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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

Worried About the Whys

You might have noticed, I haven't been writing much lately. It's not that there hasn't been anything worthy of note -- we've had family vacations, holidays, and birthdays since my last post -- but this is an adoption blog, and therein lies the problem. We've reached a point in our adoption journey, almost three and a half years after adopting our son, Manu, from India, that is mostly uninteresting to anyone except ourselves. We survived the long adoption wait, the travel, the adjustments every new family makes upon returning home with their child, and we're happy; we're in that beautiful place between adoption drama and tough questions. I often have to remind myself that we are an adoptive family at all. Manu is such an amazing little boy with a kind and gentle demeanor. He loves his family and seems unbothered by the obvious differences between our family and those of his friends. I hope he carries that carefree attitude with him throughout life.

But there have been questions, don't get me wrong. Manu is curious by nature, and we spend plenty of time discussing India, birth mothers, skin color, and other adoption-related subjects. We've been very open with him since he was too young to understand, and that has made him comfortable in asking us anything. He generally takes our answers in stride and at face value, and hasn't yet seemed too interested in the impending follow-up questions. The who, what, where, and whens are easy; it's the whys that keep me up at night.

How do you answer unanswerable questions? What is the right way to explain to a child how unknown adult circumstances forever altered his life? I think about this often, and while yes, there might be a right way to go about it, it won't be easy. What will I say when my son asks why? Why was he left at a hospital, all alone, when he was only two days old? Why didn't his birth parents want to keep him? The truth is, we don't know. The children's home told us all that they knew about his situation prior to his arrival, including some names and a loose story that may someday provide some comfort, but nothing that can fully explain why. Do I have it in me to tell it as I see it, or will I paint his story with rosy clichés of abandonment for a better life? Do they deserve that preferential treatment in my response? Since it is unlikely my son will ever actually meet his birth parents, does it matter how I portray them? How do I even want to portray them? On one hand, I love his birth parents for bringing him into the world. On the other, I hate them for leaving him there, all alone. And then I love them again, for not doing something worse.

What will he think of them after learning his story? What will he think of us after the veil of innocence has been removed? When I look at Manu I don't see my adopted son or my brown son -- I see my son. Manu is the only son I have ever had, but for him it's different. Will he continue to accept what we tell him, or will he fantasize about what might have been? Will I continue to be Daddy, or will I become the adoptive father?

So, while I haven't had much to write about lately, I've had plenty to think about. I want so much for this age of innocence to continue, but I know that it cannot last forever. When the time comes, I hope I can find the words that will strike the proper balance between the good and the bad. I hope I'll be able to instill in my son the idea that, it's not how you start life, but how you finish it that is important.  

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Jeff, my little girl started asking questions at 3 so we have had many conversations. I guess the think that struck me most about your post is this:

“When I look at Manu I don’t see my adopted son or my brown son—I see my son.”

And yet there are times that life, people around us, situations, etc does remind us that our children were adopted. It’s normal. In the same way I think Manu will see you as “dad” period, even though they will be people, situations, etc that some times will remind him that you are “adoptive dad”. Yes, he probably will fantasize, and yes, he probably will wonder, and yes, he will love you just as any child loves his dad no matter what. The fact that you are thinking about this and asking these questions shows you will wisely and carefully answer his questions.

By Gaby on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 at 4:22 pm.

Thanks Gaby, I think you’re right, nothing will prevent external influences from reminding us that we are an adoptive family, I just hope we can prepare him to take it all in stride.

I think my problem is that, “We don’t know” is not a satisfying answer for me, and I’m projecting my feelings about that onto him, and making assumptions about how he might respond to that.

By Jeff on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 at 5:40 pm.

There are some questions, essential questions, that we as humans will never be able to answer.  We should strive to answer those things that are important and answerable and learn to live with the uncertainty of all the rest. 
We adopted brothers 2 and 4.  They don’t have many questions and I try to bring it up every so often just in case.  I also bragged a bit when people would compliment them so they became proud of their adoptive heritage.  They are now 10 and 12 and still haven’t been all that interested, but I’ve told them everything I know (in gentle terms) so they can incorporate the information as needed.  I will warn you that occasionally when there is conflict over chores or when some behavior needs correcting, the elder one will try to push parental buttons by declaring that our authority isn’t biologically based.  I laugh because I tried to use this on my own biological parents but got exactly the same distance he gets.  Even when I’m angry with them, I always say I love them even when I don’t like what they do.  I think I probably do this more than I would had they been biological kids because I want to make sure it’s understood.  I love that my kids have talents and qualities outside our families, but they also lack some of the talents and qualities we are accustomed to so while they are less likely to push our buttons because they are just like us, they also stretch our parental muscles in ways unexpected.  For example, we are typical grade grubbing academics, but our eldest while bright is so self-confident that he doesn’t feel the need to strive academically.  Yet…  LOL   They are both incredibly athletic, musical and able to dance better than we are.  It’s been a joy to discover these talents and interests and help develop them.

By mom22boys on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 at 5:43 pm.

How sad that you do not think he will ever find his biological family!  There are many international adoptees that are returning to their countries of origin and seeking their birth families and culture.  I would not be so sure… he may have the opportunity to seek them out and I surely hope he does have that option if he so desires!

I have read a few threads about adopted kids not being able to sleep at night and adoptive parents asking how they can help their kids sleep better?  I was that kid.  I stayed up hours on end with the what if’s , who, where, what , why?  I knew some, but it was not enough.  I did not sleep well till I had my first child.  2 years after reunion.  When those questions were answered and I finally achieved some peace.

By EST on Friday, June 08, 2012 at 6:05 am.

Hi EST, thanks for commenting. It’s not that we would be unsupportive of him searching and finding his birth family, just the opposite, but there are some particulars to his story that makes me think this will be unlikely. I hope I’m wrong.

By Jeff on Friday, June 08, 2012 at 12:05 pm.

My daughter is 9 now and started asking questions about adoption when she was around 3. Now she is a full blown little adoption advocate! Last night she asked (we have private adoption with really no family history info) “Mom do you have my birthmothers phone number?” My heart started racing and palms got sweaty no matter how many times I try to prepare for these questions I always freak out for about 30 seconds! I answered her with a simple “No I don’t ...why?” She said “Oh so you don’t text her and tell her how awesome I am then huh?” LOL. When she was five we were on a family vacation and she said in the backseat “So let me get this right, I didn’t come from you tummy?” It was like it just clicked for her she was grasping what adoption was. Of course I had this speak wrote in my head 1,000 times but driving down the turnpike with the whole family wasn’t the place I thought I would repeat it! The more you make him comfortable with adoption and all adoption talk it will come easy! My daughter corrects people when they ask her about her “real” mom. It all comes with time as they grow up and we educated them with age appropriate material!

Mandy is a freelance writer, editor and adoptive mother. Recognized as one of the youngest adoptive mothers in the US, Mandy provides support throughout the adoption community via blogging and other means of social networking.

By MandyJoCampbell on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm.

How you live it! ! !  Great post, Jeff!

By Brad, co-author of Songs of My Families on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 12:09 am.

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