter into it much...). Enough so that she can be kind of joking about it--we were listening to a sad song in the car, and I asked her if she was thinking about her birthmother, and she said (in a way that 8-year-olds have), "Mo-om! Sheesh, I think about her all the time!"

Which is the same thing my husband said about his dead mother: He thought about her all the time--but he couldn't talk about her, because it had been made clear to him from a very early age that talking about her made his parents uncomfortable, unhappy.

For what it's worth.

Given that the same thing is what adult adoptees have said many times on their blogs (even the ones who aren't perceived as "angry" adoptees), I'd rather err on the side of keeping things open.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, Brian.

I cringe a little bit when I read about preschoolers crying at night for a birth mother they only met briefly and couldn't possibly remember.

I think most birth families believe like you and I do. It's just not talked about much because, well, there's nothing to talk about (because our kids aren't mourning).

Until my daughter is old enough to possess the emotional maturity to digest heavy issues like abandonment, loss of a mother, etc, I won't burden her with that information.

When she asks, I'll answer but laying all of this on her at such a young age is almost like inflicting a wound just so I can bandage it and feel more validated as a "mother". It really doesn't seem to serve any other real purpose.

Judy said...

I agree with Malinda. I really do think it's important to tell an adopted child that he's adopted and the story of his beginnings -- of course in an age-appropriate way -- from the start. My son has always known he was adopted and I thought he knew the story of how we came to be his parents, but when we had family therapy with a therapist who specializes in adoption, we discovered that he had some incorrect information (such as how long he was with his first mother).

Our former therapist, BTW, thinks it's important to bring up adoption TO children because children don't always know what to ask. In addition, they may think they know the story -- or they might make one up -- and have completely erroneous information.

It's a balancing act -- telling them without hitting them with a 2x4 with it all the time. We try to bring it into conversation casually when it's appropriate.

Jody said...

I know I agonized over the right thing to say to our daughter from the moment she was in our arms. Nobody seemed to have an answer or wanted to dwell on it.

We started small. I have always told her she is from beautiful China. She knows her adoption story by heart, starting with "the little blue house" that was waiting for a special girl to come live in it. (That's our house.) By the time she was three, I eventually moved on to the fact that she didn't come out of my tummy; a fact she seemed interested in but didn't press me on. She knows a birth parent in China left her with people who could find a special family just for her, and that that's their job. She also knows a foster family loved her and took care of her before she came to us. Thanks to Brian, we were able to write this family and exchange several meaningful letters on her earliest months--these are priceless to us now.

I don't dwell on her loss, and really don't like the idea of "she loved you but couldn't keep you" which I think is not the best thing to say to a child when they are too young to process it.

While I chose adoption because that's what I wanted (luckily my hub was ok with this), our kid knows she is loved to "googleplex!" as she likes to say. I tell people adoption helps us become one world, one love.

Anonymous said...

I feel that I may have been that type of parent (in the beginning) who would "force-feed" my daughter information about her birthfamily. I wanted her to know that it was okay to be able to approach me with her questions if and whenever they arose. I think I was trying to take a proactive approach, filling in the blanks for her, should she ever encounter a circumstance where she would be approached with questions concerning her origins by someone outside our family. Such as the time when she was only 4yo and another girl (age 7) had asked her if her "real parents died". Sure, it made sense to a 7 year old that to be adopted meant that you'd lost your "real" parents... so I couldn't blame the child for her question to my daughter. But, my young daughter stood silent probably trying to process that information in her little mind.

Even at the tender age of only 2.5 she would comment on how we looked different from one another. She could identify people around her who were Asian and would often ask if they were Chinese like her.

Over the past year (between age 5 and 6), because of her reactions/non-reactions to our 'talks' about her birthfamily, I've backed WAY off. My daughter has expressed that she is not interested in talking about her birthfamily -- and I completely respect that.

I think AP's do things with the most caring intentions... but I'm also re-thinking my approach on these issues.

My daughter (at age 4) drew a beautiful picture of herself, as a baby, being held by her birthmother. She was, and still is, very proud of that drawing. She also has asked/said many things about her birthmother to me. "Does she think of me", "Does she love me?", "I forget what she looks like", "I want to return to China to find them (her birthparents) because I want to see them before they die."

This Mother's Day she made several things for me and I asked her if she might be thinking of her other mother as well. She said, "No, because I love you more than I love her."

I shouldn't have asked her whether or not she was thinking of her birthmother -- I regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth. Truly, it's a difficult thing to try and re-train myself with all of my own thoughts but I agree that, at this point, these discussions should be led by my daughter.

My son, who is age 4, and still learning to speak English, doesn't yet have these types of conversations with me/us. He wishes to return to China but is adamant that we return with him. His memories of his foster family are not good ones, and he is fearful of returning to China because he thinks he'll go to see them. This is where I find it important to convey the permanence of our family structure with him. (His foster family is the only Chinese family he is aware of ever having.)

I think we are all very passionate about what is best for our children, and we aim to parent them with this in mind. I'm glad to read your perspective on this, Brian, because I think you've brought some important issues to light here. I look forward to reading the comments of others on this topic as well.

Not the early bird said...

Brian,
Is it appropriate to take posts/comments from one forum and post them on another without permission? Kathie

Research-China.Org said...

No identities were given, so privacy is maintained. I used the quotes for illustration purposes, so I see no problem with that. A-P-C is basically a public forum.

Brian

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I agree, many adoptive parents are creating issues in their children, and undermining themselves as parents, by overemphasizing the birth family and attributing traits and emotions to them that they may not have had.

Kristen Fitzgerald said...

Hi Brian, I was actually surprised by this post from you, considering that finding birth parent info is one of the things you do for a living now!
I do agree to some extent, it should not be something harped on and shoved down your child's throat all the time, for sure.
But I can see where a short answer ("you were born to a woman in China") with no further explanation (she was your birth mother; we don't know who she is or why she could not take care of you") could possibly send a message to a child that "this is not something I want to talk about". I know Jane Liedeke (OCDF) has stated she feels that some adoptive parents these days do bring too much attention to birth parents, and it ends up causing problems were there were none.
Interesting that you bring up Korean adoptees - I have never read a blog or article by a Korean adoptee that complained about too much talking about birth parents. But I have read MANY blog entries, & articles from Korean adoptees about how Birth parents were NOT talked about, at all, and this affected them in a negative way.
So I'm with the others that would rather err on the side of being open. As you know, I have a Lifebook creation business, and I firmly believe that every child should know their story, (as much of it as we can know) from birth. My daughter has a Lifebook, and at age 5, will occasionally bring it to me to read. I do not add in any details that I dont know for sure, I dont tell her her birth parents loved her - there are an awful lot of "we dont knows" in that book. So far she really doesnt have an interest in her birth parents, but IF she ever does, I am confident that she will feel like she can come to me and share her feelings, her questions and her concerns.
The bottom line for me is that you need to know your child, parent intuitively and be there for them if the tough questions come up.

Research-China.Org said...

There seems to be some misunderstanding on my position: I firmly believe that parents should research as much informaiton as they can. They should do birth parent searches, explore their child's history, etc. I do believe that many adoptive families seek to avoid confronting hard truths by pushing any searching until "my child is old enough to do it herself." This is avoidance in many instances.

And I firmly believe in being open about discussing adoption with your child. Heaven knows we talk about such issues all the time here.

