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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Attitude of Openness

Last spring the Husband was approached by an acquaintance - a fellow China-adoptive dad - who wanted the Husband's "adoption parenting" advice. Through the course of the conversation, the Husband learned that this other dad's daughter, then a first-grader, did not understand that being adopted meant that she lost a family before she gained a family.

In other words, she didn't know that she had birthparents living in China.

I really have no words for this. Thankfully, the Husband had a few gentle words of advice, but he wasn't really sure if it fully sunk in for this other dad. And this weekend? This weekend I learned that the Husband's words did NOT sink in. Because I ran into the dad when our girls were not around. And the dad told me that a few weeks ago - for the first time - his now-second-grade daughter asked about her birthparents living in China.

She asked, "what about my other dad? My dad in China?"

And this dad told me he replied with, "You know that I'M your dad, right? And that your mom is standing right over there. WE are your parents. You understand that, right?" She said, "I know" and then the conversation flowed to another topic after a short silence. He then told me that he and his wife talked about it privately, and decided they need to bring up the conversation with their daughter a second time, during which they basically reiterated the same sentiment. And he felt happy that, after such a "successful conversation," his daughter had not brought up the topic again.

*banging head against the wall*

Y'all, I tried to be gentle. I agreed with him that yes, some adoptees feel their losses more deeply than others. And I shared that adoptees begin questioning adoption at different ages, with the Tongginator being on the younger end of things. I also shared with him that some adoptees are more verbal about their losses, while others tend to internalize their emotions. My last comment to him, which I hope I spoke in a very gentle voice, basically shared that - IF the Tongginator was one to internalize things - I felt pretty sure she'd have completely shut down if I had responded with a comment about how the Husband and I are her only parents.

Because she's a smart girl, y'all.

And she knows she has more than one set of parents.

And this other little girl knows it, too.

She also just learned she's not supposed to talk about that fact with her adoptive parents. And that? That just creates a wedge between them. It may feel safer to shut down such conversations with your adopted child, but it's actually LESS safe. Because your child learns that she can't! trust! you! with her core self. She can't be truthful. She can't be real.

And that?

THAT is a travesty.

We may have adopted from China, one of the most closed adoption programs in the world. I mean, we all know that - while it's possible - it's highly unlikely our children will ever learn their first parents names, much less have the opportunity to meet them, develop relationships with them. But that doesn't mean our adoptions have to be CLOSED.

It's important to foster an attitude of openness. Our children need to feel safe asking us questions... sharing their thoughts and emotions... choosing the vocabulary they wish to use when talking about their own life stories. Because ignoring these topics, brushing them to the side, doesn't make them disappear. It just buries them deep inside your child's heart.

And I don't think any parent wants THAT.

42 comments:

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

YES!

Tonggu Grammy said...

All I can think of is just wait until she is a teenager. She has already learned not to tell them what's on her heart. She has learned that what they say is final. And she's learned that they don't REALLY listen to her. That is scary for the future of their relationship!!!!

Joan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keating Mom said...

OUCH! I really hope this dad heard you this time!!

longbrakeliving said...

WOW!

I think openness in parent-child relationships is a wonderful thing, and what will ultimately make or break the relationship, even in biological families. I remember my dad expressing his honest opinion about one of my college selections, and how much I respected him and felt like he saw me as more of an adult by being honest with me.

My husband, on the other hand, is not able to talk to his parents beyond a list of what he's done lately, and I think that's because they were never open with him or listened to him as a child.

I think this is a wonderful reminder to ALL parents to listen and respond to our children in a way that lets them know we hear them and care about their feelings, rather than dismissing them.

autumnesf said...

Are the A parents Asian? I mean really - did they think the child wouldn't NOTICE?

First and foremost I consider this an agency FAIL.

sara said...

Perfectly said! Even though she's only 9 months old, we already talk to Pie about being adopted. We tell her as much as we think she can process and will continue to add information as she gets older. We don't ever want her to feel like she can't ask us questions or talk about the situation. We want her adoption to be a fact of her life...she has brown hair, she is adopted...and never to be something secretive.

Briana's Mom said...

I can't imagine not being completely open and honest with Briana. She can ask me any question and I will answer it.

At 4 years old, while I was pushing Bri on the swing in our neighborhood the other day, she asked me if I paid for her. Kids are so inquisitive and so smart. They are processing everything. I explained to her about adoption fees and hospital fees and a little bit about the process works. She seems to be happy with my answer and we moved on to another topic. Her question did shake me a little, but I answered it openly. I could never shut her down.

These parents don't even realize how they are damaging their relationship with their child.

AmericanFamily said...

And another thing adoptive parents from China had better be aware of as the surround immerse their kids in FCC events and other kids adopted from china: Some of us HAVE or will have birthparent information. More of us everyday. And our kids will know their birth families and they will talk about them. And if they tell their kids they can't ever find out birth parent information, their kids will find out soon enough that isn't true for every kid from China.

Things are changing quickly. In 10 years, when our kids are teenagers, it will be a whole new world.

Gayla said...

OH, wow. Just a really big OH wow.

How on EARTH could they think that is okay????

Wendy said...

Absolutely AmFam, my daughter is one of those children and the list of children finding birth parents is growing. That old story of not being able to find them is a lie that some parents would like to maintain. I cannot tell you how devasting it has been for my daughter to lose friends--yes, LOSE friends because their parents are too afraid that her knowing her birth parents will prompt their children to ask or question why their AP's are not looking. China is not as closed as people want to maintain. When parents like the ones mentioned in the post get smacked at an event with several children knowing their families and their child looking at them with the "how could you lie to me" face, they may lose her trust forever.

Desiree' said...

I have a question for you...we have always been open with all our girls, they know we went to China to bring them home, we have talked about them having a china mommy, however after reading their life books last night...oldest DD (age 6) doesn't get it yet, how do we bring it up without hurting her or offending ect. She is very emotional and has severe sensory issues...You have my email...thanks :)

LucisMomma said...

That does not bode well for the future of that family--it is all so sad.

Sharing this post, I hope that's ok with you.

Patricia/NYC said...

Oh my...this is just so sad for this little girl...wow, I'm speechless actually...

Sherri said...

Our Olivia, now 7, just didn't "get it" about birth parents. She knew she was adopted, knew she was in China, but she just thought she was there "waiting for us to come get her". There was no getting through to her....then one day, the light bulb came on. She understood that she has birthparents. Mia, who is 5 and was adopted at age 2, will not talk about her origins at all. Will not talk about it. She talks about "my China", but not about her foster parents, or being adopted , or anything. We have been open with both girls from the start. I think some kids just can't process it until they are ready to.

Now as for the parents' response to the little girl's questions, I think it sounds more like insecurity on their part. Maybe it's similar to when you're out with your Chinese daughter and people ask where her mother is, and you firmly answer "I am her mother." when she asked about birthparents, maybe it made them feel ....threatened? I think this situation was mishandled, and I certainly hope that they don't intend to have that attitude about the adoption forever. It's not about what's more comfortable for them, it's about what's best for the child. I HATE that this is a part of Olivia and Mia's story. I hate that they were abandoned. But it's part of their story.

Kids need to express their feelings. And if they can't share with their parents, they will find someone else.

Deb said...

this family sounds the family across the street from me. teh oldest 2 girls were adopted domestically. Mom and I were talking and the mom was taken aback that I have pictures of my son's foster family and his birht mother (taken at DNA testing in Guatemala) on his wall and in his life book. We have other photoo ablums wiht pictures of his time with his foster family and our trip back.
She was jsut flabbergasted that I bring the subject up. She is waiting until her oldest (6 years old this week) asks about it and then she might tell her about her birth parents, but she is not sure and the girls 'don't know they are adopted". My thought- relaly, cause your girls can't see the difference in skin color between them and you the parents or your youngest daughter?????

