Posts Tagged ‘ adoptive family ’
Every once in a while I stumble across something from a fellow adoptee that sums up exactly how I feel about my adoption, but conveys these emotions so well that I would rather “copy and paste” their thoughts (with permission, of course) than try to echo them with my own sentiments.
Like the following blog by Rebecca Hawkes, adopted daughter and adoptive and biological mother – I think what she says is simply brilliant…
I sometimes wish I knew what it would be like to not be adopted. If you are not adopted, please think about that for a moment. Think about the things that you take for granted. Think about the simple, natural connection between you and the people to whom you are related. Even if your relationship with your family is not 100 per cent positive, there is a quality of your connection to them that you have probably never questioned; they simply ARE your family. They didn’t choose you; you didn’t choose them. You are connected to them by the interwoven threads of shared experience and biology.
For me, as an adopted person, things are not so simple. It occurred to me recently that being adopted is a bit like having Strabismus, or “Wandering Eye,” a condition in which the two eyes don’t quite work together as they should to create a single, unified picture. As a metaphor for the adoption experience, this translates to two separate visions of family. One eye sees the world through the lens of experience and upbringing. This is the “nurture” lens, connected to a definition of family as those people with whom I grew up, who cared for me, and shared the experiences of family life with me. The other eye is the lens of “nature,” or biology. It sees family as those people who share my genetics and genealogy, who are related to me in spite of our lack of shared history.
Some people with Strabismus compensate by favoring one eye over the other, and some adopted people do so as well, metaphorically. There are adoptees who will tell you that their real family is the one that they grew up in. Period. There are even those who express distance from, and disdain for, their biological mothers by referring to the them as “incubators.” On the other end of the spectrum are those who refer to their adoptive parents as “adopters,” rather than parents, rejecting the adoptive definition of family in favor of a strictly biological one. But many of us find ourselves in the middle, struggling to hold two (at times contradictory) definitions of family simultaneously, striving to create a single, unified vision from these two divergent points of reference.
Can I say that my life would have been better if I hadn’t been adopted? Would I be happier or psychologically healthier today? I can’t say that with any certainty at all; who knows where that unknown path would have led. Most of the time I am able to accept, and even celebrate, my life for what it is and to see the duality of adoption as an enrichment rather than a detraction. Usually, I am thankful that I have the love of not just one but two families. But to be honest, I’m not always in that place of acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes I wish that instead of families, I simply had “a family”.
Follow Rebecca’s blog at http://rebecca-hawkes.blogspot.com/
By Michelle Aspeling
Coordinator: Pretoria Adoption Support Group, South Africa
Families are formed in many ways and adoption is a beautiful way to make a family. From the moment I received the referral of my son to the moment I laid eyes on him and looked into those little brown eyes, I knew he was my son.
After all the excitement and the joy that came with this blessed moment in my life, I had a great fear of how do I tell him I did not give birth to him? Although for everyone else it might be obvious, as I am vanilla and he is chocolate, my biggest fear was, how would he respond and would he still love me as mommy?
During our home study preparation we were informed and educated on all aspects that lay ahead of us, so I knew from the beginning that he had the right to know that although he did not come from my body, this was just a technicality, as he was my choice and my gift from God.
There is often hesitancy on the part of adoptive parents, especially in cases of same-race adoptions for a variety of reasons, not to tell their children they are adopted. During our home study preparation we were told that a child should never remember the moment they found out they were adopted; they should simply grow up knowing it. I thought this made a lot of sense, and wanted to share some of the choices we made about telling our son that he is adopted.
Tell your child at an early age
It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, as it is often best to introduce the idea slowly and over time. This can avoid the risk of the child finding out by accident from a family member or friend. Some parents choose to wait until the child is in their teens before telling them child they are adopted, but adolescence is in itself a difficult time, so this may not be the best time.
In some ways, this can make the question of how to go about telling your child they are adopted somewhat easier, as small children tend to ask simpler questions than older children. My son was four when he came home from nursery school and proudly told me: “I came from your tummy!” and pointed to my tummy. (The teacher had explained to all the kids in the class where they came from and that they were born from their mommy’s tummies.) At that moment, my heart skipped a beat and I said, “Skattebol, families are made in all kinds of ways, and sometimes children don’t come from their mommy’s tummy, but I’m still your mommy.”
