Thursday, May 13, 2010

"What to Tell -- And When" Follow-Up

The response to my last blog post ("What to Tell -- and When") has been spirited and fascinating. Many of the comments have raised significant issues, and have got me thinking about just how well we know our own children. So, I decided to sit down with my girls last night after dinner. I drafted a survey of questions that I hoped would give me insight into two areas of their persons: How comfortable they are being adopted; and if they would want to know more about their histories if we had information.

The first section of questions were as follows:

1) How often do I think about my birth family (1 = Never, 10 = Constantly)
2) How comfortable am I discussing adoption with my friends (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
3) I have been asked by friends about my birth family. This made me feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
4) When my parents bring up my adoption, it makes me feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
5) Overall, I feel good about what I know about my life and adoption (1 = Not true, 10 = Very true)

I assumed going into the questions that my kids would display some ambivalence about the topic of adoption; that they would feel somewhat uncomfortable when asked about birth families, etc., when talking with friends or teachers. The results, however, surprised me. My oldest daughter indicated complete comfort in discussing her adoption with friends, but less comfort to discussing it with her parents. As a budding teenager, she displays this reluctance in every subject, not just adoption.

My younger two also expressed complete comfort in discussing adoption with both friends and parents. The last question, which I use as an indicator of feeling well in their own "skins", was answered in the 7-8 range by everyone.

So, my take-away from this section is that there don't appear to be any uncomfortable aspects in my daughters's minds concerning their being adopted, or discussing adoption.

The second section of questions were designed to explore how receptive my kids were to learning more about their histories. These questions were:

6) I would like to know more about my birth family in China (1 = Don't Care, 10 = Care Greatly)
7) I would like to know more about the time I was in the orphanage (1 = Don't Care, 10 = Care Greatly)
8) If my parents had information about my life in China, I would (1 = Not Want to Know, 10 = Definitely Want to Know)
9) If I had a question about my birth family or my life in China, I would feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable) asking my parents about it.

All three girls were ambivalent about learning more about their birth families (giving the question a "5"). In post-questionaire discussion, two of them indicated that they simply want to know what their birth parents looked like, rather than necessarily meeting them. For them, a photo would probably be sufficient.

All of my kids ranked knowing more about their life in the orphanage very low (1-3).

All of my kids ranked the communication of information specific to them highly (7-10). Thus, it appears that they expect us to give them any information we find about them. This was a serious point of discussion last night between my wife and I, as we do have substantial information.

The answers to the last question again fell into two camps, with my oldest being very reluctant to discuss any questions about birth family or her life in China with her parents, and the younger two feeling very comfortable discussing such topics.

The questions definitely enlightened me to some facets of my girls's inner-thoughts. Although we seldom discuss personal histories, there seems to be a lot of confidence about discussing adoption and birth families with friends.

However, the survey also brought home what many of the comments pointed out -- there is an unspoken understanding that any information about their birth families is desired, even if it is limited to just seeing what they looked like.

I would be interested in the answers from others. You are welcome to take some of the above, or draft you own. Is there a point where kids feel too much focus is placed on their adoption? Do they ever feel uncomfortable with what we, as adoptive parents, do to try to instill a sense of heritage and culture into our children?

Last night, before my oldest went to bed, I asked her how she felt about the level of adoption discussions in our home. Did we talk about it too much? Not enough? She said, "Dad, I think it is about perfect. You bring it up once in a while, but usually you leave it for us to think about."


Shari said...

Interesting. I'll have to figure out a way to help my 5 year old understand survey like that - I'll do it with what I think her answers will be - and then have her do it. See how well I know her.

I'm guessing pretty well - but I could be totally off. I'll let you know what I find out.

Anonymous said...

How do you know that your teen is answering you honestly, since she already said she isn't comfortable talking about this stuff with you? I guess you can at least take comfort that she would tell you she doesn't like talking with you (vs others) about this. It's the ultimate "observer bias" problem, I suppose. But good for you for opening the dialogue.

FWIW, I would have put the set the low end of the scale on those "information about orphanage" etc questions at "definitely don't want to know" vs. "don't care." I think your kids showed you that "don't care" may be separate from "don't want to know" and the mid-point answer, which you rightly interpret as ambivalence, suggests that they vacillate between wanting to know and not wanting, vs just being uninterested. Luckily, you could discuss the answers and tease this out.

The best part of this is that you got guidance from your kids on how much they really do want to know about their origins, which you can now act on, given the other information you have and your own adult perspective on what they are "ready" for. And you've again shown them that you are ready to talk when they are, which may not come through if you just "wait" for them to come to you.

luisa said...

Siento no poder seguir los comentarios del blog pues mi traductor google no me los traduce al castellano y me cuesta mucho entender ingles. Es una pena pues veo que son interesantes y mas en este punto tan delicado. Mi hija tiene cinco años y medio y ya tiene gran curiosidad sobre su pasado, el embarazo y la maternidad en general. Le hemos realizado un cuento personalizado con dibujos hechos por mi, sin entrar en detalles y de manera un tanto poetica le contamos como nos unimos como familia. Le explicaremos en funcion de lo que ella solicite, sin imponerle informacion.
Pero mi otra gran ambiguedad se centra en el tema de transmision de la cultura. Cada padre actua de manera diferente con sus hijas, hasta que punto es necesario la inmersion en la cultura china ?(asistir a clases de chino, encuentros con familias adoptantes chinas, juegos orientales...). Yo dudo sobre la necesidad de acercar a la cultura de nacimiento si ella no lo pide. De pedirlo sere laprimera que se lo ofrecere, de hecho le guardo un baul repleto de libros, fotos, CD...etc. Por si acaso ya estoy preparando un "gran viaje a China " para acompañarle cuando tenga una edad suficiente, unos 10 años quizas, a conocer sus origenes, pero será si ella lo desea.