In any case, I plan on jsut keeping the conversation flowing and I am sure Bug will be asking them questions. he already gets the questions from them on why our family does not have a daddy.

I am stll flabbergasted that the parents just ignore the girls' reality.

Deb

Cedar said...

Wow. Maybe you can give them the book, "20 Things Adoptees Wish their Parents Knew" or some other book you know of. We were taught about adoptee loss in our training 5 years ago, and when we did our training now, but IF you don't know about how it will affect children, you might think the daughter wants reassurance. Maybe? Not saying that is what they should do, I'm just sympathetic for parents that don't know because it was not something I thought about until we began our training and reading.

Seems like what you said should open up their ideas, but...

prechrswife said...

Oh, my.... I just posted a related post on my blog a few days ago. The person who asked if our daughter knew she was adopted has no personal experience with adoption. I can't imagine this attitude coming from an adoptive parent. :-( So sad...

prechrswife said...

And my husband (who I called over to read your post) just added...On any subject your child brings up in conversation, if you just brush over it as a parent, that does not make the subject go away. You have to have the difficult discussions. It broke my heart when MJ asked me her birthmother's name and I had to tell her we didn't know and probably never would.

pickel said...

I can't imagine our boys NOT knowing where they came from. There are pictures all over the house that they can look at anytime and they can ask us whenever they want. So much fr honesty.

Debby said...

Some parents just don't get it. I don't know why but they think if they brush it all under the rug it will be okay. My adopted son's birth sister was told that her brother (my son) died of pneumonia. Her mom is educated and a nurse, did her mom actually think she would never find out? We have mutual friends. My SIL never discussed birth parents with my nephew. I don't know if he ever asked. Weird. I know that when she was so concerned because he was not getting taller she actually went to a specialist. I asked about her finding out more about his birth family.
All she said she knew was that his mother was not very tall. Maybe she was young and not done growing. (My thoughts not hers)
I never got why parents choose this path.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow.

Someone in my husband's family has an adopted daughter from China who is about 13. Last time I saw them they were getting ready to take a trip to China, which is awesome! I commented on how nice for her to get an experience being in the racial majority, and how it gets tiring being in the minority (as I noticed when living in Japan). Her dad just stared at me and said, "Do you think she notices that??" *facepalm* Of course she notices she doesn't look like everyone else even in her family! It may not bother her like it does some people, but she sure notices!

Eileen
http://www.givingherallshesgot.wordpress.com

Lisa said...

Sad, but possibly not as isolated as we would all hope. I do however hope its more the exception and based on what I see in the comments I am heartened that perhaps it is.

I recently read a blog where a Mama was asked by her (adopted) daughter if she grew in her tummy like the baby they are currently expecting. She replied that there wasn't enough room, so God placed her in the Mama's heart.

It touches on common things often said to children regarding adoption and possibly this was age appropriate; yet I couldn't help feeling there was a very missed opportunity to discuss growing in another Mama's tummy and the circumstances that may have led to her adoption into this family.

I *do* realize that not every conversation has to end in "the talk"....sometimes kids really are just asking a question, unrelated to adoption. But now this little girl believes she literally grew in a heart, while other children grow in tummies. *sigh*

My hope for the family you mentioned is that they *know* deep down something isn't right with that conversation; perhaps that's why they sought advice and then later needed to share with you.

How sad for that sweet girl and honestly how sad for them all.

P.S. Add us to the growing list of IA families seeking information about their child's overseas families or deciding to contact them directly. Our search may yeild nothing, but at least we can say that we tried and are willing to do so over & again.

Learning Together at Home said...

