Monday, October 27, 2008

Poll Results: Fear and Dread

I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that the majority (13 out of 22 --almost 60%) of poll respondents dread having to answer the "why did my birth parents abandon me" question from our kids. This is the thing that makes adoptive parenting different from *just* parenting, isn't it?

So why do we dread the discussion so much? It reminds us of our children's pain? We're afraid we'll say the wrong thing? It's painful for us to deal with the fact that someone else gave birth to our children? We feel a little twinge of jealousy that we have to share our children with someone else? We worry that we haven't been good enough parents if our children are thinking about their birth parents? All of the above? None of the above?

I think it would be perfectly natural to have any or all of the fears or feelings I listed. Even when we know intellectually that our children don't have to choose between us and birth family, that our children's natural curiousity about their birth families doesn't say ANYTHING about us as parents, it can feel a little threatening. And we know that talking about birth parents can bring pain for our children, especially the first time you get the HARDEST birth parent question -- why did they leave me?

I don't think we can avoid our children's pain -- they WILL have to deal with it, and the best thing we can do to help them deal with the pain of loss is by giving them permission to feel that loss and to talk to us about it. So we, as parents, need to get comfortable talking about birth parents. That's why I'm a big proponent of practicing birth parent talk from the moment you get your child. Don't start "your adoption story" with your child's first meeting you -- start it with birth! If your child is an infant, by the time she/he really understands what you're saying, you'll have had a chance to decide what you're going to call the first family, China family, tummy mommy, birth mother, natural mother, etc., you'll have practiced and decided on how you're going to get the child from birth to orphanage to you in a truthful and age-appropriate way, and you'll have nary a stumble!
And I think it's important that you make birth family comments pretty frequently -- both so that you get the practice, and so your child knows it's ok to talk about them. I like some of the suggestions in Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew:

When you understand the fears and ambivalence your child may have when it comes to discussing his birth family, you will be much more effective in drawing out his hidden thoughts at strategic times. I believe that conversations about the birth family should be initiated at times of pleasure and celebration and at times of stress or vulnerability.

Positive times for initiating might include the following:

The child's birthday. "I wonder if your birth mom/dad are thinking about you."
Mother's Day/Father's Day. "I wonder what your birth mom/dad are doing today."
Child's accomplishments."Your birth parents would be proud of you just like we are." Physical features. "I wonder if your birth mom has curly hair like you."
Spontaneously. Whenever your heart wells with gratitude to the birth family. "I'm so glad they gave you to us!"

Conversations about the birth family might also be initiated during vulnerable times like these:

Physical exam. "It must be hard not knowing your full birth history."
Beginning college."I'll bet your adoption issues make saying good-bye extra difficult." After an acting-out episode."Have you been thinking about your birth family lately?" Family-tree assignments in school. (The adoptee's family tree is very complex and will n ot conform to the usual configuration.) You might say to the child, "With your permission and approval, I will talk to your teacher and ask if you (or we) can make a special family tree that will include both sides of your family."
After the child has been teased by a peer because he's adopted. "I know it's hard to be singled out because of your adoption, but remember we love you and so does your birth family."
The next highest on the dread list is the sex talk. Ahh, how well I remember having "the talk" with Zoe! We were in China, so I didn't have my usual option of finding a book on the topic to use as a springboard for "issues" discussions. But Wendy has recommended It's Not the Stork. Any other suggestions, dear readers?
Yes, I always like to have books on hand for jump-starting important discussions -- I'm such a nerd! So I recently bought Ready, Set, Grow: A What's Happening To My Body Book For Younger Girls. The authors point out that girls are hitting puberty earlier these days, so this book is geared for a slightly younger set than their original Ready, Set, Grow book written twenty years ago -- how's that for a scary thought when your daughter is about to turn 8. We haven't had time to do more than skim the book, but so far it looks good.

It's not like we haven't talked about any of this before -- being an all-girl household with kids who've never accepted the concept of "privacy," we've had LOTS of discussions about breasts and "fur!" When Zoe was little, we showered together, with me holding her, because she'd scream bloody murder if I tried to shower alone. I got really good at doing things one-handed during this period of Zoe's life! I remember putting her down one morning in the shower, and she stood there -- right at "fur" level. And there she goes, poke. . . poke, poke. . . . poke, poke, poke. . . .! And she has long been obsessed with breasts. I remember when we were trying to potty train, and I did the usual, "Don't you want to wear big-girl panties like mama?" And her face lights up, and she says in a yearning voice, 'And a BRA?!!!!" It seems she was only interested in potty-training if she was guaranteed a matching set of lingerie! And she still says she wants "breasts like mama's." I haven't had the heart to break it to her that given our VERY different body types, she's highly unlikely to have breasts "like mama's!" (though she's likely to be very happy about it in the long run -- gavity is NOT kind to us zaftig types!).
And for those dreading the "economy is going to hell in a handbasket" talk, here's an article about popular kid's lit for financial hard times!


