Saturday, January 23, 2010

Post #7 in One Day - Talking About Adoption

Now that the marathon photo posting session is over, I hope you've all had your fill for a day or two.  it is my hope that as we move out of Phase 1 and move on to Phase 2 I will have more interesting pictures for you of our latest adventures.  One of my favorites ever will no doubt be the first night we are all sleeping together under one roof, even if it IS far from home!
I received a comment from a long time blogger friend of mine and realized it is the one thing in 3+ years of regular blogging that I might not have ever talked about at length. Imagine that...Cindy actually NOT talking about something! Hahaha! Dominick would love that one, as another dear friend of mine and I call ourselves, we are "very verbal"...gee...ya think?!?!?!
Here is the comment I received:
Cindy, I wonder if you would consider sharing how you explained to your children that they were adopted. Especially with Joshua. Hannah knows the word adopted, but none of the meaning behind that in terms of her birth mother and abandonment. How did you approach it, especially with Joshua's RAD. Hannah's had such a stuggle with attachment issues too. I'd really appreciate your advice.
Before I write anything else, I want to make sure that y'all know this is just how Mama LaJoy handles it, that doesn't make it the "right" way, and it doesn't mean anyone else ought to do it this way.  As you have read over the past month, there are people who firmly and totally disagree at times to the approach we take and that is their right and they can move forward in their lives in any way they choose and I have no issue whatsoever with them or anyone else who looks at my life and says "What a LOSER...what an IDIOT...I would NEVER handle that in that way!".  Good for you!  If you can ever take something I share and use it, fine, but you have your own perspective and your own child whose individuality should be taken into account.  They way I handle things is the best way I know how to do it guided by the lessons I have learned from others and what I feel God is saying to me at the moment. we go...
Talking about adoption with our kids has always been the easiest part of our adoptions, and I think of often we parents create more seriousness around the issue than there needs to be.  Notice I do not say that there doesn't need to be respect or care in these discussions, but there should never, ever, EVER be fear on the part of the parents!  If you gave'd eagerly share the stories surrounding the birth, right?  You'd giggle over Daddy's reaction when your water broke, you'd talk with tenderness about the first time you saw your baby and he or she was laid in your arms, you'd laugh over the gag gifts at the shower or the first time you had to change a diaper...and your child would get a huge kick out of it and laugh with you.  So let me share with you the previously unwritten rules that I guess we have always followed that have worked for us, and now they appear to be written down! hahah!
Rule #1 - There is no "right time" to begin talking about adoption.  From the day they get home, no matter how little, it is part of your family story as naturally as if you had given birth.  It was just as miraculous, so why WOULDN'T it be?  From the time they are little babies and are in the tub and you are lathering them up and say "Oh, you are the most beautiful baby in the entire world...your birth mom and dad must have been SO handsome and pretty!", or when you make a baby book showing the orphanage and their crib mates, TALK about it!  It happened, it was true, there is nothing to hide!
Rule #2 - As the parent, be on the lookout for natural and comfortable ways to bring adoption talk into the conversation between you and your child.  If your toddler sees a pregnant woman and talks about it, that is the perfect opportunity to explain that babies come from their mommies tummies but hey, did you know you had TWO mommies and you didn't grow in MY tummy?  Yes...even if they are only 2.  The longer you wait , the more mystery you make surround it all, the bigger deal it unwittingly becomes.  When you see obviously adoptive families, point them out.  When you talk about when they were babies, don't hesitate to say "The day we arrived at the orphanage and I first held you...". 
Their story is as sad...or as you make it!!  "You were abandoned and abused and had no parents" or  "Isn't God amazing to put adoptive families together?" 
With RAD kids though this approach may need to be different, in my opinion.  With Josh we HAD to acknowledge what his soul was telling him but what he didn't have the facts to put together.  At barely two we talked about his other mommy who had left him alone, and explained all his moves from her to materinty hospital to orphanage to us, and that babies need to feel safe with one or two main people taking care of them so that was why at times he struggled.  He couldn't understand why he felt so uncomfortable in his own skin and in our arms, and we had to give him the name for it.
Rule #3 - This may seem strange on the heels of #2 but your child's history is theirs.  You have absolutely NO RIGHT EVER EVER EVER to hide anything from them in an effort to "save them from the pain".  Would YOU like it if something was hidden from you, no matter how loving the motive?  Our job as parents, in my view (and you can feel free to argue all you want it won't change my opinion on this so don't bother yelling at me in the comments, you won't ever change my mind), is not to protect our child from all that they will encounter in is to walk beside them to help them process it and work through it all.  Josh knows he was left behind an apartment building, perhaps to die, perhaps in panic, perhaps in the hopes someone would find him.  We have played through all the scenarios and I have not pretended to know the truth,. for it is unknowable.  All the boys know their beginnings, all have asked questions, all will continue to see it from different vantage points as they grow older.  But it IS their history and revisionism is unfair and damaging.
