Monday, 18 April 2016

talking about adoption


Some of that wild garlic is in my tummy. It was delicious in a risotto.







It has been a while since I shared thoughts on adoption.  If you are a new reader, you may not know that we have two birth children (Sam and Annie), and two adopted children (James and Alistair). We have been together for over four years now and I don't often think about adoption these days. I am a mother most of all.

Having said that, we do need to make a conscious effort to talk about all things adoption with James and Alistair as their experiences prior to living with us are part of their life story. I am am also convinced that I owe this to their birth parents, who whilst they have been unable to provide a safe, caring and stable environment for their boys are by no means villains, but individuals who have themselves had (childhood) experiences that you would not want to wish onto anyone. We do write regular letters to them (which have not been passed on by the adoption liaison officer until last November, as we found out recently. I do hope he has been sacked)

Our adoption agency runs peer group meetings for future, new and 'veteran' adopters. I like to go whenever I can as I found it very useful during the adoption process to have somebody 'who's done it' to talk to about their experiences and I like to give back some of the kindness we have experienced during this period full of anxiety and stress. I have to be honest, it was not all joy and happiness, although there was that, too.

The most recent meeting was about how to talk to your children about adoption. It was interesting, there were many different approachess. Some seemed a bit formal, like 'lets sit down and talk about adoption'. Other parents were avoiding the subject altogether and now struggle to catch up with reality. Others still, seem to talk about adoption an awful lot. In any case, it is not optional, but one of the duties we took on when we adopted our two monkeys. Personally, I like the slapdash approach we take most. Of course I would.

We (we being mostly me)  talk about it in an opportunistic way, for example when watching a family movie. Elf is great to initiate a chat about adoption for example (and of being different for that matter), if you wish to, and there are many other films with an adoption theme. We are happy to answer questions as and when the arise, just as we do when it comes to other 'difficult' subjects, 'where do children come from' for example. I don't push it but sometimes I might mention something in passing, maybe 'you look just like your tummy mummy' or something like it. I don't want to burden James and Alistair with stuff that they are too young to comprehend and it is not easy to explain why they were taken into care without actually saying why. I choose to say that their birth parents couldn't keep them safe and that they found it difficult to even look after themselves, let alone after two little boys. To be honest, I don't think they care all that much at the moment and that's ok. But of course as they get older and start wondering about the ways of life, they will probably be more curious about their origins, and their life story. We'll be ready when they are ready.

We have a birth family album for both boys, and one from their foster family, too. James and Alistair are full brothers, if you were wondering. The birth family album is full of happy photographs taken during supervised visits. It is a bit strange and disconcerting seeing everybody so happy, considering the circumstances. I have worried that James and Alistair might start questioning this but so far, they haven't. All their albums are sharing a space with our own pre-adoption family albums. They are on a love shelve, easily accessible for anyone who fancies looking at photos. I want James and Alistair to feel it is normal to be adopted, just as normal as it is to remain with birth family. I want them to talk talk about adoption with friends and teachers, should they want to. There are so many different kinds of family now that all is normal. I know not everybody shares this (liberal?) view but in my mind, a family is a group of two or more individuals, more or less related (if at all), who love each other and choose a life together. I guess it is a bit like my quilt, a bit random, a bit matching but not completely and beautiful as a whole.

Don't get me wrong, not all is grand it our patchwork family. We all have our own strength and weaknesses, a sum of our individual and collective history. My two youngsters are sweet, loving and well adjusted. They also have tantrums and are sometimes not very nice at all. It would be easy to claim all the good bits and blame the 'bad' on the the neglect they suffered as infants but of course it is much more complicated than that.

I'll maybe talk about this another time, if you like. I would be very interested in your views on how to talk about adoption with your child. Please do share if you like. Maybe you are an adopter? Maybe you were adopted? 

Anyway, better stop procrastinating and get on with my job. Have a lovely week. xx

26 comments:

  1. A fascinating post Christina. I think you have a very healthy attitude to family and how wonderful James and Alistair are part of your open and loving family group. I have a friend who was adopted, admittedly many years ago, and she never told her own children until they were in their late teens which I always felt was such a mistake. It shouldn't be something to be ashamed about.

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  2. An interesting post. I've often wondered as I read your blog what your 2 older children felt about adoption, were they involved in the decision to adopt?
    Not just idle curiosity. Many years ago my Mother-in-law, who was the mother of 4 boys, wanted to adopt a girl and had started the process when her oldest son, who was about 15. pitched a fit and told her he would hate it. So she stopped the process, but I think she always regretted it. I wondered if there hadn't been some way to make her son understand.

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    1. My two older ones were involved from the beginning, in fact even before we found our agency we talked about adopting. They had many chats with our social worker, sometimes on their own, in case they didn't want to share with us and sometimes we had family chats. Still, they were as anxious as we were and we made a great effort to make time for them, individually and together, so they would not feel left out, particularly during the first few months. They were quite a bit younger than your friends son, who at 15 maybe struggled with the transition from child to young man.

