Opening the gates

The other day I posted a link to an article about some families who discovered the children they adopted from Ethiopia had not been orphaned as their adoption agencies had told them. When I read the article and the comments that followed, I was truly disgusted by the completely awful comments directed towards the families profiled in the story. Most of the worst offenders – no, I should say almost ALL of the worst offenders – were from other adoptive parents. My heart was breaking for the families in their stories. Not only are they dealing with one of the worst imagined scenarios – that their child might have been fraudulently placed for adoption – but then their own community turns on them.

This article has generated a lot of hits on the blog and I've been following some of the thoughts adoptive parents are expressing on their blogs and forums. One thing I saw really struck at me.

An AP blogger wrote about how reading this article made her look at her own daughter (adopted from Ethiopia) and made her realize that she hadn't been really dealing with the reality of her birth story. That she had fallen so in love with her child that she sometimes forgot that she hadn't given birth to her. That she realizes the pitfalls that being an internationally and transracially adopted child will affect her daughter and she's scared. Yet, despite the fears, she was going to face them head on and, as she wrote, "open the floodgates."

I was really heartened to read this.  I felt like this made everything I do worthwhile. And since I have so many adoptive parent readers, I wanted to pose a challenge and some future scenarios.

The fears are often: What if:

  • my child resents being adopted?
  • my child grows up to be critical about adoption?
  • my child grows up and doesn't love me or consider me her "real" parent?
  • my child rejects me
  • my child has a life of pain because of the adoption

These fears are often what makes adoptive parents cling tighter to living in dichotomies, burying their heads in the sand, and putting on the blindfolds. Which can be easier to do when they're younger.

But what if you think of things less in terms of what you can control in order to shelter and hide the truth from yourself and your adopted child and to avoid the pain for right now, and more in terms of what you can begin to discover together now that might strengthen the relationship in the future? Plants don't bloom when they're suffocated and sheltered. Especially when they've been re-potted or re-planted to a different place. It takes a lot more work to take a plant native to Zone 2 and have them successfully thrive in Zone 4.

I've said it many times before but I think it's always worth repeating. Adult adoptees eventually find out if their parents hid the truth from them or tried to shelter them from the truth about their histories. We also learn pretty quick when parents can't deal with racism. That makes us wonder why in the heck we were adopted if our parents were so afraid to deal with racism and issues of birth families and birth countries. I think it's pretty clear that a relationship that seems built on lies does not bode well for the future.

Think of it this way. You are emotionally investing in your future relationship with your child. Be honest with them. Don't hide information. Deal with the ugliness that comes with adoption. One of the things that bums me out the most is how much our society just can't deal with the truth that adoption is about LOSS, LOSS, LOSS. That doesn't mean all adopted people are emotional wrecks. But it does mean that the child's first family was torn apart for some reason and everyone involved will have to deal with the ramifications of that.

Most parents are so overwhelmed and focused with the day-to-day parenting issues that it's convenient to leave these big ethical issues pushed to the side.

I'm challenging you to push them back in.

Don't just nickel-and-dime your way into these issues. Remember, you are investing in a more honest and healthy relationship with your child, who some day might stand there, arms on hips, staring you down, demanding answers. Invest now so that those answers are about why you won't let them borrow the car on a Friday night, rather than why you lied to them about their adoption  history or why you didn't deal with racism.

I rarely comment on adoptive parent blogs, but in this case I did. I encouraged the parent to open those floodgates. She was worried about all the scary things that might come with that; but then again, I saw it differently. I saw it as a way to open the gates to more honest and trusting relationship in the future.

If any of you were wondering, I did not link to the blog I mentioned because I did not want to inundate her with hits on her personal blog.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

15 thoughts

  1. Good for you. I imagine it’s tough to have to watch these things happen, but I believe your contributions are very good ones.
    So far as fears go, I would have to say the last one – how happy my children are and more so end up is 99% of what I worry about.

  2. This is a beautiful post–thanks.
    It is really hard when other adoptive parents are the most resistant to hearing difficult stories. I think there will never be enough evidence for some parents to believe the truth about what’s going on.

  3. Thanks so much for this post. One of my favorite books about adoption is “Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child”. They argue that kids should know everything by about age 8. I think it is a myth that the tough stuff is easier to process when kids are older. Parents have to be careful to explain things in a developmentally appropriate way, but it is so important (with all kids but particularly adopted kids) that the lines of communication are open and that they trust us to always tell them the truth.

  4. Thanks so much for this post (and I will link to it on my own blog if that’s okay). I was appalled to read the comments from other adoptive parents on the CBC story. (I eventually had to stop reading as it was too disturbing). It’s too easy for people to put on rose colored glasses when adoption issues come up and many aren’t willing to even consider the truth in some of these stories.