Where I have problems is in instigating, with no prompt from the child, an attempt to bring information to the child that may be unwanted. This doesn't mean never talking about birth parents in general, abandonment, etc. But it does mean avoiding having "Mother's Day" letters, balloon commemorations on birth days, etc., if a child does not want them. How many adoptive parents ask their child FIRST, before conducting such activities? Or is it assumed that the child wants to do them?

Brian

LucisMomma said...

Last year, my husband was deployed and that brought up lots of things to our 4 yo's mind. She started talking about Dad leaving her forever, like the China-people did. Whoa! She was only 4 and 2 months when she said that. I got the book "Parenting your internationally adopted child" and it had some good ideas in it. So it was thrust into my lap that she had this need to talk, and sometimes we do, but it is all her leading. No fairy tales, just facts (which aren't many). I grew up with parents who didn't say much when it came to feelings, so I make sure our DD (from China) and our boys (biological) all know that every topic is ok with me.

Our DD does not always want things brought up--but sometimes she really does. She wanted to light a candle and say a prayer for her first mother the night before Mother's Day but once the prayer was said (a short one, by the way), she was done and wanted to move on to wrapping a gift for me.

Works for us.

Anonymous said...

My 4 year old daughter cried on Christmas Eve because she was worried that Santa was going to be hurt when he came down the chimney. Her grief was very real even though the basis for the concern was total fantasy. I felt bad that I'd fed her a story that made her sad so I came clean about the entire Santa thing.

I don't know the motivations of her China "Mother" so I'm not eager to participate in a so-called factual exchange that is really nothing more than a bunch of conjecture.

Someone obviously contributed DNA and gestated our baby girl for 9 +/- months but, beyond that, we don't have any details.

There are at least a dozen reasons why my daughter was left in a box on the side of the road and my little girl isn't ready to hear any of them.

I'll tell her whatever I can when she asks me. Until then, I'm just going to let her be a little girl and not worry about this sort of thing.

Like everyone else who disagrees with the loud minority on this subject, I'll just be somewhat anonymous and spare myself and my family the verbal assaults and insults.

Mary in FL

Mei Ling said...

I'm sorry, but I have to speak up on this one:

["Should they have offered you information that they had then, rather than waited until now?" ]

My adoptive parents have had photos of me WITH my biological family before the adoption was finalized. A lot of Chinese (er, most, actually) don't have such photos.

My mom says that when I was little I rejected any notion of my biological family. As far as I was concerned, my real (note: only) family was the one that adopted, since they were raising me and my biological family had abandoned me.

She also says that she had kept these photos (of me & bio family) ever since the adoption was finalized, waiting for me to ask about them or in case I showed curiousity.

I didn't request to see the photos until after high school.

But I wonder, instead of *waiting* for ME to ask, how might I have reacted if she'd shown me the photos at an earlier age? If she'd shown evidence that my biologically really had cared about me, instead of using my silence as a way to "dismiss" the notion that I wouldn't have given a crap about anything associated with them?

It's true I might have still rejected the idea of another family caring about me when they "threw me away", and it's true I thought of my adoptive parents as the ONLY REAL PARENTS.

But if they had given the photo to me instead of just "assuming" WHY my perception was the way it was, then maybe it might have changed things.

I didn't care at that young age, no. But seeing a photo? MIGHT have made me. Why not take the chance?

Mei Ling said...

"Where I have problems is in instigating, with no prompt from the child, an attempt to bring information to the child that may be unwanted."

But an adoptive parent won't "know" what information is unwanted until they TRY to bring it up.

Also, the point you made about fantasizing... I get that a lot as an adult, that I'm just mourning the "fantasy mother", etc. That since I *wasn't* raised by her, there is nothing to detract from the notion that she would have been The Perfect Mother.

And it's so very far from the truth.

A lot of people don't believe me when I say that I've never fantasized about my mother. Well, the logic is that they gave me up because they were poor. So how could it have been logical that I would have fantasized about having a Perfect Mother in some sort of royal bloodline? If they were that famous and wealthy, they wouldn't have given me up.

Anyway, the point is that I've never fantasized about my mother. Maybe most adopted kids do. I never did.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mei Ling. Unless you talk to your children, you don't really know what they think about their biological families or what they might NOT want to know. I have two very close friends who were adopted as babies and when I told them I was adopting my daughters, they told me that their parents talked about their adoption right from the start. Their parents read books to them about adoption, discussed adoption, discussed what they did and did not know about their biological families (which actually was next to nothing as their adoptions were closed) so that it was something they always felt comfortable talking to their families about. And its how their parents 'knew' what they wanted to talk about. Yes, their families did this in age appropriate ways. And I can tell you my friends appreciated the openess of their parents for doing this.

I have talked to my seven year old about her adoption since she was 2.At age 5 she came with us to China to adopt her younger sister and so she 'understands' the process. She has a strong sense of the factors that may have contributed to her birth family's decision to give her up. And yes, she does wonder about the specifics of her own situation. Is she totally focused on this..absolutely not. But it is something she wonders about at times and verbalizes to me. I can tell you that if I knew 'who' my children's birth family is or had some information about them, I would tell my child NOW and not wait until they were older. Be careful of waiting too long to share that information if you actually have some specific information. Its better to share the information, so your child can integrate this information at a younger age. Just my two cents. And yes, I agree that there is more than one approach. And parents need to decide what approach works best for their children

Cathy said...

I agree with much of what Malinda says on this issue. My daughters Chinese family, her adoption and her life in China are all open topics in our home. She is 4 and we do not force feed or get dramatic about this topic with her but we sure are very open and as factual as can be.
She needs to feel at ease asking anything and even though you say you are open to answering questions... trust me... kids sense when something is uncomfortable and they turn elsewhere for answers.
I want my daughter armed with insight. She needs to have a full grasp on reality so when conversations occur and I am not around, she knows how to cope and feels confident to tackle whatever comes her way.
She knows my son came from my body and she knows she did not. How could I let her know this without helping her understand where she comes from?
And I firmly feel that if a parent knows the identity of the birth family and if they know that the family indeed did care and wanted contact with the child, I doubt that robbing the adoptee of many years with their birth family will ever be something they will move past easily once they know the truth.
Adoptees, kids, humans... all deserve as much of the truth to their identity as possible. This belongs to them and technically they should have received it at birth.
With respect Brian, I think you are way off on your thinking here. Us APs are only part of the puzzle that forms the whole picture. And as parents, we have a job to offer them the most we can in life and this starts with truth.

Jean said...

