Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Comments on Poll Results: What parts of the adoption story have you discussed with your child?

Wow, I thought the poll results were really interesting! Here are some thoughts:

Only 23 people voted – the last poll had over 70 voters. Why is that? Non-voters might not be adoptive parents, or they might be adoptive parents who haven’t talked about any of these things. I hope it’s the first option.

Not surprisingly, all but one of us have talked to our children about the “gotcha” moment. Of course! That’s the really fun part of the story to tell, and it’s the part our young children love to hear. FYI, I used “gotcha” on the poll because it’s such a well-known term, but we don’t really use it. Zoe objected to “gotcha” because it made her think of monsters lurking in closets, waiting to jump out at you and say “GOTCHA!” So we celebrate Family Day – the day we became a family. Because of the way it happens in China, that just means it's the next day, because that's when the adoption is finalized. What does your family do?

Eighteen people – 78% -- have talked to your kids about birth parents; I think that’s great, but I’d have loved to see 100%! Even if you think your kids are too young, I think it’s a good idea to start talking about birth parents, China families, first family, whatever you decide to call them, really early. It gives you practice before your children get what you’re talking about, and then you’ve opened the door in case your child IS thinking about them long before she/he says anything to you, or long before you think they’re at that developmental mark. I’m continually surprised at how early my kids reached all the big WHY questions – why don’t I have a daddy, why doesn’t our skin match, why didn’t I grow in your tummy, why didn’t my birth parents keep me – LONG before the books said they would! You can introduce birth parents really early and really simply, even if you don't have much information about them. Our story starts like this: "You grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until you were ready to be born. Your birth parents gave you your beautiful golden skin and your beautiful dark hair, and your beautiful dark eyes." How have you incorporated birth parent information in even early conversations with your kids?

I was a little surprised that less than half of the respondents had talked to their kids about their birth. I’d really encourage parents to include this part of their child’s story when they tell the adoption story. Adopted kids who don’t hear that they were born might feel that there is something abnormal about them, and might see us as ignoring their life before we met. I started out simply when my kids were very young, saying, as I said above, “You grew in your birth mother’s tummy until it was time for you to be born.” In their lifebook, I've written, "It takes a man and a woman to make a baby. Your birth mother and your birth father were the man and lady who made you! Every child is born, so you were born!" What does your "birth" conversation sound like? If you're not talking about birth, why not?

Less than half have talked about China’s one child policy, and less than one-third have talked about the social preference for boys. Why is that? It might be that you think your children are too young; I first talked about it with Zoe when she was 4, and that was only because we were going to China to adopt her sister, and I wanted her to hear something about it from me in case someone else decided to talk about it in front of her. Our first in-depth conversation was when she was 6, and we were about to visit her finding place in China. And then this summer, we’ve talked about it a LOT. Maya has been hearing about it since age 3, but I’m not sure how much she gets. Or maybe you’ve adopted from some country other than China – amazing how China-centered the poll turned out when I really didn’t mean to! But then, less than half talk about other reasons birth parents might have for placing a child, and that would give non-China adoptive parents to chime in, and not many did!

Less than half have talked about citizenship; one of the reasons we have is because of our return trips to China. My kids know about their American passports, and we have pictures in their albums of us standing before a U.S. flag conveniently placed outside the door of customs and immigration at LAX, and we say, “And THAT’S when you became an AMERICAN citizen!” I’m glad we’ve had that conversation, because they are talking about citizenship in Social Studies in Zoe’s second grade class this year, and I know another child in the class who was born abroad asked about whether she was an American.

So, did the poll responses surprise you? Are you doing the same thing others are doing in telling the adoption story? What are you doing differently? I’d love to hear from the 11 who talk about things not on the list!


Sheri said...

I ticked off every item on your list. WRT "Other Things" - count me in for: searching for birthparents. possibility of birth-siblings in China. things are changing in China, and the rules in place when they were born will also change. orphanage life. etc.

SB said...

I will probably talk about all with her at some point. She's only 4 years old, and we've only had her for 3 months so we just haven't gotten to everything yet.

Anonymous said...

"Less than half have talked about China’s one child policy, and less than one-third have talked about the social preference for boys."

That seems a little strange to me, to talk about China's One-Child Policy.

I mean, yes they're young now and yes it probably did cause one of your children to become "abandoned", but I can't think of a way to reveal such a segment of their history without lowering their self-esteem.

It's not something you can just cover up by saying "You were left because you loved."

That's not the whole truth. The truth is that one of the sisters was left is because China's government policies did not allow her gender in preference of the male.

So yes, her parents most likely loved her and it broke their hearts to give her away, but that is NOT the main reason why she was abandoned.

P.S. If I'm wrong and it was simply because of the hospital bill, please ignore this.

malinda said...


Thanks for posting!

It is hard to talk about the tough things, and hearing the truth can harm self-esteem. But I still think the FIRST RULE of talking adoption with kids is TELL THE TRUTH. I don't KNOW if the truth is the one child policy and social preference for boys, but it is highly likely to be the truth. So I have to tell it -- "I don't know why your birth parents couldn't keep you, but here are some reasons that happen in China."

I tell it in an age-appropriate way, and I tell it with compassion, but I have to tell it. My kids are going to hear it from someone else first if I don't do it. I have to give them a different focus on it from what they'll hear on the playground: "China HATES girls." "Your REAL parents threw you away."

Zoe is angry about the one child policy, but it also makes her feel better that there's probably a reason unrelated to HER for her abandonment. It's been harder for her to see that with the social preference for boys -- after all, it seems that being a girl meant she wasn't good enough to keep. But we work on understanding that different cultures feel differently about these things, and we work on understanding that even here people have funny ideas about what girls and boys, women and men are able to do. And we talk about how all those people are WRONG to think that girls aren't worthy.

But of course her self esteem takes a hit. I dont think it can be avoided, though. NOT telling the truth has many more damaging consequences, I think.