Adoption: Children, puppies & kittens

Upfront disclosurer:
This is both personal and professional for me.
Before anything else I am a mother through adoption. After that I am a play therapist who has worked with children while still in care and post placement in their adoptive families. I have worked with adoptees and their families for reasons that are not adoption related in the initial referral but where dealing with issues relating to their adoption story changes behaviours, or for other clients, it’s a part of their story but has little to do with why I have the honour of being in their world for a season.

This is being written in response to being asked by a few different people how I feel when people use the analogy of pet adoption for the adoption of children.  

When we when we initiated our adoption process there were a couple of themes that emerged:
– That we were wonderful people to do this.
Hmmm…. we are people who wanted to be parents and recognised that there are different ways to become parents; We are people who believe that children belong in families and while we advocate & support that children remain with their biological mothers wherever we can, we also recognise that there are children where the biological mother, for reasons of her own chooses not to follow this path.
– An assumption that once we had adopted we would fall pregnant.
Some families get to this choosing adoption for reasons related to infertility. The point is that WE CHOOSE this regardless of how we get here. Please don’t reflect this to people. Unless they have shared openly with you as to how they got here.
(We can fall pregnant, we chose a different path to grow our family & separate conversation to this one).
– Either being told wonderful stories of adoption or horror stories.
No judgement in this – it’s our nature to respond to anything from our own experience or perspective of things.
One of the biggest things though, that perplexed my guy and I was being told individually, by different people in different contexts, about when people had adopted their puppy & how it had changed their worlds.

YOH!
At the time I was a lot more reactive than I am now. Mamahood has helped refine my responses. The depth of my feeling about this hasn’t changed. I have had to learn how to navigate things differently for the sake of my child having a mama being available to him rather than waging war with the world. I still think that these things mentioned above matter.
What has been pivotal for my guy and I though, is that throughout this process of parenting, from the months of initial paperwork and screenings and ongoingly now, the question we keep asking is WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?
What are they going to hear in the narratives around them? What are they hearing in the way we speak or share about adoption or about how we became a family? What is ours to share and what belongs to them to share about their stories? What are they internalising about the conversations re our conspicuous family due to racial differences? What are they hearing in the things we challenge or the things we let go? How are we helping them engage with this all?

Why is this important?
Because when we talk about adoption, even generically and our children are listening, we are speaking into a story that is personal for them and holds meaning for them. Even if we don’t realise it at the time, our children are absorbing messages and perhaps you are reading this as someone involved with children, whether your own or other people’s, who has no known adoptees in your world, the children under your influence are absorbing messages too.

I have worked in an educational setting where some of the children in the classroom were adopted. They are not one homogenous group of children. Some of them were open about their story, some of them were dealing with painful parts of their story and some of them weren’t sure what to do with their story. It was painful however to hear their peers reflect things to these children like ‘You are lucky your family chose you”, “Your biological mother abandoned you or didn’t want you”, “Was your mother too young to have you”? None of these conversations, or simply repeating things from other conversations or media, were helpful for the adoptees in their peer group.

Too often adults default to the language of adoption, that we use with pets.
A tagline that is often seen on social media is ‘Adopt don’t shop’. I fully support rehoming dogs. I have friends, who are advocates for rehoming cats and dogs. We are very much, for the most part, a hair covered community in some way -whether just on the dog blankets, or our pants legs, or our couches. We love our hounds.
I am a crazy dog lady. My dog holds a large part of my affection. He is my shadow and my companion often. He brings me joy & helps me learn to slow down and shake things off. He is my boy BUT as much as he is to me, part of my family, he is still my dog. His needs can be complicated and simple, but they remain pretty constant. (Affection, playtime, outside time, training time, meal time, more affection, more affection and lots of long naps).
My dog was rehomed to us through a rescue organisation. We had a meet n greet that I went to with a friend & my husband saying: “You make the decision, I trust you”, a home check to ensure our property was secure & that the rescue organisation was happy with our approach to caring for the dog who became our dog. We signed paperwork, paid a fee to cover admin and other vet checks that are standard practice and he was delivered to our home.