We cannot simply wait for a child to ask before providing information about birth family and adoption. While we are faced with a complex picture when it comes to our adopted children's life stories, stories for which many important details and much information have been lost, we need to help them to be comfortable and familiar with their personal history, to help 'normalize' it for them, so that they can claim it, even though there are some aspects of it that involve pain and loss, and because their stories diverge so radically from most of their peers' life stories. By waiting until they ask, potentially when they are young adults, we postpone the opportunity for them to process and incorporate this information as part of growing up, in which there is time to, feel, process and clarify the points of the story which speak to them and make them feel connected to it in a tangible, real and personal way.
In addition, children don't need to be protected from their feelings, children need to feel their feelings and be listened to in a calm and respectful way. Crying, grieving and expressing anger are a part of what it means to be human. Yes, we must give our children information in a way that is developmentally appropriate. We don't start talking about the political system in China when they are three years old. But, children often conceptualize things in a more mature way than we give them credit for. For example, when my older daughter was four, and following the adoption of our younger daughter, she asked me, "Do you wish that I was born from your tummy?" This let me know that she was more interested in knowing about the nature of my connection to her, given that I was not her birth mother, than why her birth mother had chosen not to raise her. If a child feels sad about the loss of a first or biological parent, these feeling are coming from somewhere. They are not created by the giving of too much information too early. The emotions need to be listened to and respected. Letting our children know that we are able to listen to their emotions is part of our job as parents.
Brian, your thoughts and musings, as well as your research and knowledge are invaluable to our community. I do think though that language such as 'force-feed', 'violation of their personal intellectual space', and 'form of abuse' are pejorative, accusatory, and show disrespect to those about whom you write. You know so little about their individual stories yet you lump them together and use judgment laden, and in my view, inappropriate terms to describe what may or may not be happening in their families. Your article reads like a speech from the soapbox, rather than a well thought out and informed position. When you say 'I think that when a four-year old child cries for birth parents she has never met, that someone is creating issues unnecessarily', you are simply wrong. What can you mean by stating that a four-year old has never met her birth mother? It is an absurd statement, which fails to acknowledge that gestation and birth are a profound form of meeting. You are trying to minimize an inherent human connection, that by its nature, cannot be minimized. Framing the birth mother as a stranger, either verbally or by your actions as a parent i.e. not mentioning the topic unless prompted by your child, will confuse the child regarding this connection. If a four year old child grieves, and says that she misses her birth mother in China, she is feeling sad about something. As parents, rather than focus on how illogical or nonsensical that may seem to us, we simply need to listen and stay close. Interestingly, a child only needs to be informed once that there is a pre-adoption birth parent, to exhibit an emotional response. Is she actually crying about the absence of the birth parent? That is less important than having her sadness acknowledged and listened to. It is an opportunity to show our children that we will always be there for them, not just talk about it.

Research-China.Org said...

Jean:

I appreciate your comments, and largely agree with what you are saying. Taking your own experience as an example:

"For example, when my older daughter was four, and following the adoption of our younger daughter, she asked me, 'Do you wish that I was born from your tummy?' This let me know that she was more interested in knowing about the nature of my connection to her, given that I was not her birth mother, than why her birth mother had chosen not to raise her."

You don't indicate what you said in this situation, but in my opinion you are totally correct in pointing out that your daughter was asking about YOU, not her birth mother. So, a good response would have been to talk about your feelings about adoption, infertility, etc. You could explain your belief in love and biological connectiveness, cultural expectations for women, etc. But I don't think your daughter was asking for an in-depth discussion on the one-child policy in China, the effect of poverty on families, or being told "Your birth mother loved you very much, but was so poor that she couldn't care for you. I'm sure she thinks about you every day, and misses you. But we are glad that God placed you in our family, because we are so happy."

Do you see what I mean? That is what many families do -- they take even simple questions and use it to lay emotional baggage onto a child that is usually unnecessary and unknown. Now, if your daughter asked "Do you think my birth mother misses me?", a different answer would be called for.

All I am saying is that it is not difficult to show our children that the topic of adoption is "safe" without going through all of the in-depth "affirming" that I see many do. I think we can ask our children, as we do, if they have anything that is bugging them, anything that they wonder about. By repeatedly showing an interest in their inner questions (many of which won't even involve adoption), we allow them to be comfortable to ask the questions they are curious about. By sharing with them questions that we have about our own histories, they realize that such topics are normal in your family, and thus "safe". We don't need to "force-feed" them to have them understand that.

Brian

Jean said...

Hi Brian,
Yes, I see what you mean, absolutely. I just didn't get, from the three examples that you cited in your post, that the families where overdoing it in terms of sharing information with their children. I would have needed a lot more information to make that judgment. So, I felt that the language you used was really harsh. I think that readers would have benefited more if you had shared in more in detail how you ensure that your daughters know that you are absolutely willing to discuss all aspects of their life story. And I agree, that modeling curiosity about your own life history, along with showing an interest in everything about them, not just adoption, are two really great way of going about it, but not the only ways. Unfortunately, 'saying' that one is willing to discuss something openly with children doesn't always cut it with them.

I really think that the whole process is something of a dance. For example, I personally feel a connection to my children's birth family. So it would be weird for me to never bring up the subject with my children. For the most part I take my cues from them, but sometimes I bring the topic of birth family or adoption up on my own, because I think they need to know that it is on my radar, more than just when they articulate a question. But yes, parents sometimes do make the mistake of going beyond what is asked and providing information that the child has not requested or may not be ready for. Parents do this for all sorts of topics though, not just adoption. We all make mistakes, and I'm just not comfortable with characterizing this as a violation of a child's personal intellectual space, or abuse.

My daughter's question about whether I wished she was born from my tummy was really about her and me, as you say. I shared the question, to illustrate that we don't always know how our children are perceiving things, and it is worth throwing some information out there from time to time to see what might be percolating, and to show an interest in their lives before adoption, independently to their questions to us. Or just simply because they have the right to certain information, whether it is solicited or not, such as the example given here, of explaining about the adoptee in the news who was returned to his country of birth.

The answer I gave to my daughter was that the way that she came into our family was exactly the right way for me, and that the day that I met her was one of the very best days of my life. I also asked her if she wished that she had been born from my tummy, but strangely, I forget her answer. That's an example of something that I might bring up with her in the next couple of days, because I am interested in what she is thinking about that now, almost four years later, and because it will give us a chance to talk about our relationship. I don't feel that I need to wait for her to bring the topic up, at some point, or never.
All the best

Mei Ling said...

Wait, suggesting that an adoptive parent talk about infertility *isn't* emotional baggage?

When a child has a discussion about their birth mother or having been born from a different tummy, they don't need to be told about their mother's infertility problems. That's about the adoptive parent, not about the child.

Anonymous said...

My 14-year-old commented with humor yesterday that she was an "environmentally correct" child, because she was adopted. Instead of adding to the world's population, I chose to become a parent by adoption. These are her words, not mine. LOL!

I have always been careful to maintain a balance in our discussions about adoption. She (and my other two daughters) have always known that they were adopted from China. But I never overdid the info when they were little, and to this day I have never used the word "abandonment" to any of them. I did not force Chinese school down their throats, though I did offer the opportunity (they went for a year, hated it and chose not to continue). They would like to learn Chinese, but not at Chinese school.

I think that many Chinese adoptees will be angry as they reach adulthood, for the OPPOSITE reason the Korean adoptees are angry - an overabundance of adoption talk and Chines culture as opposed to none. Balance is important.

Lee said...

I commented to Brian when he posted this on his subscription blog, and we had a good dialog. I'm glad to see it discussed here.

My only additional comment is how sad I am over the comment from Mary in FL, which she seems to anticipate. By relegating her child's first parents to people who "contributed DNA", she shows little understanding of the complexities of adoption, particularly IA from China. And putting "Mother" in quotation marks doesn't change the fact that she has another mother.

As an adoptee who was raised in a loving family, but one who constantly stressed who were the "real" parents, being open to questions isn't enough. It was a relatively taboo topic in our house, and when I did meet my first mother, it became clear that my "real" mother was incredibly resentful that I would contemplate any sort of relationship with her. I love my mother dearly, but when she chose adoption, she chose to parent a child who didn't just spring from a cabbage patch.

Let your child be a child, absolutely. But let them also understand who they are and where they came from. Dialog should start in a safe place -- at home. Are you going to wait for your child to ask you about everything (sex, drugs, relationships, race), or are you going to initiate some of these harder discussions?