Now, does this mean you explain rape to a 2 year old?  Of course not as they can not understand "Sex" even.  But when it comes up naturally in conversation, when you begin talking about sex or explaining the facts of is time.  How hard is it really to look your child in the eye and say "You know sweetheart, sometimes men can force women into making babies because they are stronger and want to take advantage of a woman...and the woman is helpless and can't stop a stronger man.  It is a mean thing to do, but your mommy was amazingly strong and loved you so much that even though she didn't want to make a baby with that man she wanted you to be here on earth and loved you enough to have you!  That is REAL love!"
And you may find that "sex" comes up earlier with adopted children as a natural progression of the questions about where babies come from, why they didn't grow in your tummy...and...oh the did the baby get in there in the first place?  We had the full on birds and bees talk with Matthew when I think he was about 6 or so, and then again with Kenny and Josh and Matt awhile after Kenny came home.  Yea, the WHOLE set of facts, nothing left out.  Did they giggle and grin?  Yes.  Did they ask questions?  Yes.  Have they turned into sex fiends?  No, in fact, because we gave them facts and yet protect them somewhat from being immersed in our oversexualized culture they are still far more innocent than most of their friends. 
Remember, if YOU are uncomfortable with it, your children certainly will be as well.  The facts about how life begins are is about the coolest thing God ever created...the way humans and life of any sort is created.  What is so scary about that? 
Rule #3 - Honor the birth parents, but don't help create a fairy tale. They are real, their children are in care of someone else for a reason.  They could be great people or they could be a wreck.  Who knows?  Help your child grab on to a very real mental picture of who their birth parents might us all.  At the very least, they gave them life and deserve to be honored for that alone.  Please note that "honor" does not mean love.
Rule #4 - Here is one where I know there are lots of you out there who will disagree with me, and you very well may be proven right. If the birth parents were awful...don't try and pretend they were good.  Evil exists. Some of our kids have sadly experienced it and are old enough to know evil when they see it.  Sure you can say they had a mental illness, they were an alcoholic and couldn't help themselves, they were abused as kids themselves.  Those might all be facts that can be presented dispassionately and rationally at some point.  But I wouldn't personally dream of not acknowledging the evil that birth parents are capable of is demeaning of the experience the child may have been old enough to remember having gone through. 
What some don't understand about my earlier post about my ANGER at Angela and Olesya's birth parents is that we HAVE to be allowed to feel that anger before we can move through it, and some of this is now more real to me than it ever has been before.  Does that mean I think I or the girls should carry around that anger forever and wallow in it? Of course not, but give me a break here, I have been their mom for only 3 weeks now and am ENTITLED to be angry for a fact if I, as their mother, am not ANGRY about it, what does that say about me???  Burying anger is not a way to heal.  Experiencing it and moving THROUGH it is healthy. 
Often our kids have never had the chance to seriously express their anger at what their birth parents did to them with anyone who cared enough to really listen.  The anger Angela feels is intense, and at some point I know we will have some serious work to do there.  If I looked her in the eyes and said "But honey, they weren't really all that bad...they probably loved you in their own way." it would be a lie she'd read from a mile away and frankly it would be hard for me to choke out.
Sometimes the birth parents did NOT love their children, many times they were a burden they wished they could be rid of, they were someone to beat up on or ignore.  I think we need to acknowledge that truth.  I know...I know...many of you will disagree and say "but they had to love them, we need them to think that.".  We will have to agree to disagree.  Kids know the truth, especially if they lived it.
BUT BUT BUT BUT...God is in it all.  God ALWAYS loved them and that can be pointed out as truth.  Our children can hopefully heal by letting them express their anger, and showing them what real love is all about.  They won't heal by us pretending that evil people were really good people.  I am not saying we should demonize the birth parents, not at all.  But just as with sex, the facts are the facts...don't hide them, don't pretend they were good people when indeed they were not.  Let your kids see that you would have protected them if you could have. 
I have told Josh that I wish I had been there the day his mommy left him so I could have scooped him up and held him close so he was safe.  I have told him that at times, just like HE has felt, I am mad that she did that to him and wished she had made other choices.  He seemed to need to know that he was not alone in his anger, that I was with him on that...but we moved on.  We felt it, we talked about it, we talked about the failure of ALL mankind to be perfect and how everyone makes mistakes sometimes...sometimes really big ones.
