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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

I Don’t Know Why I Want to Adopt…Yet!

In my introductory post, I promised I'd articulate more about our reasons for adopting. Actually, I said I'd talk about my reasons, since I can't claim to speak for my husband, Jeremiah, and I only said I'd try.

I've got about a million well-thought-out posts rattling around in my brain, but this isn't one of them, because here's my dirty little secret: I don't know why I want to adopt a child. Or why I've wanted to adopt since I was a young adult and why I was sure about that path to parenthood long before I was sure about becoming a biological mother. Sure, I could credit my adopted aunts, who so clearly completed my father's family and were the fun adults every holiday. I could cite an ex-boyfriend's adopted little sister, a cute, spunky 13-year-old when we met. But while these people are compelling, and their personal histories would make for some great text, they're not mine to claim as anything more than a set of influences that vary in degree.

The best I can do is to tell you that I felt it in my gut. I just knew, the same way I knew I was ready to get pregnant. It's kind of an exhilarating thing, to feel like that. But it doesn't answer any questions about my motives. (And, believe me, now that we're five months into a six- to 10-month wait for a referral, I'm starting to field a lot of Whats, Whys, and How comes.)

So instead, how about about I tell you some reasons that were not factors?

I did not choose adoption because I'm a wonderful person. It's not about charity, and it's not about giving of myself to another. I want to mother this child. This child will fulfill my needs as, I hope, I'll fulfill some of his. In that way, I guess, my adoption choice is as selfish as it gets.

I did not choose adoption because of an aversion to or an inability to go through another pregnancy. This feels difficult to write, particularly considering those who have struggled with infertility—and I can only imagine how emotionally and physically trying that experience must be—on their road to parenthood: I loved being pregnant and am definitely open to another pregnancy in the future, if finances will allow for it and it feels right for our family.

Finally, I did not choose adoption because I have two daughters and I want to guarantee that our next child is a son. In fact, another daughter would be just as incredible and, in some ways, as I said last time, more familiar. The majority of children in Korea who are available for international adoption are boys, but we are very open to both sexes.

Frequently, when I'm asked about our adoption, one of the motives above is assumed to be mine. And there's nothing wrong with any one of them, but they don't belong to me. I don't have a response to that first question—Why adopt?—and all of the usual questions that follow. I'd love some advice. Soon, I hope, the idea of an adopted child will become a baby in my arms, and I very much want, by that time, to have something real to say for myself. My gut's just not good enough.

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The simple answer lies in another question; why not?

By Jeff on Monday, November 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm.

Jeff, as always, I feel like you’ve cut right to it.  This is exactly how I feel, too, but is it enough?  While I’m not so worried about those outside my family, I’m especially concerned with whether it will be enough for my child.

By Meghan on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 1:02 am.

So beautifully said. I adopted our daughter six years ago and still don’t have an adequate answer to that question. Your post captured many thoughts I’ve had. Mostly “why” doesn’t matter really, except like you said, when my daughter is the one who wants to know. Because, for her, it’s important that she understand. For others, people with curious or casual interst, I like Jeff’s answer: Why not?! Glad you are adding to the conversation the way you are!

By Stacy Clark on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm.

Hi All,

  As an adoptive parent to many now-grown (adopted and non-adopted) sons and daughters, and as someone who facilitates groups throughout North America with adopted youngsters age five through their teen years, I have a somewhat different reaction to the question of: “why are you/did you adopt?”  I hope that you will not mind that I am sharing that reaction with you.  I found, as I am guessing that you will too, that my perspective changed dramatically as my children matured to be able to talk with me about THEIR views regarding adoption, and outsiders’ sometimes hurtful assumptions, questions, beliefs, and attitudes regarding adoption and adoptive family membership.

  Although it is no joy to face why people ask that question, the reality is that nearly all are implying that adoption is a second-best way to build or expand a family, and for the CHILD, it is a devaluation of who he/she is.  It conveys the attitude—without saying so directly—that adoptive families are less authentic.  That is often expressed another way: that adopted youngsters have a “real” family (meaning their birth/original family).