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  3. An interesting post Christina & how wonderful it has all worked out for you all. I admire your honesty with all of your children. xx

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  4. Before I suddenly got the maternal urge at the age of 30 to actually bear a child (and we had our daughter), I was always interested in adoption. However, I was always curious about the talking about it part (with the child), especially if the birth parents are still sort of in the picture. Now that I have my own child, I am curious about the interactions and feelings between the birth child and the adopted child. Perhaps adults think about things (and worry) more than kids do? I think your open approach to it is very sensible and practical and your quilt metaphor is lovely.

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    1. I do sometimes wonder if I was overthinking everything a little. I still do. We worried initially that our birth children would fee left out in the early stages of placement because like a new baby, a new child (or two!) is hard work and it is emotionally difficult to share all those feelings and worries, and have enough emotional energy left for everybody. I think my older children's biggest worry was that they might not like their new little brothers, or vice versa. Very quickly a normal sibling routine (as between Sam and Annie) developed. Well, as far as I can tell. Now, there is always an argument or two going in my house, between one or the other child but there is also plenty of affection and love.

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  5. My only experience of adopted children was when I was at school there were three adopted children in my class and it was all talked about quite openly by everyone in the school. This was in the 70s when there was a real stigma about being adopted, I am quite sure that my school was determined to ensure that we all viewed it as postive for the children and that they had a family and were no different to anyone else.

    I am sure that your adoption journey has been a really difficult one. I really admire you and your family for giving James and Alistair a safe and loving home to grow up in. I am glad to hear that you receive continuing support.

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    1. I have to say that our adoption agency is amazing, we have all the support we need and even now that we have been officially 'discharged', we can call anytime and there are support groups and gathering organised for parents and children regularly. There are movie afternoons and crafty afternoons and there is even playgroup for the very little ones.

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  6. I don't have any personal experience of adoption but do I have friends who have adopted a child. I am full of admiration – I know it can be hugely difficult, especially if there are birth children to consider, but it can also bring great joy. It's good that you have a support network as I'm sure it's reassuring to discuss your experience with others. Your approach sounds like the one that I'd try to take if I were in your shoes Christina. Sam x

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  7. Hey Christina,
    I love the picture of family as a patchwork quilt. Having had the pleasure of meeting your family last year, I was struck by how very connected all the children were together. They were just very 'normal' with each other; which I guess is all that anyone can hope for. I think that you and your husband have a fabulous approach to child rearing. It is inclusive, honest and open. And full of love, which is the most important thing. Apart from a sense of humour and broad shoulders ;)
    This was a really interesting post. Thank you for sharing.
    Leanne xx

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    1. You make me blush, Leanne. I do my best (which is far from perfect) and Richard and I are a good team, which helps. xx

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  8. I appreciate that you discuss the adoption here, Christina. I think you could be a very good resource for families adapting to adoptive situations. From what you share here, it seems to me that your family is very normal, for better or worse. Like any siblings, I'm sure your kids love each other sometimes and can't stand each other at other times, and I'm sure there's both good days and bad days for everyone. I think that's the sign that you're doing it well, actually. No family is picture perfect. I admire you for adopting children, I just want you to know that. I always wished for a larger family but it was not in the cards for me. I know I could adopt but I have never had the courage to pursue it. I think you're doing a wonderful job.

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    1. You know, I thought about adoption for a long time before I even brought it up with my husband. Then, one afternoon I googled agencies whilst I was bored at work and picked up the phone, just like that. I didn't think about it for one second and it terrifying. I could barely talk but I was lucky, I had found the perfect agency. We had two social work visit and a four day course before we had to decide if it was the right thing for us.

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  9. What a lovely post Christina. It seems as though you are very open and relaxed as a family, the very best parents imaginable. Families come together in all sorts of different ways and it's lovely when it all works out. CJ xx

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  10. What an amazing post Christina! It intrigues me too - as my brother and his wife have been unable to have kids of their own and they have been talking more about foster care and potential option more recently. My brother is finishing up in the military and their life will allow for an easier next family step. Thanks for sharing your story and your honesty. Such great info and ideas.

