Friday, October 10, 2008

Feeling Guilty

Do you ever feel guilty for adopting your child? One reader emailed me to ask that question:
After recently adopting my daugther I have times where I feel guilty that I have
taken her from her culture and life in China. No matter what I do (e.g. Mandarin lessons, chinese dance, playing with other Chinese children, etc.) it will not be the same life she would have had in China. And, I'm under no illusion that just because she came here, her life would be "better". It's still a loss for her.

I also question how I get to be her mother, when her birthmother MAY have wanted to keep her but couldn't due to any number of cicumstances which may have been out of her control. I have a sense of "guilt" about that, that I am trying to "work through". I do love my daughter and I am so happy that she is a part of our family but I still have these feelings too. Just wondering if others have had these feelings and worked through them.
And another blogger has posted on the subject at Parenting the Adopted:

Most, if not all, moms feel guilty about one thing or another. It’s just the way we are. As an adoptive mom, though, I have felt more than just the typical mom guilt. I go through periods of guilt for adopting Lucas and for proceeding with adoptions for Rhett and Claudia.

All three of them have living mothers. All were relinquished by their mothers to their respective orphanages for the express purpose of adoption. All listed their reasons as extreme poverty. Were it not for the unrelenting lack of food and resources, would they have continued to raise their children themselves?

* * *

Because I just cannot stand that any parent should have to make an adoption plan for their child simply on the basis of lack of food, I feel guilty for being the adopter. Shouldn’t I have instead offered a way to support them instead of taking their children?

I wrestle with that question every day.


Short answer from me: YES. I wrestle with guilt, too. It doesn't take away from the love I have for my children, but I do feel guilty for the losses that adoption represents for them. Guilt isn't always rational, so I get to feel it even when I realize that my kids have gained a permanent family that they likely wouldn't have had in China. But doubts about that -- would money to pay over-quota fines have made a difference? -- ratchet up the guilt.

So the majority of my guilt is reserved for the plight of their birth families, especially their birth mothers. I definitely feel guilty that I get to raise their children mostly because they are poor and I am not. What I spent on the adoptions probably would have allowed 20 Chinese families to pay over-quota fines and keep their kids. So, yes, I beat myself up over that fairly frequently.

So the answer to the reader who emailed me is, "you're not alone." Does anyone else out there suffer from "adoption guilt?" Or are WE alone on this?! How have you dealt with the guilt? Are there any resources that have been particularly helpful? Are there specific things you do to combat the guilt?

One thing I do, and it is pitifully small, is donate to Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund. Love Without Boundaries has long provided medical care for children in Chinese orphanages. The Unity Fund provides medical care for children to keep them out of orphanages and with their families:
In 2005, many of us had our lives changed forever on a very special medical
mission to Henan, the most populated province in China. We had gone to operate on orphaned children, but as word of our medical team spread, the crowd of rural families wishing for their children to have surgery began to grow. Farmers, who were unable to afford the life changing surgery for their children, walked on foot for days in the hopes that their children could finally be healed. We met family after family who told us stories of their worries about being able to heal their children and many who told us they had considered leaving their babies at the orphanage so that their children might receive medical care. It was then that we realized that in providing medical care to families living in poverty, we could possibly prevent children from becoming orphaned. What an amazing thought that was.
This fund is especially meaningful for me since it is possible that the inability to pay for Maya's medical care played a role in her family's decision to abandon her. I know, it's just a little bandaid to assuage my guilt, but so be it!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another awesome group is Christian Foundation for Children and Aging - http://www.cfcausa.org/

You can sponsor a child for $30/month. This money will pay for food, clothes and education, allowing a child whose family might otherwise decide to leave her in an orphanage to stay with her birth family. I started sponsoring two children through this organization 10 yrs ago, and one is now almost finished at nursing college, the other went through automotive school and is now a mechanic. It is mind boggling to me that for such a small amount of money, you can keep a child with her family and help give the child a career that will support her (and maybe her family as well).

Elizabeth J.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel guilty, because I know the reality is that if we weren't adopting, our children would grow up in an orphanage. Every child needs a family. The real problem (in China)is the draconian one-child policy - that is the level where people need to work. I've heard that the Chinese government is loosening up on this and I think that should be encouraged. All evidence shows that birth rates fall naturally where standard of living and education for women increase.

