Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Directions For the Family Tree

At NPR's , a panel discussion about nontraditional families, including an adoptive mother in an open adoption, a gay adoptive father in a transracial, closed adoption, and a mother via donor insemination.  You can read the transcript and/or listen to the story here. Here's a snippet:
LYDEN: So, everybody, moms and dad - let's start with you, Carrie. Your daughter was adopted through what's called an open adoption. You have a relationship with the birth mom. And you wrote in your blog that having an open adoption is complicated. There's so much beauty in allowing an adopted child to know and love a birth family, but with that knowledge comes the burden of truth. And we wondered, what is that burden of truth?

GOLDMAN: The burden of truth is - I look at it this way. Most adopted children harbor a fantasy about their other family, and in their minds it's just this perfect alternative to the family they're in. And, when you're in a closed adoption, the fantasy might just live. When you're in an open adoption, you know the conditions that the birth family lives in.

And, in Katie's situation, her birth family's life is very difficult at times. And we have to balance how much to reveal to her so that we're honest with how much to keep back from her because she's just a little girl and I don't want her to feel anxious or stressed when she learns that her birth family is struggling.

LYDEN: Jay Rapp, you and your partner, Gene, have two daughters. You guys are gay. Both these girls are adopted. How much have you told them about the birth families?

RAPP: We've been honest from the very beginning. My oldest daughter, who's eight, she actually has pictures of her birth mother and her half-siblings. She has two sisters and a brother. And our younger daughter, who is four, actually doesn't have any of those things, so we know very little about her family. And, of course, these are both closed adoptions.

But we've tried to be very honest from the beginning when we talk about our family. And really, although this may sound cliche, really conveying that they came from a very loving family who, of course, would have wanted to keep them were circumstances different, but for a variety of reasons, were unable and, as a result, wanted to provide them with what might be a better life.

6 comments:

maybe said...

These discussions of family trees are always based soley on the opinions of the adoptive families. I wonder how a birth family would approach this same discussion. Would they see themselves as members of the adoptive family tree? And how is the adoptee represented on the family tree of the birth family vs the family tree of the adoptive family?

One of the adoptive fathers interviewed said "but from the very beginning, you know, when we talk about history, family history, and who has done what, it is always, you know, your great-grandparent or your great-great-grandparent in really sort of exploring what their family looked like early on into present, and so that they feel very much a part of that."

Its clear from this quote that the adoptee is expected to view the adoptive family's ancestors as his own. But what if the adoptee prefers to view the birth family ancestors as being the lineage he is most connected to...will this adoptive father be able to understand that?

I also wonder how adoptive parents view their own ties to the family of origin - do they see themselves as members of that family tree also? Do they feel connected to the ancestors on the birth family tree? Are they connected to the siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents of the adoptee?

I wanted to ask these questions on the NPR site but I just don't need yet another login, so I am asking here.

Stephanie said...

"And, when you're in a closed adoption, the fantasy might just live. When you're in an open adoption, you know the conditions that the birth family lives in."

This is so condescending, IMO. To me, she is basically saying, "See, look at them. Aren't you glad you are not with THOSE people? You are so much better off with us because they are not just perfect with a perfect house and family." That is the only reason she wants them to be in an "open adoption", for her adopted child to see how much "better" (and I use that term very loosely) the adoptive family is? She isn't involved with an open adoption to ensure the adopted child can have a connection to their biological families and history? So, she is using "open adoption" as a self serving way for her to look better than the biological family. I am shocked. NOT.

Christie said...

We have an open adoption with our daughter's BP's. Our daughter is only 10.5 months but we still talk about her BP's to her and tell her the story of how she came in to our lives.
I've often thought about how she would do the family tree assignment that always happens in school. IMO her birth family would be represented as the roots of the tree.

jj said...

""And, when you're in a closed adoption, the fantasy might just live. When you're in an open adoption, you know the conditions that the birth family lives in."

This is so condescending, IMO. To me, she is basically saying, "See, look at them. Aren't you glad you are not with THOSE people? You are so much better off with us because they are not just perfect with a perfect house and family." That is the only reason she wants them to be in an "open adoption", for her adopted child to see how much "better" (and I use that term very loosely) the adoptive family is? She isn't involved with an open adoption to ensure the adopted child can have a connection to their biological families and history? So, she is using "open adoption" as a self serving way for her to look better than the biological family. I am shocked. NOT"

I was thinking the same thing.

Funnily enough, I didn't actually have some unrealistic fantasy about my mother. I think I assumed she would be like me and that aint no fantasy, believe me lol. I suspect that most adult adoptee's "fantasies" would be along similar lines, i.e. that their family is like them, is that so unrealistic?

Unfortunately, she passed away quite young so I won't get to meet her though I have met my first family. They are actually better than I assumed they would be and from they and others have said, the reality about my first mother sounds better than the "fantasy". I feel the best way to honour her memory is to get to "know" what she was like as a person, foibles and all. No doubt there will be those who see the word "foibles" and assume that because that because this is my first mother we are talking about, then her "foibles" must be bad - not at all, I just mean those personality traits that make us human. I have asked all the "hard questions" so I am not sticking my head under a rock.

Btw I wouldn't necessarily assume that in an open adoption that the adoptee doesn't fantasise about their first mother. If she is a lovely person, they quite possibly will fantasise about living with her at times.

Unknown said...

I wanted to chime in here because I think Carrie's comment, "And, when you're in a closed adoption, the fantasy might just live. When you're in an open adoption, you know the conditions that the birth family lives in" is being taken out of context.

I follow Carrie's blog,"Portrait of an Adoption" on Chicago Now quite regularly, and the above comment was a reference to her post, "The Burden of Truth." The point behind the post and her subsequent comment on NPR was: "In an open adoption, how much of the truth do you reveal to your young child about their birth family's struggles? Are they equipped to handle the pain of knowing their birth family is struggling, especially when they are very young?" This of course assumes the birth family is having a hard time, which happens to be so in the case of Carrie's daughter's birth mother.

It is the opposite of what the commenters here are thinking. Far from trying to tell her daughter Katie "Do you see how fortunate you are that you are adopted and you don't have to be with that lowly birth family of yours?," Carrie, acknowledging the enormous love Katie feels for her birth mother and siblings, is always sensitively assessing how to handle the pain Katie feels when she hears something is not right with her birth family. Katie's birth mother, more often than not, is a participant in the discussions surrounding this issue.

Again, the fact that Carrie's and Katie's relationship with Katie's birth family is based on mutual love and respect is readily apparent from the many, many posts highlighting it in Carrie's blog.

jj said...

"It is the opposite of what the commenters here are thinking. Far from trying to tell her daughter Katie "Do you see how fortunate you are that you are adopted and you don't have to be with that lowly birth family of yours?,""

Perhaps Carrie may not have meant that but I have grown cynical because I know quite a few APs online who do mean that. I know one who did more or less say that in a way, it is easier if the bfamily is not in good shape as it makes it easier for the adoptee to bond to the adoptive family because the adoptee realises that she is "better off" with them. There are many others who have implied similar things.