    Blessings on your week ahead. xoxo

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  11. A very thought provoking post. What lucky individuals your two adoptive boys are. I always feel the most important thing in life is to talk about issues and that's exactly what you are doing. It sounds like you will be ready and there for them at every stage of their journey. B x

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  12. I thank you so much for this post as I have read it with a special interest. We talk about adoption all the time but Little Buddy has no idea what that is right now, he is just happy to be in this family. We see his foster family at regular intervals and so he is still in their lives, I am sure it is all a bit confusing to his little mind, but when he is ready to ask questions I will answer them honestly.
    Thank you,
    Meredith

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    1. My younger one finds things a little confusing, too and I don't think he is bothered one way or another just yet. x

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  13. What a great post, you really are one truly rounded individual. I have taught adopted children and there are always questions but I think you just have to answer them at the point of asking, as kindly and honestly as is approriate for their age. The word Family comes from the root word of familiar - a bunch of people who are all familiar with each other which is just what you have described. Jo x

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  14. This was an interesting read Christina. I didn't know you had two adopted children, but I loved hearing how you have made up a beautiful family with all your kids. My brother and his wife adopted two boys as babies from Korea. They're now 11 and 9. When the first baby was brought home, I remember discussing with my brother afterwards that I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't feel like his son was truly family. Thankfully it was love at first sight, for both me and even my own two kids. With being honest with my brother, he opened up and admitted he was worried for the same reasons, but it never was an issue. My kids love their cousins very much, and we all feel they are very much a part of our family. His kids have thrown the "you're not my parents" at him during some angry spats, but these issues are immediately discussed and the kids know they are well loved. There are quite a few mixed families at their school, and there was a group of fellow parents who had adopted from Korea that met regularly in the beginning which everyone found very helpful with questions anyone had. It was a really rough road for my brother and his wife before finding these two boys. They were in line to adopt two times previously, but both times the birth parents changed their minds. At times they were ready to chuck it all in, but I'm so glad they continued their search and finally came to be with these two great kids.
    Wendy
    Wendy

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    1. I was worried that I might not fall in love with the boys but the moment we saw them, this worry evaporated. Plenty other worries remained but I have come to understand that these are not different from the worries I have about my birth children. I am happy for your brother's family. x

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  15. I almost missed this, Christina, but am so glad to have found it now. Adoption was something my husband and I wanted to do whether or not we had children naturally. As God worked things out, we adopted a baby boy and a year later a six year old boy, then later had two daughters naturally. The adoptions were over 40 years ago. While we were vetted by social workers, today it seems to me that much more training is available for folks who adopt. We just did the best we could to be open and loving with the boys although neither of them had the opportunity for contact with their birth parents and we just exchanged one letter with the birth mother of the baby. Like you we [mostly me, I think] casually but intentionally made reference to the boys heritage, when natural questions or circumstances arose...affirming that the boys had always been loved.

    While we were not perfect parents, as adults all of our children told us they knew we loved them as best we could, and they appreciated our efforts. Interestingly with one child just recently I discovered that something that had been said to them, they had negatively interpreted and wrestled with for years. Now they were able to talk to me about it we were able to clarify the meaning of what had been said and there is fresh opportunity for forgiveness and positive growth.

    If you want to type further with me about this, my email address is grayseasailor at gmail.com.
    I am happy for you and your family and wish you the best! :) xx

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    1. How wonderful Gracie, I really love to read this story and I am glad you look back with a happy mind. Being a perfect parent is impossible, but doing our best, that is possible. I am very pleased that you were able to talk to your now adult child and that you have been able to resolve an issue that was a problem or your child for a long time. This is actually truly amazing. I struggle with aspects of my own childhood but I am not at a point where I can make a fresh start. Maybe later. I am really grateful we had such amazing support from our agency, still do if we need it. The preparation groups were long and difficult, the vetting process even longer.
      Thanks for your email address, I'll be in touch over the weekend. x

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  16. One of the first posts I ever read on your blog was about adoption, I think I had clicked on it from your category list, and I was amazed and fascinated by what I read. Before we had our own children, I was having trouble getting pregnant, and we began very tentatively to think about adoption. What struck me at the time was how few babies are now adopted, and the majority of children come from homes where the birth parents have been unable to provide safe homes. I was processing that information and wondering how I would ever cope with ongoing involvement with the birth family of a potentially adopted child, when I fell pregnant. At that point we stopped thinking about adoption. As a parent now of almost 17 years, I realise that every child, and every family, has issues they need to consider with the utmost care, and choose how /when to talk about. It may be adoption, divorce, bereavement, terminal illness, sexuality, bullying, mental health issues and many other issues (though hopefully not all at once!). Derek and I tend to choose a variety of approaches, sometimes a 'we need to chat to you about something' and sometimes an opportunistic approach, like your example of 'Elf'. I greatly admire you and Richard for taking such a bold step. Your family sounds like any other family to me, and I mean that as the biggest compliment I can give! X

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  17. You are so right Penny, every family has issues they need to consider and choose when to talk about and how. Adoption is really only a small part of our bag of issues now, for which I am grateful as there is plenty of other important issues as the children grow up to be young adults. Thank you for sharing your story about potentially adopting. I wondered for a long time how I would feel about having the birth parents living alongside (not literally of course) but this, too, is now a natural part of life. We only have letterbox contact and it is nice to be able to provide at least some comfort with regular updates. I hope it is not more pain but I try not to think about this as I can't change the arrangements anyway. Thank you for the lovely compliment. x

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  18. I too love the family as a quilt analogy. No two are the same and that's how it should be x your's sounds like a lovely one to be part of x

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Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx