IMHO: Listen and Read; Repeat.

If you’re just checking in, I’m starting a series about things I have learned in the adoption process–and since.  I’m calling it IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), because I’m not a professional, I’m not proposing my opinion is always right, and I’m even saving room for the possibility in the future that my mind could change again!  You can check my first post here. I especially want to process these thoughts in writing for friends and acquaintances who are considering adoption or are in process, but anyone is welcome to read and comment (please be gracious!).

IMHO, the best thing that adoptive parents can do, particularly in the time between deciding to adopt and bringing a child home, is to be a stinkin’ sponge.  I want you to read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on about adopting, especially anything that is about adopting a child about the same age as your child(ren) will be.  Read the attachment books that don’t really make sense to you yet, then read them again when you are in crisis 5 months after your kiddo is home.  Read books about the brain and trauma/ abuse/ neglect and how it physically affects children and their behavior, then read the parenting books for kids like this, because a different style of parenting is needed.  (In case you missed that, because I did: A DIFFERENT STYLE OF PARENTING IS NEEDED FOR CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN THROUGH TRAUMA.)  Read magazines by adoption agencies full of joy and hope and beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted children.  Read lots of blogs by adoptive moms, but even better: find one who’s been home a while, buy her a coffee (I mean, maybe she likes NF Vanilla Lattes, for instance. Just a suggestion.), schedule an hour or two, look her in the eye and say: “Tell me everything–the good, the bad and the ugly,” and then really listen.

(It’s also OK to come up for air during the long wait.  If you are sick of talking about an adoption that seems it will never happen–that’s OK too.)

But sweet friends, here’s the thing.  You cannot stop there. I had that last paragraph down!  I was networking like crazy with other adoptive parents, researching my little brains out, proud of how much I was learning.   “Yay, me!  I’ve so got this.” –Jen T, circa June 2010.  But the real and powerful changes in my heart happened when I began to read and listen to the voices of a) people with whom I disagreed, b) birth moms, and d) ADOPTEES.   This mostly came from articles and blog posts, a few books and also attending conferences and watching documentaries.

Sidebar editorial:  I feel like our social media culture breeds quick-reflex offense.  If we stumble on something that upsets us or that we disagree with, we feel the need to LOUDLY proclaim how wrong it is–usually how wrong THAT PERSON is.  May I propose, dear fellow adoptive parent, that we take our fingers off the trigger of that response gun, holster it for a bit, and truly process the article, the post, the status update, the tweet.  Consider the heart of the author, their story and how they may have come to that perspective.  It’s very likely we will still disagree, but knee-jerk, outraged responses don’t help anyone. ESPECIALLY when it comes to listening to adoptees and birth moms, it’s best to close your mouth and open your ears.  (Like the old saying goes, that’s why we have one of the former and two of the latter.) WE DON’T HAVE TO AGREE OR UNDERSTAND. But we still should read and listen. If the title of an adoption article makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, read it anyway.

I subscribe to a magazine called The Adoption Constellation (it used to be called Adoption Mosaic), which is for all members of the adoption triad: birth families, adoptees and adoptive parents. It is not a faith-based publication; I think the editors are working to even out the voices heard in adoption circles, to include adoptees and birth moms, not just adoptive parents.  A few years ago I came to an opinion piece titled something like: Why Evangelical Christians are Damaging Adoption.  WHOA…say WHAT?!  (“OH NO HE DI’INT!”  -Jen T., circa January, 2011.)  My heart started pounding, and my righteous anger was stirring something fierce.  I just knew I would disagree with everything in this stupid article.  But I read it anyway.  The author, who was not a Christian, believed that Christian circles are championing adoption very strongly right now.  So much so that, to this man, it seemed like a fad.  He believed that when people adopt for religious reasons they often had a romanticized view of saving an orphan, and as they pursue this cause, they often do so without adequate training and education, but with a “love will be enough” mentality.  In other words, they jump on the bandwagon, pat themselves on the back, and are completely unprepared for the harsh realities of parenting a hurting child, and end up causing MORE damage to the children, many times resulting in disruption.  (Quick note:  disruption or disollution is when an adoptive family is not able or willing to continue parenting a child they have adopted, and they go through the process of finding a new home for the child.  This happens for MANY, MANY different reasons.)

Did I appreciate the huge over-generalization of all “Evangelical Christians”?  Not at all.  Did he have some reasonable points.  Yep. Did it cause me to take a step back and give more thought to how we promote adoption in the Church?  Yes.  Did I agree with everything he said?  Definitely not. (For instance, I think people who adopt for ANY reason often have a romanticized view.) Did it stir in me a passionate desire NOT to be an unprepared adoptive parent who thinks my job is over the minute I walk off the airplane with my adopted child.  HECK, YES it did. (Was part of my motivation to PROVE HIM WRONG?  Lil’ bit.) That blasted article helped me be a better parent.  I hated it, but I needed to read it.

