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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Clawing Our Way Out of Cluelessness

this post brought to you by the number one, as in 1 AM, so don't expect greatness, y'all

I feel I need to preface this entire post by sharing with y'all that the Husband and I still feel clueless about this whole parenting gig, especially the adoption parenting part of it all. Then again, I think most parents feel that way. But Lisa asked, so I'm a-gonna try to tackle this as best I know how. Today I'll talk about how we learned more about what we should do; tomorrow I'll start talking about what choices we made with that information. So...

Behold The Path the Husband and I took to go from Totally Clueless to Just Slightly Less Clueless Than We Were Before. Except... umm... I'm not entirely sure what that path was.

(Because I'm clueless, you see.)

During Christmas 2005, when the Husband and I realized that the Tongginator needed us to become better adoptive parents, we reached out to some of our cousins who are also transracial international adoptees. We wanted to "talk adoption" with them.

And yeah, as you can imagine, that didn't really go over very well.

You see, all four of them (three adopted from Korea, one adopted from India) felt happy to be adopted. Ranging in age from 15 to 26, they all seemed content with their life stories and pleased that we chose adoption as a way to build our family. Which was great and all, but we had a child who was hurting and angry and not too thrilled with her new life.

And we really didn't know what to do.

Then, one day, a couple of months later, the Husband came across an article in the newspaper that was written from an adult adoptee perspective. It was the very first time either the Husband or I had ever heard in-depth opinions about adoption expressed by someone other than an adoptive parent or social worker. I wish we could remember what the article was about, but we racked our brains for a couple of hours last night and came up with nothing.

(Again with the cluelessness.)

Anyways, the article itself wasn't exactly important except that it pointed us to the adoptee perspective. And, through that article, we discovered a couple of blogs written by adult transracial adoptees. We started reading. I need to admit, at this point, that the Husband dove headfirst into this, whereas I was dragged along, mostly kicking and screaming.

The Husband? Is much better at emptying his cup, you see.

I soaked up just a little at first. I tried so very hard to remain open-minded rather than defensive... to hear a matter-of-fact tone of voice rather than anger... to remain humble rather than assuming that my opinion was the "right" one... to keep my rather large mouth shut and listen more than I spoke. It was HARD, y'all. But... over the course of about two years... I started learning how to empty my cup.

How to listen.

WITHOUT feeling defensive.

How to soak up a ton.

I read some incredible posts during this time. The two that the Husband and I both still remember - to this day - are Accepting That Grief Can Last a Lifetime and The Skin I'm In, both written by Paula, an adult adoptee and adoptive mom. I can't even begin to describe how much those posts changed our lives.

About two years after our first failed "adoption conversation" with our cousins, the Husband and I started chatting about adoption with cousins from his side of the family. The conversation just kind of happened naturally. And something remarkable occurred. These two cousins, who - just two years ago - had expressed nothing but sunshine and rainbows about their adoptions, began opening up to us. And they shared that adoption? Wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. And they told us why.

And we listened.

A couple of months later, that same thing happened with cousins from my side of the family. One of my cousins really, truly opened up about how difficult life is as a transracial adoptee. And about the anger and grief that goes along with "the adoption story." My other cousin seemed much more content about adoption, but still shared specifics about why it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.

And we listened.

We learned something really, really important through those experiences. We learned that adoptees are NOT going to share the tough stuff about adoption if they don't feel safe... if they don't feel validated. We learned that it was up to us to ask the hard questions and to listen with an open mind. We learned that we may not agree with everything they shared, but that didn't mean we shouldn't listen. We learned that even the adoptees who feel *mostly* content about their life stories still feel some of the tough stuff. And we learned that if we look for anger in an adoptee's words, then that's all that we will hear.

But if we look for truth, then that's what we will find.

Truth for ourselves. And truth for our Tongginator.


Aus said...

Wow - you are really opening hearts here - just so you know!

But I'm thinking your mind set is right....last night at our house with the oldest adopted it was 'tears night' - not the raging / screaming / wailing kind of tears - the sad and just kind of quietly slide down your face tears.....and I poked and prodded some to try to get at what she was feeling - and failed.

So I did the next best thing - I plopped down on the couch next to her, slid my arm over her shoulders, and told her that sometimes you don't want to share what's in your heart - OK - but if she changes her mind (even if it's 2 in the morning or something) she can come and see me and share all she wants....

I may never get at what had her sad last night - and as a parent we can't always do that....

But we can just 'be there' - and let them know that WE value them.

Can't wait to hear more about your journey here - it's what I call the 'real adventure' - the one that starts some months or years after you are home!

hugs - aus and co.

monica said...

TM, I'm really enjoying following this journey. It's extremely meaningful to know what other parents go through. As a therapist, I know that nothing in life is all sunshine and rainbows. People share their pain with me day in and day out. Now, the challenge in my life is whether I can be strong and brave enough to hear my own daughter's pain when she is ready to express it. I hope that I can. At least I am not scared of feelings in general and I know that we all have pain, suffering, guilt, fear, disappointments, unrealistic expectations, and thankfully, joy. Please keep talking. It's good for all of us.

Sarah said...

I came to your blog only a few days ago, and already your writing has profoundly touched me. And not because I'm adopted, or because I'm an adoptive parent, or anything like that. But because what you are saying is true to all parenting. It's universal. And maybe "regular" parents can rub by without paying as close attention and awareness as you must have with a child with needs like the Togginator, but should they?

