Monday, July 23, 2007

Learning Lessons While Avoiding Mistakes

As I come closer to ending my time as Potential a-parent and entering the realm of a-parent, I have become increasingly aware of those things that I experienced as a child that I intend to avoid as a parent. Below are a list of things my a-parents did in raising my a-brother and me that I wish to repeat and those things that I hope to do differently.

Those Things I Wish to Repeat
1) My a-parents never expected me to be like them nor did they try to turn me into something I wasn't. At a rather early age I showed a propensity for music...something which neither of my a-parents shared. Despite their own interests, my gift and love for music was fed, and watered, and given the sunlight it needed to grow. To this day it amazes me how supportive they were of my own musical endeavors when they, themselves had very little interest or talent in it.
2) My a-parents showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. They were very forgiving. They allowed for mistakes and did not hold it against me when I made them.
3) Family time was more important than money! While some families practically hoard their money, my a-parents chose to spend their money on family outings and vacations. I know there is a lot of stigma associated with a-parents and their use of money to "buy" their a-child's affection but in our case the money was always used to enhance family time, and I am thankful for that. I hear so many stories about friends whose parents never took time off work and never took a vacation together, all in the name of saving that hard-earned American dollar. Our vacations were so important to our relationships! My a-Dad was a workaholic except for those 2-3 weeks a year when he would take time off of work and devote every waking minute to his family!
4) My a-parents were God-fearing Christians who devoted their lives to following the teachings of Christ. They raised me in the church but as I grew older they allowed me to explore religion as I wanted. I very rarely attended church with them but rather chose a Youth Group at another church where I felt welcome and comfortable. They supported my decision to do this and never pushed me to be more involved in "their" church.
5) My a-parents gave me the right to choose what I wanted for my own life. They didn't push me in any specific direction when deciding on a college and a career. All they ever expected of me was that I try my hardest and do my best. They never expected perfection...just that I reach my God-given potential in all I tried.

Those Things I Hope to Do Differently
1) For whatever reason, my a-parents never TOLD me about my adoption. I was 7 years old when I overheard my a-Mom telling a postal worker that I was adopted. IMO this is too late and it is information that should never be discussed with others before sharing with the child. My daughter will know her adoption story from Day 1 and all others, including family, will only hear the details when and if SHE is ready to share it with them.
2) My a-Mom expected a certain amount of gratitude for the life she and a-Dad gave me. I strove very hard to please my a-parents but every once in awhile, in their eyes, I would swerve off the tracks. When, as a teenager, I expressed displeasure or frustration at not being able to go out with friends or having to help around the house my a-Mom would say, "Well, you could have been an orphan and be living on the streets!". Not until now did I realize how damaging such words could be, especially to an adopted child. I will never expect my daughter to show gratitude for being adopted nor will I remind her of the kind of life she might have had were it not for us bringing her into our home.
3) My a-parents were not very open in talking with me about my adoption. I only recall having one lengthy conversation about my adoption and that was when I was 16. At that time a-Mom told me that when I was ready I could have my OBC with my birthmother's name on it. The problem with such an offer is what kind of parent-pleasing 16-year old is going to ask for information about her "other mother"? I will make my daughter's adoption a part of her every day life so that she doesn't have to ask. She will know she is adopted and we will talk about it often, whether she brings it up or not. I will never force the issue but I will make it clear to her that her adoption is something that we welcome talking about and are not interested in keeping a secret.
4) My a-parents did not give much opportunity for adoption to even be discussed outside the home. While maybe not necessarily other people's business, we always had some cute way to explain our differences in appearance. It was like an inside joke...someone would make a comment about my looks taking after my a-Mom's and she and I would just look at each other and smile. So many times I wanted to say, "But she's not my 'real' mother. I'm adopted." While that might have been hurtful to my a-Mom and I might not have actually spoken those words, it would have been nice to have the freedom to share that with people and not have to lie or hide what I really thought inside. I want for my daughter to feel free to say what she wants to whoever she wants. If she wants people to know she's adopted then that is her perogative and I cannot allow my own poor self-esteem or fear of rejection to get in the way. She will have feelings that need to be expressed, whether to me or to others, and I want her to know that's OK and I want her to feel comfortable sharing her emotions with anyone she chooses.
5) My a-parents knew very little about me, my birthmom, my family, my culture, etc. On those rare instances when I would actually voice a question or concern they were not able to answer me and hopes of a conversation would diminish. I want to know as much as possible about my daughter, her mother, her foster family and home, her culture, and her country before I EVER bring her home. If not fully informed, then I want to at least have the resources available so that when she comes to me with questions I can either answer her or help her find the answers for herself. I want the opportunity to learn as much as possible about her mother so that when she is old enough and makes the decision for herself to meet her a relationship will already be in place to make that possible. I believe this is a valuable relationship for her to have and a key in helping to maintain some connection to her past and her culture...this is a relationship that I am more than willing to help foster and nurture to the best of my ability.
6) Although my a-parents never tried to "mold" me into something I wasn't, I was always treated like "their" I belonged to them and had always belonged to them. In not talking about my adoption they made it clear that they wanted to view me as "their own". According to my a-parents, I was meant to be their was a part of God's plan. If that were true then it was also a part of God's plan that I be neglected for 2 years and that my birthmother experience the pain of giving birth to me, raising me for 2 years, and then making the decision to relinquish me. I cannot believe that is true and I will not raise my daughter to believe this either. I intend to be honest with her and tell her the story of how she came to be a part of our family. She will know the culture and history of her country as it relates to women and single mothers. She will know that her birthmother did not make this decision so that I might have a child...she made this decision for her daughter. I was never in the equation when she made this decision, nor should I ever put myself on such a pedastal to believe I was. To express any form of gratitude toward her birthmother for giving me the honor of parenting her child would demean the real reason HER daughter is a part of MY life.

