One of the more interesting developments for me at the Ethics and Accountability conference was meeting some awesome adoptive parent allies. Yes, you read it and it’s true. I talked to adoptive parents!
I won’t name them all, but they know who they are, and it was refreshing for me. I tend to be very guarded when talking to adoptive parents and sometimes I think I come across as being rather, er, terse (to put it lightly). That is because I have endured years of talking to adoptive parents only to feel exploited, used, grilled, attacked, or on the receiving end of a punching bag when I challenge myths about adoption.
I understand that often this is a case of "I’m rubber, you’re glue" and that it’s the result of an adoptive parent’s feelings of guilt/defensiveness/intimidation/insecurity or maybe it’s just the idea that I might represent their child’s feelings some day and it’s easier to make me the scapegoat rather than imagine that your child might some day grow up and question adoption.
This is one of the reasons I don’t read adoptive parent blogs much anymore, or engage often in on-line discussion forums. I do have those certain blogs or web pages bookmarked, though, because I want to understand what is going on in the community of adoptive parents. That’s often how I know what to discuss at a training or when I’m on a panel. So I check in once in a while to see what’s happening there. But most of the time, especially on the forums, I get angry. Yep, I used the "A" word. Angry. That is when I become the dreaded "angry adoptee."
Although I hate traveling on airplanes, it is a chance for me to
catch up on my big pile of reading. This conference gave me the chance
to read two anthologies – en route to the conference I read most of "Adoptive Families in a Diverse Society" edited by Katarina Wegar and en route home I read most of "International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-Year History of Policy and Practice edited by Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, M. Elizabeth Vonk, Dong Soo Kim and Marvin D. Feit.
Studies about adoptive
parents made me want to pull my hair out. Some of the comments these
adoptive parents of kids transracially adopted stated were so disturbing that
I had to take several deep breaths, and try to remember all of the
intelligent and thoughtful discussions I’ve had with some really
thoughtful adoptive parents. Some of the comments I heard during the
conference by adoptive parents were maddening too. I think one of the
things that is so hard for me, as a person who was adopted, to hear
from adoptive parents is the tendency to simplify things into reductive
polarized positions in which it "seems" there is a "best" answer.
Statements like, "How does providing a child’s
culture of origin compare to the rights of a child to a permanent,
loving home?" (asked by an adoptive parent at the conference) – as if
each is mutually exclusive of the other. Am I the only one who thinks
this is a set up here? Why can’t a child have access to his or her
culture of origin and have a permanent, loving home? And why
does it follow that said permanent, loving home has to be a
heterosexual, middle class, white family in the United States?
In the article, "Transracial adoptive parent’s thoughts about the importance of race and culture in parenting" in International Korean Adoption,
the numerous parents who opted to not teach about race to their
children in favor of Christian teachings makes me again wonder why a
Christian home would have to be at the exclusion of teaching about a
child’s race and culture and the importance of eliminating racism. Why
are these thought to be mutually exclusive? (One parent’s comment was
"The most important message regarding race . . . is the fact that God
chose her for our family and our family for her." Another comment from
a parent was "Our daughter knows God has a special plan for her life
that racial prejudice will pale in comparison to . . . that [plan] will keep
her appreciating the privilege of God rather than her focusing or
whining over real or imagined racism."
Call me crazy, but I thought a just God would want to eliminate racism, not perpetuate it.
Another theme is the precedence of "American"
over their birth culture. Statements like, "My daughter is American,
not Korean" are common. Why can’t a child be both? Why not Korean American?
Is the idea of having a Korean American child really that threatening?
Because if it is, I would really question whether it is appropriate to be
adopting a child from another country.
Why does there always have to be a "right"
answer, and why does that "right answer" always have to be the adoptive
parent’s view? Why aren’t adult adoptee voices just as legitimate?
Because we’re "angry?" Believe me, I’ve met plenty of angry adoptive
parents in my lifetime too.
At the Ethics and Accountability conference, we
talked endlessly about "the best interests of the child" and I don’t
disagree with that view. I just fear that when we say "best interests"
we are really talking about the adoptive parents interests in being
able to adopt who ever, when ever they want. Do I think adoptive
parents are getting ripped off? You bet I do. I don’t think adoptive
parents are always served with their best interests in mind. Many are
treated shabbily and unethically too.
But "best interests" doesn’t have to be reduced
to pitting the "best interests of the child" against the parent.
Wouldn’t a true discussion of "best interests" really include everyone?
I purposely titled this post, "Fraternizing with the ‘enemy’" but I don’t see adoptive parents as the enemy. I see unethical adoptions as the enemy. I see ignorance or privileging one group’s rights over another as the enemy. When adoptive parents talk to adult adoptees and first families without defending their right to adopt or by attempting to make their pain trump ours, then I am truly willing to listen and work along side of them.