Spring 2002 Issue
REFLECTIONS OF ADULTS WHO WERE ADOPTED
Laura Ellman, LSW
In March of 2002, a panel of three adults who were adopted as children spoke with Adopt-A-Child’s pre- and post-adoption groups. The goal of the presentation was to offer parents of adopted children the chance to learn from the reflections and life experiences of adults who were adopted.
Our speakers included Lisa and Cobi, 50 and 26 years old respectively, who were both adopted domestically as infants, and Sarah, 18 years old, who was adopted from Korea at 4 months of age.
Each panelist spoke individually about their childhood and how they believed that their adoptions affected them as children and adults. Following their talks, the group had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions.
Lisa began the discussion by describing her childhood in the 1950’s and 60’s. She said that her parents were very positive and open when discussing adoption within the family. Lisa learned that she was adopted when her younger sister joined the family through adoption. She remembers being referred to as a “chosen baby” and being told that “she grew under her Mom’s heart” rather than in her belly. She stated that in her family there was a “positive adoption environment”. It was not “focused upon” nor was it ignored.
Lisa said that she does not resemble either her mother or her sister, and people frequently asked questions like “How could you be the mother of such a big girl? Who does Lisa look like?” She recalled that these types of comments were painful, especially because her sister and mother looked so much alike. She said that her mother would reply to such inquiries with wit and humor, but did not feel obligated to provide personal information. Lisa added, “Silly questions do not always deserve a solid answer”.
Lisa is the mother of four biological children and she said that two of her three daughters also have no physical features in common. She told the story about one of her daughters who, in an angry outburst, shouted “The reason you are so mean to me is because I’m adopted”. She remembered saying the same thing to her mother when she was growing up. Lisa said that it wasn’t until she was an adult that she learned that such scenarios can be present in families with both adopted or biological children.
Cobi said that he did not remember when he learned that he was adopted, but does remember the adoption of his younger sister when he was 4 1/2. He said that he and his parents are a “perfect match” in personality, interests and looks. He said that he has many adopted relatives and friends, so “adoption has never been a very big deal” to him. Cobi said that when he was growing up, his parents would answer his adoption related questions in an open manner and he never felt afraid to bring it up. He stated, “When I asked a question, they answered. My adoption was such a positive thing; my life turned out so much better in my family”.
Sarah said that she is the youngest of three children in her family and that her two older siblings were not adopted. She explained that “my mother wanted a girl, so my parents decided to adopt”. Sarah was raised in a diverse community and has several cousins who were adopted, which have helped her to feel comfortable with her own adoption. When Sarah was in middle school she was the only Asian student in her school and she began to “realize that I’m different”. She said that it didn’t make her feel bad because “everyone was always so nice to me”.
When asked if they had tried to locate their biological parents, Sarah answered that since she was adopted internationally, there is no real information about them. She said that when she asked about them, her mother showed her all of the adoption papers that she had. Sarah commented, “Whatever you have to share with your child may be enough as long as it is told with honesty”.
Lisa said that she did not look for her birth family because she knew that it would have been painful for her mother. She acknowledged that she can feel a sense that something is missing when she wonders about her biological family, and thinks this may be similar to the loss that her mother’s infertility may have caused her to feel. She remembers feeling protective towards her mother following the birth of her oldest child for this reason.
Cobi said that he does not want to locate his biological parents, but he knows their ages, nationalities and where they lived when he was born. He said “I do not want to disrupt their lives. I love my life and it turned out this way for a reason”.
Other questions included how much adoption information to share with teachers, how to handle “Family Tree” assignments, and whether to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption. The consensus was that parents do not need to inform school personnel, but most children share that information at some point, especially when they are in elementary school. Lisa said that she always completed her “Family Tree” with her adoptive family’s information and left it at that. She added that it is a relief not to know which inherited illnesses may be lurking in her future. Sarah said that she looked forward to celebrating the anniversary of her adoption when she was younger, but as a young adult, a card from her parents is sufficient.
In closing, panelists offered the following suggestions: “The most important thing for parents is to love your child, treat them like all other children and answer their questions with honesty. Do not think that your kids will stop loving you if you set limits and provide the structure that children need to feel loved and safe”.
An adoption will affect every individual differently, and even the children of the most well-intentioned and sensitive parents may struggle at times with the fact of their adoptions. The experiences of our panelists suggest that if parents can reach a comfort level when discussing adoption, share available information at age appropriate times and allow open communication within the family, their children’s attitudes may reflect this atmosphere and positively impact how they view their adoption.
One child had asked if the two adopted girls in the story were real sisters. And the teacher had answered, “they’re kind of sisters.” It’s possible that no one except my daughter picked up on the subtext of that answer. But some kids catch all the nuances when grownups talk about adoption. Mine has her radar fine-tuned. She heard that the teacher wasn’t sure just how “real” those sisters were...
I explained that sometimes grownups not in adoptive families aren’t always good at answering questions about adoption. What’s confusing, I explained, is that before Zoe was adopted, she and Betty weren’t sisters, but from the moment of adoption on, they were sisters forever. And by the way, would she like me to come talk to the class about adoption next week?
... I was nervous about talking to the class, so I asked several parents who’d done it before for some suggestions. Then I talked with my daughter... She has a doll named Emma who was made to look like her when she was one year old. “Let’s dress Emma in my orphanage clothes,” she said, “and we can talk about Emma’s adoption.”
And that’s what we did. The class loved it, and everyone wanted to hold the “baby.” My daughter was a participant in the discussion rather than the subject of it, which really pleased her.