Not to totally equate talking about adoption to talking about drugs or sex, but abandonment and living in an orphanage can be pretty rough concepts for kids to come to terms with, and the earlier the discussions start (in age appropriate language), the easier they are for kids to grasp and come to terms with...

Mary said...

Lee, my child is only 4 years old. She's still peeing in her Dora panties so we think we still have time to save the heavy discussions about all of this until she's a bit older. We've already started and we'll work up slowly to the big stuff. I promise.

I put "mother" in quotes because reproductive technology has given that role many different definitions.

For example, a surrogate "mother" might gestate an embryo that is or isn't the product of her own egg. The child is attached to her via an umbilical cord so is the connection the same either way?

What about the "mother" who gets pregnant via egg donor? That baby grows inside her and suckles at her breast after birth and she brings it home and raises it. But who is the real "mother" to that child?

And there are HUGE numbers of children who are conceived via donor sperm. Since all children have an equal contribution of DNA from both of their parents, why do we not hear more about the grief associated with not knowing ones biological father?

We believe that Mother and Father are the people who raise you. Everyone else gets quotation marks around their name only to indicate that they're different. Of course this doesn't mean they're insignificant but yeah, they're less. Yeah, go ahead and quote me on that. And if there's an adoptive parent out there who believes they should accept less than top billing in the Mom and Dad department, then I think they're doing their child a really big disservice.

Life is hard and our kids will face lots of challenges so why would we want to sign them up for a bunch of emotional baggage as far in advance as possible?

Mary in FL

Lee said...

Mary, I'm clearly not going to change your mind, so I won't engage in online debate. I will only say that your daughter was not likely born from a surrogate, egg donor or conceived via sperm donation. If she does any reading at all when she's older about China and IA, she's going to understand that her story did not likely start with her birth parents "making an adoption plan" for her -- to use American adoption agency lingo. It's not a contest or about getting top billing. It's about your child and bringing her up with a healthy sense of identity, including her identity as an adoptee.

But absolutely, the heavier discussions are down the road, I completely agree (my daughter is four as well). I just think it's easier if the basic discussions have already happened, and it sounds like you are doing that already.

Mei Ling said...

"We believe that Mother and Father are the people who raise you."

Of course. But a mother and father are also the people who give birth to you - biologically.



"And if there's an adoptive parent out there who believes they should accept less than top billing in the Mom and Dad department, then I think they're doing their child a really big disservice."

Guess my parents did me a "big disservice" as a child, then.

They had the maturity to recognize they were my real parents - as well as validating my OTHER real parents across the globe. It was that simple.

My adoptive parents are mom and dad. Period.

That doesn't matter the mother and father who gave birth (and loved me) halfway across the world aren't my parents. They are. Just in different ways.

Why can't all four parents be real in their own roles?

Anonymous said...

Oh a couple of things, Go Mei Ling, I put a lot of value in what she says as she has walked the walk.

To compare a same race adoption vs a transracial adoption in the example Brian cited is oranges and apples. My girl doesn't have the luxury to not think about it, it is out there.

Really, should a child here some misinformation on the playground first. Should one assume, they will then come to the parent. What if they feel gee, no talked about this so may be I should keep quiet. A same race adotee is less likely to have these things happen.

Regarding inciting a child to feel sad. That would be a normal reaction to a loss that happening, it is not necessarily "planting" a feeling by talking about it. It happened and at some point they might feel sad. They are entitled to and I would rather it happen when I can help her deal with that.

I think this post justifies to the parents who don't want to talk about it for their own reasons a reason not to. The parents who like to think their childs life began at "gottcha" day. Who are threatened by the fact that their child has 2 other parents.

Really, Brian it is not that you didn't tell them anything until they asked. Of course you did.

It is not telling vs not telling.

It is what, when and how you tell.

No you don't tell a child they were loved when you don't know.
But you do know they had birth parents.

Someone once wrote, A child should never feel like they are hearing about their life for the first time.

I go with that.

mmac

Anonymous said...

Regarding quoting from other boards.

APC, is not a public board. You have to join and be approved. Part of that approval is saying you will play by the rules.

And that is that you will not quote elsewhere without permission.

Here is the acutal rule.

8. All messages are copyrighted by their original author. Forwarding or
reproducing any APC message, in whole or in part, to any third party without
the author’s express written consent may result in immediate and permanent
removal from the list. This includes but is not limited to: messages posted
publicly to the group, private correspondence between members, and
administrative messages from the list owners/moderators.

mmac

Research-China.Org said...

Apparently I am still being misunderstood on this topic, so I will try once more to clarify:

I am not saying don't talk about life stories, birth parents, etc. What I am saying is an adoptive parent shouldn't:

1) Do birth parent celebration ceremonies (balloons, Mother's Day cards, etc.) without gaining the approval of their child. If the child is too young, you don't do it. When they get older, you ask if that is something they would like to do, and if they say yes, fine. But if they are not interested, you don't do it.

2) If you gain specific information about a child's birth family, you don't tell your child about it until they ask. Instead, you tell them if they ever want to know more about a birth family, they should ask you. Only when they ask are you able to tell them.

3) You don't tell them things you don't KNOW -- "Your birth mother misses you, your birth family was poor and couldn't take care of you, etc., they had to give you up because of the one-child policy, etc."

Instead, you reassure them that you are ready to answer their questions whenever they are curious about something, and let them guide the conversations.

The quotes from A-P-C demonstrate the constant focus of some families on a child's birth family. This creates conflict in the child if they are not emotionally prepared to deal with it, and a three-year old is not able to handle it. I stand firm on the belief that if your child is crying at night for her birth family, you are doing something wrong.

Brian




4)

M said...

"Oh a couple of things, Go Mei Ling, I put a lot of value in what she says as she has walked the walk."

Er, thanks, mmac... are you referring to my reunion/post-reunion discussions?

"If you gain specific information about a child's birth family, you don't tell your child about it until they ask."

Question, then, for you. How can they ask about something they don't know about?

If you have a picture of someone from the family that was somehow obtained - BUT you're waiting for your child to ask about photos to indicate they're ready to SEE photos - how is the child supposed to know that you have something they might be interested in?

Kids can't ask about information that they don't know. I can understand the danger of more critical info, such as abusive father, mother abandoned child at xx place where there have been reports of child trafficking, or whatever, but if you hold onto certain info that is "safe" (such as photos) in the event that your child "might" ask about it... how can they ask if they don't know?

It seems like a Catch-22 to me.

"I stand firm on the belief that if your child is crying at night for her birth family, you are doing something wrong."

Why? I'm asking this without snark or sarcasm - why?

You think it is because a child does not have conscious neurological memories of being separated from their mother? or that a child is grieving the "idea" of a mother rather than the spiritual presence of a "mother" herself?

Research-China.Org said...

M:

I'm not a big believer in the "Primal Wound" concept. In my experience (three daughters) a child, "abandoned" at a few months old or less (the overwhelming majority of Chinese children) will not usually feel an emotional connection to their birth mother unless they are told they should have one. I do realize that a child may reach a point where the loss of their first family hits them, but I suspect that that usually occurs when the child reaches 6 years old or older. Thus, a child that displays significant emotional trauma (such as crying repeatedly) has been brought to that place by an undue focus on her birth family, which she doesn't know (again, in a majority of cases), and therefore can't miss.