    Adoptive parenting puts us on a steep learning curve.  We help our children to effectively navigate their way as adopted persons when we try to see or hear each comment or question or opinion through the eyes and ears OF our child, and focus on what our child needs to hear from us, rather than on what an outsider (even a close relative or friend) hears from us.  Its not ABOUT us. 

    Sometimes we inadvertently convey the attitude that it is somehow superior to have certain motives, rather than having adopted because we struggled with infertility.  While I know that most (hopefully ALL) of us do not hold that view, we can devalue those who DID consider adoption because infertility was an issue.  We may also be inadvertently conveying to our adopted youngsters that we somehow made a noble sacrifice, because we agree with others who believe that adoption is a second-best family building method.  Another possible response is to simply say “I adopted because it is an equally wonderful way to build or expand a family. Why do you ask?” 

    I would like to add one thing that some of you might want to consider.  It is very difficult for a child to be the only adopted child and person in a family, especially when he or she has siblings who were born into the family.  Growing up adopted is complicated, confusing, and isolating in a world that little understands what it is like for someone to have joined their family in that way, after having lost their first family—something that an individual will grieve for the rest of their life at the very same time that they feel gladness for living with the family they know and love. Parents who understand this may want to rethink how they expand their family further, basing their decision on the child’s needs, rather than their own.  As a veteran adoptive parent, I have learned to work to not underestimate my own ignorance about an adopted person’s differeing point of view from anyone else’s as I’ve come to understand that living with an adoptee is not the same as having their lived-experiences AS an adoptee.

By Jane Brown on Wednesday, December 01, 2010 at 10:50 pm.

Thanks, arielifeoma, for reading my post and writing that you understood where I am coming from.  That would not have been easy for me as a prospective parent!  That is because I, like most other prospective parents—whether planning to birth or adopt—are thinking about what it will be like for us to begin parenting, rather than what it will be like for the child who will grow up with me/us as their parents.  You comment that you do not understand why your beliefs and attitudes are not good enough for the adopted child gave me pause, and I decided to write a little about that. Perhaps you will consider what I have to share, even though it may not match the way that you think, currently. 

  I had lots of firsthand experience with children (I was a teacher before I returned to school to become a social worker), and I thought that I understood more about how kids think than I actually did, when I was awaiting my first child. I learned, only after my own children began to mature, that many of my beliefs about how children come to form their own beliefs, theories, feelings, attitudes, and questions were not accurate.  Only experience taught me that children take their parents’ beliefs and attitudes at face-value at first, but do not necessarily continue to accept that as they mature and start to think more independently. 

    Working with adopted children who live with many different types of families (and who each have their own, unique set of beliefs, experiences, attitudes, etc…) has added to my understanding that adopted children do not have the same perspective on adoption as adoptive parents or others, including other adults and their peers.  That is why I encourage adoptive parents to develop effective listening skills that encourage children to be able to express their feelings and put that into words, and not challenge their child’s feelings.  That serves to inform the child that their parent does not understand them or their very different set of experiences, and instead, may only accept them if they say that they think the way that their parents do (even if they do not really think that way, at all). 

  That’s important to know as an adoptive parent, because a child who has already lost one set of parents is not going to risk losing the next set of parents’ approval (or love) by continuing to express their own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, if that is met with statements by their parents that they are, in essence, “wrong,” in how they see things differently.  The child, at that point, just stops being open and honest and may pretend to go along with what their parent says.  That often blows up when the child matures into adolescence. 

    As a mother to still-young,adopted children, I had no way to anticipate how my children would think by the time they were teens or adults.  What I am saying is that what I know now has much more to do with the fact that my sons and daughters are teens and adults, than with
the fact that I am an adoption professional.  I should also say here and now that not ONE of us will or could ever know it all, and that we will never know it in the same way as those with lived-experience: the adoptees.

By Jane Brown on Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 8:03 pm.

Thank you all for such thoughtful advice and, also, for disagreeing (and agreeing!) with me—and with each other—with so much kindness. I’m a pretty private person and the idea of a blog was daunting, particularly in that I’d be putting so much of myself and so many of my weaknesses out there for all to see.  So far, though, I have been so warmed and strengthened by the bloggy advice and experiences of both veterans and newbies, as we do this parenting thing each day. 

