Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Parenting Other People's Children

A couple of days ago I replied to a post on an adoption forum that discussed a new book that is out titled "Parenting Other People's Children: Understanding and Repairing Reactive Attachment Disorder". The discussion centered around the displeasure about the title, and how some adotive parents really do not like to think of themselves in that light. I replied, and I received many positive private email responses to my posting, so I thought I'd share my posting here:

"As a parent to 3 children, two from Kazakhstan and one from Kyrgyzstan...and one whom we continue to struggle with from time to time with the residual effects of RAD, I am actually not at all offended by the title and find it very realistic. Sure, I view my sons as "my kids", but frankly, if I don't acknowledge the fact that they WERE someone else's children I can't help them work through the emotions of their own adoption experience. I didn't create the RAD in my child, his life experiences did that were brought on by the parenting choices of someone else...his first parents. I need only pass by a mirror with a son in tow and it is quite obvious that I am parenting someone else's child...and it is equally as obvious to my Asian sons. If I deny that simple fact, how can I help them accept our family's differences as well?

No matter how hard we try, we can not rewrite our children's history to make us the "real" parents, perhaps that is why I am never offended when someone uses that politically incorrect term. To me, it simply doesn't matter...I have the here and now, I have the joy and the "real" parents, whomever they may be have missed out on so much. I don't feel the need to strip them of that title as well. It matters not a whit to me, my sons and I all know who their mom is, who is there for them and who cares for them daily. But I also recognize the fact of biology that I AM parenting someone else's child.

One thing I found when in the throes of the worst of the RAD issues with our now 4 year old son, was that it was initially quite easy to think of myself as a poor mother, to feel so inadequate at helping my son handle his feelings and to encourage him to develop attachments that were loving and appropriate. I remember on a teary phone cal with my own mother when she reminded me "Cindy, don't ever forget that you didn't cause this problem, you are simply the one who is now going to have to do what you can to help him.". Perhaps there are mothers who are more reluctant to get help or to fully recognize RAD, and it is possible that for them, thinking of themselves as parenting someone else's child de-personalizes the experience for them and allows them to reach out for help recognizing they too did not cause it but are following behind someone else trying to pick up the pieces. After all, believe me, it is terribly difficult to admit to someone after a much longed for child comes home that your new son or daughter doesn't seem to care much for you, or worse seems to hate your presence and touch.

I also work hard at helping our sons to see our family's uniqueness as an asset rather than a negative. We laugh often and are seldom offended at being stared at or questioned with poor terminology used. If I let my back bristle up every time someone stared at us or asked if my kids were adopted, then what message does that send to my sons? That they should walk around just laying in wait for someone to offend them by saying something or asking an innocent question? I want our family to celebrate it's wonderful background, not to take offense to every little comment regardless of how poorly worded it may be. We are LaJoy's! We are awesome, we are Kazakh and Kyrgyz and American, we are Asian and Caucasian...but most of all, we are loved and cherished in the eyes of each other. And I could care less if I AM parenting someone else's child, it is I who am having all the fun and the hugs and the half-dead dandelion's thrust at me in a child's version of a beautiful bouquet. The titles aren't what matters, the love is."

So what do you think? Do you who are reading this and are adoptive parents see yourselves as parenting someone else's child? Do you think often about the biological parents of your children? Are you offended if someone asks questions and talks about your kids' "real parents"? Maybe I am the oddball (OK, I admit that I probably AM an oddball!) in that this kind of stuff just doesn't seem important enough to stress over. I am curious about what others think on this topic.


Nathan, Amanda, Violet & Anara said...

Thanks Cyndi. I forget to think about Anara's "real" parents. I really liked this line, "If I let my back bristle up every time someone stared at us or asked if my kids were adopted, then what message does that send to my sons? That they should walk around just laying in wait for someone to offend them by saying something or asking an innocent question?" I agree. If you hang out in adoption forums/magazines too long you begin to think it's your job to be offended. I used to be one of those people using inappropriate adoption verbage. Thanks again,

Nathan, Amanda, Violet & Anara said...

I have a question and you might have answered it before. Did you have a difficult time attaching as well or was it just Josh's attaching to you?

Kim Adams said...

I really appreciate your comments, especially about "seldom offended at being stared at or questioned with poor terminology".... How much healthier that sounds than our experience.

As an adoptive sibling, I WAS offended when people stared or used "incorrect" terminology or really, when they just didn't understand! I do think it's important to give kids the language to use when people ask those innocent questions. Our family used "real mom" and "real family" to describe the adoptive family, which was not intuitive to others so it was awkward to answer their questions.

Anonymous said...

Once again you manage to write something which blows me away in just how well you express stuff. Your blog has been such a source of inspiration and information for me. I am in the process of adopting in Slovakia and - having recently been matched with my daughter - I am waiting for the day I can bring her home. Recently I have found myself refering to her birth mother as simply her 'mum' - because I feel to deny that reality is to deny part of who she is.
Thanks once again for your honest, heart-felt posts. You so often capture exactly something I am trying to verbalise or work through. Thank you!
I genuinely hope one day you pull them all together in a book!
Ahoj from Slovakia!!

Becky said...

My father adopted me. One of my brothers-in-law was adopted. My brother's son is "another parent's child". Our son had a life for almost 3.5 years before he knew we existed. My entire family is built from "our kids" and "other people's children". The only time the "real father" comment ever had the power to hurt is when my half-sister and I threw it at each other as a weapon in the teenage sibling battles we would have. From other people, they just didn't have the right words but no malice. Like it says in The Velveteen Rabbit - real is when you are loved until you are all shabby and your fur is worn off... We are all "real". Becky

Laura said...

I consider my children, my children. When people ask about their "real" mother, I usually respond with, "We are both "real". If you are asking about her biological mother, blah, blah, blah...."


Jennifer M said...

I just wrote this post on my blog this morning.


After I posted it, I went through all my bookmarks looking for blogs I haven't read in awhile due to being a new parent (my baby was napping and I had time). I saw yours and since I always enjoy reading what you have to say, I decided to check it out. This post and mine above are very similar! You're not alone.