As to your other comments, I have gone over this repeatedly. I don't advocate not talking about birth families. I simply advocate placing control of the information in the hands of the child. If you had a photo of the birth family, rather than simply saying, "I have a picture of your birth family, would you like to see it?" or "Here is a photo of your birth family," my method is to ask the child, in what would be a regular "touching base" about things generally, "Do you wonder what your birth parents look like?" If the child says, no, then you let it go. If they say yes, you might say "If I ever found a picture of them, would you want to see it?" If they said no, I would leave it. If they said yes, I would ask a follow-up question. "Is knowing what your birth parents look like important to you?" When you see that seeing a picture would be helpful, and your child is ready for the information, only then would I share that information.

All of this entails having BASIC conversations about these topics OF COURSE. But many families feel they need to go into details with their child when it is unasked, when their child is unready, and when the information could be confusing to the child.

Brian

Mei Ling said...

Okay, now I'm really curious:

What is wrong with saying this:

If you had a photo of the birth family, rather than simply saying, "I have a picture of your birth family, would you like to see it?"

I understand that the following questions (in your response) may be to be absolutely, indefinitely, positively certain that the child wants to see a photo about their family because I think that would require a certain emotional level of maturity and intellect.

Unless the photo has "dangerous" implications?

[If I ever found a picture of them, would you want to see it]

Hm, I can understand making sure they are ready for the implications of a photo - seeing people who may have a firmer link to their pasts.

[If they say yes, you might say "If I ever found a picture of them, would you want to see it?" If they said no, I would leave it. If they said yes, I would ask a follow-up question. "Is knowing what your birth parents look like important to you?" ]

Another question for you: what is the necessity of asking the follow-up question? If the first answer is no, then fine, leave it. However, if the first answer is yes, is that not good enough for the time being?

If not, why not? (Again, no sarcasm here, I'm asking honestly)

If you were to ask my 6-year-old self that question, it would imply you had already done some searching, or were considering a search to find out more info, but hadn't found anything yet. I would have assumed you *didn't* have a photo. But that's just me.

I can't remember anything below age 5, but my parents have said that I was able to recognize racial differences by age 2. So that was probably around the time they told me about my original parents and adoption.

If I recall correctly from my exchange with my adoptive mom at one time, shortly after high school, this is how it went:

Me: Mom, do you think my bio mom would be proud of me now?

Mom: I think she would be.

Me: You... don't have any info about her by any chance, do you?

Mom: Yep, we have more info in your adoption files. I can show you when we get home if you'd like.

Me: Oh, do you? (This is what I meant by 'it's impossible to ask about stuff you don't know.')

Mom: Yes, I also have pictures of your biological family.

Me: Really?! Can I see those too?

Mom: Sure.

She was willing to let me see those photos, but ONLY when I asked for them. But it never would have occurred to me to ask about them as a child, because I simply didn't know.

And I'm not sure if I would have been ready to see photos as a young child - they may have helped the misconceptions in my mind, but hey, I was young, so who knows?

So I guess that yes, this leads back to what you were saying - that the adult needs to figure out if a child is ready.

I still think it's a bit of a Catch-22, in that the child can't ask for something they don't know about. But in some cases, where the information is actually "harmful" or the child (say, age two) isn't ready to process what a "birth parent" is, then yes, I can see holding back things such as photos or maybe foster family.

(P.S. I don't believe in the primal wound for all or most adoptees. I think an unconscious, "repressed" theory like that only applies to certain extents.)

Research-China.Org said...

Mei Ling:

I truly appreciate your comments, and since you have walked this path personally, your thoughts and observations are tremendously important.

I guess the follow-up question is based on my observation that sometimes "big" questions are asked by a child, not realizing that they are a big question. I remember when Meikina asked me if the Tooth Fairy was real (http://meikina-meigon-meilan.blogspot.com/2005/09/leaving-garden.html). Rather than simply saying, "No Santa is a myth," I told her that her question was a good one, but also a very important one. I told her that there would be questions in life that she really needed to think about before asking, because the answers to the questions might radically chance the way she looked at the world. I told her that there is nothing wrong with asking any questions (a constant theme in our house given my "question authority" philosophy), but that she should realize that some questions are not simply answered.

She ended up asking the Tooth Fairy question anyway, and I realized that she was completely ready for the answer.

I must say, I really have no problem with the way your mom handled your questions. The only thing I would have added (and she probably did this) was a few
"signpost" conversations along the way, starting at 5 or so, wherein it was communicated to you a willingness to help you explore the answers to any of your questions. Should she have told you about the photos, etc. when you were five? Not without first an indication that you were interested, and a knowledge that you were ready. I admit it is a delicate dance, but I would rather err on the side of caution than err in giving a child life-changing information before they were ready to handle it.

Brian

Mei Ling said...

"Should she have told you about the photos, etc. when you were five? Not without first an indication that you were interested, and a knowledge that you were ready. "

I had no interest because I DIDN'T KNOW. How can I be ready for something I didn't know they had?

Showing me photos might not have made a difference. But then again, it might have changed about how I perceived my "abandonment."

IMO, I think she was too passive about it. She responded the way she did (during my childhood) because of my reactions. But my reactions were based on unfounded "truth."

Because I didn't know she had other info.

(I like your Tooth Fairy analogy, though. Lol.)

"The only thing I would have added (and she probably did this) was a few "signpost" conversations along the way, starting at 5 or so, wherein it was communicated to you a willingness to help you explore the answers to any of your questions."

I should also mention that she "waited" for me to ask questions since I showed very little interest in my own adoption. She didn't discourage me and she didn't ignore my questions. But she "waited" for my reactions. I know you might think this is the wisest method, but seriously?

By that logic, if I had never asked about my adoption, it would have remained a "silent" subject until I was 20!

If a child believes they were abandoned and is absolutely adamant that their parents did not care about them (without evidence), what do you do as a parent?

Would you still *not* take the chance and show them proof that their family did care?

Or would you take their reaction at face value and deem it a better subject for when they were older?

IMO, in my case, if I could go back in time, I would have advised my parents to take route 1.

Mei Ling said...

"I admit it is a delicate dance, but I would rather err on the side of caution than err in giving a child life-changing information before they were ready to handle it."

Ah, I think this is mainly where we part opinions. :P

You think it's better to remain cautious, whereas I believe it's better to try rather than face that same adult twenty years later saying "Why didn't you show me?"

I see now... thanks for bringing that realization to the front!

Von said...

So many interesting points here that indicate just how ill prepared adopters sometimes are to deal with the trauma their adoptee children have experienced.Why would you be when agencies and the adoption industry place no great store on truthful, useful preparation?
Those of you who say you don't believe or go with, the primal wound, may find that your view is all very well for you, as it is academic: unless you are an adoptee yourself, know the scars well and have had to deal with them all your life as an adult adoptee, you will not understand the impact or have lived it and felt it.
Taking over the finding of parents and the collecting of information, 'just in case', is disempowering for adult adoptees...it is their right and perogative, is not yours.By all means at the time of adoption, collect all the information you can, photos and records and make them into a life story book which should be on hand along with other books of photos of the child's life.Why be so self conscious about it? All that angst is picked up by children particularly adoptees, who generally are more watchful than other children due to their early loss of attachment, the dreaded primal wound.Tell them early, tell them right, tell them a small ammount of information.
Your biggest job is dealing with their dislocation from their culture, language and helping them to deal with racism,disrecognition and adoptism.Particularly hard if not impossible, if you are not of the same culture, race or colour.
Some of you will find some of the more interesting parts of your comments over in a post on my blog.I tell you this out of courtesy; asking permission when a view is launched into cyberspace is generally not an option, the internet has no privacy.Hopefully your expressed views will be helpful to others in their learning in the minefield called adoption.