Jane, just a quick point to clarify: I didn’t mention it in this post but, as I say in my profile, I’m also very open to adding another child through adoption.  Also, as I hope I conveyed, my reason for writing the post isn’t my own need to answer the question of motives but rather, as I said in my first comment, on behalf of my future child.  But you’re right: I often have to remind myself that life’s not always all about me.  It’s a huge weakness of mine.  I console myself by saying that it’s part of being human, but I think that I may be a severe offender!  Thank you for the gentle reminder, on behalf of my current (biological) children and my future (adopted) child that they must always, always come first.

By Meghan on Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 11:44 pm.

Meghan,  I think you are quite brave to be authoring a blog, and, as you’ve said “put yourself out there.”  You are very welcome for the thoughts I’ve shared for consideration.  I wish you and all of your children and future children well.  I do hope that you will adopt more than one child.  For the sake of your bio children as well as the first child you adopt, but also for your OWN sake.  I am sure you are going to love being an adoptive mom just as much as you’ve loved parenting the children born to you.  Keep writing, Meghan!

By Jane Brown on Friday, December 03, 2010 at 6:58 am.

Hi again,

  This is an important discussion.  For adopted youngsters’ needs are much more complicated than those of youngsters who grow up with their original parents, AND it is not easy for a psychiatrist, therapist, counselor to help.  While yes, all youngsters benefit from having parents with good communication skills who listen effectively and can successfully help them express their thoughts and feelings, adopted youngsters have a far greater need and can be harmed to a greater degree when their parents do not possess such skillls. 

  Further, it is important that adoptive parents understand that the vast majority of professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors) really do NOT understand adoption-related issues.  They often tell parents searching for help that they have worked with lots of adopted kids, but what they do not know to say is that they could not help because they failed to understand what those kids were grappling with.  Even when they have some of the theoretical knowledge, the vast majority have absolutely no idea how to persuade adopted youngsters to talk with them, face the specialized issues, and accept the help they need to have a more satisfying quality of life.  Adopted kids are incredibly adept at convincing adults that their issues have nothing to do with their having been adopted, when, instead, being adopted is THE central issue that is causing them to have problems. 

  I cannot urge prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents with youngsters of any age to educate themselves about how adopted kids’ understanding unfolds at each developmental stage and to develop strong, specialized skills necessary to do a good job of parenting adopted children, rather than thinking that unconditional love + general parenting skills are all that is really necessary.  That is not true and is almost a guarantee that you will have problems, which usually surface during the tween and teen years when it is awfully late to try to repair the problems that have been brewing under the surface for many years, but just were not apparent prior to these stages.

Jane Brown, MSW

By Jane Brown on Sunday, December 05, 2010 at 8:28 pm.

Thanks, again, for your input, Jane.  One of the most important factors in our decision to adopt through Spence-Chapin was the comprehensive post placement support.  I know that we won’t have all—or even most—of the answers.  It’s nice to know that we have somewhere to turn when we’re stumped.

By Meghan on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 5:11 am.

Meghan, I think your gut is enough.  I am a 40 year old adoptee with a biological and an adopted child.  People don’t question why you are having a child when you are pregnant.  For some reason they do ask when you adopt but the answer can be the same.  I want to be a mom or I want another child.  As an adoptee I think the reasons you gave are wonderful ” I know in my gut (heart may make more sense to a kid)”  ” I want to mother this child”.  People tell their natural born kids that they fell in love with them the moment they saw them.  The same thing can hold true with an adopted child.

Hopefully you will get the chance to adopt and as that child grows up they will ask questions about their adoption.  They will surprise and stump you just like kids asking how a baby gets out of a belly.  I think you just take them one at a time.  The best advice I got was to keep answers short and stick to the question they ask.  If they are satisfied leave it at that and they will come back if they have more questions.  Often they need to process your answer.

I do believe that unconditional love can make an adopted child secure in their home.  I think if your biological and adopted children are raised and treated the same while being open to talking and listening to both of them about adoption you may not have problems.

I never wanted to feel like I was adopted and I already see that in my son.  In my family birthdays are celebrated not adoption anniversaries.  My birth into this world is something to be celebrated and so is my son’s.  As a mom you love your children because they are your children.  It doesn’t matter how they got there.

I wish you the best.

By E and A's mom on Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm.

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