Anonymous said...

A lot of people are fearing the "Why didn't my mommy keep me" talk?

That's quite interesting (yet understandable) to know. Because if I were an adoptive parent, I wouldn't completely know how to handle it either. *shock*

I just remember how it feels to be told "Your other mom loved you so much she gave you up" which led to the "WTF? How does that make any sense?" thoughts. @@

For some of us adoptee, that issue never really fades away or is satisfied.

malinda said...

I've worked very hard to separate the "your other mom loves you" concept from the "she gave you up" concept, though I can't guarantee that Zoe and Maya hear those as separate concepts.

I basically tell them that their birth families couldn't take care of them as parents want to, so they took steps that led Zoe and Maya to a forever family. [At least it starts this way -- as they understand more, I've had to explain the "why" they couldn't take care of them].

I don't really go into motivation at this point, I don't say it was done out of love. I do tell them that I believe their birth families love them -- present tense -- to kind of separate it out from loved them (past tense) --gave them up.

I think one of my biggest problems in talking about this with my kids is that I want there to be some kind of magic words that will erase the pain, and it's sometimes hard to accept that no matter the words, the pain will remain.

Beverly said...

I think the dread on the birth parents talk is the unknown that I just don't have the information but I am more dreading the body changing talk but there is also unknown as I don't have information about her cycle timing, good or bad how it will be, height or breast size. Without family history some of that won't be known. Even how clear or acne prone will her skin be? So I guess it still relates to being an adoptive parent a bit too.

I heard at a seminar not to ever tell G her first parents loved her but gave her away. Actually what was said was closer to do tell her anything you have no concrete knowledge of (a note/letter) about their feelings toward her. All I can really say for sure is that she was left by someone in a place where she happened to be quickly found.

Wendy said...

Okay, you have cracked me up and I can relate. M is so obsessed with getting hair on her body and periods.

As far as the poll, I voted with the 401K because I don't see any of these as "a talk" that is somewhere in the future. Adoption and birthparents are a part of our lives and come up in conversations about many things. I don't like the idea of "the talk" in any of these areas, nothing will be resolved in one event and I don't think an open relationship comes from one talk or leading up to that talk.

I agree with LittleWing, what the hell is with "your mom loved you so much she left you" Odd. I don't know who started that, but it was obviously a clueless AP that wanted to make themselves feel better. How is a child supposed to understand love with that type of mentality?

syd'smom said...

OK so my issue has been the recurrent question my daughter asks - "do you think she loved me?"
and my answer "honey, I don't know who she is and I have never met her. But whoever left you cared enough to leave you at the gate of the orphanage to be found." I try to stick with the facts, and be open but it's hard to do when my daughter is a very "feelings" oriented child. I am glad to hear what each of you have to say, it helps.
I try to stay open but with my personality it's hard for me to not get mushy and say "PLEASE DON'T EVER THINK YOU WEREN'T LOVED BECAUSE DADDY & I LOVE YOU MORE THAN WE LOVE OURSELVES." That's not appropriate, and I know I can't tell her how to feel. :::sigh::::

Anonymous said...

Malinda, I hope you don't mind me answering questions on your blog. If you don't want me to do that (considering it's your blog and not a Q&A forum), drop me a line. :)

"OK so my issue has been the recurrent question my daughter asks - "do you think she loved me?"

I'd say yes. Even without knowing for sure. Because honestly - what do YOU feel? Do you really, truly think a mother could just "abandon" her child without feeling ANY remorse whatsoever? The OCP gave those mothers no choice, and yes - I know you can't assume - but in this case, I think it's a relatively safe thing to just say that her mother probably thinks of her every day and misses her. In reality, statistics are that only 2% (TWO) fully did not want their children. What are the odds that those girls' parents are part of that 2%?

Not many.


Um... not to point out the painstakingly obvious, but I believe she is referring that she wants to know if she was ever loved by her other parents. @@

Syd'sMom said...

Littlewing - I, again, appreciate your thoughts. I admit, in the past I have said "I don't see how she couldn't love you, you were wrapped in clothing and left in a well lit area at the gate of the orphanage. Anyone who took such a chance, in my opinion, would love you very much." Then - we AP's are told in many instances, stick to the facts. So lately I have been re-thinking my line of communication.
We have minimal facts. So it becomes "what do you THINK, Mommy?" (She'll actually emphasize the word "think" because she knows I am sticking to the facts.)
Good stats. It would be rare for a birth mother to give up a child and not ever think of her again. And how do I know she wasn't coerced by a Birth Father or Grandparent? (Possible, I am told.)