Mei Ling said...

Von - The primal wound is a blanket statement. That's why some people are so skeptical of it.

Anonymous said...

As an adoptee, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and have my say on your post. Note: I have not read everyone else's comments, so excuse me if I'm repeating something or... something.

I think, like Malinda says, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to breaching the topic of your child's adoption. And from my POV, I'm going to disagree with your post. You're basically claiming that instead of the parents going up to children and talking about adoption, their birth parents etc, you should instead let them come to you. OK, fair enough. I can see where you're coming from. But I will ask: how is a child supposed to talk about something that they're not wholly aware of? Isn't it part of your job - as a parent - to provide them with information about the world, including their heritage and backgrounds? I am DREADFUL at maths. Always have been. Your approach, to me, is like suddenly having me (someone who can hardly do upper level primary maths!) to suddenly give you the solutions about difficult problems that are made for university-level maths students. Would you expect that from someone like me? No. Similarly, how can you expect young children to come to you about something when they haven't even got all the facts?

I was adopted when I was about six months old from Korea. My parents are very loving and have ALWAYS told me that I'm welcome to talk to them about anything to do with my adoption. And I have plenty to say (just look at my blog!), but I often haven't. Why? Not because I didn't think they'd want me to, not because I didn't think they were interested, but because adoption and MY adoption was just... too hard for me to even accept as a child, let alone talk about it to the people who, I knew, had a big, but somewhat opposite view on it. Please be aware that as an adoptee, our adoptions can be EXTREMELY difficult things to bring up, and depending on your child, it sometimes takes YOU to mention it for it to be spoken about.

I'm not saying that you're saying to KEEP information from them, but I also think that in not talking about it, and just waiting for them to come to you, well that's not always going to work, because to me, never talking about it makes you seem as if you don't care, and if you don't care, then why should they come to you?

I believe and feel that actions speak much louder than words, and I think that you saying things like: "you can always come to us if you want to talk about something" passes along a very different message than you never bringing it up and just waiting for them to come to you.

Again, it depends on the child. But I know that from my experiences as an adoptee, your approach would not have worked with me.

Research-China.Org said...

I appreciate your comments as an adoptee, but perhaps you missed some of what I wrote, and expanded upon in the comments. From the original posting I stated:

"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."

There is no question that we talk about adoption in our family. We keep it general. Sometimes the general discussion will lead to specific questions or observations from my daughters. But it is them that make it specific. We start the conversation, my daughters direct it. If they want to take it to a personal level, we embrace that and support them in their questions. So it is not that we never talk about it. Rather, we allow them the POWER to decide what they want to discuss, and when.

That is the point.

Brian

윤선 said...

Sorry, I don't know why my comment came through as being from an anon poster. Anywho, I read one of your previous comments, and it seems you think people have misunderstood your original post. I'm going to give my response/s to the comment you made:

"1) Do birth parent celebration ceremonies (balloons, Mother's Day cards, etc.) without gaining the approval of their child. If the child is too young, you don't do it. When they get older, you ask if that is something they would like to do, and if they say yes, fine. But if they are not interested, you don't do it."

The first thing I will say, is that you seem to have quite a systematic way of doing things. Like: "adoptive parents should do it this way", but as others have said, your "advice" won't always work, because it parenting isn't a one-size-fits-all situation. We adoptees aren't things that can be studied and we're not things that you can instruct others about.

"2) If you gain specific information about a child's birth family, you don't tell your child about it until they ask. Instead, you tell them if they ever want to know more about a birth family, they should ask you. Only when they ask are you able to tell them."

I don't agree with this. Well... not entirely. It sounds as though you're saying to keep information from your child, deliberately. And like I said before, just waiting for them to come to you may not necessarily work for all.

"3) You don't tell them things you don't KNOW -- "Your birth mother misses you, your birth family was poor and couldn't take care of you, etc., they had to give you up because of the one-child policy, etc."

Instead, you reassure them that you are ready to answer their questions whenever they are curious about something, and let them guide the conversations."

OK, sure. But again, I think your whole approach is somewhat... offensive to adoptees. It seems as though you approach parenting adopted children as though we're things that you can educate others on. But parenting any child (regardless of whether or not they're adopted) is different for everyone, and you can't give "directions" the way I feel you have, as though we're anything but human.

That's my point.

eadavis said...

If I were lucky enough to have photos of my kids' birth families, they would have been looking at them from day one. Why on earth not??

"Why can't all four parents be real in their own roles?" Mei Ling, I completely agree. I got "Adoptive Families" magazine for several years. They are HUGE on educating the world on "appropriate adoption language." For a few years there I actually believed that I *was* the "real" mother, or that at the very least, the term "real mother" certainly did NOT refer to the "biological" (what a clinical term) mother. What are we afraid of here? Aren't we all real? If anyone ever asks my kids in my presence about their REAL parents, they are going to get the "we are all real" answer. Why does only one set of parents count??

Needless to say, I stopped getting Adoptive Families magazine. Talk about unbalanced.

My 5-yr-old is very emotionally immature. He has an extremely difficult time expressing any feeling. If I don't do a lot of the talking on this issue, then nothing will get said! I am not going to hammer him over the head with it, but I know my son and I know that nothing will ever get said if I leave it up to him (at least for the short-term).

I am reminded of the philosphy some parents have of not taking their child to church: "We're going to let him decide when he's older." Decide what? What child is going to decide to go somewhere he's never been that his parents clearly don't care about? ??? Hey parents: You already decided FOR him by not making it an option.

I want my sons to know that talking about anything adoption-related (or ANYTHING) is always an option. I do this by TALKING about it.

Von said...

Ps is the header photo suggesting that giving adoption information is a gift?Isn't it everyone's right to have birth information and for adoptees to receive that in the way they want to when older?If not then what does the photo signify?

Von said...

PPS I've thunk and thunk and I still can't grasp what Mei Ling means by the comment that 'the primal wound is a blanket statement' Perhaps someone would care to enlighten me.Either here or on the post I'm about to put up, perhpas more appropriately.

Melissa said...

This is quite an interesting discussion. As a Korean-American adult adoptee, there are of course some things with which I agree & some with which I disagree...

The key, as many have expressed, however is less of a "universal" approach and more of an individual approach. Your approach may work for some but certainly should not be applied to all adopted children.

I was a very naturally guilty, self-suppressed adoptee. I actually needed my parents to draw me out, but they never did, so I remained silent and never said a word. Like Mei-Ling, I actually never fantasized about my Korean family as a child. For me, I think that was in part because I was so afraid and so suppressed...

And even still as an adult, I have had to make great efforts to be open and to be honest about how I truly feel about my adoption. It was not until my late twenties that I even began to scratch the surface. Honestly, I believe that had my parents made more efforts to educate themselves and to educate me and help draw me out, my journey would have made a lot more sense to me and I would have been less confused.

I'm not saying that you don't make efforts to draw your children out, rather I'm saying that your specific approach would NOT have worked with me had I been your adopted child.

I needed, and still need, to feel more secure with my parents. I needed to hear things from my parents repeatedly like, "We want you to feel safe asking questions about your birth family. We will tell you whatever you want to know...We won't ever leave you or be angry with you for wanting to know about your birth family" and so forth...