In other countries, the AIDS and poverty issues need to be worked at the government policy level. Organizations like ONE are doing that, and I support those organizations in any way I can. The children in the orphanages need parents now, however, and cannot wait for the policymakers.

I think we can get too caught up in guilt over taking kids out of their culture, which I think is a separate issue from whether the child has living, poverty-stricken parents. Yes, we did take the kids from their culture. But culture is not static. It changes constantly, even if we stay in the same place. They will have their own culture and be nurtured in that.

LAH

littlewing04 said...

I'm going to have to politely disagree with anonymous 2(assuming that both commenters aren't the same person).

First off, I'll tackle what I DO agree with:

"I don't feel guilty, because I know the reality is that if we weren't adopting, our children would grow up in an orphanage." Absolutely. Adoptive parents do not cause this. I wish the government would wake up and stop forcing mothers to relinquish.

"I think we can get too caught up in guilt over taking kids out of their culture, which I think is a separate issue from whether the child has living, poverty-stricken parents."

It depends. Who is making the effort to retain bits and pieces of the culture? Do you send your kids off to language school on Saturdays and that's the end of it, or is there an attempt to speak it part of the time at home, too?

Then again, there is always that issue that taking the children away from Culture XYZ and not being able to imitate Culture XYZ as it is practised *in* XYZ...

"Yes, we did take the kids from their culture. But culture is not static. It changes constantly, even if we stay in the same place."

Culture is always changing, true. But there is still a vast difference between American culture and Chinese culture. Chinese culture, at its base, is in CHINA. Not America. Sure, they've got dragon races and dances and food that you can buy at the local supermarket, but it's pieces and bits of the culture. Hockey is a culturistic thing in Canada. It's not that same in China. Likewise, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is celebrated in China/Taiwan. Not in Canada, and certainly not in the way that it's usually celebrated in the country of origin.

Just because a culture is changing does not mean it can suddenly mix into another culture and take on the traditions of that culture of its own.

"They will have their own culture and be nurtured in that."

Well, yes and no. If I'm not mistaken about that statement, you're basically saying that if they accept being of two nationalities that they can embrace being a mixed culture.

It's not that simple. There are people who have told me "You're both Canadian and Chinese."

So where is the line drawn between accepting both of these? There is never one simultaneous moment where you can actually BE both. You're either in a white Caucasian environment with people who speak English to you, or you're at a Chinese restaurant where you feel like a dork when you walk in and they think you know Mandarin.

You tend to be more of one than the other, and it is this divide which causes the identity confusion. To say they are Chinese is pushing aside their Canadian identities. But to state firmly that they are Canadian seems to push aside all pretence that their heritage really is Chinese because they're adopted.

And wow, I think I'm done.

Beverly said...

I don't feel guilty for adopting my daughter. I feel guilty for not being there when she was in the orphanage and foster care without a forever family. I don't feel guilty about taking her from her culture either. Most kids in the orphanage don't really have their rightful culture anyway, it is orphanage culture within their culture. Few truly got to go to school. None had forever families to travel to see on the big important holidays. Even the nannies had families to return home too. I have enough to feel guilty over just being a mom than to feel guilty over adopting a child from an orphanage no matter where that orphanage happened to be located. Just my .02 worth.

littlewing04 said...

Again, my apologies go to blog's owner as I do not mean to hijack the blog entries with my ramblings.

I am going to assume that Beverly was anonymous #2 since her comments were along the same direction. I could be wrong but since I've seen that view quite a bit on AP blogs, I can still address it from a general perspective.

"I don't feel guilty for adopting my daughter. I feel guilty for not being there when she was in the orphanage and foster care without a forever family."

You are right about that. I won't deny that.

"I don't feel guilty about taking her from her culture either. Most kids in the orphanage don't really have their rightful culture anyway, it is orphanage culture within their culture."

Ah, but if it weren't for the government, a lot of these kids would have had their heritage/culture.

But just because they are adopted doesn't mean they shouldn't have the right to their heritage/culture. I think we would both agree on that aspect. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

I was not saying the OCP is any AP's fault. I am saying that culture is not so black and white once a child has become adopted. Culture is becoming more broadened but China will never become America, nor will America ever become China.

Even Chinese-Americans whose parents immigrated from China and who may speak the language fluently and watch Chinese TV and cook Chinese food all the time still do not have their entire culture.

It is not the same because American culture is different and they do have to assimilate over to Western ways to an extent in order to be "accepted."

"I have enough to feel guilty over just being a mom than to feel guilty over adopting a child from an orphanage no matter where that orphanage happened to be located."

I'm not sure why you would say that. If we can both agree that those little girls would have grown up in orphanages with no real sense of culture either way... why would you feel guilty about being a mom to a little girl even if she came to you through adoption?

Anonymous said...

littlewing04, I appreciate your comments, as I don't often hear feedback from adult adoptees - probably because the China adoptees are still pretty young.

Just in response to some of your comments, Beverly and I are two different commenters. I'm guessing you don't have kids, as you don't get her point about feeling guilty just because she's a mom. It comes with the territory, whether by birth or adoption :-)

I think my point about culture is that we can't re-create it, no matter how hard we try, and it shouldn't be a source of guilt. My husband and I take Chinese lessons and try to use it at home. We treat our daughters' Chinese heritage as we treat our own German/Swiss/Scots/Irish/English heritage - by incorporating it as naturally as possible into our daily lives. Our girls are massively uninterested and are not shy about expressing that. The culture that they will have will be partly American, partly Chinese, and partly the smaller environments in which they spend time - our particular state (Texas), schools, churches, family, etc.

I feel like my own upbringing gives me some perspective on this issue, though it is not identical to that of an international adoptee. I am Caucasian, but I was raised mostly in other countries. My parents are Americans whose work took them to several countries in Asia, where we lived for many years, and also Australia. Every four to five years we would come back for a year to the United States. I do not feel like I "fit" particularly well in any country. I guess you could say I lost my country's culture, but I don't mourn that fact. Instead, I enjoy the ways in which I have a different perspective on the world. I relate well to others who grew up as I did (and there are quite a few of us around). They are my culture. I think my girls will probably relate well to other international adoptees and find their culture there, just as the children of Chinese immigrants relate well to each other. We have many Chinese adoptees in the area, so I don't think they will lack for a peer group. I hope they will someday be able to appreciate their uniqueness, though I don't want to minimize the losses they have experienced in their lives.

I do appreciate your feelings about not feeling fully "Chinese" in certain situations and not feeling fully "Canadian" in others. I hope one day we will come to a place in the United States and Canada where to be ethnically Asian will not be perceived as being less American or Canadian.

As one last point, where my family lives is such a melting pot it would be hard to define our "culture." Every week I meet people from many countries of Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc. It would be hard to point to anything and say that is our culture. Maybe the loss of Chinese culture is more striking because it is more homogeneous. Just a thought....

LAH

littlewing04 said...

anonymous: Yeah, I know what you mean. Most of the oldest ones so far are barely hitting their teen years, so it'll probably be a few more years until we start hearing from them.

"I'm guessing you don't have kids, as you don't get her point about feeling guilty just because she's a mom."

You'd be right. I know that some APs would feel guilty just because they adopted and feel that their children's original parents should be raising the children instead.

So if a natural mom has a natural child... why would she feel guilty? It's not like she's raising another woman's child. Is it the mere fact that the natural mom who has kept her chid feels guilty because she's responsible for the new life that she created?

"Our girls are massively uninterested and are not shy about expressing that."

As a child, I was massively uninterested in ANY type of Chinese culture to the point where I rejected it. As an adult during the past 2 years, I have done a complete 180 degree turn and am now trying to reclaim it. What I'm trying to say is: no, there shouldn't be guilt about a culture that can't be fully assimilated as it is done in Country XYZ, but that perspectives can change over time. It might not happen, they might never feel it's that important, but it's a good idea to be prepared.

"We have many Chinese adoptees in the area, so I don't think they will lack for a peer group."

That's something I never had as a child. It's good that adopted Chinese kids can form their own groups and receive cultural support like that.

Personally I was not raised in a multi-ethnic community at all. So that may be influencing my responses, and of course I don't know how effective it would have been if I had.

