Thursday, March 5, 2009

Talking adoption -- lead or follow?

A recent post at Anti-Racist Parent is relevant to a discussion in the comments of my post on talking adoption tips. I agree with what both Mei-Ling and Lisa have said in the comments, especially the need for striking a balance between initiating adoption talk and not pushing issues the child isn't ready to hear. I thought I'd share another perspective on striking the right balance -- it's from Paula, adoptee and adoptive mom, who also blogs at Heart, Mind and Seoul:

I must admit, I cringe just a little bit every time I hear an adoptive parent say they plan to follow their child’s lead when it comes to addressing the different aspects in adoption. Whether it’s talking about their child’s first family, integrating their child’s ethnic culture, addressing the subject of race and race consciousness, identity, loss, grief, feelings of rejection, fear of abandonment or resistance to trust, I can’t help but think what a tremendous burden it possibly might be on the child to have to be responsible to initiate and direct these kinds of conversations with their parents . . . the people a child looks up to, the authority figures and the ones who I believe should be behind the wheel.

* * *

Imagine being a child of 5, 8 or 12 years old and never having your parents approach the topic of your adoption other than saying things like “Be proud of the fact that you’re adopted”, “Being adopted makes you special” or “Other kids sure must be jealous of how lucky you are” without so much as an opening or opportunity to talk about the more complex and often times confusing aspects that accompany one’s status as an adoptee. Imagine how nervous, anxious and even frightened a child might be to ask their adoptive parents about his/her desire to know more about his/her first family, when it’s never been genuinely brought forth as a legitimate topic of discussion before. I personally believe that there are already so many responsibilities that many adoptees automatically take on and internalize when it comes to their relationship with their adoptive parents, that to ask an adopted child to be the facilitator of his/her own family adoption-related discussions is just too much of an unfair and unnecessary onus to place upon any adoptee.

Just today my son and I talked about his Korean family. I strive to find that balance in giving him the security of knowing that he is our son and that my husband nd I are the mom and dad who are raising him while still honoring his beginnings including acknowledging the parents of whom he was born; the family who will always be a part of his identity and a part of who he is at his core. We don’t talk about adoption everyday, but we have authentic and unprompted conversations several times a week - it’s just something I feel very passionately about discussing frequently and openly in our everyday lives. Some days he says very little and shows hardly any interest and sometimes he has a host of questions about his Korean family, foster family or the differences in appearances between him and many of his peers. But I make it a point to provide numerous opportunities to talk about the myriad of different aspects pertinent to his adoption and allow him to share as little or as much as he chooses. And that is where I follow his lead.

8 comments:

Lisa said...

Is the topic really "lead or follow?" There is no absolute answer, it's not black and white.

Let me preface this response by saying that I am not defending those who choose to sweep things under the rug, which is who I assume the author must be referring to.

I understand the author's point, but I think the issue may be exaggerated by life experience and expectation that an AP is not going to "get it."

Perhaps there is more to the conversations the author is referring to than she is stating, and I am missing some context. But I am looking at it in simplified terms - what the statements say, just the words:

"Follow your child's lead" and "wait until they bring it up" DOES NOT mean it ISN'T going to be brought up. These statements DO NOT MEAN you won't clarify points even weekly, as the author herself does.

"Following your child's lead" and "waiting until they bring it up" doesn't mean that you are placing a burden on your child. UNLESS you disconnect from the child's emotions and close your eyes. I know that happens, and, again, I have to assume the author is referring to the total hands off approach.

This advice just means, in my eyes, that you are watching attentively (not inattentively) for signs that she is ready for discussion. And not pushing information on her for your OWN personal gratification.

One example I have to give is an AP I met once. She said of her 7 year old at the time "I wish she would just go ahead and grieve and get it all over with."
Huh?
"Get it over with"? That's about the AP's feelings, not the child's.

Sometimes I feel that's what some AP's do - send their child a whirlwind of information they are not ready for just to make them (the AP) feel better. Hey, they've done their job!

But why not be attentive, watch, AND open all doors?
The subject will come up repeatedly, whether from her mouth or another. There's always room for discussion.

As Mei-Ling pointed out readily in another conversation, these kids echo our thoughts and behaviors. I DON'T BELIEVE these statements mean the authority figures are not behind the wheel. You can be behind the wheel and give your child some personal space to formulate thoughts at the same time.

Mei-Ling said...

["Follow your child's lead" and "wait until they bring it up" DOES NOT mean it ISN'T going to be brought up.]

Without making it seem like I am "leaping" on you, Lisa, let me try to clarify.

There has to be a balance.

If the parent lets the child initiate the discussion ON OCCASION, I still think that's assuming that child might feel as though they have to take the role of being responsible to admit their feelings about adoption because the prompts aren't always necessarily obvious.

