Friday, January 15, 2010

"Playing the Adoption Card"

A great post (too mild a description -- how about fantastic, wise, insightful. . . ) by Tonggu Momma at Grown in My Heart, about her daughter "playing the adoption card:"

I am a momma who strives to keep open the lines of communication with my daughter, especially those conversations that center around her adoption. Listening to adult adoptees (both on-line and those I know in real life) pushed me to go a step further this year, asking questions of my daughter and allowing us both to just sit with her emotions. We’ve had many conversations about her first family, her foster family and orphanage, our adoption story and yes, we’ve even tackled the topic of racism. I’ve made mistakes, as a momma and as a person, but I figure that trying my best, focusing on my daughter rather than myself and remaining humble during this process will see all of us through as best we can.

Last month, the Tongginator played the adoption card. And by that I mean that she tried to manipulate me to get her way, using the topic of adoption. . . .

But my daughter is smart. REALLY smart. She also knows me well.

And what she’s learned these past five years as my daughter is that I pretty much drop everything to talk with her when she brings up the topic of adoption. When she says “I miss my Abu (her name for her foster mother),” I stop what I am doing, get down at her eye level, offer a hug and wait. I make no apologies for this… it’s what she needs.

Except when she doesn’t.
Oh, boy, does this sound familiar! Zoe, especially, will play the adoption card at times, raising adoption to deflect negative attention ("when you're mad at me, it makes me feel like I'm back in the orphanage") or to delay doing something she's supposed to do (wanting to talk adoption when she should be doing her homework) or when she wants some one-on-one attention (interrupting something Maya is saying to ask a question about adoption).

How lucky we are that by the time our kids start talking adoption, we know them well enough to distinguish between genuine and disingenuous adoption talk, or at least most of the time we can tell the difference! When I'm not sure, I try to err on the side of talking about adoption, if at all possible. And sometimes when I know they're really playing the adoption card, I'll still talk adoption, if I have my own agenda for doing so, like when I've been looking for an opening to explore an adoption issue with them. But I also let them know that I recognize their tactic for what it is (boy, do they hate talking at that juncture)!

I think if you've laid the right foundation with your kids (like Tonggu Momma has), by letting them know in a multitude of ways that you're open to discussing adoption feelings, there's nothing wrong with giving them a quick affirmation on the adoption point ("I know you feel sad about your birth parents, but. . ."), and then postpone the discussion to another time (". . . you need to finish your homework before bedtime. Let's talk about it after you finish.") But then I think it is important to raise the issue again at that later point, even if you think it was being used manipulatively -- and if they are reluctant to talk now, you can at least affirm your willingness to talk, and explain again why you couldn't talk before.

And, of course, the best way to diminish the value of playing the adoption card is to listen attentively to ALL important issues your child wants to discuss. That way you affirm that adoption isn't the only issue you pay special attention to, that they are about more than just adoption. And if they have a full deck of cards to play in an attempt to manipulate you, at least the adoption card won't come up as often!


Dawn said...

Yup, Madison does this, too. I usually say, "Madison, I think you're trying to get me to drop XYZ and talk to you but now is the time for XYZ and we will talk about [adoption topic] when we have time to have a good conversation." When I call her on the dropping XYZ she usually laughs and gives in. She wouldn't if it was really an adoption topic emergency besides which I can tell the difference now.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Now I am seriously blushing, Malinda. Especially since I don't deserve those kind words after I forgot Pajama Day this week. Oh, the horrors. The Tongginator almost didn't survive that Mommy Mistake. Thank goodness we are just a quick drive from the school.

Doug and Terrye said...

What an encouraging post! We have tried to make "adoption talk" as much a part of her life as what she is going to wear each day, but not make it trivial at the same time.

JBH said...

Yay, Tongu Momma and you, too, Malinda. Where, oh where were these loving, smart, insightful resources when I was growing up. I'm amazed at my mother (adoptive) and how she really did OK raising me in the world:-)

Don't know if I ever "played the adoption card" to get my mother's attention, but my memories are when I used it to lash out (sad to admit). Must share a moment (from, um, 30 years ago) which I recently rediscovered in my adoption baby book that my mother kept. I said to her, "You're just the person that takes care of me. I want to know my mother." Not sure if my mom recorded that because it hurt her...or I was genuinely curious. My guess is that it's the former.

I'm so glad that today's adoptive parents have resources, support and everything they could ever want or need...right here on the internet!

Keep up the great work!