For a child, it's probably much better to live in a multi-ethnic area than in a region where almost every person is white. They won't feel the impact of being "different" so much.

Beverly said...

littlewing you can assume whatever you wish but if you bothered to click my name it would have taken you to my profile. If it wasn't the one child policy it would be another reason for abandonment according to Chinese history and idea of confuscious thought. I don't feel guilty for adopting my daughter. Not guilt. Had I not adopted her maybe somebody would have but there is no guarantee that she wouldn't have grown up in an orphanage. Do I hate that they have a one child policy? Yes, I also hate abortion in the country but I don't feel guilty about living while others were aborted either. Don't make assumptions just because you wish to make a point.

Beverly said...

and I meant "abortion in this country." Mom guilt is the fact that there are no perfect parents though each mom wishes to be and realizes that she can't. Mom guilt comes with the job. It hasn't anything to do with parenting a born to you child or an adopted child. I mean about the culture that the government wouldn't have provided that for her so she gets the FCC culture provided by me. Do I hope she shows an interest in learning Chinese? Yes and I have made an effort to expose it to her but it still isn't the same that she heard in China. Here the videos we have are Mandarin but she heard Cantonese so I can't and won't feel guilty. For whatever reason her bio mom decided not to parent her. I am parenting my child who happened to be born from another woman.

littlewing04 said...

No, if it wasn't for the One-Child Policy, perhaps more support would have been offered and mothers would have been able to keep their children.

Funny how no one wants to admit that could have been a possibility - IF the OCP did not exist. It does, and has existed for decades, so that's quite a moot point.

"Had I not adopted her maybe somebody would have but there is no guarantee that she wouldn't have grown up in an orphanage."

If I am correct in presuming this, I understand that there are long wait lists for Chinese children, to the point where government officials had to make up ridiculous new restrictions on who could adopt just so they could actually process the papers. Therefore, I think it's relatively safe to say that if a first set of prospective parents #1 didn't get Chuang Ling-Hua from the orphanage, the next set of prospective parents would have been matched up.

I am not saying this to hurt you, and if I did, I am sorry. I am pointing out the truth. There are line-ups and a "queue" for Chinese children in orphanages.

"Mom guilt is the fact that there are no perfect parents though each mom wishes to be and realizes that she can't."

Ah, I see. I didn't realize there was such a thing. Thanks for explaining it to me. :)

"Here the videos we have are Mandarin but she heard Cantonese so I can't and won't feel guilty."

Is your daughter from the Hong Kong region? I'm sure you might already be aware of this, but if you go on Youtube I'm certain you could find Cantonese children's videos - if that's the language you want her to connect with, I mean.

Personally I think Mandarin is a better choice just because it's the most common dialect.. but if her people speak Cantonese, then it would obviously be more beneficial to have her hear Cantonese. But of course, it's up to you.

Also, Beverly, I'm not entirely sure which assumptions you have interpreted from me. Could you point those out and I will correct them or try to explain them? (Unless you meant my assumption about you and anonymous... in which case, honest mistake and I'm sorry for offending you.)

Anonymous said...

littlewing04, I want to tell you again how much I appreciate your comments and your courtesy in answering our sometimes defensive comments. People who have adopted internationally will sooner or later (usually sooner) meet up with the comment/criticism that we should not have taken our child from his or her country or culture. After hearing this so often, we start to feel defensive and/or impatient. In a perfect world there would be no adoption. All birth parents would have the physical, financial, emotional, and mental resources to raise their children to healthy adulthood. I would love to see that. Unfortunately, life is messy and we're all just muddling along, doing the best we can. While we all react negatively to the idea that we "saved" our child, I think those of us who adopt feel strongly that it is better for children to have a family of their own than for them to grow up in an orphanage in their own culture. The evidence we see in child development literature clearly supports this. Children just do not get the attention/love/training they need in an institutional setting, no matter how caring the workers are. So when we hear the criticism, we react. By the way, we also hear a lot of, "There are plenty of kids to adopt in our country, why are you going to other countries?", which can start a whole new thread.

Part of your response to Beverly caught my attention and I'd like to comment on it. It is true that wait times for healthy infants are extremely long right now in China. I would like to offer a couple of possible alternative reasons than that there are few children available. People tend to assume the long queues are because there aren't enough children available - and I think China would like to give that impression for political reasons of its own.