If my parents had simply asked me something like, "Do you want to see your file?" or "Do you want to ever see photos of your birth family?" I almost invariably would have answered, "No" out of insecurity and fear that saying "Yes" would have endangered my position as my adoptive parents' daughter.

(continued in following comment, cuz I'm so long-winded...)

Melissa said...

As one who reunited with my biological family last year, I find myself wishing more and more that my parents had established a more open ongoing conversation with me beginning as a very young child, because that is actually what I needed. I needed someone to pry and to dig...

Fortunately, I have a husband who is completely engaged and knows how to draw me out and knows how to pry and not shrink back from my reticence (which is really insecurity and fear).

I wrote a blog post actually, a while back called, "A common misassumption: 'My adopted child isn't going to have issues.'" http://yoonsblur.blogspot.com/2010/04/common-mistake-made-by-adoptive-parents.html

I was that "issue free" child for most of my childhood and adulthood. But it was actually just a carefully constructed facade. It was simply a result of having grown up in an environment that failed to help me manage my deep emotions & profound insecurities. So instead, I completely ignored and buried them for most of my life. Later as an adult, I experienced a string of intense losses within a year (a failed engagement & the sudden deaths of two of my best friends, over whom I still grieve...), and it is that which I believe finally forced the truth that was within me to the surface.

Obviously, not every adoptee is going to be like me. But as a child there were already signs of deep emotions--grief & loss, fear & sadness--that had my parents been aware and willing to begin dealing with it, I think I would have had a much less confusing time in life as an adolescent & adult...I have always been so guarded and I need people in my life who are willing to risk breaking down that guard, including my parents. When a child or an adult puts up a wall, that doesn't always mean we should submit. Sometimes it means we need to make gentle, patient yet strong & persistent efforts to break through...

So again, your approach may work for some, but it certainly would not have worked for me...I don't mean that in some cocky, mean way. I simply mean it to exemplify and reiterate that a "one-size-fits-all" approach should be avoided when it comes to raising adopted children

Melissa said...

I find myself wishing more and more that my parents had established a more open ongoing conversation with me beginning as a very young child, because that is actually what I needed. I needed someone to pry and to dig...

Fortunately, I have a husband who is completely engaged and knows how to draw me out and knows how to pry and not shrink back from my reticence (which is really insecurity and fear).

I wrote a blog post actually, a while back called, "A common misassumption: 'My adopted child isn't going to have issues.'" http://yoonsblur.blogspot.com/2010/04/common-mistake-made-by-adoptive-parents.html

I was that "issue free" child for most of my childhood and adulthood. But it was actually just a carefully constructed facade. It was simply a result of having grown up in an environment that failed to help me manage my deep emotions & profound insecurities. So instead, I completely ignored and buried them for most of my life...

Obviously, not every adoptee is going to be like me. But as a child there were already signs of deep emotions--grief & loss, fear & sadness--that had my parents been aware and willing to begin dealing with it, I think I would have had a much less confusing time in life as an adolescent & adult.

I have always been so guarded and I need people in my life who are willing to risk breaking down that guard. When a child or an adult puts up a wall, that doesn't always mean we should submit. Sometimes it means we need to make gentle, patient yet strong & persistent efforts to break through...

So again, your approach may work for some, but it certainly would not have worked for me...I don't mean that in some cocky, mean way. I simply mean it to exemplify and reiterate that a "one-size-fits-all" approach should be avoided when it comes to raising adopted children

Anonymous said...

The one thing that I do not see mentioned in this discussion is the loyalty that adoptees feel towards their adoptive parents. This loyality might mean that the adoptee will not bring up the issue of birthfamily because the child is afraid of hurting the adoptive parents.

A child not talking about birthparents does not necessarily mean that the child doesn't want to!

In the cases were the child lies awake or cries because of loss of birthparents to me it means that the adoptive parents are doing a good job in providing an environment for their child where they can express their feelings freely. Also, one should never underestimate the grief a child experiences over the loss of birthparents, even if they were relinquished at birth.

As adoptive parents we should take our responsibilities in this and make sure that our child feels free to talk about his/her birthfamily instead of giving the child the responsibility for rearing these subjects. How fearful this can be for some children!

Needless to say that the birthparents of our children are part of our lives, even if we do not know them.

Regards,
Evelien

Melissa said...

Evelein,

I am a Korean adult adoptee. I appreciate what you wrote:

"The one thing that I do not see mentioned in this discussion is the loyalty that adoptees feel towards their adoptive parents...A child not talking about birthparents does not necessarily mean that the child doesn't want to!...

...How fearful this can be for some children!

Needless to say that the birthparents of our children are part of our lives, even if we do not know them."

I actually mentioned in one of my comments that "If my parents had simply asked me something like, 'Do you want to see your file?' or 'Do you want to ever see photos of your birth family?' I almost invariably would have answered, 'No' out of insecurity and fear that saying 'Yes' would have endangered my position as my adoptive parents' daughter."

The loyalty & fear that you mention are primary reasons I never expressed any questions or thoughts and certainly any emotions regarding my adoption & birth family. I was too insecure and feared that if I did express anything about my birth family, I would appear ungrateful and selfish, while also hurting my family & endangering myself as their daughter...

Although the approach that Brian propounds may work for some adoptive children, as I expressed, it would not and did not work for me...

marilu said...

Antes que nada perdonadme por escribir en español. Mi hija ahora tiene 5 años y como en todos los casos, le voy explicando aspectos de su pasado a medida que ella lo solicita, por ahora no es mucho lo que ella manifiesta querer saber, este es un proceso que iremos trabajando en casa.
El objetivo de mi comentario es otro diferente:
Como madre adoptiva progresivamente he ido sintiendo mas la necesidad de indagar sobre el pasado de mi hija. Inicié un blog dedicado a ella y a sus circunstancias. Evite desde un principio dar datos personales, poner fotos propias o de otros y en caso de colocar un texto ajeno solicitar permiso y poner la fuente de origen del texto.
Mi blog se llama
gaozijuan.blogspot.com

Con la intencion de dar informacion a los padres adoptivos y a los futuros adoptantes, desee que este blog fuera util y que ofreciera informacion especializada de Gaozhou y del Gaozhou SWI, pues aqui en España no hay casi informacion al respecto. Es un trabajo interesante y entretenido!!!, son muchas horas dedicadas al blog.
Mi primera gran decepcion la recibí de la comunidad de yahoo.groups , donde habia entrado a formar parte. Solicite poder hacer uso de algunas fotos de paisajes de Gaozhou, del orfanato, eso si excluyendo fotos de niños por respeto a la intimidad y me encontré con una dura reaccion, un cierto escandalo. Recibí un monton de mensajes pidiendome que no hiciera uso de sus fotos. Lo cierto es que todavia no entiendo esta resistencia pues no iba a publicar fotos personales. Incluso la moderadora intento intermediar pero sin resultados positivos. Mi conclusion es que mucha gente no tiene idea de lo importante que puede ser para muchos padres poder visionar fotos y tener informacion. En conclusion, creo es una falta de sensibilidad hacia los demas. O es culpa mia?, ya no lo se.

Posteriormente cree un nuevo blog, al que llamé
buscandoamimamaenchina.blogspot.com

Viendo los comentarios que recibo, ninguno a favor de movilizarse para buscar a la madre biologica y menos de publicar el finding Aid, empiezo a preguntarme si el problema lo tengo yo. Me estaré equivocando con mis objetivos hacia mi hija? Le estoy faltando al respeto si publico estos dos blogs, sin contar con su consentimiento? Tengo que esperar a que ella sea mayor para realizar esta tarea?
Por mi parte tengo claro que, s se diera la muy remota posibilidad de que algun dia localizo a la madre biologica de mi hija, no voy a presentarsela rapidamente a mi hija. Quedaria como algo que yo conozco y la informaré si ella lo desea, jamas forzaria procesos.