Were the girls' parents sick? Oh yes, in so many ways.  Will we one day get to that place of talking about that...a place where compassion can hopefully be felt for them?  I hope so.  Will that day come BEFORE the anger is vented?  No, because compassion has to come after the anger.
And I guess a part of me believes as strongly in Evil as I do Good.  It is not an area of my faith that I have all worked out in my head yet, and it might never be...but, for me, if I believe in Good then I have to believe in Evil.  For Evil to me is an absence of God, and God CAN be rejected...and Evil can enter.  God still surrounds though through the actions of others.  Thankfully someone acted to save the girls.
Whew...didn't mean to get all theological there when I still have no clue about any of it either!
Rule #5 - Don't go overboard.  Don't make your child feel like an "adopted child", make them feel like your child who happened to be adopted.  There is a time and place for everything, and adoption shouldn't enter every single conversation you have with your kids, you don't have to point out every time you see a multi-racial family and assume they have adopted children, you don't have to do an adoption presentation every year for 10 years to their classes, you don't have to jump to the conclusion that every issue is adoption related, etc.  Be natural.  Admittedly, in our family the subject has come up naturally quite often as we have been in "adoption mode" for 11 years now and live in a community that is not ethnically diverse, so our mis-matched family is often approached or pointed out in a friendly way, so it keeps the conversation going more than it otherwise would I think.  Let your kids lead a little as they get older, watch for clues, if you see something going on in their heads, ask and bring up the subject if you feel it is warranted.
A child will most often NOT come up to you and say "Mom...Dad...I need to discuss my issues surrounding attachment and my birth parents.  Can we have a chat?".  But they might show sorrow when watching a film with adoption as a theme.  They might make a stray comment about someone else being pregnant and wishing they were from inside you.  However you don't have to comment every time you see a pregnant person.  You don't have to suggest your kids learn Russian or Chinese or Korean simply because that is where they were from and wouldn't that just be GREAT if they spoke their native language?  What if they want to learn French? 
Rule #6 - Don't get all politically correct on them.  If your child refers to their birth parents as "mom and dad", don't get offended, don't let yourself get sucked into feeling pushed aside.  While words definitely mean things and I would be the first to say that, my kids have all at one time or another referred to their birth parents as "my old mommy and daddy" or just their plain old mom and dad.  Don't be so hung up on asserting your own place in their heart that you let the language get in the way of the message.  Your continual use yourself of more carefully selected terms will eventually rub off.  And I guess I admit that this one is not a big deal to me at all, we call them "first mom and dad" sometimes too...for that is really what they were.  I have personally never really cared for "birth mom and dad" as that sounds too impersonal for someone created and who carried my child for 9 months in their womb, but I use it because the politically correct crowd seems to think that is the "best" terminology.
Rule #7 -  Please, please, please don't forget bio dads.  They were part of the equation too, and often it is confusing (and again, in my opinion, unfair) to exclude the other half of the creating parents.  How do you KNOW birth dad didn't want to keep your child?  How do you KNOW dad wasn't in a lot of emotional pain at the relinquishment of his child?  I HATE that everyone always only talks about the birth mom, as if she was a saint and birth dad didn't even exist.  That is plain old rotten, dismissive and robs our kids of another person in their life who just might have loved them deeply, contrary to popular public opinion today that seems to rate Dads somewhere between unimportant and mere sperm donor.
Rule #8 - RELAX - We parents make a bigger deal out of it than the kids do, as is the case on most issues, attachment problems or otherwise.  We love them, they most often love us or will eventually grow to.  Families share, families talk, don't be afraid or uncomfortable, it is part of who you are together.  If you wouldn't be uncomfortable talking about driving to the hospital and how long your labor was, why would you be uncomfortable talking about adoption?
It's the same thing...and yet it isn't...and some of you will understand me saying that.
That's all I can think of for now.  You probably shouldn't have asked Lindsey, and I know that the vast majority of readers will be offended or angry.  The main thing, guys, is just do it.  Talk about it, don't make it off is only adoption, for goodness sake...
Love your kids, share with your kids, rejoice with your kids in how your family was formed, cry with them over the losses, be open to conversation and embrace every question and every tear that is shed.
You'll all be better for it.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Cyndi, someday I would love to hear how you came to this wisdom. Did you articulate these rules at some point or just now put them into words. I think I will have to go back and talk to my kids (42 and 43) about their birth. They have probably heard parts, but I don't think I ever shared it with them. "First mom and first dad", I like that phrase. (I also like refering to my sister's partner as my brother-in-love. Sensitivity requires a sensitive vocabulary).