Ugh. How sad for the girl. Perhaps just as sad for the parents - in a different way. They are building an invisible wall of secretive distrust. What will that turn into as their daughter matures? In our own case, our 7 year old had no concept of birth, pregnancy, birth family or even a true family unit. I'm serious. I hated to bring it up with her, but we did, with much Pictionary style drawing, shortly after bringing her home. Shocked does not even begin to describe her when she realized the bigger picture of loss. However, we were able to walk it *with* her and the returns have been super, uber great. Parenting can be painful at times, but if we won't go there with our kids, then who will? Thanks for the post TM - great topic as usual.

lmgnyc said...

Oh. my. God. That story just breaks my heart. I can't even compose a cogent reply because I have so many thoughts swirling around my head.

But mostly I am just sad for that little girl.

And pissed at her parents.

The Byrd's Nest said...

Irresponsible....that is what these parents are...Irresponsible! There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever in this adopting day and time to "not know" how to talk with your children about this! I mean seriously...when you have a biological child...do you not read books about what happens in the 9 months of pregnancy and how to care for your baby!!! Ugh!!! I would like to think that I have the grace of the Lord bursting from my heart but I don't know how I would react to these parents. Lottie knows she is adopted and knows that her mom lives in China. She does not know that her mom left her in front of a store on the day she was born but she is my daughter and I know how super insecure she is and she is not ready for that information yet but she will know one day. Do I know the entire story of her mom?? Well...NO...I don't know anything except what was on paper. No note...nothing. But it is my job to help her through this.

Emma on the other hand, hears her story alot and it is somewhat easier to tell to a child but she really has no clue that she is adopted and even that she is Korean. (smile) She is just precious and not really an almost 6 yr. old mentally but one day it will sink in and she will have a ton of questions just like Lottie.

SIGH...okay...I am stepping off of my pedestal now...I seriously know I am preaching to the choir. I am just amazed....simply amazed at the stupidity of adoptive parents. But I love your heart to try and help them:)

Aus said...

I'm shocked - adoptive parents that don't 'get it' - I'd like to think that we're all a mite smarter than that....

My Dad died when I was just a kid - and most of what I know about him is 'legend' not fact. But - some of his quotes are probably true - "You can even stand hangin' if you know you don't got to hang forever" and "It's a great life if you don't weaken". Maybe he was something of a 'Blues Man' at heart - that which does not kill us only serves to make us stronger!

Our kids absolutely KNOW they are adopted - I mean it's like 'duh' for most of them. That's a wound - it just is. But they survived that wound - and with a little help and guidance, and maybe a bunch of understanding and support, mix in a heap of love - and you have a winner on your hands.

We can help them through it - and like "gold that's tested in fire" they'll come out tempered in the end - or we can bury it and let them carry that burden alone for the rest of their lives....hummm....now which would a Dad rather choose? I mean - to like quote you, "I'm just sayin'"

(and maybe because I'm a guy - hook me up with him and I'll set him right! I mean - just in case he didn't hear you!)

hugs - aus and co.

Kristi said...

I'm so, so thankful for my friend who recently gave birth to twins for having her kids when she did. For my oldest watching a family friend go through pregnancy has brought up many questions about babies and birth mothers and the like. And the fact that the questions were all generated on her own made it much easier to spark conversations on the topic.
Makes my skin curl when other adoptive parents tell me they've never talked to their kids about birth moms...

triona said...

"She also just learned she's not supposed to talk about that fact with her adoptive parents. And that? That just creates a wedge between them. It may feel safer to shut down such conversations with your adopted child, but it's actually LESS safe. Because your child learns that she can't! trust! you! with her core self. She can't be truthful. She can't be real."

Oh, so very and sadly true.

As an adoptee whose adoptive parents shut down my questions, I can say that absolutely, this child will feel like she can't trust her adoptive parents about *anything*. She may also feel that because they have deemed her birth family unacceptable, that means that a part of her is also unacceptable. She will bottle up her feelings, thus leading her parents to believe she doesn't think about adoption but, believe me, she will be. She just won't have any support structure to help her cope with it.