Research-China.Org said...

The comment above roughly (Google) translates as follows:

Sorry I can not follow the blog comments because I google my translator translates into Castilian and find it hard to understand English. It's a shame because I see that are more interesting and delicate here. My daughter is five and a half year ± os and you have great curiosity about his past, pregnancy and motherhood in general. We have made a personal story with drawings made by me, without going into detail and somewhat poetic as we told him we come together as family. He explained in terms of what she requested, without imposing any information.
But my other big ambiguity focuses on the issue of transmission of culture. Each parent acts differently with their daughters, to what extent it is necessary to immersion in Chinese culture? (Attend Chinese classes, meetings with Chinese adoptive families, games ...). East I doubt about the need to bring to the culture of birth if she does not ask. I'll be ordering it laprimera that it will offer, in fact I keep a trunk full of books, photos, CD ... etc. In case I am preparing a "big trip to China" to accompany ± she make when you have an old enough, about 10 year ± os perhaps, to know their origins, but it will be if she wishes.

Anonymous said...

My children are much too young to even begin to be able to participate in a survey like the one you did with your kids.

Which just confirms that they're too young for anything but the most basic level of discussions about their adoption.

Of course, you'll get some comments from the self-proclaimed experts who will insist that you don't know your own kids as well as you think you do.

Thanks for the interesting insight, Brian. I'll keep it in mind as my kids get older and I continue to add little bits to our ongoing discussions about adoption.

luisa said...

he localizado como traducir del ingles, puedo seguir sus comentarios!!

Anonymous said...

Speaking as an adoptee, I'm completely in the "would want to know everything you know" camp and I completely disagree with your suggestion in the last blog entry of "don't tell unless asked". I personally believe there is a big difference between the 2 questions - how much do I want to know about my birth family and how much do I want to know what my parents know about my history. The 2nd question is a lot more IMO about being able to trust my parents and to believe they trust me as well.

Anonymous said...

"However, the survey also brought home what many of the comments pointed out -- there is an unspoken understanding that any information about their birth families is desired, even if it is limited to just seeing what they looked like."

My recent conversation bears that out totally:

Anonymous said...

I have always spoken to my daughters, ages 12 and 14, about their adoption story, as much as I knew. Both have gone through enormous grief over the loss of their birth family, particularly their birth mother. Don't think because they don't want to talk that they are not hurting. Like many of us the pain is better pushed away, but someday has to be dealt with. Both of my daughters have been in adoptive counseling (different from ordinary counseling)to deal with loss, grief and anger. It has been emotional, but healing for all of us. I might add, they may also not think you are the greatest because you took them out of an orphanage and out of their birth country.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your openness to this topic and checking in with your own girls about their thoughts. I agree that many adoptive parents seem to project their own thoughts/feelings about their child's adoption onto their children. It seems to be best to be open to answering questions but let them find their own way when they are emotionally and developmentally ready.

Sammy said...

My two oldest have both wrote about being adopted in their high school newspapers. They put more in there than they have told me. One of their biggest issues were NOT liking what their friends would say about adoption. I'm guessing the friends hear some of this from their parents. The parents/friends don't get it that we are actually happy, content and really wouldn't change our lives.

Research-China.Org said...

We had a discussion about that a few weeks ago, and so far none of the school-mates of my daughters have made any negative comments. One neighborhood girl asked if my girls were real sisters, and they answered yes. They then explained, "But we had different birth mothers." Seemed like a perfect answer to me.


Bonny said...

Hi Brian.
Would it be an idea to create a Poll on this blog with the questions you mentioned? Don't know if it would provide new insights...or really great diffenrences regarding to the age of the children..
just an idea.


Shari said...

Brian, I finally got around to those questions with my 5 1/2 year old and I wasn't shocked, but was surprised that she was even more uncomfortable than I thought talking about adoption with me.

Von said...

As an adoptee I feel very uncomfortable with this way of dealing with adoption questions.As I've said before some adopters are so anxious to do the right thing that they take over too much of the adoptee's story which is disempowering, intrusive and smothering.
Conducting a survey is very organised and doesn't feel very conducive to gaining honest answers or answers that do anything other than please the questioner or make the topic go away, if the subject is a teenager.

Anonymous said...

i know you are a researcher, but how do you know about your daughters birth families? do you think that the future does hold a possibility that our girls will be able to locate their birth families?

Research-China.Org said...

We did some research, and got lucky. I think the potential exists for many families to locate the birth families of their children, but most will not know the way to do it. Unless one knows what is going on in an orphanage, for example, someone could talk to a finder and never know the right questions to ask. For that and many other reasons, most families will never learn who the birth families are.