Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Adoption Has Taught Me About Parenting

Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan has a post at Huffington Post entitled What I Learned About Motherhood by Being an Adoptive Parent.  Stikes me as a perfect theme for a blog carnival!  I'll kick it off with a few ideas here, and ask anyone else who blogs on the topic to put a link to your post in the comments. I think the topic is broad enough for everyone to write about -- birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents. Please spread the word, and see if we can get some interesting posts going!

Boy, I could write forever on this topic, but I'm going to limit myself to three points -- things I would NEVER have known if I had come to parenting in any other way.

Biology matters.  No, not in the way some outside of adoption think, that somehow one can't love a child who is not yours biologically (don't know why people insist on linking love and biology -- we're all familiar with loving those not related to us, or we'd all be marrying our cousins!).  But nonetheless, biology matters. 

We hear all the time in adoption that biology does not make one a parent -- it's the parent who takes care of a child who gets to be the "real" parent.  I reject that notion, taking the position that my children each have two mothers -- their birth mothers and I are all REAL parents. Biology DOES make one a parent, despite protestations to the contrary, so my kids came to me already having parents. They have parents whom they do not know at all, but they still love them, miss them and wish to know them.  Zoe felt that loss as a toddler -- one of her first spontaneous mentions of her birth mother was as a 3-year-old when she informed us that on her birthday, her birth mother would put a candle on her cake and sing her happy birthday.

My kids' birth parents are part of their lives, even though absent.  Because of that, they are part of my life, too. 

Biology makes a difference to my children.  No, they don't love me any less because we aren't biologically related, any more than I love them less for that reason.  But as a recent conversation made crystal clear, they recognize a connection to their immediate biological family and their long-ago biological ancestors, too.  They are my children, but they don't see my ancestors as their ancestors.  They want to know about that long line of Chinese ancestors going back into the mists of time, that is what is meaningful to them.

So yes, adoption has taught me that biology matters.  It's important to recognize that our children come to us with their own story, their own history, their own biology.  Ignoring that does not serve us well.

Race matters.  Parenting children of color is different.  If my children were white like me, I guess I could go through life believeing we're living in a color-blind world where racism is simply the ignorant actions of a few misguided people.  If my children were white like me, we could bask in our white privilege, ignoring systemic racism.  If my children wre white like me, we could prove our color-blindness by never, never, ever mentioning race.  Parenting children of color doesn't give me that luxury.  And since my race is different from my children's race, they really can't learn from observing my reaction to personally-experienced racism.  So we have to talk explicitly about race and racism, and we have to do it a lot. 

Race matters, because a healthy racial identity is important, and something harder for children of color to acquire by osmosis when living in a white family.  We have act intentionally to bring Asian role models into their lives, to incorporate lived experiences common to Asians in America, to create a positive yet realistic picture of their homeland.  That explains weekly Chinese School and living half a year in China and countless other daily interations.

Transracial adoption has taught me that race matters.  It's important to explore our own ideas of race, and to prepare our children for living as people of color when they are away from us, no longer protected by our umbrella of white privilege.

The truth matters.  The thing that drives me the most crazy about adoption is the secrets and the lies.  Trust is so fundamental to the parent-child relationship, and nothing can be more corrosive to trust than secrets and lies. 

As Maya put it, she thinks parents are sort of afraid to tell their kids because they think maybe their kids won't love them if they find out. It's silly to think that, Maya says, because you have two families in one, and they should be ok with that.  Yet adoptive parents still persist in ignoring the fact that their children are adopted, not wanting to mention it, not wanting to talk about it for fear of planting ideas in their kids' heads, not wanting to tell any part of the story that involves hard truths or even birth parents.

I sympathize, really I do.  I was pretty insecure before adopting, not wanting to "compete" with birth family for my children's love, which is how I once thought of it. I've confesses before that one of my greatest shames is that I chose China to adopt from because I thought that would mean we wouldn't have to deal with birth parents (little did I know!).

Who knows, if my kids looked like me, maybe I'd want to "pass" too.  We want to protect our children from all pain, and we sometimes fear that talking about adoption will cause pain. But I believe the pain comes from NOT allowing our children to talk about what's important to them, and, see above, biology and race matters to them.  I firmly believe that my relationship with my children is stronger BECAUSE we talk openly about adoption.  Without that openness, there would always be this unspoken barrier between us.

So the truth matters.  It is their truth, so our children deserve to hear it.  Not talking about adoption causes pain, it doesn't alleviate it.  Our children will love us more, not less, when we give them the gift of truth.

So what have you learned about parenting from adoption?  What lessons have you learned from adoptive parenting that you might not have learned otherwise?  Please share!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I wish I could share, but I'm not a parent yet so I'll have to get back to you!