Saturday, September 6, 2008


Another birth parent fantasy, and this one is my fault. In explaining the one child policy, I tell Zoe about the "big punishments" that parents face if they have more children than the law allows. I say that they worry that they don't have enough money to pay the fine, or might worry that they will lose their house or their job (yes, these are common consequences for over-quota children). I have NOT, however, said that they could go to jail.

So I was surprised when Zoe said she didn't want people to know that her birth parents might be in jail, and that's why they couldn't take care of her. I explained that the "big punishment" did not mean that birth parents go to jail (while it is, in fact, a crime to abandon a child in China, there is very little enforcement, and as I understand it, there has never been a criminal case where birth parents were prosecuted for abandoning a child. So I'm pretty sure I was telling her the truth).

"Adoption talk" seems really scary sometimes -- I'm always afraid I'll make a mistake in explaining something, that I'll make it worse instead of better (One thing I DON'T worry about is "planting ideas in their heads," something I sometimes hear from parents afraid to broach the subject. I know the idea is already there, just looking for a way out).

But when it seems scary, I remind myself that there are ALWAYS do-overs in "adoption talk!" It isn't a competitive sport, you don't have to score a perfect 10, you can always say, "Remember when we talked about 'yada yada yada' yesterday? Well, I was thinking, and I want to say this . . . " I've had to do that several times -- the "big punishments" thing only the most recent.

As I've mentioned before, when Zoe first started asking questions this summer, and I had explained things as well as I could, I went back to reread some books about adoption talk. One suggested the importance of letting the child know that the birth parents couldn't parent ANY child, that the relinquishment wasn't about this child at all. I thought, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Oops, I didn't say anything like that to Zoe."


The next time it came up, I touched on that theme again and again. . . .

Our kids are always in the back seat of the car, at the kitchen table, in the bath tub, riding in the grocery cart -- a captive audience! Always right there, ripe for our "do-overs!"


zoe'sfriendsyd said...

OK maybe our girls have been talking. My daughter has, for quite some time, asked if her birth parents could get in trouble for leaving her at the gate of the orphanage. She has said (her own idea), "they could go to jail!" I hear her say this off and on. I have neither confirmed nor denied that comment, not knowing if this is true or not. I thought jail was a possibility, but not knowing who they are have dealt with that statement like this: I probe to find out what she is REALLY asking and that is usually something to the effect of "Are they OK?" "Do they love me?" and we end up discussing those issues.
I am going to ponder a way to give her more information about the consequences other than jail. I have some time until she brings it up again, she doesn't say it often. But it is a recurring theme.
PS We re-read A Mother for Choco for the first time in ages tonight. We have moved to chapter books and I forgot how much we missed it! Thanks to Maya for reminding us.

malinda said...

Interesting indeed, that they both worry about their birthparents going to jail.

After you posted, I decided to track down why it was I thought they wouldn't go to jail. I found it in Kay Johnson's book, Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son (p. 91): "Abandonment is clearly specified as a crime . . . . But as legal scholar Li Xiaorong points out, there are few special provisions for the prosecution of this escalating crime, and most commentators agree that there have been few prosecutions."

She goes on to report that in their survey of parents who had abandoned children, "in no case was abandonment treated as either a criminal or a civil offense."

She also reports an antecdotal tale of a woman not in the survey sample who abandoned children three times and was tried by the courts and imprisoned briefly.

I'm glad you went back to A Mother for Choco, an oldie, but a goodie!

P.S. If you want to borrow Kay Johnson's book, I'm happy to loan it out!