Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Telling About Abandonment

There were some great questions and comments to the Ten Commandments post, so I thought I'd bring the discussion "above the fold!"

First, I want to share some specifics from Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child, for talking about abandonment to our kids. The book authors have over 50 collective years of experience in adoption, mostly in post-placement services. They quote Dee Paddock, "a nationally respected therapist and adoptive parent, [who] says that adoptive parents need to see sharing their child's story as a process in telling and understanding -- not just relating the facts of the event. 'Whatever happened in the child's life experience that led to adoptive placement for that child, from the very beginning and in every stage they need to hear the words, 'your birth parents couldn't parent you,'' says Paddock."

Here's some suggested language for different development levels from Paddock:
Preschool Years: Your birth mother couldn't take care of you and wanted you to be safe. So she found a safe place to put you where safe adults would come and take care of you.

Early Elementary: We feel sad sometimes, and even mad sometimes, that we cannot give you any more information. Do you ever have any sad or mad feelings about not knowing anything? It is important that you understand that you are not responsible for the decision your parents made.

If a single mother: Being a single mother in Korea (or whatever country) may be extremely difficult. Single parents may have difficulty finding jobs and being able to provide for their child.

If a large family: Sometimes a family has too many children and is not able to provide for all of them. When the newest baby arrives, as you did, your parents might have felt they had no other choice but to take you to people who could care for you.

Middle School Years: Although we do not have information directly about your birth parents, we can explore all about your country and learn to understand why birth parents had to make such difficult decisions. When you think about your birth parents, what do you think about? Are you ever sad or angry that you don't know anything about them? What would you like us to do to help you? (Parents can begin to bring into the conversation the societal, economic, and cultural aspects of their child's country that would force birth parents to make such a

Preteen: Continue using educational resources to fill in a child's cultural and ethnic background. Continue to ask the questions mentioned above in greater depth. Consider locating a peer support group of other adopted preteens and teens that deals with open discussion regarding adoption issues.

A couple of notes from me -- by "middle school years," I think they mean middle elementary school years. I think true middle school -- 7th & 8th grade -- would be way too late for this discussion. Zoe at age 7 asked the big "WHY" question, "Why couldn't my birth parents keep me?" She was ready then for the discussion of the one child policy & social preference for boys, and other issues like poverty and single parenthood that might have lead to her relinquishment.

Long before that age, Zoe knew the circumstances of her abandonment. She never reacted negatively to it; in fact, she takes a lot of comfort from the story of "the box." I'm not sure why, but the box she was found in is important to her. She loves to hear that she was dressed in three layers of clothing with a little hat on her head, even though it was a warm day. We have visited her finding place, and she could see how populous the area is. Maya likes to hear that she was found in front of a hospital, and that it was a good place to put a baby because people in hospitals know how to take care of babies.

I know some finding places are not as positive; even so, it's important to tell about it. I've already mentioned one reason -- children WILL hear about it elsewhere if they don't hear it from their parents first. In fact, this is what I said in the comments to the Ten Commandments post (in case you missed it!):
I sympathize with the desire to protect your child from hurtful information, but I say you HAVE to tell. She WILL hear about it from others -- too many people know about the situation in China. It won't take someone hearing it from you and repeating it to her. SOMEONE will say to her, "They hate girls in China. They just leave them by the side of the road to die. You're lucky someone found you and took you to an orphanage." I can almost guarantee it -- people said it in front of Zoe from the time she was 3, and when we went to China when she was 4.5 to adopt baby sister, the guide threw around "abandonment" like it was the word of the day! IT WILL HAPPEN!

So you have a choice -- do you want her to hear it from someone else, or from you, who will be there to give her emotional support and to express it as positively as possible?
Telling about the abandonment is also important in explaining why it is we have no information about the birth parents. Zoe knows other adopted kids (including a child adopted from Korea) who know who their birth parents are, and I'm not sure she'd believe me when I say we have no idea if she didn't have the backstory of abandonment. One of the things Betsy Keefer said at the AAC Conference presentation on the Ten Commandment of Telling is that developmentally around age 6-8 adopted kids will sometimes think that perhaps their adoptive parents stole them from their birth parents. So it's important to be specific about how the child was placed for adoption.

Mahmee asks about resources to help in telling,and I agree with her that books and movies are great jumping-off points for discussion. My favorite tool is Beth O'Malley's My China Workbook, an interactive lifebook tool. As I've posted before, the girls loved, loved, loved to fill out the pages, and now love, love, love to read through their books. It is really so much more effective than the lifebook I made for Zoe, since they got to make it themselves.

Here's a short list of China-specific children's books that deal pretty well with abandonment, as well as the social preference for boys and one child policy:

Kids Like Me in China
Before I Met You
At Home in This World

Remember the other points about telling -- let your child be angry without joining in. You can't be condemning about the fact and circumstances of the abandonment. Go for matter-of-fact and neutral. And do not lie. That means saying a lot of "I don't knows" for China adoptive parents. It's OK to speculate, so long as you label it as speculation.

Here's one way to explain the one child policy: "I don't know why your birth parents weren't able to take care of you the way a parent would want to, but there is a grown-up rule in China about how many kids a family can have. If a family has more children than the rule allows, they can get in trouble. That's one reason why kids in China end up in an orphanage. I don't know if that was the reason you did, but I think it could be the reason." (I just read this to Zoe to see if she thought it was a good explanation, and she says it is. But she also wants me to add, "My daughter is mad about the rule. She wishes she could have stayed in China to see what life is like there and be adopted when she was older." There.)

Please share your tips/language hints in the comments!


Mahmee said...

Thanks again Malinda!

Anonymous said...

Another book with an abandonment theme is " An Mei's Strange and Wondrous Journey" by Stephan Molnar-Fenton. It's written by an adoptive parent, sort of imagining what might have happened to his daughter. The story is unrealistic in several ways, but my 6-year-old really likes it. As they say in school, she said "I'd like to compliment the author!" The reason, if I recall correctly, was that the author really was thinking about what might have happened. This book sparked a lot of conversation. My daughter has been to the place she was abandoned/found. It's not a great place, but we were there at the same time of day that she was found and could see that there were people around, so it's a place where someone could find a baby who has been left there. She likes me to tell her about "when she was a baby," over and over.
Sue (aka anonymous)