This satisfied him for the moment. I did not deceive my child, nor did I make a big deal about it either, as telling them they are adopted is an ongoing process. As your child is able to better understand things as they get older, you can explain more and more. Obviously, a one or two-year-old is not going to comprehend the complicated facts of adoption, but they can start becoming partially aware of their special identity.
It is important to explain a little at a time. Only answer the questions asked. This will allow your child to comprehend what you are telling them. Answer each question as they come up, so that they are not overwhelmed and confused. Children may only understand a small fraction of what has been explained, but, as they get older and are able to understand more detail, you will be able to build on an existing foundation.
Never place birth parents in a negative light
I used the following explanation: “You didn’t grow in mommy’s tummy. You have a birth mother (or tummy mummy) and you grew inside her. She loved you very much. She couldn’t take care of you. Now, you are my child and I am so lucky to be your mommy.”
It makes the child feel less rejected to know that they were loved deeply, but the biological parents just weren’t able to give them the kind of home they wanted the child to have. You just have to find that middle ground between “over glamorising” birth parents and talking negatively about them.
Adoption is not a shameful thing, it is simply the child’s “truth”. We decided to be open about adoption, to talk about it freely, but not obsessively, and have our son always know how he came into our family.
Tell their story
We do this by telling our son bedtime stories of how we prayed for him, how we travelled to pick him up from the orphanage, how he came to live with us, and the joy, anticipation and love we felt. As he gets older, we adapt the story according to his level of understanding. He is now starting to add his own bits and sometimes it is just wonderful how he is able to comprehend certain facts and explain to me what he understands.
Recently, he said: “I sat on the chair at the orphanage and was waiting for Mommy and Daddy to come and get me!” He asks questions which create a great dialogue between us. Other methods, such as reading a book about adoption, scrap booking and pictures, are ways parents can use to tell their children their story. Always stay positive!
Celebrate your differences
Our family is not defined by who received whose DNA, we are defined by relationship, as not one of us in our family shares the same genetics. It doesn’t matter how you are formed; what matters is the love you share and the memories you create. We celebrate his culture, heritage, food, art, and more. Our son is from Cambodia, so it is not always easy living in South Africa to participate in the various festivities, but we take him to the temple, cook Cambodian cuisine and try to incorporate Cambodian traditions in our home.
Adoptive parents should not fear saying the “wrong thing”; there is no correct language or method to use when telling a child they are adopted. You know your child best, so approach the discussion in the way you feel is most appropriate.
Mary Beth Wells chats to Aurette about her discovery as an adult of her closed adoption, and her journey of healing.
Laura, a white South African, is the mother of two boys (her biological sons) and Megan, her black adopted daughter. I asked her about the challenges of raising a black child in a white family. Her response was so moving I had to share her words…
A few times I have had people ask me whose daughter my two-year-old Megan (name changed) is. When I respond that she is mine, and explain that she is adopted (as they look at me strangely), a few tell me very firmly, (sometimes aggressively) that there is no way that she could possibly be mine. Although this kind of ignorance is hurtful, I can handle it for myself, but my heart aches for Megan when she is old enough to hear and understand them. I think the deepest issue for me has been simply the aching that every mother has in her heart when her child is wounded and she cannot mend the wound herself.
I see this pre-language stage of Megan as our honeymoon time during which she will not be aware of the comments of others or their uninhibited staring. I truly believe that she is, and will be a happy and well-adjusted person, and I don’t in any way see adoption as a negative word or concept, but I do know that she will have to face the reality of it and the rejection of it when she is ready.
My prayer is that God will enable her to have a strong sense of who she is, as well as where she originally came from, even though it may always hurt her. I believe that she will become a child, and eventually a woman who is not afraid to stand up and be different when it is the right thing to do, or the loving thing to do. I trust that the challenges and issues will shape and strengthen her as they already are doing in our other two children and our marriage and our extended family. We pray that although adoption may be ‘a narrow path that few will take’, it will have a ripple effect on those who are touched by it, challenging stereotypes, prejudices and racism, and calling individuals and families to positive action in whatever area is right for them.
Once in particular I experienced quite overt racism towards Megan through a derogative comment that a man made about her in my presence (she was less than a year old – can you believe it!). My initial response was to immediately withdraw from the group I was standing in (they all heard the comment), and walk away before anything else could be said.