If the parent is tucking in the child at night, she might say something like "Let's say goodnight to China and send your China mommy some prayers. She is probably thinking of you and wishes she could be here to give you a goodnight hug", then that at least indicates to the child that it's OK to discuss it. And if the child doesn't respond much, maybe they just don't want to think about China right at that moment and want to sleep instead.

At LEAST the opportunity is there, rather than having the parent constantly "analyze" their child's responses and "determine" whether or not the discussion should be open.

["Following your child's lead" and "waiting until they bring it up" doesn't mean that you are placing a burden on your child.]

In *my* opinion, I think it is. I think it carries the assumption that the child will bring up adoption on their own, and that's not necessarily always true. You might be surprised at just HOW MANY adopted adults say they felt as though bringing up the very subject because they were afraid of any implications making their adoptive parents uncomfortable.

As a child, my mom didn't want to "pressure" me into talking about adoption. As a result, I asked about my adoption TWICE during my ENTIRE childhood. That's IT. (OK I might have asked about it as a toddler, but as soon as I became fully aware of it, I tried not to ask about it because *I* did NOT want to make HER uncomfortable) Because she was honest and truthful, but didn't prompt discussions. And so, I took the upspoken lead to indicate she did not want to discuss my other very real parents because I didn't want to make her feel bad or that she was less worthy.

And even if she did appear genuine and honest and truthful, some part of me didn't - could NOT - take that risk whatsoever.

[One example I have to give is an AP I met once. She said of her 7 year old at the time "I wish she would just go ahead and grieve and get it all over with."
Huh?
"Get it over with"? That's about the AP's feelings, not the child's. ]

Well, that's really extreme. Not many APs I know would think in that manner. :\

Mei-Ling said...

Ugh. Wow. I made quite a few typos. *smacks self*

Correction: "adopted adults say they felt as though bringing up the very subject because they were afraid of any implications making their adoptive parents uncomfortable."

Should be: "adopted adults say they felt as though bringing up the very subject would make their APs uncomfortable just because of the implication of another set of parents."

Lisa said...

Good points.

"Let's say goodnight to China and send your China mommy some prayers." I like that thought.

I don't feel like you are "leaping" on me, Mei-Ling. You have experience that we don't, and your input brings much substance to the discussion. I told Malinda in so many words an EMail that I may appear very passionate (ranting?) at times because I VERY MUCH want to do the right thing for my daughter and I seek knowledge for other children I know and love. But, no one has an absolute "recipe" for happiness and balance, do they? We all learn as we grow.

I think we are on the same page in many, many ways.

Diane said...

Malinda-Thanks for your thoughts. I found your blog via sisterheping. Both of my girls are from Nanning. Mei Ling-I am very cautious about creating a persona for my daughters' first mothers and don't ever say what I think they may be thinking. It is the problem I have with most books targeted at kids who are Asian adoptees. IMHO they grossly oversimplify a very complex situation and the first mother is always one dimensional. Adoption is a daily discussion in our household with my oldest being almost 10 and having lived in China for almost 8 years. Daily she is trying to balance two worlds and to not speak of it would be abusive and dismissive. We do include the girls' first families in our nightly prayer by saying take care of our family in China and then include our wishes for their health and happiness.

Lisa said...

I know I sound defensive, but I'd like to add that no where here has anyone agreed "we will not speak of adoption." I think that one statement I made basically saying to listen to your child (God forbid) is being taken out of context, based on the past generation of silence concerning adoption.

I feel that daily / weekly discussions are great, they come up.

My point is that our children are adopted, but they are other things, too: a cheerleader, a Christian, a sister, a good friend, a daughter who loves selling Girl Scout cookies.

Again, I don't want my daughter ( and others ) to feel that I am obsessed with just that ONE aspect of her life. That's my point.

That's what I hate about blogging. You say something, and everyone assumes something else. Or assumes you must be one of "those" dismissive parents. It just sucks.

Over and out.

malinda said...

What's pretty funny about all of this discussion is that I bet there's just as much "adoption talk" in Lisa's house as there is in mine! Another funny point --Lisa's feeling defensive because she thinks people believe she's not talking about it enough, and I periodically get defensive because I think people believe I'm talking about it with my kids too much!

I have the advantage of knowing Lisa and her daughter personally, so I read her comments through that filter. I know she "gets it," and isn't advocating the "wait until they ask" position as an avoidance mechanism. I read her as saying that parents have to make a judgment about what their child is ready to hear about adoption. You might not talk about the one child policy with a 3-year-old, for example, but would say "you grew in your birth mother's tummy."

We're all looking for the right balance, because we're all trying to do the best we can for our kids.

Mei-Ling said...

"You say something, and everyone assumes something else. Or assumes you must be one of "those" dismissive parents. It just sucks."

I do not think you are a dismissive adoptive parent.

I think it's just hard to convey what we really think without stepping on somebody else's toes.

And I probably exaggerated when I originally responded to you, too. ;)