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.

New York Times article about single motherhood by choice

Not an adoption story per se, that is it's not the focus of this New York Times story. But, I think this is an interesting article nonetheless – especially since it's about a non-normative family structure. I think it's fascinating that they are featuring single moms who chose the adoption route rather than other routes to becoming parents.

Moms_450.2

Like Lili’s dolls, the circle that radiates out from this
two-bedroom ranch house in the New Jersey suburb of Moorestown is a
largely female world. Fran and her daughters spend much of their time
outside school and work with a small group of other single mothers and
their girls. Among them is Fran’s friend of 10 years, Nancy Clark. Fran
is 49; Nancy is 50. Six years ago, they went together to China to adopt
Lili and Nancy’s daughter Katelei, whom they called “salt-and-pepper twins" because Lili had fair skin and Katelei is darker.

In
the summers, Fran, Nancy, their friends Lynne Rose and Susan Bacso and
the women’s total of eight daughters, all adopted from China, drive
south to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. At the end of a day of taking
turns watching the girls on the beach, Fran drives the group (or at
least part of it) down back roads in a Toyota minivan that she bought
for these trips. There’s no contract for the women’s nonromantic
relationships. They are not binding. But Fran and her friends sometimes
half-jestingly imagine a kind of semi-permanence. “We kid about how
when we’re old and decrepit, and we’ve sold our houses to pay for
college, we’ll buy a trailer by the side of the road,” she says. “I’ll
go, ‘Hey, Nance, how about that one?’ and Susan or Lynne will say, ‘We
gotta get a double-wide, for all of us.’ ”

Read the rest of the article here

Transracial Parenting in Foster Care and Adoption book

Ifapamanual

The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association's booklet "Transracial Parenting In Foster Care and Adoption" is a free resource now available at the IFAPA web site. The booklet includes articles from myself and Dr. John Raible. You can find more articles by John at his website, John Raible Online. Also included are articles by Robert O'Connor and Dorothy Fouse, and there are a ton of resources too.

How children learn racism

If there is one book I think every transracial adoptive parent must read, it’s this one. Especially for folks who believe that children don’t notice race, or that we live in a world that is "colorblind." In fact, I think I would recommend this book for EVERY parent, everyone who cares about being anti-racist, whether you are raising kids of your own race, culture and ethnicity or not.

The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe Feagan is stunning in its findings – that children as young as 3 years old, even when attending a pre-school that has a strong anti-bias curriculum, and even with parents who support and promote "diversity" in their homes – use racism and racist behavior and language in sophisticated and complex ways, despite the adamant protests from adults that these children are incapable of such behavior or thought. And that children of color know and understand that there is an unequal hierarchy in society, even with nobody "telling them."

The_first_r

The first few chapters are pretty academic but they outline the traditional White, western-based (and developed by white men) theories around child development, but the chapters that follow are compelling and very easy to read and understand. I have so many underlined and highlighted passages that it might as well be just all yellow highlights.

I’ll follow up with more thoughts in a future post, but I just had to recommend this book. I think ALL parents should read it, but especially if you are white and you are parenting a child of color.

Race Matters: What does it mean in your transracial family?

This was from the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association’s Cultural Connections Conference, where I presented this past weekend.

Things to think about when parenting a child transracially or transnationally:

  • Will
    your child have any adult role models that reflect his race?
  • Who
    will your child see on television that positively and accurately reflects her
    race?
  • Are
    the only people of your child’s race or ethnicity working in service jobs? Or
    does your child see professionals of his race or ethnicity on a regular basis?
  • Who
    will your child date and/or go to Prom with? How will you prepare your child if
    he or she is only considered “friend” material because of his or her race?
  • Does
    your child think that all “brown” or Asian kids are adopted?
  • How
    will you feel about your child dating or marrying /partnering a person of his
    or her same race?
  • Do
    you expect your child will come to you with questions about race and racism?
  • Do
    you expect your child will tell you about his or her experiences with racism?
    Especially at school? And what if it involves teachers?
  • Do
    you have a difficult time believing that your child/family will be impacted by
    race? Do you believe things are “different now?”
  • Does
    your child know what to do if he is pulled over by the police for DWB (Driving
    While Black)?
  • What
    part of being a transracially adoptive family concerns you the most?
  • What
    relationships are you willing to give up if needed to support your child? Are
    you willing to give up membership in the dominant culture?
  • How
    will you react if someone you love makes racist statements about your child’s
    racial/cultural/ethnic community?

    • Suffer
      in silence?
    • Speak
      up?
  • How
    would you handle your child declaring that she thinks she’s white or refuses to
    accept her race/culture? What if they no longer want to participate in
    “cultural camps” or “heritage events?”

