Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Adoption Education - Part I

I attended a workshop last week called "I Don't Look Like You" - Transracial Adoption Issues. We discussed how society in general still has a long way to go toward understanding adoption, and people tend to make ignorant or even insensitive comments to adoptive parents. Parents who have adopted transracially are most often the recipients of this type of comment, due to the obvious differences between parent and child. We discussed several specific types of comments that can be hot-button issues for adoptive families, and our responsibility to educate those around us. I thought this blog might be a good place to talk about a few of those comments and questions. I hope it doesn’t sound too much like a lecture. I am just trying to provide honest information about our family’s feelings and experiences with respect to adoption.

Although records of adoptions go back even before Moses (the Code of Hammurabi from the 18th Century B.C. contains a clear definition of adoption), society still doesn’t always see adoption as an ordinary, accepted idea. It’s viewed as different; even unnatural. That idea is made evident when people use terms like “real parents” or “natural parents” when referring to a child’s birth parents. Anyone who knows me has probably already heard me talk about this one. Each of my four children has a different birth mother, but they all share one real mother – ME. I realize that this term is commonly used out of a lack of awareness, and not usually used in order to diminish the worth of the adoptive parents. However, people need understand how their choice of words can make us feel. It is more accurate and respectful to use the words birth or biological rather than real or natural.

I get this one a lot with respect to my two boys. It is understandable that people have questions, but it is often in the presence of the children that these questions are raised. What does it say to my kids when the authenticity of their relationship to their siblings is questioned? I don’t want Big D for a second to think that C.B. is not his real brother. I think he would actually get angry to the point of violence at anyone who tried to tell him that. (Big D is a sensitive guy.) A couple of years ago, Miss M was told by a friend that her brothers were not her real brothers. She came to me in tears to tell me about it. Fortunately I was able to speak to the little girl right away and explain to her that when we adopted our boys we became their parents and Miss M became their sister – just like her parents and her siblings. My mission to educate kicked into high gear that day.

Please don’t get me wrong…I never want to discourage questions. Like Big Bird says on Sesame Street every day, “Asking questions is a good way of finding things out.” However, people need to be sensitive to emotions, especially if the children are present. It can be confusing for my son to overhear someone ask what happened to his “real mom” is when I am standing right next to him. Another thing people should understand is that an adoptive parent won’t always be willing or able to answer their questions. For example, my husband and I decided that people don’t need to know the private details of our children’s lives before they are themselves aware of them. Therefore, we plan to keep things like their birth names and the circumstances surrounding their adoptions confidential until the kids are old enough to understand, and only then if they see fit to share those details.

Coming Soon: Adoption Education – Part II.

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