One of my closest friends is also a mom through adoption. We run together several times a week for exercise and therapy—mostly the latter. We talk about everything, but the majority of the time we talk about parenting. Seldom is the talk specific to adoptive parenting because after awhile most parenting is just parenting. But last week I was telling her about the whole “no family medical history” incident at the various doctor’s offices that I blogged about last week. I was somewhat bemused and a little embarrassed that after all these years I could still overreact in this way.
I told her about talking with my daughter afterwards and her response that it really hadn’t been a big deal to her. Perhaps I misread her, or perhaps after thinking about it in the safety of her home, she had time to process and decide that it wasn’t a big deal after all. She told me that she had the most important information about her birth parents—their heights—so she was content. (She’s thirteen, and how tall she will become is one of her top concerns.) My friend commented, “You know, as much as we love them, we don’t really know what it is like to be adopted, and so it is hard to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.” And then, being the immensely logical person that she is, she said. “I’m going to ask mine over dinner what it is like to be adopted.”
My friend has four children–all adopted. The first was adopted as an infant from China, the second as an almost three year old from Vietnam, and her older two are biracial sibling adopted from foster care when they were 9 and 10. Yesterday she told me about their family discussion. Her kids, now 16, 15, 13, and 11, reported that most of the time they never thought about being adopted at all. It was only when other people pointed it out or brought it up that they considered it. Her 15 year old said the worst were teachers. She relayed a story that had happened this winter when her English teacher assigned the class a paper to write about their happiest memory from age 5. Her daughter said glumly that she didn’t have any happy memories from that age since that was the year she was removed from her biological family and separated from her brother in foster care. Her daughter from China said she hated it when people stared at her mom and then at her, and she knew they were wondering if they were mother and daughter. That led to a contest of who could top who with silly incidents like that. But the bottom line from her kids was that adoption just wasn’t much of a factor in their everyday life.
Adoption Is Only Part Of Their Identity
This reminds me of a story told to me be another friend several years ago. Her son had been struggling for many years with his sexual identity and had finally told his parents that he was gay at the beginning of his senior year in high school. They were not surprised; in fact, I think they were relieved since they had been worried about his mental health and saw this as a sign that he had begun to put the pieces of the puzzle that was him together. The following year when they were taking him to college his mother casually pointed out that there was a gay student union on campus. Her son responded with a sigh as only an 18 year old who knows everything could, “Mom, being gay is just one part of who I am, it is not the whole of who I am.” (Proof that sometimes in parenting you can’t win for losing.)
I think that adoption for our children is like that. It is one part of their identity, but it doesn’t have to define them. Most of the time it isn’t an issue, but the tricky part is keeping the communication door open for those occasions when it might become one. I became convinced of the need to raise the subject even if my child doesn’t after reading Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. I don’t agree with everything in this book, but this seemed like sound advice. (We interviewed the author, Sherrie Eldridge, about this book for the Creating a Family radio show.) We talked about this, as well as the other nineteen things she thinks you should do.
Since my daughter seldom raises anything connected with adoption in conversation, I think it is my responsibility to occasionally bring the topic up so that it doesn’t take on the mantle of something we “shouldn’t” talk about. It a bit of a balancing act to know how often to bring up adoption related topics in the face of supposed lack of interest, but I take the approach that I’ll periodically throw the conversation starter out there, and let her decided whether to pick it up or not. Quite frankly, most of the time she lets it drop and that’s fine. I hope that when (if?) she ever wants to talk about any part of being adopted, she will feel comfortable talking with me.
As dinner at my friend’s house was winding down, my friend said, “I hope being adopted makes you feel special.” (She must have missed the memo that said calling adopted kids special in no longer PC.) Her 11 year old smiled and said, “Well, I’ll tell you Mom, I always feel special.” May we all be so blessed to have kids who feel this way at least some of the time.
P.S.: If your kids also report that some of their most uncomfortable moments with being adopted come from teachers, check out the Creating a Family resources on School Issues for Adopted Kids. Please let me know of any other resources that we should add.
Image credit: BC Gov Photos