Usually, I can be quite verbal in these kinds of situations and would have given him a mouthful, but somehow when it is your own child they are talking about it is like being punched in the stomach and knocked down. It winds you mentally and emotionally, and the response in a mother to fight for your child is, I think,one of the strongest emotions there is.
I had some time to mull over this during the church meeting we had all just gone into. (church meeting, can this happen in church?) I was so angry on Megan’s behalf I could hardly breathe. How could anyone say something so rude as a joke, and to what purpose? I realised that this was probably a common way of speaking in his circles, and that those usually in his company either agreed with him and laughed, didn’t really notice what he had said, or quietly ignored his word. I also realised that he had probably hardly ever had someone of another colour skin in his social company, and therefore didn’t actually consider what he had said as offensive, until he saw me withdraw from the group.
I thought of all the things I could say to him after the meeting, but it all melted into nothing. I realised that nothing I would say to him would change him, and I surrendered my rage, asking God to deal with him and convict him in a way that only God can do. I realised that my anger would only elicit more hurt and resentment, possibly hatred in me, and I felt that my immediate withdrawal from the group as he spoke was perhaps statement enough of my feelings.
I began to feel pity instead of hate. After the meeting he came straight up to me, and although he did not apologise, his whole demeanor had changed, and he began asking me about Megan and the adoption process, saying how wonderful it is that we have adopted her and that she is a beautiful baby. I was speechless, and decided to try to extend grace to him. I hope that the experience challenged him, and continues to challenge and change him for the positive.
So I guess there are many issues that arise out of stories such as these. Firstly, the pain and sense of helplessness tied up in the awareness of my child’s future hurt, and secondly, the daily choices to either bow to the hurt, resentment and hatred of others who are ignorant, nosy, or simply nasty, or to surrender to grace and be set free to love again. I think I’ve learnt that when you love truly deeply, there is ironically a wide open gap for hate to creep in – when those you love are attacked in whatever way. Pity is also a great replacement for anger, because you can begin to love someone if you pity them, but not if you remain angry with them.
On a lighter note (and there are infinitely more wonderful moments than these few dark ones that unfortunately stick in the memory), I will mention some of my thoughts and our experiences as a family.
Because we have chosen to adopt transracially, our adoption is ‘public’. Strangers cannot help but notice, and often stare or, better than staring, ask questions. Although I appreciate peoples’ honesty and would prefer questions to whispering behind our backs and possibly coming to incorrect assumptions about us and adoption, sometimes it can be tiring and draining to feel ‘watched’.
For example, when my daughter is misbehaving in public, throwing a tantrum, or crying, I feel that I am being watched and ‘assessed’ much more than with my two biological children. I feel (and this is just my perception), that if I am having to tell her off or she looks unhappy, people make the assumption that she is not happy, or that she is a difficult child or that I am not as good a mother as I would be if we were from the same people group. Perhaps that I am not really able to care for her needs well enough, or bond with her sufficiently. I feel that whatever some people observe in that small time frame will be used to judge the overall success of adoption, and although I acknowledge this as only my perception, I do feel it as quite a pressure some days.
I could not be more pro- adoption than I am. This is something I can give my life to, especially being an African (I am South African), with all the need for parents and homes here. My heart aches for our South African past and I grieve for all the injustices and cruelties. It’s difficult to ignore the aftermath of all of this, which still remains extremely visible here, especially in the recurring poverty cycles around us.
Partly my heart for adoption comes out of this sense of trying to make a difference and to right wrongs. It’s overwhelming to think of how massive the task is of changing a nation, but more manageable sometimes to think of making a huge difference to one life instead of a small difference to many lives.
And this is the path that we have been led into and chosen. When we attended the preparation course prior to our adoption of Megan, one of the things that really struck me was someone’s comments about ‘being a hero’. The social worker stressed that we cannot adopt only to ‘do something good’ or to be a ‘hero’. Although this seems very simplistic, I have grown to see it as extremely key in all adoptions, but especially transcultural adoptions. If I, even on a sub-conscious level, see myself as some kind of ‘rescuer’ of my child, I have to be very careful not to cross the very fine line of self-importance and white supremacy. Also, my child should never feel that she owes me anything for what I have done. I must operate out of love, which seeks no reward or congratulations.