Thanks for sharing,

Lindsay said...

Thanks a million.

I've always told Hannah 'when you were adopted' etc so the word has always been there, but I only just recently began mentioning to her that she grew in someone else's tummy. She has asked why and I explained that mine is broken. I've also told her that her sister-to-be will be growing inside another lady.

Her comment this evening: I couldn't have grown inside someone else's tummy. It's not hygienic.


I'm still not sure how to approach with her the fact that her mother chose not to keep her. There are a lot of fears and trauma coming out in her sleep at the moment (I'm trying to arrange some therapy which isn't so easy here) and I'm afraid if I raise the issue it could make it worse. But then if she is feeling the memories of the abandonment, maybe it will help.

Darn. Where is the magic wand?

Thanks again for sharing.

Kelly and Sne said...

Very good advice. I have already started talking to my 2yearold about the fact that "we are so happy we met him in Kazakhstan", etc. I even told him about that he has 2 mothers. And, I will have to admit, he looked at me kinda weird, I'm sure thinking "but you're my Mommy" (even though I explained it to him). So it'll be interesting to see what is to come.

Great that you feel like your family is making lots of bonding progress. BTW, after taking domestic trains in Russia, just a few words of advice: Be extra cautious about your personal safety and belongings (make sure your rooms are next to each other and split the parents up and one stay with each group of kids), while crime isn't necessarily rampant, it does happen and there can be lots of drinking going on on the trains. Make sure you take all you will need to eat and drink during the trip and a little extra in case you are delayed (especially water as they crank the heat this time of year). They sometimes sell stuff but you may not want to ingest it. Finally, bring toilet paper, stuff to put on the toilet seat, etc. Perhaps a little "kit" to avoid using the toilets/bathrooms at all if needed. They are not very sanitary to begin with and especially after a night with drunk people using them they become quite disgusting. Don't let that deter you, however, as it may turn out to be much better than this worse case scenario. And, even with the issues, it is still a great way to travel and one that we have considered ourselves in Kaz.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Cindy - I do believe that while we came by our kids in a different manner, that we really do think alike. When our son asked where he came from, my husband answered, "From Mommy's tummy. Honey, show him the scar." So, there and then I dropped trou for the four year old and showed him the c-section scar and how the doctor cut me open to get at him. He took it in stride. If we are matter of fact about things, so is he... Later from Vegas.

Kelly and Sne said...


Our dossier for #2 finally made it to the consulate in December after a year's worth of delays. With no new news to report, I started looking through old posts that I wrote or copied but didn't publish. I ran across one that you posted on the 10 lessons learned and I would like to re-post on my blog (giving credit where it is due). Do you mind? The lessons really resonated with me.

Anonymous said...

In our home, we say adoption is another word for blessing. There are many good ways to approach various issues surrounding adoption, but I think a positive attitude and openness will always work. I agree with Cindy that being relaxed is important also, as the kids will pick up on your vibes. Keeping communication open, in general, helps also.

Peggy in Virginia

Christina Müller said...