From what I can tell, there are tens of thousands of children in orphanages in China and hundreds of thousands worldwide, many more than the number of people applying to adopt. China's centralized system of government means that all applications go through the same agency, the CCAA, and must be processed there. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The advantage is that they have kept better control of adoptions than in other countries, which leads to a cleaner, less corrupt process. Please note that I'm not claiming there is no corruption. If there is money to be made there will be abuses, no matter the country/organization/agency. China's reputation as a reliable country of origin is one of the reasons its adoption program is so popular. Unfortunately, the centralized system creates bottlenecks. They just don't have the ability to process in a timely manner the number of applications they receive. If they decentralized the system to allow each province to process its own adoptions, I think there would be many more adoptions and it would move much more quickly. Given the high value placed on social control, however, I don't think that's going to happen.

Another thing that is slowing adoptions in China is that, as in every country, the majority of people want a healthy infant. Adoptions for older and special needs children are moving much more quickly. My husband and I are in the process of adopting an older child, and the time frame we've been given is approximately six months from the date our paperwork is logged in at the CCAA.

Malinda, I'm wondering if you want to address this sometime in your blog. What are the real reasons wait times are so long?

LAH

Beverly said...

LittleWing, First I am not offended nor am I trying to offend. With regards to videos and books we have cantonese videos and all of the Chinese children's books we have are Cantonese or written by Cantonese speaking authors with a smattering of mandarin language books.

That is my point. What culture should I feel guilt for taking her from the mandarin language culture or the cantonese language culture that she was learning.

The reality is that there is no shortage of children in any country needing homes. There are a shortage of good and willing parents to parent them and I am also referring to the bio parents as well as potential adoptive parents.

Support of birth moms would work in some cases but not in others. Governments cannot continue to step in and subsidise families (though it would be nice) like the american welfare system. It is a bust here with generational welfare being the product. And there are women who do not want to parent but become pregnant.

I don't think parents should have to choose to parent or not to parent because of a law or economic hard times but the reality is they do and the children are caught up in the mess.

The one child policy has not been around as long as the confucious thought/ideology and child abandonment/genocide of primarily girl children has been around longer than the one child policy. Any reading of Chinese history will show that. But like I have said, the US has the wonderful(sarcasm) distinction of killing 40 million of its unborn babies in 35 years.

I do appreciate the views of the adult adoptees from all countries who are willing to speak. I read their blogs and their thoughts that they write down. I ask questions to try to help guide my own dealings with the issues but I still am not going to feel guilty about it.

My child is 4 now. She isn't interested in taking any dance classes, language classes or other classes of any kind right now and I can't/won't force them on her. (she tells me she will when she is 10 or 19).

I also can assure you it isn't because I show no interest, on the contrary, I show lots of interest but she already is in the like what mama doesn't like stage and vice versa.

And someone would have adopted her because her file was next in line whether my file was or not. It is the way the files were processed.

If I could I would try to find her birth family but that too will have to be up to her (according to some adult adoptees, this is totally the adoptee's choice to find the birth family). There is so much we already will have to work through with regards to her adoption so I am arming myself with information to help answer as many questions as I can. Nevermind the race things that will come up in school to deal with.

She wasn't left with a note but I have other inferred information for her. I have no reason for her abandonment other than the books written about China and its culture.

US women abandon their babies too and US babies are sent out of the country for adoption too. Those women shouldn't feel guilty adopting US babies either. Maybe our country should feel guilty about not parenting/adopting them ourselves.

In my experience and the state in which I live, it is difficult for a single to adopt children. As adoption is totally regulated state by state here. China was an open option at the time for me as a single woman. And I am deeply grateful for the privilege but again not feeling guilty. I also don't expect my child to feel grateful for being adopted. She has no reason to feel grateful.

(Now I expect her to feel grateful for the Dora kitchen she got for her birthday that she wanted that she now refuses to play with but not for being adopted.)

See, there are just so many more things in life and until you are a parent either of an adopted child or bio child you can't see from the parent's view. I also realize I can't see things from the adult adoptee's view. And even there adult adoptees disagree about a lot of things too.

Sorry for this being so long.