If I could say one thing, as an adoptee, to every adoptive parent in the world, it would be this: Please, for pity's sake, be honest, be truthful, and be THERE for them. Even if (especially if!) it makes you uncomfortable. The only thing avoiding such questions is going to do is drive them away from you. But if they know they can talk to you about this most sensitive of topics, that is the foundation for a solid family relationship.

Sharon said...

I love to read thoughts like this..helping keep mine straight!!

FauxClaud said...

Dern.. my bad influence has worn off on you? Oh wait.. I wouldn't have kicked him in the head either.. just been very tempted to!

Oh..my..god...I second a huge agency FAIL! Poor kid...

Chasing Dreams Photography said...

Very good post!!! In our house we are very open and I answer what ever questions my girls have but at the same time I don't offer information either...I follow their lead...Addison is way more interested then Livi...Livi doesn't even want to talk about it and I don't force it...but she knows where she came from...hopefully one day she will ask me more questions. She is behind in a lot of areas still.

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

When people wonder why adult adoptees seem so angry, it is because of situations exactly like this! It is so sad because it is in some part avoidable. They have lost their family their culture and identity, let them grieve that. It is not a personal slap in the face for adopted kids to realize that they are adopted. Being curious about who they really are or whom they came from doesn’t mean they love their adopted parents any less. Children have an infinite capacity to love, they have more than enough to go around. Ignore that fact and you may end up with exactly the thing you fear…

Robyn said...

GREAT post, TM! Thank you so much for your insight.

Sharie said...

This actually brought tears to my eyes. It hurts to think that this little girl is reaching out for answers and being shut down...hopefully this family will find a way to work together on this and soon.

Mamatini said...

Hey, TM, you (and the memory of this post - I told you I read, even if I don't have time to comment all the time!) were sitting on my shoulder tonight, while I held Ina and tried to console her as she sobbed and sobbed about missing her "Mom" (I'm Mama, her birthmother is Mom.) About how she doesn't remember her. About how her Mom wouldn't recognize her anymore. About how she wishes she were still in China. About why we don't know who she is. About why she couldn't stay with Mom. About whether Mom cries when Ina cries. (Mama certainly did.)

None of this was prompted. All of this flowed straight out of her heart. And I just can't imagine a parent not allowing a child to express that grief in a safe, open environment.

luna said...

yes yes. this is a wonderful post.

how sad for the other little girl. I hope they see the light soon.

Amanda said...

I am glad that at least that family has you all in their lives to explain things like this to them.

It sometimes takes some self-reflection. Parenting is (should be) about putting the child first. When they're telling a child they're their ONLY parents, when they're not, is it because that's what is best for the child? Or because it's a reflection of their own baggage from not wanting to share the parent role with someone else or a not wanting to be reminded that one's family is not "just like every one elses is?"

You're right. This little girl knows she has another family out there. The only thing she's learned is that it's not OK to talk about it and that she won't talk about it to manage the emotions of her Adoptive Parents. A lot of us adoptees learned such things growing up and it makes me sad that this type of thing is still continuing on to generations of children today. Feeling like you can't talk about something (see my most recent blog post) is hard. If you should be able to do it, your OWN home should be the most welcoming and accepting place!

Mia_h_n said...

Travesty? Indeed.

Thank you for speaking the truth.

Patty O. said...

Oh, boy, I read this with my mouth wide open! Those parents just gave the daughter the message that she is not allowed to talk about the adoption and they implied that she was wrong for wanting to. That's just terrible!

Colin and Jill Canada said...

I have not heard that word said for a long time, but indeed, for this poor child, it is a travesty.


It is basically everything I have ever read NOT to do. I wonder do the parents maybe not have resources? Or read and books? Websites? Have adoptive friends?

Jill

Anonymous said...

When I went before the school board at my son's school to tell them that the family tree assignment is discriminatory, I had a school board member (an AP) tell me that the natural parents of his two daughters that he and his wife adopted from China were "ERASED".