I came to your blog because I was interested in a) children with special needs (my younger nephew has autism) and b) my mother was a foster parent, and I had always wanted to get a different perspective on both things. Instead of that, I'm getting so much more. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for letting "all of us" enter into your world so intimately.

Debby said...

So thankful for your honesty......so glad you are writing all of this. ((((HUGS))))

Kris said...

throwing my hands in the air, tears running down my face, and just saying "I give up".

you, my dear friend, are rocking my world lately. how do you keep stealing the words out of me?

off to send another link to a magazine ;O)

Debra said...

and then...

Nicole said...

Um, I could hardly get past the first line. You're up at 1:00 in the morning? Girlfriend.

Seriously, great couple of posts. Sometimes I think that people idealize parenthood in general and think that once they become parents, everything is rosy and wonderful and - what did you say - rainbows and sunshine. It isn't. It's hard. It's even harder, I imagine, with interracial adoption.

So, great posts! Lots to think about.

Janet said...

TM! What are you trying to do? I just barely finished digesting the LAST HUGE article that you wrote! (Huge in terms of what it said, of course!) This is another REALLY good one.

I would have to say that although I had READ a lot about attachment, I know I had NO IDEA how hard it would be to have a child who wasn't attached. I get it now. But that is part of your last HUGE ARTICLE, n'est-ce pas? PATIENCE and perseverance! Oh yeah.

This was SO good. I hope that I can be completely open and honest and truly LISTEN to my littles when they start to need to talk about this stuff.

Patty O. said...

Wow, I finally caught up on the last couple weeks of your posts (I don't know why I have been so busy lately) and these are amazing!

I love how open minded you have been and realize that had to be so tough. I need to listen more to my kids when they are trying to tell me things I don't like.

You are really educating all of us on the issues surrounding adoption and I thank you for that!

Laurie said...

When you say your daughter was hurting and angry and not too happy with her new life- what did that look like? How did you know it was adoption related and not just a not too happy kiddo? I'm surprised to hear that there might be people out there who think ANY child's life, adopted or not, is all sunshine and roses. What life is? If I were asked about my childhood I'd say it was a happy one, but if someone really probed, I'm quite sure I could come up with many things that were NOT so happy about it. So although I appreciate the fact that adopted kiddos have added "issues", I think all kids have issues, and as parents it is our job to listen and tackle each one the best way we know how for our particular child's needs.

Sharie said...

So true, "adoptees are NOT going to share the tough stuff about adoption if they don't feel safe..." They won't even open up to their own parents. Which I think is your entire point - of all of your latest posts.

We must at least know enough to let our kids feel safe in talking to us, although sometimes...like this week in our house it can be hard to hear how much your baby is suffering.

Elizabeth Channel said...

I feel a lot like Patty...sort of like I'm all wrapped up in the "parenting an out-of-the-box child" type world and never consider what parenting an adopted child might be like, or the similarities therein. A few years ago, a friend who had adopted kept trying to get me to read this book about adoption because she thought it would help me understand my own child (who was not adopted). I thought she was strange for this suggestion, but now I am starting to see some similarities...

Patricia/NYC said...

Wow...just wow...these recent posts are fabulous & so very, very important!!

Thanks for the links to Paula too...I just read those 2 posts & will print them out...Kiara has already started "comparing" herself to her classmates (i.e., I want blonde hair, why can't I have curly hair, etc.)...

I am always thinking about these things & praying she will always feel safe enough to come to me & her dad...

Thank you so much for making me think longer & harder about this subject!!

The Byrd's Nest said...

Beautifully written...I don't think I knew you had internationally adopted family? Maybe I did though...learning Spanish is frying my brain! lol

I was clueless too and in many ways...remain clueless BUT at least we are seeking advice and help from those who know....like Melissa and that I think will help our children.
I wrote a little post about Emma Jane today......she has now been needing to hold my hand until she falls asleep....oh my heart is so full:) love you girl!

Aunt LoLo said...

I'm kind of a lurker on these type of posts...but I got a chuckle out of the first line of this one. In the font your blog uses, 1 AM looks a whole lot like I AM. Meaning, of course, God. However, either way, it's right - there's a whole lot of God in being a mama. Keep it up.

Mia_h_n said...

I'm impressed with your willingness and determination to be the best parent you can be. That is so brave.

And I understand that as an AP it can be very difficult to read some of the things AAs blog about but on the other hand, who would know better? We can't know everything and AAs are different, but it can still be a very valuable new perspective.
Of course APs can't figure out everything about what it's like to be an AA on their own, and vice versa, so why not utilize some of the AA blogs out there?

And kudos to Aus in the first comment for handling the situation like that. If it indeed was adoption related tears it's also quite possible it was to diffuse to verbalize. I know I've sheded many tears over the years due to untangible feelings. Now in my early 30s many things are becoming cleare and are being put into the proper context, but it's still a very complex and often unclear life journey.

Norah said...

Another well written post. Thank you!

mayhem said...

My favorite line from this post: "But... over the course of about TWO YEARS... I STARTED LEARNING how to empty my cup."

Awesome! :) Yeah, it can take a while...

Thanks for these posts. Very well written, and I'm sure very helpful to so many!