I remember the first time I came across the blog world of angry adult adoptees.  Ya’ll, I wanted to vomit in despair.  There are some blogs by adults who were adopted, and they HATE adoption, they HATE adoption workers and agencies, they HATE their adoptive parents and they pretty much HATE all adoptive parents.  I found a few blogs like this, but what shocked me was the amount of comments from other adoptees who felt the same way.   The reasons they felt this way ranged from physical and emotional abuse by adoptive parents to just the parent’s inability to make the child truly feel like part of the family.

I DID NOT LIKE READING THESE.  But I think it’s good that I did.  It only took that one horrid day of reading, soaking in the pit of hurt and hate, and I’ve never gone back.  But it was important for me to know that not every adoptee loves their story.  It was important for me to begin to understand the myriad of hurts that adoptees can (and many WILL) experience.  Not all of these adoptees were abused, some of their parents successfully created a loving home and attached with their child and it was not enough to heal their hearts.   LOVE DOES NOT CONQUER ALL.  “WHAT?! Then why are we even doing this?!”   –Jen T, circa October 2011.

Fortunately, I recovered from that trip down hatred lane, and stumbled into the even more powerful world of non-angry adult adoptees who still have hurts, who have not reconciled their entire stories, who love their adoptive parents but want us to know that a loving family does not erase or heal a broken heart.  Even better, some of them have entered into the world of adoptive parents and are helping us begin to view the world MORE through the lens of our adopted children, and LESS through our own AP lens.  I remember thinking that only adoptees who are conscious of change at the time of their adoption would suffer emotional wounds.  But I’ve heard story after story of older adoptees who still feel a VOID, even if they were adopted hours after birth!  For many (not all) the feelings of rejection and abandonment do not go away.  A grown woman can look me in the eye and say “There must be something wrong with me if my own mother didn’t want me.”  That LOSS has nothing to do with her adoptive parents.  It is just a part of her story, and instead of running from the pain, the only way I can help my child heal is to acknowledge and ENTER INTO the pain with him.  Every adopted child will process their story and their identity differently.  I just need to be emotionally real and present, ready to love and accept and assist without defensiveness.

Early in our process, I watched the documentary ADOPTED.  One of the subjects is an adult woman, adopted from Korea as an infant.  I remember her trying to talk to her (adoptive) mom about her feelings of being different, of being the only Asian in the family.  Her mom just kept saying things like: “I don’t think of you as different!  I love you!  When I see you I just see my daughter–I forget you are Asian!”  I think we used to be told these were helpful things.  Let’s be colorblind!  Guess what?  NO.  Not helpful.  This woman/daughter articulated that when her mom said that, it made her feel invisible.  Or worse: it made her feel like the Asian part of herself (which, no matter what anyone says, is a HUGE part of her identity and appearance, and everyone knows it) was something negative or not as good as being white, so let’s pretend she’s Caucasian.    I have no doubt that is not what her loving mother intended, but that was a deep hurt that stuck with her long into adulthood.

This same documentary was also one of the first times I heard directly from an adoptee how strongly she needed to talk about her birth family, especially her birth mother.  This topic made her adoptive mom feel uncomfortable, so she would always change the subject or stop the conversation.  Again, the adoptive mom may have thought she was protecting her daughter from dwelling on the painful abandonment, but by refusing to talk about it, the message the daughter received was: birth mom = negative.  The daughter finally articulated–I think it was as her adoptive mom was dying!–that by doing that, mom had inadvertently sent very damaging messages to her daughter.  The daughter said something like: my birth mom is a part of me!  I am a part of her!  Even though I will never know her, she is IN me, and when you make me feel like she is bad or wrong, you are saying to me that a big part of ME is bad or wrong.   “I am going to remember this.”  –Jen T, circa January 2012

I could write many more posts on what I’ve learned from adoptees, and I haven’t even skimmed the surface of the birth mom stories, but I have to stop this post before it’s a book. And I continue to learn!  Even last week I was surprised by a post on the Lost Daughters blog, but I’m so glad I read it and was able to hear and understand more about how these particular adoptees view life.  I so strongly believe that if we, as AP’s are willing to listen to the voices of the others in the triad, it can only benefit our children and our families.  Each of us has to go through our own process of heart-learning and will be most moved by different words and stories.  When you have time, please watch THIS VIDEO of Carissa Woodwyk, one of the adult adoptees who has completely rocked my world in a gentle way.  She has a bit of a poetic flair, and this is a reading of hers that is personal and so very important. I think every adoptive parent should watch.

“In my humble opinion, we must LISTEN.”  -Jen T. circa May 2014

Have you learned anything by listening to an adoptee?  I’d love to hear about it.