Friday, September 12, 2008

Should you talk? Should you wait for questions?

Michelle writes:

My Maya is fascinated with playing house/family these days. She knows that we
don't have a daddy in our home (and has told others!!) and she pretends that she
has a baby in her belly, or paw-paw has a baby in his belly (HA!), but has not yet wondered or asked how the babies come out, if she was in my belly, etc... My question is at what point do you offer that information? I tend to prefer to wait until she asks a specific question before offering up too much information. We do read adoption books and talk about the similarities, but that's about it so far.

Sydney's mom writes:

I was very surprised the other night when Sydney asked me this in rapid speech: "Am I an American? Because it is confusing for me since I was born in China. I mean, I am Chinese." I said "Yes, you are Chinese and you are also an American. Because you are Chinese, you are Chinese American." She said "That is too confusing. Am I REALLY an American?" I said "Yes, you are an American. You are my daughter, and have American Citizenship papers."She said "Do I have to take the test later, since I was a baby when I got the papers?" I said "No, you were automatically an American when you became my daughter."I still have a simmering feeling that I didn't do my job in communicating that most important point to her over the past...6 1/2 years! Mommy guilt - it never ends....
Ah, yes, the Mommy guilt! I still remember my first stab of mommy guilt -- Zoe was 13 months old and had been with me only 2 months, and we went to buy new shoes. I had her in a size 3 shoe, and they measured her feet and said she wore a 4.5. Poor baby! And then to add to the guilt, the friend who was with me said, "Maybe she would have walked sooner if you'd had her in the right size shoe!" Arrgh!

It's so hard to know when and how to introduce specifics, especially the hard-to-understand specifics. But my approach has been the same as yours, Michelle, using story books (our favorite is still Over the Moon: it's not China-specific, but it hits a lot of the thematic points I want), introducing the discussion of adoption, birth, birth parents, as naturally as possible, not making a big deal about it, really. (A friend shared that she had her first birth parent conversation with her daughter while giving her daughter a bath. When she told her husband about it afterward, he was upset that she discussed it with their daughter without him being there. He apparently had some view that they would sit down as a family and have "the talk!" It just doesn't happen that way -- or at least it shouldn't!).

I started working out my basic "talking points" while Zoe was still a baby, practiced, refined, practiced some more, all before she was really able to understand more than it was a happy story about her. As she and Maya have hit developmental stages where they seem to understand more about families and babies and adoption (I read and re-read lists of what kids understand at various stages, and then spend time pondering whether they are really at that stage), I've added more complexity to the story.

I made a decision fairly early on that I would try to bring in spontaneous references to birth parents, as much like what I would do if my kids had been born to me. Example: Zoe and I were at the ice cream shop and eating our cones outside. She was about 3.5 years old. There were birds around and Zoe kept exclaiming at how little they were, and I said maybe they were baby birds. She said, "I wasn't that small when I was a baby. I was NEVER that small." I answered, "Yes, you were! When you were growing in your birth mother's tummy you were that small."

I figured in that way I'd create a comfortable, casual way of talking about birth parents, where they saw me as being comfortable talking about their birth parents, and that would create an atmosphere where they would ask me questions when they had them. I waited until Zoe asked this summer WHY her birth parents didn't keep her before we talked about that. But to hear her tell it, she's been wondering about it for two years. So I don't know, was I right to wait until she asked? Or maybe I should have been talking one child policy, social preference for boys (OCPSPFB?) all along. . . .

And then there are the questions we have NO IDEA they are wondering about! Like Sydney wondering whether she was a U.S. citizen. Like Zoe wondering if she had been buried in the ground at her finding place. (We haven't had the citizenship question -- we had lots of discussions in the "you're Chinese AND you're American" vein when we were in China last year. It's a really smart-cookie question for Sydney to ask!) Even as anal as I've been about preparing to discuss all of this, no way could I anticipate everything they are wondering about. I think I've done my job when they feel comfortable asking the questions! Ahhh, and end to mommy guilt (I wish!).


Wendy said...

I agree. We never sat down and had "the talk". We do include her first family and her foster family in our discussions of family in general and of her baby time. Madeline gives us cues in other ways as well, not just verbal. She will choose certain books, have sleep issues, talk a lot about her baby cousin and why my sister would want to have a baby anyway, or push us with behavior (she normally does not do that). Typically I will sit down with her and ask what is going on, but when she was younger I would just bring up different subjects and that would open a floodgate of questions.
She also had severe nightmares about her birthparents and the handover when she was two and three; now only around her adoption time (knock on wood). I think making it a part of life's discussions eases the pressure on her, she brings them up now all of the time and works things through play and discussion with us. Being open has really progressed her in ways that amazes me.

zoe'sfriendsyd said...

I think the answer to your title - "Should you talk or wait for questions" is what it sounds like alot of us on the blog do...both. I tend to wait more for the topic to come up (through Syd or someone else) just so I don't appear to be hammering it in her all the time. As I mentioned before, just because I enthusiastically want to wax on about the joys of adoption (or any not joyful issues she may have) doesn't mean she is always in the mood.
So I wait. And wait. And wait. But then, there are those times when I go ahead and talk. Like when she told me the other day about her friend who told her it was sad she was adopted (and hugged her at the same time, Sydney said). I brought it back up and discussed further the next night and we went through a few more WISE scenarios. She decided since she liked this girl she would definitely "E" Educate her that SHE (Syd) is not sad to be adopted. We decided - maybe she is thinking of a second mother as a wicked stepmother as in Cinderella or MAYBE her friend is worried she may herself lose her first one. And that seems sad to her indeed.