We talked first about different types of families, how some look alike and some don’t... Together we made two lists on the blackboard. On one side the children named things that babies need: diapers, bottles, food clothes, hugs, love and so on. On the other side they listed what parents do: change, diaper, give medicine. None of the first graders said anything about being born. At the top of the parents’ list I added a crucial part of every child’s story: babies need parents to bring them into the world.
You have to be careful how you talk about birth with first graders. At this age there’s a wide range of knowledge about procreation... One boy in the class insisted that babies come from the earth... I redirected the discussion. I wasn’t there to teach the birds and the bees.
Once we had our lists of what babies need and what parents do, I moved on to adoption.
I told them to remember that adoption happens for grownup reasons and that the need for adoption is never, ever a child’s fault. Birth parents sometimes have big problems (like being too young to be parents or in some parts of the world, being afraid to break rules about how many children they can have)... I put a circle around “bring babies into the world.” I picked up Emma, the doll, and said, “Emma’s birth parents could bring her into the world, but they didn’t think they could do all those other things,” and I pointed to the long list of things babies need and parents do.
“Emma’s forever parents,” I explained, “adopted her because they wanted to do all those other things for her. But they didn’t do the first thing: they didn’t bring her into the world. So Emma has two sets of real parents: her birth parents, who are certainly real even if we don’t know who they are, and her forever parents, who are also real and who are part of her real forever family.”
I don’t know if it was the doll or the lists, but for most of the kids something clicked. They were excited to understand something concrete about adoption, and my daughter was proud of the whole thing... When the other adopted child in the class had her special day, no one asked about adoption. They knew enough for now.
What worked here may not work for your child. It may not even work for mine next year, when new questions and concerns arise. We can’t deal with the issue once and consider it done, because understanding adoption is a lifelong process. We need to keep communication open with our children so we know (or can make educated guesses about) what issues are coming up in school and can help them, their friends, and their teachers develop greater awareness and understanding of adoption.”
From the Director’s Desk: Sonia Girel
Our annual Adopt-A-Child Spring reunion at the Pittsburgh Zoo was enjoyed by all with over 400 parents and children enjoying the animals, refreshments and one another’s company. We thank everyone who attended as we always look forward to visiting with you and your children.
We continue to be very active with our Russian adoption programs. In addition to working in St. Petersburg Region and Moscow, we have returned to Rostov, a city which is a 90 minute flight from Moscow. We work in several orphanages in Rostov and neighboring Taganrogd and have consistently been impressed with the quality of care that the children living there receive. Officials in Rostov allow referrals of infants as young as 6 months of age which has led many of our families to choose to adopt from this region.
Save August 25, 2002 on your calendar for our Adopt-A-Child’s Annual summer picnic, hosted and planned by our Parent Network Committee. Please call our office if you are able to assist the Committee with any aspect of the picnic.
HOW TO ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD’S LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
TIPS FOR LEARNING LANGUAGE AT HOME
Diann D. Grimm, M.A., C.C.C., Ed.S.
How parents respond to their child’s efforts to communicate is very important. Children learn best when they are encouraged to try and praised when they succeed. When parents accept their child’s attempts to speak, the child wants to keep trying. To improve, the child must keep talking!
1. BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER.
Let your child know that you are listening. Show your sincere interest. Get down to the child’s eye level and look at her. Listen to her tone of voice. Notice the expressions of her face, body and hands. These will all be clues to help you understand your child’s message. Let her know that the message is important to you.
Every parent has times when it is impossible to be an active listener. At those times, let your child know that you are just too busy to talk and tell him that you will talk later.
2. LET YOUR CHILD TALK WITHOUT INTERRUPTIONS.
Because children are just learning our complex language, it may take them a long time to put their thoughts in to words. If your child feels rushed, his language attempts may be unsuccessful, resulting in a bad experience. Try to set up family rules about whose turn it is to “take the floor”.
3. REWARD YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH ATTEMPTS.
Reward your child’s attempts to speak even if you don’t understand everything she says. You can give reinforcement in several ways, including:
Verbal — “Good; Nice talking; I like the way you use that new word”
Natural Consequences — Child: “Ju!”
Parent: “You want juice!” as you give him juice.
4. IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, HELP YOUR CHILD TO COMMUNICATE.
Try to understand one word of your child’s remark. Use that word to ask your child to try again. Ask your child to show you. Have your child point to what he is talking about. Ask yes / no questions. For example, “Do you want juice? Do you want milk?”
5. GIVE YOUR CHILD ENOUGH TIME TO RESPOND TO YOU.
You should not assume that your child will be ready to respond as soon as you finish talking. If your child is unable to respond, repeat your remark. It will take a lot of patience on your part to wait and repeat if necessary, but it will improve your daily communications with your child.
6. WHEN YOUR CHILD MAKES A SOUND OR WORD ERROR, USE FEEDBACK.
Child: “Look, Daddy’s tar!”
Parent: “That’s Daddy’s car. We can ride in his car.”
Feedback means giving the correct use of your child’s word. It is not necessary to ask your child to repeat the corrected form. This allows you to avoid “correcting” your child’s speech and language. Your child needs to associate language development with good experiences.
7. DECREASE THE PRESSURE PLACED ON YOUR CHILD TO TALK.
Placing too much pressure on your child to talk can result in a frustrating experience for both of you. Limit the number of activities to be done at one time. It may be too difficult for your child to talk and play with toys at the same time.
Avoid making your child perform in front of others. If you want to show Grandpa how your child can count, count together.
8. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT OF YOUR CHILD.
Help your child to communicate within the range of his ability. Get clear, specific information from your child’s doctor or language clinician about what to expect from your child. If you have a good idea of what your child can and cannot do, you will not demand too much, or accept less. Knowing this information will save frustration for both you and your child.