Dear Cindy

I follow your blog quite a while. I am swiss, and my english isnt very good. But anyway I try to leave a comment, which I have on my heart. First I want to thank you so much for sharing your and your families life/adventure in that warm and wise way. You are a gifted person how you write, how you share your thoughts.
In fact I want to let you know that I appreciate your stand about the anger, how you deal with it and with the children. Finally someone who name it!!
We can not "overjump" these feelings in dealing terrible things happen to us. If we do, the anger will take his own way to come out of us in different kind of ways, physically,
psychially....It will never stop remembering us. So we have to bear it, to endure it, go threw it and this is the hard part but it opens us the door for a next step, where Gods healing can start. This was my experience too. Christian people often told me to forgive my parents, what ever they have done to me. So I felt always guilty, when I was not able to do so. But God is also present in our anger. So I was so thankful one day years ago for that person, who said this, like you, Cindy, do: it is normal and you have a "right", that you feel angry and sad about what happened. It was such a help to me to have a someone, who then stood right beside me and bear the anger,the sadness, all that happened to me, with me. It changed my life.
God is good!

I wish you much courage and strength from God for your journey as a family of seven!

Greetings of love Christina

Anonymous said...

Of course feeling the anger to move through it is totally understandable. 'Entitled' though? Not really... nobody actually earns the rights to an emotion so ultimately toxic. When someone claims a right to anger, they're already kind of wallowing in it. But the overall goal of feeling it, experiencing it, then getting over it to be the most help to your daughters is certainly laudable.

As an aside, I've commented in the past and unlike the majority of commenters in here, if I read something that I disagree with, I'll just comment away. One thing I'm sure we have in common is not having a shortage of people gushing about what 'angels of mercy' we are for simply creating our families in alternative ways, in this case, adoption. Like you said in this post - 'If you can ever take something I share and use it, fine'. I do have my own perspective, and even though I have children who are unique individuals, sometimes there are issues that rise above any differences we all have and are pretty universal. Having said that, I hope you don't lump me in the extreme group you mentioned who would say, 'What a loser, what an idiot!' Far, far from it and believe me, since my children are younger than yours, I pay attention very closely and admire how you have handled many issues that we will undoubtedly experience in the years to come. But c'mon... you write a LOT of posts :-) You gotta know there will be things people will look at and say 'Huh?' :-) . Seriously though, your journey on here has been very cool to check out and I wish you and your family only the best. Take care.

Cathy from Montrose said...

Cindy - Your wisdom reminds me of growing up with my adopted cousins. At first when I learned they were adopted (they were older), I felt bad for them. But then one day one of my cousins informed me that they were specially chosen to be part of our family. I thought it was cool and really never felt I had any advantage after that. I guess I know my medical history better but that is about it :-)

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

Excellent discourse!! Sometimes we think we're going to scrape by without all those questions and not have to deal with it ever, and then surprise, one day, the questions come and they don't stop. It's not much fun when some of them are horror stories, is it? We have to tell them, though, that this should not touch them, because on Christ the solid rock we stand!! HE is our true adopted Father and He's the one we must try to emulate-move on, move forward, in HIM!!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love, love, love the advice you have shared! Advice that was asked of you from a blogger. I think it is worth a reminder that this blog, although so kindly shared with all of us, is for your children, your family, an incredible record of lives joined together, love winning. It is not about me or anyone else - it is about you, Dominick and your children. I read your blog because I know you, I love you, and I have learned soooo much from you! I read your blog because you have been so gracious to allow me into your world, because you write so well and it is better than any book I may choose to read! It never crosses my mind to agree with you or disagree with you. This is, well, just YOU, Dominick, Matt, Josh, Kenny, Angela and Olesya! This is your story. An awesome story! One more thing - I believe all feelings need to be acknowledged and validated. Any feeling can become toxic if not embraced in a healthy manner - even love. Again, thanks so much for putting your heart, your life, your husband and children out here for us to love.
Miss Joan

Truly Blessed said...

Hi Cyndi,

I'm Kelly (aka Truly Blessed) & I popped over here from Lindsay's blog and am SO glad I did!

This post is so from-the-heart and so worth reading, I'd love to put it on my blog, may I do so? The tips you put in are something I need to read again (and probably again and again!) as we help our daughter's work through their adoption stories (3 & 4, adopted from China in 2006 & 2008). They're very young now and I want to have this handy so that I can access it often.

You have a beautiful family!

My email address & one of my blog addresses can be found through my profile. Thanks!