First, Eldridge talked about APs needing to embrace their unique role. She said that APs needed to settle the "real" parent question by accepting that WE are the real parents. Accepting anything less is "falling for the idea that you are second best." She even argued that APs can call themselves "biological" parents since parenting has an actual effect on the brain that changes its physical structure.
The biological argument struck me as a bit desperate -- why, if we are "real" parents, do we have to try to find a biological connection? Aren't we, by doing so, conceding that nonbiological connections are second best?! And while I agree that adoptive parents are "real" parents, I think the was to settle the real parent question is to accept that our children have multiple "real" parents. Embracing our unique role, it seems to me, includes conceding that others also have a unique role for our children. I'm a real parent, but so are Zoe's and Maya's birth parents.
Second, Eldridge talked about the importance of keeping up with current research about adoption effects and parenting. She recommended especially Parenting From the Inside Out.
Third, she talked of the importance of honoring our children's birth parents. Shame, she says, comes from APs' silence about birth parents. Even if we think our children's birth parents aren't terrific people (she mentioned drug or alcohol problems, child abuse, etc.), we need to be positive about them. If there is little else to honor about them, we need to honor their role as giving our children life. Eldridge also said that APs worry needlessly about our children's feelings for their birth parents, that for adoptees it isn't competitive at all. Wanting to know birth parents doesn't make adoptees love their adoptive parents any less.
Fourth, Eldridge spoke about how important it is for adoptive parents to enlarge their vision and look at the big picture of adoption. We need to stop being defensive about critiques of adoption, and we need to accept that adoption as an issue isn't over once you get your child.
Fifth, Eldridge painted a landscape of adoption in different phases, as if in an airplane flying through that adoption landscape:
- Clouds = Euphoria of first getting your child
- Turbulance = Anxiety
- Canyons/Valleys = Grief, yours and your child's
- Deserts = Loneliness, so it is important to build AP networks
- Streams = Encouragement from those networks
- Mountaintops = Wisdom - and faith isn't enough, need skills
- Oceans = Joy, when your child accomplishes things you never thought possible
Sixth, Eldridge talked about the "sweet spot" of parenting success, adoption style. One of the really interesting points she made was that successful parenting isn't (or shouldn't be) outcome-based. If your child slides his hand through the gap in the prison bars to hold yours and say, "I love you," you're a successful parent. She said it is important for adoptive parents to remember that their children do love them, even if they can't say it. She also said that APs meed to remember that God loves them and meant them to be parents. Their child's adoption is part of God's larger plan (you know how I feel about that!).
Finally, she spoke about "listening to your child's heart." Each chapter of her book has "letters from your child's heart" at different ages. She summed up some of them as follows:
- Baby: "Hold me close until my body molds to yours. . . This is what I need."
- School-age: "Speak truth about the hard stuff and be my warrior parent."
- Teen: "Like the Marines, Semper Fi. That's you, Mom & Dad, always faithful."
- Adult: "I will finally be able to say what was always in the deepest crevice of my heart -- I LOVE you."
I'm glad I went to the Sherrie Eldridge presentation, though you can see I didn't wholeheartedly embrace everything she had to say. Even disagreement is a learning experience, and affords me the opportunity to think through my viewpoints. I hope more and more adoptive parents will open their minds to various viewpoints, accept what seems true to them, think carefully about what does not, and only reject those things that ring comepletely false to them. That openness makes us better parents to our kids.