Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adoptee Camp v. Culture Camp

There have been some interesting comments in response to my post, Heritage Camp -- What's the Point?, including this from Linda:
I just worry that they may be a little heavy on the "be grateful" thing. I have heard older adoptees say that there was little to no talk about the negative aspects of adoption, and the counselors were pretty kool-aid-y. (I know, not a real word, lol)
and this from theadoptedones:
Now if it had been run by an adoption agency that preached the greatfulness sermon - not so much.
The heritage camp the girls have attended does just "culture," nothing about adoption at all.  Since I find little value in the "culture" part of camp, I've experienced frustration in the past about the fact that adoption wasn't really talked about.  I remember feeling a certain amount of scorn for an adoptive mother who quizzed me carefully about whether anything was said at camp about adoption/birth parents/loss/etc., when trying to decide whether her daughters should attend the camp -- I saw her as another avoidant adoptive parent who wanted to shield her children from the hard aspects of adoption so as to preserve the happy-happy-joy-joy narrative.

But then I got to thinking about it . . .  along the lines of Linda's and theadoptedones' comments . . . and decided I'm not that eager to have a camp talking to my kids about adoption.  What if they tried to teach my kids to feel grateful for being adopted?  What if they told my kids that their adoption was "meant to be," part of God's grand plan?  What if they told my kids that their birth mothers were just pass-through tummies, a la Rosie O'Donnell, on the way to their rightful mom?

I might be more comfortable at an adoptee camp NOT run by an adoption agency, but those are few and far between. . . .

When I attended the St. John's University adoption conference last year, I attended a session by a Holt staffer (I know, I know, it's Holt, but he seemed like a good guy!), Steve Kalb, who is also an adult adoptee, about having "adoptee camps" rather than "culture camps."  He takes the position that in international adoption there is too much emphasis placed on birth culture rather than adoptee identity.  He says, "Birth culture isn’t satisfying for adoptees for explaining why they are different. It is until they are 4 or 5 years old, but then birth culture as presented and prioritized for them does not give enough rationale for why they are different. As they grow older, they require a more complex explanation."

The idea of "adoptee camp," as Kalb describes it, resonates with me.  So does Dr. John Raible's description of the benefits of Pact camp for transracial adoptees. So maybe we'll have to go further afield to find what I really want my kids to get out of the camp experience. . . .

So what do you think is best -- adoptee camp or culture camp? or none of the above?!


Sharon said...

The Ethiopian Heritage Camp we attend delves into adoption quite a bit, mostly for the parents. for example, this year's them was What It Feels Like to Be Adopted, with presentations by two adult, international adoptees. Another year, Jaiya John, adult adoptee and author of Black Baby, White Hands. The speakers often do separate presentations and/or facilitated discussions designed for kids and parents. I've never, ever heard of a camp talking to kids about "being grateful" or any such nonsense. I had no idea that stuff was out there.

Anonymous said...

That never occurred to me either. My daughter will be a teenager soon and I am considering several adoption camps appropriate for her age group. I think the focus of such camps should be on facilitating discussions and relationships among the teens.

Linda said...

Yet one more reason I adore you. Because...YOU. GET. IT.

I am guilty of stereotyping culture camps such as the one your girls attended- I have read about adoptees who have attended agency run "adoption" camps, and they were filled with "gratefulness", "God's plan/destiny" comments.

I don't think any agency affiliated program that deals with "adoption counseling/issues" is healthy for adoptees. That is my personal opinion, as an adoptee having dealt with agencies, and knowing adoptees who have attended these camps/programs or groups.

I also think it is not healthy to have a program such as Sharon described- "What It Feels Like to Be Adopted".

No two adoptees have the same adoption experience. No two adoptees have the same losses, those losses manifest themselves in very different ways, and they cope with those losses in very different ways.

I question "adoption" camp/program that is sponsored by an agency. Their bottom line is to make money, and the adoptees who speak/work for an agency are, well...adoptees who are making money in the adoption industry.

If it is purely a cultural/heritage program, I have no issues with it. But when it comes to speaking about "what it is like to be an adoptee"...if that adoptee is working for that agency, their opinion means nothing to me, and do more harm than good.

Culture camp, yes. Adoption camp-no.

Reena said...

I agree with what Linda wrote on your previous post and I don't want my kids going to a camp (or anywhere) where someone tells them how they should feel about about anything least of all being adopted.

My take on the Heritage camps is that they are, as you described, a camp where kids with similar stories go to camp and I think that in itself is a good thing. I can envision that while at Heritage camp the attendees may talk about adoption, racism, gender issues, etc. that they have encountered during the course of the camp-- all on their own and I think this would likey be beneficial to many adoptees-- more so than the actual 'learning about your heritage' part of the camp.

From what I have read and heard, I also like the Pact Camp setting started by/run by Dr. John Raible--but we are a few years off from that.

What do folks think about the Jane Brown style of workshops for transracially adopted kids?

Sharon said...

Just to clarify...at Ethiopian Heritage Camp no one was offering the definitive take on "what it feels like to be adopted;" this was a discussion/presentation theme. We've attended this camp for five years and there is ALWAYS some kind of presentation from adult adoptees, sharing a range of experiences and perspectives. In past years we've also heard from adult adoptees about reunion with birth family, about the child's experience of going through adoption disruption, and more. Of course no two experiences are alike; that's a given.