    • Would
      you feel terrible?
    • Would
      you force your child to go?
    • Would
      you sigh in relief?
  • What
    are your thoughts about affirmative action? Does it change when you realize
    that it will affect your child?
  • Negative
    statements or feelings about a birth parent may translate into your child’s
    belief that people like “him” are bad. If you feel or express negativity about
    your child’s birth parents or his birth parent’s race, you are also telling
    your child that a part of him is bad.


© 2008 by Jae Ran Kim. Links to this post are permitted but this post
may not be copied and re-posted without permission. For reprint
permission, contact Jae Ran Kim at harlowmonkey at gmail.com.

Woman kills adopted son

A Johnston County
woman accused of killing her 4-year-old adopted son took the stand
Monday at her trial, weeping when describing her own abused childhood
and when talking about the dead boy.

Lynn Paddock, 47, is charged
with murder in the Feb. 26, 2006, death of Sean Paddock. Authorities
said Sean was bound so tightly in blankets that he suffocated.

Defense attorneys have argued that Sean’s death was accidental and that Paddock’s actions were a form of discipline, not abuse.

Read the whole article here.

Fantasy Island

I have worked for a private agency and two different county agencies that place children for adoption. Two of these agencies also write home studies and provide pre-adoptive trainings. I have sat in on another private adoption agency’s training. I am now working for an organization that does not place children, but provides pre- and post-adoption training.

What I have found is that there is a very wide range of information available to prospective adoptive parents depending on the agency they choose, the area in which they live (access and availability), and the type of adoption they choose. But most of the trainings I’ve attended are pretty good. A lot of information is shared; including the difficult aspects of adopting a child. Most of these trainings cover all the range of behaviors, diagnoses and challenges that come with children. A few trainings have been down right reality check smack-downs for prospective parents. I’ve seen the shock on some prospective parents faces as they learn for the first time that adopting a child isn’t just a magical fantasy.

And yet…

I talk to adoptive parents three, five, ten years later. And they tell a similar story. No matter how much they were taught in the trainings, they were still caught up in the fantasy. They realized they didn’t believe what the trainers were telling them. They were optimistic, thought, not my child. Not me.

I think that often times those prospective parents that have the most realistic sense of what adoption will be like are those who have actually been knee deep in children. It is rare to find a couple in their 30’s or 40’s – whose only experience with children are their nieces and nephews – who truly have an understanding of the wide range of behaviors, diagnoses and feelings of adopted children. Maybe it’s just a greater learning curve that has to happen.

Not to say these couples can’t parent well – of course, many can. And I might be over-generalizing. But based on my experience, couples often come in thinking their adopted children will behave like, well, children who are born to them. That is, without any trauma or history of loss. Without a culture of origin. Because after all, they (the parents) love their adopted children as if they were born to them. These couples I compare with couples who wait until they’re financially stable and at a good point in their careers to have children and then have these impossibly unrealistic ideas of what their children should be like. Like children who sit quietly at the dinner table and eat all their vegetables and always remember to floss.

I’m absolutely not against women waiting to have children, and I am not saying that either age or careers alone have some causal relationship with having unrealistic expectations of children, adopted or biological. Maybe having been a young mom, with no real role models outside my own experience of being a child of a young mom, I didn’t have a standard of perfection or an ideal of a perfect child. I was flying by the seat of my pants a lot of times.

I’m not saying age is a factor when it comes to adoptive parents expectations as much as I wonder sometimes if the older one is, the more time one has had to imagine the "perfect" scenario. For adoptive parents who choose to adopt after infertility or reproductive troubles, there is often an extra, added pressure to have the "perfect" family. Too often, I have witnessed this expectation of the "perfect life" and the crash and burn when their kids don’t live up to the fantasy.

It’s great to have ideals, but as my 14-year old daughter reminded me a few nights ago, "you can’t wait for an ideal world. They’re called ideals for a reason, because it’s not reality."

It’s time our society got off the island and started being real.

Korea Times: “Civic Groups Campaign for Single Mom’s Education”

080418_p03_civic
/ Courtesy of Social Welfare Society

Single mothers and their babies often lead difficult
lives due to the difficulty young parents have in finding work in light
of their typically poor academic backgrounds.

Civic Groups Campaign for Single Mom’s Education: from the article:


Campaigner Song Eun-kyung, a manager at the welfare group, said
providing second educational chances for these mothers is extremely
important because it secures them the chance to be with their children

 

“Those who take the tests and receive higher education tend to accept
the barriers and prejudices around them but also fight against them.
They later find their lot easier than those who don’t. They are less
reluctant to identify themselves as single mothers and have greater joy
in life,” she said.

 

“In this way, we can reduce the number of abandoned children. We can
also save our country from being one of largest adoptee-exporting
countries,” she said.

Read the whole article here

 

Who deserves to be a parent?

One of the best parts about being connected to the University of Minnesota is the amazing Social Welfare archives housed in the Elmer Anderson library. On Monday, I attended the opening of a traveling exhibit at the Social Welfare archives, curated by Rickie Solinger, author of Beggars and Choosers: How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion and welfare in the United States and Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade. I am a big fan of Solinger’s works and was thrilled to have the chance to meet Ms. Solinger and hear her speak.

