Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Honesty is the best policy -- especially in adoption. I got another lesson in that this weekend. As I've been reading and mulling over our own adoption, I've been thinking about my sister (an adult adoptee from a closed, domestic adoption in the '70's). My parents happened to visit (a rare occurrance as there's a continent in between us). They were telling me that my sister, after being reunited with her birth mother a few years ago, had stopped contacting her.

It happened that my sister called during the visit. I was interested to talk to her about her feelings on adoption. Before I could even ask a question, I was surprised that she offered that she was in weekly contact with her birthmother, but did not want to tell my parents. My heart sank immediately. The lies and deception (going in both directions) which have defined her relationship with my parents had not gone anywhere. Unwilling to resume my teenage role as the person caught in the middle, I told her that while I supported her connection with her birthmother, I didn't want to keep her secrets.

She continued, telling me that was resentful that our parents didn't welcome the relationship, and that her birthmother had been writing letters (never given to my sister) since my sister was 13. I remember the letters and the chaos they caused. I also remember that my parents did not share the information with my sister and, instead, told the birthmother to respect our family.

While my parents constantly told her she was adopted, they also went to great lengths, mostly motivated by their own ego, to prevent her from discovering or exploring her own biological origins. Since she was constantly told that she is not bio, (which is fine), but NOT allowed to discover her biological family, then, I feel, she was put in a position of always feelling "less than". These are my feelings, not hers.

I was 17 and about to go to college when the first letter came. I thought at the time that the letter was HERS and that it was, at best, a mistake and, at worst, a cruelty not to give it to her.

At the same time, I understand my parents motivation -- to be THE PARENTS. Especially now, I "get" that impulse. However, for the good of the child, that impulse should be fought against, and, as an adoptive parent, you must fight to have your heart open to another family, for the good of the child. My parents are still fundamentally incapable of this, seeing any relationship with the bio family as a betrayal and a sign of disrespect.

Adoption or no, they are big on blind obedience. Tragically, the more they pushed, the more our family deteriorated.

Throughout her childhood and teen years, my sister caused a tremendous amount of havok, each year of her life more disruptive than the one before, locking horns with my parents in a battle of wills that continues to this day, when everyone is definitely old enough to know better.

My sister told me that, although she well remembers her life-book (which did not mention anything prior to her adoption into our family), and knew she was adopted, she didn't "get it" until a science class in Jr. High, in which she learned, "about the x-chromosome and the y-chromosome and all that stuff" (to use her words). "That's when I realized -- I don't have anything to do with these people." These people being my parents.

She never mentioned this at the time, as I recall, but, evidently, this was an element in her pulling away, as she tells it now.

I entered into the conversation with a Pollyanna-ish view that, somehow, I could use the knowledge I've been trying to amass to help "fix" my family's situation. My nascent idea smacked up against reality. For the reasons above and others I choose not to share (having little to do with the adoption), I realize this is not possible, and any attempt will only result in me and my family being dragged into their dysfunctional relationship -- smashing through years of carefully-structured boundaries.

This situation factored into my initial reluctance to adopt. It also entirely motivates this blog. With the help of my wife, I've realized that I cannot undo the past. What I need to do is convince myself that, through more honest and empthathetic parenting, I can AVOID REPEATING THE PAST.

I'm at a bit of a low ebb. I'm hoping this launches a lively discussion between ADOPTEES and ADOPTING FAMILIES. I really look forward to anyone else's experiences and insights.


-Samantha- said...

Thanks for posting something so personal. I think that transparency is always the best policy. Our daughters will grow up knowing they came to our families through the wonderful gift of adoption. In order for them to avoid inadequacies, they need to know they were wanted and loved by their mothers and fathers in Ethiopia but, due to circumstances our of their parent's control, and because of their great love for their children, they chose to entrust them to equally loving parents in a different part of the world.

Brian (dad to 3) said...

Can we assume that your family doesn't know about this blog?

We have it (relatively) easy, compared with some people I've talked to, but it's still an almost daily struggle to balance your children having two sets of parents even when there's no (age appropriate) secrets.

Swerl said...

Thanks for the comments!

Samantha, I agree.

Brian -- I'd love to know in what way it's been a struggle. Care to share more?

As for my family, yes, they don't know about the blog. Another commenter urged me to do more "personal" posts, when the intent of this blog has always been to provide a safe place to discuss ways in which race and culture impact our particular stripe of transracial adoption. This was a bit of an experiment, and, judging from the lack of response, (with your and Samatha's appreciated exception), I think I'm going to veer the blog back to it's original vision.

I don't have a big enough family to require the prototypical "update" blog. This blog is for me to explore areas of parenting where my parents have already shown a lack success, and, more damning, a lack of interest in making changes.

I need to plot a new course for my own family, and, if in my own efforts, I help someone else, that's fantastic.

I'm benefitting from stimulating discussions. I hope you are, too. Thanks for commenting!