This I have found to be difficult because often people’s first response when asking about the adoption is: ‘You are such wonderful people to have done this selfless thing’. But how does this portray my daughter? That she is lucky to have received our charity? No! I always try, no matter how short the interaction is, to put across the blessing that we have received through Megan, and that adoption perhaps begins as a selfless idea, but plays out as mutual love and blessing upon blessing within a family that just looks a little different.
Many people I have spoken to perceive that many adoptive parents have concerns that their child will one day leave them and go to live with their biological family when they find them. This has not at all been a concern for me. Megan is an integral part of our family and takes on the culture of our family as she grows and learns, just like the boys have. We met her birth mother on the day she was given to us, and that was truly an emotional and amazingly intimate time. We felt that we were really able to connect with her and we hope that when Megan is old enough (legally from the age of 18), she will seek her birth mother out.
I believe this will be part of her healing, although I know it will bring pain as well. I don’t feel threatened by my daughter’s birth mother because I know that in every way I am her real mother and I will always be that to her, even if her birthmother becomes part of her life one day. We portray Megan’s birth mother as a brave, very young girl who chose to release Megan as the most loving and selfless act of her life, because this is what we believe to be true.
One of my close friends was passionate about adoption, but had some concerns prior to our adoption. She asked me: “How do you know that you won’t favour your biological children over you adopted child?” My response surprised but moved her deeply. I explained that I was, on the contrary, concerned that I would favour my adopted child over the others because she has already been wounded by life.
We have been amazed to see our boys interact with Megan from day one in their absolute protective adoration for her. I was initially worried last year when my son, aged six, made a comment out of the blue about Megan being ‘more special’. Obviously, babies by nature are more demanding than slightly older children. I thought that he was perhaps feeling left out or jealous, yet we hadn’t observed any jealousy at all from either of the boys.
As I began to discuss this with him, he stopped me short. ‘It’s totally fine, Mom. Megan is more special because she is adopted.” This was clearly not said in a negative way, but he was expressing that he sees that Megan was chosen to be part of our family when she wasn’t before. I was so proud of him that he had grasped not only that she was more needy because she was a baby, but beyond that, we have to take special care with her because of her adoption. That’s not to say we treat her differently to the other children, but her beautiful rich skin is a constant reminder of the gift that has been entrusted to us, the gift of our little Megan.
Some of the really stupid questions people have asked me about Megan are: what does she eat? She must eat different food because she has dark skin.
Is she clever? Implying that she may not be – this is their concern about adoption. It makes my blood boil!
Does she speak English? We brought her home at when she was two months old!
Will we raise her in English? We don’t yet know an African language, although we will probably embark on learning one as a family in the future.
Although I call these ‘stupid questions’, as I said before I would in some ways far rather people come out with their questions to my face than come to their own conclusions behind my back. However, the difficulty comes in when these conversations happen in front of the children and can be extremely hurtful. I have sometimes, in severe cases, felt I am justified in going into attack mode verbally on behalf of my child. She must always know that I will be willing to stand against anyone or anything to defend her. Yet there is a fine line between righteous anger and going overboard emotionally in a way that is destructive, so I am constantly seeking wisdom for each particular situation.
“You were an answer to prayer,” my mother said to me when we discussed how their adoption of me came about.
Her statement caused me to catch my breath as I felt my heart skip a beat.
I was an answer to prayer.
Imagine two people praying to the Almighty God – the Creator who spoke the world into existence – for a baby and they receive you. Wow. God choosing me as a gift for someone – that in itself is a gift – to me.
Truly, God meant it when He said: “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isa 49:15).
And He didn’t. When my birth mother decided she couldn’t keep me and wanted to ensure that her baby girl was given to a happy, Christian home, God looked down from Heaven, saw my mother and father and said: “This baby for that couple.”
The fact that my father had always wanted a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair had everything to do with it.
Adoptees are a gift from God to their adoptive parents. That you were given to them specifically is no accident. God had a definite purpose in mind when He caused you to come into each others’ lives. Even if your adoptive situation was not a happy one, it’s important to know that God can turn any evil into good to suit His divine purpose – if you allow Him to by submitting to His will.
It’s Powerful stuff. And it’s ours for the taking.
Go on, take it.
The story of the discovery of my secret, closed adoption is intensely personal and brutally honest. But it's also a journey of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
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