Anne said...

My preference would be to send my child to a camp which helps them identify and process what THEIR feelings are about their adoption, as opposed to being told what to think or feel, regardless of whether I agreed with it or not.

LisaLew said...

I agree that it would be fabulous to have a camp that helps a child who is adopted identify her feelings. But I do think it would take very educated professionals without "their" agenda. Hard to find! I'd rather just let my daughter mingle and have fun at camp, openly discussing questions and comments as they arise.
Heritage camp, before and after, brought us more adoption discussion on the homefront. For example, my daughter talked of searching for a bio relative AT Heritage Camp before we arrived in Tulsa. Interesting discussion.

JaeRan said...

Hi, I wanted to leave a comment about this very timely discussion since I'm finishing up my presentations as I write this for Pact Camp this year.

I totally get what you and others have articulated about culture camps and adoption camps, the focus on culture over adoption or the message from the sponsoring agency about drinking the kool-aid. I've experienced those before.

Pact camp is the second family style adoption camp I've participated in, the first one was an adoptive-parent run and led Korean adoptive family camp in my state. I found more resistance to my workshops and more censorship there than I have ever experienced at Pact, which is an agency led camp. There range of families and where they are at in their thinking about adoption varies a lot at family-style adoption camps.

Although Pact is an agency they have never censored me. I'm working with the teen groups twice and doing one session with parents and teens together, and then working with parents a couple of times. Trust me I will not be passing out the agency kool-aid, anyone who has read my blog will know that.

I agree wholeheartedly that finding the right people who can sensitively and competently guide both parents and children and youth in talking through adoption-related issues at a camp is tough, and as an adult adoptee I can't do this every summer. It can burn me out.

And there are inherent conflicts too. At any rate, I just wanted to say that there are some great points being made in this discussion and adoptive parents should really think about what the purpose for these camps are. Myself, I'm not a big fan of culture or heritage camps for the family. There are some that are just for kids, and I think the point is more that they have the opportunity to be with others who share their experiences of being internationally adopted, without adoptive parents hovering around. However, these often are led by adoptees that "tow the agency line."

When I work with the kids, it's definitely NOT to tell the kids how they should feel about being adopted, being transracially adopted, or any of that. It's providing both the mirror and the window for the kids to see what an adult transracial adoptee is like, knowing they can ask me questions or share their experiences if they want - or they can just hang out with others who live in families that don't seem different.

American Mamacita said...

My take:
For culture: befriend people who belong to the culture, and have it last all year long.

For "how it feels to be adopted:" an adoption (family or group) counselor.

For camp: hit an interest that the kids have - a sport, an activity, and if THEY pick a culture camp or an adoption camp, so be it.

But I totally agree: I don't want to not know what someone else is telling my kids about how they should feel about adoption. There's no "should;" there's just how they DO feel. And I want them to feel free to disagree with how some other adoptees also do feel, and know that's ok. And I certainly don't want someone negating their feelings for the "pink sparkles and sunshine" narrative. On the flip side, nor do I want someone negating their feelings for the "adoption = oppression" narrative. They don't have to fit anyone else's mold.

Anonymous said...

For culture: befriend people who belong to the culture, and have it last all year long.

---Yes, yes and yes.

Anonymous said...

I left a lenghty comment on your first posting regarding the value of these camps.Value being subjective to each family and child.

Reading this input has been very insightful and it all seems to lead back to this: choose wisely, consult and prepare your children if a culture/adoption camp is their desired destination ( as it was for our child ), do your homework, don't be afraid to ask the tough and direct questions up front and follow up all the time privately with your child! Not just after camp or during a significant holiday important to your child's birth culture.....

But please don't underestimate the value of these camps as a sounding board for our chilren to share their experiences, both positive and negative, with other adopted children, peer led or otherwise.

Its going to happen anyways, honestly at some point in time; why not a safe, nuturing environment with a community that shares some commonalities?

As to families attending? I have no problem with that as long there is a deliniated separation and the kids have their own time and space too. Frankly I like being reasonably accessible should an issue arise or the kool-aid urn is wheeled out!

Dawn said...

This is an interesting thread, thank you. We have not sent our daughter to culture camp or adoption camp, she goes to a Chinese immersion school and is around Chinese culture daily and in her class there are about five or six adopted children mostly from China. I know she will sometimes talk to her friends about adoption because she came home asking about her gotcha day and we have never used the term gotcha day. However, we were invited to join a culture camp this fall that our friend who is from Tiwan is going to work at. This thread is making me think that I should ask a few questions before we sign up to see who is sponsoring the camp, what the camp is about and find out what if any adoption issues will be presented? Thanks for the insight!

johnraible said...

Interesting comments. It never ceases to amaze me how easily parents put themselves front and center into discussions of adoptees' needs.

Slight correction: Pact Camp is NOT run by me or designed by me. I have been invited by the camp director, Susan Ito (adult adoptee) and the Pact agency director, Beth Hall (adoptive parent and sibling of an adoptee) to participate over the years. I see myself as a "critical friend" of the Pact Adoption Camp model.

FYI: For those who will be at the NACAC conference in Denver next month, Beth and I are presenting an institute on the model.

Anonymous said...

My daughter attended an agency adoption camp as a teen. She found it to be more generic camp than centered around adoption. What she loved about it was being with Asian/Indian kids and counselors.