I know I'm not perfect and will sometimes stumble along the path to raising my daughter. I just hope that starting with the above list of "do's" and "don'ts" as learned from my a-parents will help me in continuing the valuable lessons they taught me while also preventing me from repeating past mistakes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Hypocritical Perspective?

Is it hypocritical to not be happy about parts of your own adoption experience yet still be OK with adoption in general? Can you be angry about some of the things that happened to you as a result of your adoption but still look past the negatives of your own experience to see the positives of adoption? I believe you can because I believe I do. I don't know if it's hypocritical or not, but it is who I am, a part of me, to look for and find the good in all things.

I have recently come to the realization that some of the painful and potentially damaging experiences I had AS AN ADOPTEE were in direct correlation to being adopted (I say potentially because I do not believe that I have allowed these things to damage the person that I am, however someone with a different personality experiencing the same things might come away with more scars than me). Despite the realization that parts of my adoption were less-than-ideal and despite reading accounts of other adult adoptees whose experiences were even more less-than-ideal than my own, I still hold a certain amount of respect for the philosophy behind adoption and its purpose.

In my opinion, the purpose of adoption is to give a child a home who might not otherwise have one (it should NOT be to fill a void in a lonely couple's life or to help a family meet their gender status quo). Were it not for adoption many more children than already are would be living in orphanages, group homes, foster homes, or even on the street. I believe there are several reasons why a child might not have a home:
1) Death of a parent with either no immediate family or no family willing to raise the child.
2) The child's homelife is unsafe or damaging due to neglect, abuse, etc. and a decision is made to remove the child from the home.
3) Public or governmental policy dicates the number of children permitted in a home.
4) And, unfortunately, in today's world, there are many societies that frown upon single motherhood. Single women with children can't find jobs or keep jobs. So, why keep having children, you might ask? Well, in many cultures the use of birth control is often not acceptable or even possible. In addition, many of these women live in a place where men are dominant and expect a woman to meet his needs without being married to him. She does as is expected, gets pregnant, and then, out of fear and in desperation for herself and maybe for older children already in her care, she makes the difficult decision to either abandon her newborn baby or make an adoption plan. Oftentimes it's her only hope for a future.

As my husband and I began our own journey to adopt a child I remember commenting that if I could use our adoption money to change society's opinions regarding birthmothers and single motherhood then I would do that rather than adopt. I was immediately informed that there is NO WAY to change society or its opinions. What society feels and believes is what it feels and amount of money will ever change that. And unfortunately I believe that is true. You can contribute all the money in the world to change laws and policies but you cannot ever pay people enough to change their minds.

There are children in this world and in this country who need homes. Without adoption these children will continue living in places that are not conducive to proper growth and development. Admittedly, taking a child out of her country of origin may not be ideal, however, until those countries make concrete plans for how to care for their own orphans there is no denying that a home is better than nothing at all.