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Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Tough Road to Walk

In response to this post about close knit adoption communities, Stacey of Is There Any Mommy Out There? posted a really insightful comment:
I think it's wonderful. I also think there's a danger in it. A danger of thinking we've found the answer to preventing our adopted children from feeling the alienation and culture shock of the past. Which may be true and may not be. Most likely, as always, it will be true for some children and not for others.
Oh, how wise is she. Last month, when the husband and I were blessed to hear Taiwanese adoptee Mei-Ling Hopgood, author of Lucky Girl, speak at a local Families with Children from China (FCC) function, we had to suppress our chuckles when the Question & Answer session hit. My husband and I always joke with one another that anytime adoptive parents are giving the opportunity to ask an adult adoptee questions, said questions invariably center around the basic concept, "how do I not screw up my kid?" with the unspoken, implied question of "how do I raise someone who won't be (insert angry adoptee stereotype)?"

We love our kids. We want them to grow up to be healthy, happy adults. Therefore, we want a formula for raising "happy adoptees." Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way. Personalities are too complex for that. Childhoods are too complex for that. Parenting is too complex for that. ADOPTION is too complex for that.

There is no one right way to parent an adoptee.

I do believe there are some things that remain necessary and consistent for all adoptive parents. Malinda's 10 Commandments of Telling is a great post. My post Love and Adoption seemed to resonate with a lot of y'all, too. John Raible's Crash Course for Adoptive Parenting really walks you through how to educate yourselves on the adoptee perspective, which is so important. I also always seem to come back to Paula's Twenty-Three Things This Korean-Adoptee Thought About as a Child. The list goes on and on.

But there is no one right way to do this.

We need to listen to our children: what they say and what they don't say. Not every child will experience adoption in the same way. Forming relationships with other adoptive families, with adult adoptees and with people of your child's same race are vital. Acknowledging your child's birth culture and life prior to adoption is important as well. But doing those things doesn't mean that your child will avoid feelings of loss, anger, grief. It just gives your family a support network if and when your child does feel those ways.

Stacey nailed it, y'all.

So did Mei-Ling Hopgood.

Nothing we can do can erase the hard stuff. Our children will process their stories at different ages and stages, which is why it needs to be a constant conversation. As a parent, I've been saying basically the same things, in age-appropriate ways, since we first adopted our Tongginator. But the Tongginator still doesn't fully understand her whole story... she's HEARD the whole story (at age-appropriate levels), but she processed bits and pieces of it at different times. And there is still a boat-load she's not ready to tackle yet. (Lately her focus has been on the gender preference for boys in China. It's A LOT for a six-year-old to absorb.) I don't worry too much about what the Tongginator understands or doesn't understand all of her life story at this very moment. Because, if I listen closely enough to her actions and words, they will clue me in as to when she requires more details and support and about what topics.

I don't ever judge what a child adoptee understands or doesn't understand about his or her life story. I only judge a parent's lack of or completely inappropriate response to an adoptee's emotions, thoughts and quest for understanding. We cannot walk our childrens' lives for them; however, we can - and should - walk alongside them, supporting them always and guiding them when necessary. We HAVE to keep open the lines of communication, providing them with a safe place to emote and think and just plain BE. But we can't walk it for them... THEY have to walk it.

And that?

That is a tough road to walk, y'all.

What does YOUR child seem to need the most from you? The Tongginator needs a safe place to share whatever is on her mind and heart. The Tongginator's best friend, also adopted from China, needs an extremely structured life and the ability to vent her anger in a safe environment. One of the Tongginator's China cousins needs the freedom to process her life story at her own pace, which is quite slow as compared with most of her peers. All three girls have vastly different needs. Because they are different people. So what does YOUR child seem to need the most from you?


Holly said...

"an extremely structured life and the ability to vent her anger in a safe environment."


And to your post, I thought (prior, the before me), that DH were well prepare for emotions/for the journey. I was adoption (domestic, as a pre-teen) he's American Chinese. We had it covered.

Not so much. Everyone's journey is different. Luckily, DS is very verbal and we're open to listening. It's the best we've got.

Jenny said...

My oldest is only 3, so while he knows his story, he's only just (and I mean JUST) beginning to process it. He seems to be processing the fact that we are his parents forever and ever, he doesn't get another set. Hard to grasp when you are 3 and you've heard that you have other parents, too. Actually, he was mad at me last week and stomped off, yelling "I'm going to get a new mommy!"

:) Won't be the last time I hear that, I'm sure.

lmgnyc said...

I saw Mei Ling Hopgood a while back and had the same reaction you did. I noticed how all the parents were grasping for the elusive answer for how to raise a happy and well adjusted adoptee. We were fortunate at our book signing because her Mei Ling's Mom attended and I got to ask her a question or two. I found it illuminating to hear the Mother's responses. I'd link to my post about it but you know how technically challenged I am.... *grin*

As to what my DD needs? My DD needs constant, constant, constant reassurance that she is loved. Really, she can't hear it enough. She has to hear it, she has to see signs of it, I mean real SIGNS that have the WORDS printed on them, not subtle demonstrations of love. She needs to know that we will not leave her somewhere. She knows that she was abandoned and she fears being left again. She needs proof over and over of our devotion and our dedication to her. She took a long, long time to bond to us, attachment took forever. Ask me on any given day and I will tell you that even now, five years out, that we are still working on it. And no, we don't have RAD. We just have a super smart, super cynical, super cautious little girl who knows what happened once and is wary of it happening again.

So we do what we have to to reassure her. We don't question the motives behind her fears, we just do what we can to help her understand that we will never leave her. We tell her we understand why she feels the way she does about what happened in the past and we explain why she doesn't need to feel that way about the future.