Solinger speaks a lot to the philsophy held by so many in America that motherhood is no longer a biological concept but an "economic status" and the debate is now about "who gets to be a legitimate mother in the United States – and how is that enforced?" Of course, we don’t speak of motherhood as an economic status – we speak of it as a choice that women make. But the underlying truth is that women who are poor have fewer choices if any at all.

Solinger brings up a good point. I have said it before too – and appreciate the large body of research that I can draw from to continue asking this question. Poor women are the most vulnerable of women to lose their children. And poor women of color are the most vulnerable of poor women to lose their children.

It’s not that middle class and rich women don’t relinquish children for adoption; it’s that they often have more options and thus, more "choice" about whether they are going to choose to parent. After reading Ann Fessler’s book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who SurrenderedChildren for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade and Fallen Women, Problem Girls:N Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work by Regina Kunzler, I learned that until the mid-1960’s it was mostly poor white women affected by what Solinger describes as "an embedded philosphy that punishes poor women because poor women don’t deserve to be mothers."

But for women who are poor and of color, this cuts even deeper. And it’s not just poor women of color in the US. It’s poor women in other countries too.

I remember reading an interview in which Rickie speaks about poverty affecting the practice of adoptions. Solinger states:

When I say that adoption exists on the backs of resourceless women, I am underscoring the class dimension of adoption, and also the racial and gender aspects – the conditions which make groups of women, some in this country and many others around the world, profoundly vulnerable to losing their children.

I want to underscore that adoption, as a social practice, absolutely depends on the existence of groups of women rendered deeply vulnerable most essentially today because of their poverty.

For adoption to take place, there must be groups of women who are so profoundly resourceless that they cannot claim or protect their status as mothers of their own children.

Solinger makes a salient point later on in the interview when she states that she believes that because adoption is presented to the at-large public as child rescue, what is forgotten is that the "source" – that is, mothers, provide the children for adoptive parents. According to Solinger, "The media and public policy and other opinion-builders have invariably/relentlessly conditioned Americans to “see” the baby and “overlook” the woman who gives birth to this baby."

I think this is even more evident when we think about international adoption, because the framework underlying international adoption is that the mothers are merely poor, or have the misfortune to live under some political or governmental policies that force them to place their children for adoption. This framework or philosophy does two things – it makes adopting internationally seem more "safe" and less problematic, since the poor women in those countries are seen as caring, benevolant and loving. This is in contrast to the women in the US who have their children taken away by the state child protective services, who are monsters and thus, less deserving of pity or empathy.

Solinger states:

I deeply disapprove of the practice of taking babies from the poorest women on earth so that people in the richer countries can make “families.” This will be a very, very difficult practice to alter because Americans are largely convinced that international adoption is generally a perfect example of “child rescue.” Most Americans are comfortable believing that there is no contest – a white professional couple in Boston, for example, will surely make better parents and give a Columbian child a vastly better life than the child’s destitute mother in Bogata. And so on. Again, the practice of international adoption reinforces the idea that motherhood should be a class – and race – and national privilege, and the best mothers are the rich ones in North American and Western Europe.

Throughout my professional experience in the adoption world, I have faced this conundrum many, many times and it is without a doubt one of the most difficult aspects of my work. Yesterday I was discussing with a colleague of mine this idea of motherhood as an economic privilege. She stated that for her white friends who are mothers, the discussions lately are about whether they can afford to become stay-at-home moms, while for her black friends who are mothers, the discussions are all about why they can’t get a  decent paying job.

And to add to this, the topic of adoption assistance came up this week as well. In the state of Minnesota, a child eligible for the classification of "special needs" (foster care adoption) will receive anywhere from $247 to $337 a month to help provide "basic maintenance needs." If the child has greater disabilities or diagnoses then they can receive anywhere from $150 to $500 in addition to the basic adoption assistance.*

Which makes me think about all the women who lose their children because of poverty. We’re paying adoptive parents $247 to $837 a month per child to take care of them. What would that mom, who’s minimum-wage job doesn’t cover the rent, food and medical insurance or day care be able to do with that money?

Yes, there are women who abuse their children. There are women who neglect their children (but the majority of the neglect cases are because of lack of supervision and this is often due to mental health, chemical dependency or job issues). But again, as Solinger states:

There are women in every social/economic class who are “unfit” to be mothers. The only ones who lose their children today because of their “unfitness” are the poor ones.

For the rest of the interview with Rickie Solinger by Mirah Riben, you can access the full transcript here.

* Adoption assistance in the state of Minnesota, January 2008 figures, Department of Human Services. Adoption assistance is only available to children adopted from foster care. It is not available to adoptive parents who adopt privately or internationally.