No se Brian, usted que opina?

Un saludo.

Marilú

Research-China.Org said...

Here is a Google translation of the above comment:

First of all forgive me for writing in Spanish. My daughter is now 5 year ± os and as in all cases, I will explain aspects of its past as she requested, for now there is not much she says that it wants to know, this is a process that we will be working at home .
The purpose of my comment is a different:
As an adoptive mother I've been feeling progressively more the need to inquire about the past of my daughter. Home © a blog dedicated to her and her circumstances. Outset Avoid giving personal data, post pictures of themselves or others and in case of placing someone else's text and to request permission the source text.
My blog is called
gaozijuan.blogspot.com

With the intention of giving information to the adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, you want this blog to be useful and to offer specialized information and Gaozhou Gaozhou SWI, for here in Espaà ± a there is almost no information about it. It is an interesting and entertaining!, Many hours spent on the blog.
My first big disappointment receives yahoo.groups community, which had become part. Order order to use some pictures of landscapes Gaozhou, the orphanage, that if excluding ± os child photos out of respect for privacy and met with stiff reaction © a certain scandal. I get a lot of messages asking me not to make use of their photos. The truth is that still do not understand this resistance because it would not publish personal photos. Even the moderator attempt to mediate but without success. My conclusion is that many people have no idea how important it can be for many parents be able to see photos and information. In conclusion, I believe is a lack of sensitivity towards others. Or is it my fault?, And do not know.

Then create a new blog, the caller ©
buscandoamimamaenchina.blogspot.com

Displaying the feedback I get, for any mobilized to search for the biological mother and less to publish the Finding Aid, I wonder if the problem I have. © I be mistaken with my goals for my daughter? I am disrespecting the public if these two blogs, without their consent? I have to wait until she is older to do this?
For my part I have made clear that s is given the very remote possibility that someday I locate the biological mother of my daughter, I will not be presented promptly to my daughter. Would remain as something that I know and inform © if she wishes, never would force processes.

No Brian, you think?

A greeting.

Marila º

Research-China.Org said...

I am not surprised by the reaction of some in the adoption community to your efforts. Often adoptive families are fearful of those who seek to obtain or publicize information out of a sense that it may bring trouble to the adoption program. For these individuals, maintaining the program is more important than truth, and so they discourage any negative discussions, or any attempts to get information through unofficial channels.

Then there is the fear that you will really find something.

What many fail to realize is that their children WILL one day find this information. I have no doubt that many of these kids will one day contact me and ask what information I have. In many cases they will discover birth family information, orphanage records, etc. that completely change the way they will look at their adoption. Avoiding the obtaining of information only postpones the discovery, it doesn't prevent it.

Good luck in your efforts!!

Brian

marilu said...

Thanks, Brian for your help, and for your work. You have open me my vision of the adoption situation.

Marilú

Wanda said...

Just stumbled upon this blog... not sure how or why I did, but I read most of it. I felt like screaming sometimes because it seemed like the old expression "beating a dead horse" and many just didn't seem to be getting Brian's point. I could go on forever and try to explain my own veiwpoints, but unfortunately don't have time. Just wanted to say I totally agreed with Brian's original post and think all parents need to remember "children" need to be children and don't need some information too soon... just like discussing the birds and the bees, we don't normally do so with a two year old. I have two daughters adopted from China and they are getting all the information they need for their emotional ages and more if and when they ask. No, they will never be so "left in the dark" that they won't know there are questions to ask. They will be presented with tidbits of information at intervals to see if they are curious for more. If they are curious for more at that given time, they will receive what they need or ask for... not what I think they need to so-call protect them in this big bad world. Just as my children are not yet ready to learn about the reality of murders and bombings until their minds are curious enough to ask, I feel no need to give them the not so pretty realities of adoption and adoption vocabulary until they are able to accept and digest it. My six year old has known from the time she was one that she came from China... mommy went to China to bring her home... she was waiting for mommy in China. She watched her homecoming video almost daily. Each year she gets a little older life offers plenty of opportunities for her to get more information and I always present her with opportunities to ask... that is without "my" deciding to give it at once. Over the past five years she has come to learn "she was born in China" "mommy and daddy were not born in China" "she is Chinese" "she grew in another lady's belly" "mommy could not grow her in mommy's belly, but that was okay because God already had a plan for her to be mommy's daughter and mommy went to China for her" "she lived in an orphanage where the nannies took care of her until mommy could come" More recently: "she was "adopted" using the word and meaning of adoption" and the meaning of "birthmother or birthparent" although she has shown no interest yet in "her" birthparent. I expect that soon the birth family questions will come and will do the best I can to be prepared to give her what she needs when she needs it or wants it. Meanwhile I have a very happy well-adjusted little girl who hasn't had the burden yet of thinking about those big thoughts that would dare to keep her awake at night or cause her to cry herself to sleep. She has lots of time for that, as we all know and God forbid it come at such a tender age. During our bedtime prayers, "I" say a prayer for her birthparents to myself and I feel someday when she is ready, "she" might decide to do so also.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I totally agree. As a related point, I've been troubled by children's books on adoption that stress birth family issues. My daughter's job as a little girl is growing up--not dwelling on a loss that she is not aware of. And, not *introducing* her to the idea of a loss when she has enough stress in her little life already!

When I read her "I love you like crazy cakes," I skip the part about crying for the birth mother. I don't think my daughter needs that.

I'm glad to talk about birth mothers and birth families when she asks. Until she does, I will hold off.

marilynn said...

I stumbled on this blog by accident. I help separated families reconnect for free.

I wish we did not use the term mother and father to describe the people who adopt because it creates loyalty issues and guilt for adopted people, they have parents and, parents are not always able to raise their children but it does not mean they are no longer the child's mother and father. It seems it would be so much better to let the child be who they are the son or daughter of their mother and father and carry the family name if its known and then part of their reality is that they are being raised by a an adoptive family who took over raising the child for the parents. The parents have no legal authority over the child the people who adopted do. Instead of issuing a new birth record issue an adoption decree and let people make up their own terms of affection within their households - Nobody would love anyone any less and its obvious people who adopt have the greater bond with the child because they are there every day. I just wonder why they have to have that parental title in order to reach out and help a familiy in crisis. That is the whole point of adoption right? To help families in crisis by taking in their children when they are unable to care for them? Adoption is not a way of creating a family for the people adopting - that turns abandoned children into comodities. Adoption is a way to save a family from having one of its children die of malnutrition or neglect or abuse.

What if we told adopted kids of course you have a mother and father like everyone else but your family for whatever reason did not think they could keep you safe and that is why I'stepped in to help and some day if you want to I will help you find them. I know a couple that is Ama and Apa adopted momma and adopted papa. They adopted the infant children of a couple that died in a car accident. They did not do it for themselves to become parents they did it so they children would not end up in foster care. They did it to keep the kids family together. Why would they want to call themselves mom and Dad? A grandmother can adopt her grandchild without calling herself Mom that would be strange right? Why is this so different. I say tell them everything from the begining and let them grieve. Their situation is not normal it does not matter what they'd like realty to be like the job is to teach them to deal with the truth in a healthy way.