Mostly though, I just try to listen and follow her lead. I've never been in her position. I do not know what it feels like to walk in her shoes. I'm trying to help her make sense of what happened and to comfort her pain and help her with her confusing emotions.

What else can we do but listen?

Gayla said...

My children- the bio ones and the adopted ones- all need the same thing- for ME to adapt to their needs and be prepared to meet them to the very best of my abilities. Those needs grow and change and go backward all the time, and it's my job to provide an environment that lets them know they are loved and cherished and that they are unique individuals who are here for a purpose that only they can discover. They need a safe place to process their story and grow to be who they want to be.

...I'm doing my best... but I fail every day...

Kelley said...

Great post!! I always really appreciate the links, TM...don't always have time to read them right away, but I keep coming back. Thank you so much for doing that legwork and research!!!!

As for me, my older daughter (4 1/2) is processing more of her story since we got home with mei mei (21 months now). We make time to talk together every day (usually at night we snuggle in the rocking chair and "rock and talk"), and we talk about everything and anything...no subject is a "touchy" one. I think establishing an environment for open communication is as vital as establishing a safe, loving home. And I agree with you that no child is the same, and you have to watch and wait for openings to bring things up. Too much knowledge or discussion too soon can be as harmful as not enough information or discussion, in my opinion.

Tricia said...

These two statements sum up what we all need to remember when dealing with our children, adopted or bio, special needs or not: "We need to listen to our children" and "Nothing we can do can erase the hard stuff."

Well said. Very well said. Thank you.

prechrswife said...

Our daughter is also one who needs structure, and a place to vent her anger. She also needs reassurance that she is loved.

Thanks for this post, and for making us think about those things that our children need. We know them, but sometimes it is good to really think about it and to see it in black and white.

Mamatini said...

Another good post, TM! As I mentioned in a previous comment, Ina is going through some serious adoption loss grief right now. It came on very subtly a couple of weeks ago, with some extra clingy-ness, then turned into bouts of anger, and for the last few nights, all out rages.

Right now what she needs from us is also that safe place to rage, more answers to her questions, and neutral responses to her accusations. And lots and lots of holding time.

Sharie said...

My parents raised 8 children - well we kind of raised each other. One thing my mom said about raising us and she's never shared a lot was that she could never compare us, we were all too different, and comparing one to another wouldn't be fair.

This has always stuck with me, and I think fits the scenario you presented well. Amelia needs me - a lot of me. Time, touch, attention.
She also needs me to listen and not get upset when she talks about her China family. Today she brought home a book about her family...the picture of her family wasn't her and I - she said, "I decided to draw what I think my family in China looks like." She had cousins, a sister, mom and dad. Was I hurt that she didn't include me? No, I was sad that she doesn't know exactly what they look like, and I giggled a little when I noticed her China mom had blonde hair;)

OneThankfulMom said...

My children all need different things, even the four who were adopted. Our children came to us at 10, 5 1/2, 2, and 4 months. The one who is processing the most right now is our oldest adopted child (now 11). She is torn between being wanting her life in Ethiopia - or at least the life she wishes she could have had, and having the life she is now living. Most of all she needs loads of affection, consistent boundaries, and to be rocked at night -- something she missed as a little one. Yes, I know she is 11, but our big, ugly chair holds both of us and some of our best moments happen there.

kitchu said...

this is such an excellent post TM. i will have to send some others this way to read.

my child thrives and needs routine. a break in that and she crumbles a bit (though amazingly that's getting better and better too). she hasn't ever shown any insecurity in terms of feeling loved, and is content to hear it when she hears it (and of course, she hears it everyday). but i'm not sure she completely gets that this home is permanent (hence the thriving on routine).

Laurie said...

Beautiful post...my girl is so little yet - not three - but what she seems to need is lots of me, physical touch. She will wrap herself around me and just call out, 'mama mama mama' over and over. And she asks to watch videos of her and me together. I really think she likes the SOUND of her name and mine one right after the other.

Anonymous said...

TM - another awesome post. There is so much to parenting, then add into that the extra needs of a trans-racial international adopting - you have to be an involved, intentional parent. But the other thing we need to remember is that we are human - we are not God. We do the best we can. But there are going to be times that we miss the mark, and we have to be willing to forgive ourselves and do better the next time. It is only through learning from our mistakes without beating ourselves up that we can be fully involved in our children's lives and meet their needs.

Briana's Mom said...

Briana definitely likes to have a routine. And she is very loving - needs lots of mommy and daddy attention.

She is just starting to ask questions, and I answer them honestly when she does. I know she feels comfortable asking and that makes me happy. But sometimes when I bring up the subject of adoption, she is not in the mood to talk about it and I follow her lead.

I think she is just starting to process her history, but she has a long way to go. I know she hasn't even begun to grasp the scope of what has happened to her.

Heather said...

I.love.this.post! I am mama to a bio 8 year old girl and an adopted 4 year old girl...they are amazing and their stories are very different. Their questions sometimes volley off of the the other's experience, yet, it always requires me to be "tuned in", completely aware of what that moment is bringing us. It is such wise counsel to offer that not everyone's experience will be the same. Our sweet little 4 year old has NO interest at all in Chinese school...however, other little friends are very interested. Our bio daughter went through a "NO CHINA" stage requesting a break from all things dragon and chopstick related. There is no formula and prayerfully, we will do our very best to meet both of their needs in the most loving and truthful ways, but you said it sister, that is a tough road, y'all! Thank you for your insight and transparency...so grateful!