10 Ways You Might Be Letting Down Your Adopted Child

by Luanne

Do you have the best intentions to raise your adopted child in the best possible way you can?  If so, you’re like most of us adoptive parents.

In the case of international and transracial adoptions, the intentions can multiply, as do the mistakes made by parents.

Cheri Register, in her book Beyond Good Intentions, lists ten reasons adoptive parents who think they are being good parents often fall short.  In fact, we all fall short in some way or another.41JFR2MD2PL._SY300_

The book is organized according to these ten reasons, so I will list the chapter titles and gloss each one:

  1. Wiping Away Our Children’s Past–a child who is adopted is not a blank slate. She comes with a past, including the past before she was born.
  2. Hovering over Our “Troubled” Children–don’t pathologize your child.
  3. Holding the Lid on Sorrow and Anger–allow and encourage the expression of emotions in your home and don’t show your child that you don’t accept emotions or have to be protected from them.
  4. Parenting on the Defensive–if you’re defensive, you’re going to come off as angry at the child. You might do something dumb like tell her she ought to be grateful. See my recent grumpy post about that subject.
  5. Believing Race Doesn’t Matter–of course, race matters. We live in a race conscious world. Saying “I never see Lauren’s race” isn’t doing her any favors. She has to learn to live in the world the way it is. And her race is something to take pride in–not to ignore.
  6. Keeping Our Children Exotic–This is where sometimes people think “exotic” = cute. Your child isn’t an exotic pet.  Need I say more?
  7. Raising Our Children in Isolation–Children need to be raised in a diverse community. This is healthy for all children, no matter their race or if they are adoptees or not. But international and/or transracial adoptees, need this even more.  This is the one where my husband and I most let our kids down.
  8. Judging Our Country Superior–How does that make a child born in another country to people of another nationality feel pride and instill self-confidence?
  9. Believing Adoption Saves Souls–if you follow this logic to its conclusion you learn that God intended for your child to be torn away from her birth parents, culture, history, genetics, etc.–all to save her soul. How will that make her feel about the religion you bring her up in? Or about herself and her natural emotions?
  10. Appropriating Our Children’s Heritage–This is a big ick. If your child was born in China and you were born a white person in Philadelphia, don’t start to think you’re Chinese by adoption or by extension.  You’re not. It does your child no disservice to have you act like you think you are. It can be perceived as a colonialist attitude.

A huge thanks to blogger Menomama who directed me to this clear and well thought out book.

A Nearly Beautiful Tale of Adoption: Review of “Over the Moon”

by Luanne

What beautiful pages!  Over the Moon, written and illustrated by Karen Katz, is a lovely tale of adoption for very young children.

The story is presented with a sense of fantasy, giving it a fairy tale quality.  The night after the new baby is born, a woman and her husband who are “far away” from the baby both have dreams of the same baby.  They know that this is their child and travel a long distance, “over the moon and through the night,” to get to their baby.  The mode of transportation is real–a giant airplane.  This blend of fantasy and reality places the notion of adoption into a larger mythological structure and connects with the child’s individual story of adoption.

Likewise, in the illustrations, Katz softens the boundary between fantasy and reality.  The colors are bright, which serves to highlight the more realistic tones of the human characters.  In this book, the mother has the same black hair as the baby, while the father has brown hair. The baby’s skin tone is darker than that of both parents.  The pictures are collages of papers with various painted small prints, such as stars, dots, and flowers.  This conveys the hint of scrapbook pages and provides a homey, folksy, whimsical experience.

This book acknowledges the role of the birth mother by this explanation:

“‘You grew like a flower in another lady’s tummy until you were born.  But the lady wasn’t able to take care of you, so Mommy and Daddy came to adopt you and bring you home.  Even before you were born we dreamed about you.  We knew we were meant to be together.'”

This is a fairly standard response to children who are adopted.   Cheri Register, in “Are Those Kids Yours?”, argues that this is actually a dangerous path to travel. She believes that without teaching the cultural context for “wasn’t able to take care of you,” that the questions some children will inevitably ask lead to answers that devalue the birth mother’s experience and ultimately the child himself.  She also argues that when children discover that if they didn’t adopt that particular child, they would have adopted another, and that that knowledge undermines the idea of “meant to be together” or “choosing” the child.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with Register, there is a distancing that goes on with the phrase “another lady’s tummy” that makes me uncomfortable.

This book is meant for the very young child, and because of its poetic nature, is meant to be a springboard for discussion, not a manual for how to talk about adoption.  The book takes a very complex and individualized situation and opens a door through which adult and child can enter.

“I Wished for You” Fulfills Its Mission

by Luanne

Somehow Marianne Richmond managed to tell a story of adoption with lots of detail, but without being too specific.  In her picture book I Wished for You: An Adoption Story, Barley, a young bear, and his mother have a long conversation.  Barley asks lots of questions, and his mother answers all of them.  Mama’s explanation is based on her own reality.  Barley has clearly heard this story before, but relishes hearing it again.  It’s easy to imagine that he has come up with new questions since the last time he heard this tale.

He begins by asking his mother to tell him “’again how I’m your wish come true.’” She describes how she wished and wished for a baby.  She answers many questions, including why she wished for Barley, if his birth mother (who grew him in her tummy) wished for him also, if she wished for him during the day or only at night, and if she ever thought her wish might not come true.  Sometimes Mama tries very hard to remember, so the effect is that she is trying very hard to be honest with Barley.

Barley wants to know if she imagined him exactly as he looks.  She says, “’You, Barley, are more beautiful than I ever dreamed.’”  He asks what she did when she found out she was getting her wish.  Her description of shouting for joy and being hugged by her friends shows the details of adoption from the perspective of the adoptive mother, yet is general enough to fit most adoptions.  It reassures Barley how very much he was wanted. When Barley wants to know what she did when she first held him, Mama replies that she fell deeply in love with him.

Ultimately, he wants to know why they don’t look alike, and she explains that all families are different, that “’what makes a family is their love for each other.’”  At the end, it seems that Barley has had the satisfaction of hearing this part of his story yet again, as well as learning new specifics.  In her book, “Are Those Kids Yours?”, Cheri Register devotes a chapter to the importance of telling a child the story of his adoption over and over again.  I want to make clear that this book does not attempt to tell much about the child’s story that occurs before the adoption.

This book does touch on a religious viewpoint at one point when Mama tells her son that God found the perfect child for her.

The illustrations are rough pencil drawings, washed with pastel-tone watercolor.  They reflect a child’s early paintings.

As with many books about adoption, the emphasis is on the adoptive mother’s (re)telling of the adoptive story.  Unless you have an objection to the non-specific religious aspect of the book, this one does a good job of providing a comprehensive description of an adoption without being overly specific.  I can highly recommend this book.

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