  5. I lived what you are addressing… My husband and I were the subjects of an AP article about how we blew the whistle on DNA fraud in our prospective Guatemalan daughter’s adoption case.
    I thought my eyes were wide open to the amount of fraud in IA when we “signed up” for this adoption. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Despite being vocally critical of the IA process (and agencies in particular), I still had faith that the safeguards put in place (namely DNA testing) were enough to circumnavigate fraud, and prevent the horror of kidnapping. I know better now.
    We are still fighting to this day to protect and provide for Hazel and process her adoption in a legal and ethical manner, which has proven to be a financial and emotional nightmare to say the least. (That alone speaks volumes). But the tone of many of the comments was that we abandoned her to a fate worse then death (despite the article stating we had her moved from the “bad” hogar to a private home within hours) people still chose to get out their pitchforks and attack. Which leads me to believe the overriding idea many ap’s hold is that a child is better off growing up as an adoptee, in the US, than with their true family (in their own country). And in the extreme, “who cares if a child was kidnapped, as long as she grows up in the good ol’ US of A”.
    Yes, we got some of those comments.
    There are estimated to be hundreds (if not thousands) of stolen children from Guatemala who were adopted since 2005 and are now living in the US. Estimates run as high as 50% of adopted children from Guatemala in this time period were stolen or the mother coerced to relinquish. To date, not one ap, even those confronted with kidnapping allegations, have agreed to investigate the completed adoption, or even open the door to communicate with the first families searching for their child.
    This is a heartbreaking and complicated issue, with no guidance legally or logistically whatsoever. Everyone becomes a victim. The victimized first (biological) mothers in Guatemala continue to be discounted and ignored, the pain so deep, one even tried to take her own life unable to deal with the loss.
    I feel for these adopted families, I really do. I think I can understand what it is like to walk in their shoes. I believe no one wants to adopt a stolen child… we all trusted in the designed system to a certain extent. But there has always been a lot of denial and rose-colored glasses worn. Without these glasses, the agencies don’t make any money, so the glasses are encouraged.
    Ultimately, the ap’s in these situations are victims of the system, too. But I feel so much more for the women in Guatemala (whom I have now met and work with) who had their children stolen, and are being silenced and ignored. They do not have the inherent power and voice that we do as Americans.
    I imagine a US ten years from now, with perhaps thousands of very, very angry Guatemalan adoptees, rightfully demanding answers to the legitimacy of their adoptions.
    In the end, it should never be about the ap’s needs– but the child’s best interests now and for the rest of their lives. So, yes, open the floodgates. It might not be pretty, but it’s authentic. And I for one, believe adoptees deserve this in the very least.

  6. You know… come to think of it…
    My parents will never acknowledge that they played a part of separating me from my -legally known- parents.
    Sure, they had good intentions. Sure, they *just* wanted to be parents. There’s no crime in that. But there’s a high conflict of ethics which caused my adoption to happen.
    I wrote an essay one time on the adoption of David Banda, and my essay title page said “Why Adoption Isn’t Always The Answer.”
    My mom saw it one time when she was telling me to tidy up my room and clear up my schoolwork, and immediately turned to me and said, “My god, you’re not against adoption, are you?”
    And I said, “No, of course not. That essay was written on Madonna’s adoption.”
    And she said, “Oh, well, that’s different.”
    Somehow I don’t think telling her my views on Fate/adoption within the past year would go over too well.

  7. thank you for your post– and continually helping AP’s find their way through the many layers of adoption. The experiences you & other adoptees share are invaluable and I thank you for being a bridge that helps me & my daughter. I’m extremely honored to have your feedback.

  8. Jennifer – thanks for doing the right thing.
    Mei-Ling, It breaks my heart that you cannot be more open with your parents. I promise I will do everything I possibly can to be there for my children when they need me to listen.

  9. Racism is something I have not really discussed yet. I guess maybe this is what you mean. For adoption and the circumstances of her adoption, I have found words that are true, and that hurt but only a manageable amount. I knew she would be able to manage that amount of hurt without being destroyed by it.
    I have not found those words for racism. I think I should probably let her bring up something related first, or wait for an incident first. But – what do you think is better – should the parents try to bring it up before anything brings this to a child’s mind?
    Because of the specifics of where we live, prejudiced negative judgments of my daughter, that she has noticed, have most often come from Chinese adults. She is young enough that white people who stereotype her have mostly voiced positive stereotypes – also wrong of course but which I think (but what do you think?) can wait a little longer before an explanation is given.
    There is a way I have been deliberately misleading, which speaks to the same issue. I have deliberately hidden from my daughter that in mainstream media there is a consistent lack of representation, and misrepresentations, of people who look like her. The media, print and video, that enters our house is very carefully screened.

  10. Ed: The reason I can’t talk about that is because it would require them to analyze their own happiness at having raised me, and who really wants to do that?

  11. Mei-Ling: some seven years into being an AP, I believe for APs it is all about why we did this and what believe our responsibilities are.
    And I honestly think the only way we can succeed at this is to be willing to constantly be challenged and to challenge ourselves as to what it is we think we are doing.
    Sounds to me that you think for yourself. I’d be very proud of that.

  12. Mei Ling. Who am I to say? but I am not sure that it should be your burden to keep your adoptive parents happy. With that said, I realize some parents, both adopted and bio, tend to shift that responsibility on their children.

  13. “but I am not sure that it should be your burden to keep your adoptive parents happy.”
    You are right, but to reveal the truth to them would probably be like “biting the hand that feeds you.”

  14. Thank you for this post.
    As an AP to two children adopted as “older” children, one of whom is old enough to have fully known her story, remember it, and discuss it, I think that in many ways it is easier for our family. b/c the truth is known, is always known, there is no pretending.
    What I find difficult is not discussing our children’s life before their adoption and insuring that they know it, remember it, help them carry it, but its trying to articulate to these children how unfair and wrong their story is and yet how happy I am that I have them in my life…..I have told them just that. There is story should not happen to any child and it makes me very sad with them. Yet, here they are and I know them and love them and that is something good. I say that but that dychotomy is hard for me to swallow as an adult, how do children process that??

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