My child however is not my dog. We had an intensive screening exploring who we were as individuals, how we got to this choice. I sat in police stations for hours getting papers certified, then more papers. We had criminal checks. We appeared before a children’s court magistrate. We met with different professionals. We had compulsory webinars and reading. We had more interviews exploring what we had learnt and realised in our own story in preparation. We prepared our minds and our hearts and then we waited. We waited to get approval to be registered legally, in terms of the law as adoptive parents. We waited and weren’t actively part of choosing a specific child.

My child wasn’t waiting to be chosen in the way that we see puppies or kittens or older dogs and cats seeking homes. It wasn’t a case of looking for the right child for us. Our social work team reiterated repeatedly throughout the screening and prep process that this was about find the right parents for the children registered as eligible for adoption. It was about ensuring, as much as possible, that we would be capable of caring for the fullness of who he is as a child who will mature into an adult.

My child wasn’t this being to be pitied until someone rescued him. He was a human being with his own story and own history. His story. A story we protect and guard for it is the story of his beginning; one which we weren’t a part of and so he needs to choose how he manages this part of his story as he matures, with us being responsible to ensure that he knows what he needs to know as he matures too.
Nor are we great rescuers or saviours. We are simply his parents – figuring out what we need to be doing to honour him as being fully our child in terms of our responsibilities as his parents, as well as a child who has a story that we weren’t part of too.

This all means that the primary focus needs to be about him in our narratives and our stories in a way that too often is lacking when we only focus on the people doing the adopting (or fostering for that matter).

The problem with the comparing adoption of a child to adoption of an animal (however much loved or lucky it is perceived that the animal is) is that we allow for a patronising, debt of gratitude narrative to unfold around adoptees’ lives. This plays out behaviourally in different ways for children and adolescents and dismisses parts of their own story.

Adoptees never chose adoption. All the other adults in their world – from birth parents (&even then not always) to social workers to the courts to the adoptive parents made choices. When we then add a debt of gratitude to the mix, rather than simply acknowledging that this family, formed through adoption does start with a trauma, always, of deep loss, it adds to the work that adoptees and their families need to do.

Please, as someone who sits in this space as a mom and an advocate for children who are processing what this means and how it plays out in different ways in their stories – depending on who and what is influencing their story, can we find a different, honest way of teaching children what adoption is?

If you are unsure where to start, this might be helpful.

Talking adoption… when questions are asked.

Advertisements

A mother’s take on #feesmustfall

My brother and I stood in solidarity with the students at UCT yesterday, the 22nd October 2015.  My mom and I have had lots of conversations about what is unfolding.  I asked her to put some of her thoughts down… here they are.  Thanks Mamma. 

In the musical “Les Miserables”  there is a song –

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when

When tomorrow comes!

And an invitation to join in and be strong, although some may fall and some may live.

I keep on thinking of this.   I am a wife, mother, 69 yrs old and WHITE. How does this affect me?  I hear the anger, see the hurt, the desperateness and yet I have HOPE.

I am and have been privileged and blessed.   My parents “battled”, money was in short supply, but  I am a qualified nurse who did not have to pay for my training.   My brothers all have degrees.   My children finished their degrees of choice, without any debt.

What right do I have to even comment?  How can I understand what many parents and students are going through, universities closed and exams not being written?  It is not right and understand the concern, but every week I sit with people, whose cry “please pray for work for me”,   My children need to go to school.  My child needs to be educated, I cant afford to send him

A mother and her primary school son, who often have to walk 8 km to school and work and back, because there is no money for a taxi or bus.  Fortunately he gets fed at school.

A mother, who pushes trolleys for tips, so that her children can go to school.

When a mother says, I do not want to go back to the life I led to be able to educate my children. I hated it and know it was wrong, but I was desperate.

The stories are endless and they do not want to their children to remain in this cycle

Two of these above mothers are white.

I say again, I am blessed and privileged.

How do I see the marches?  If I was in Cape Town, would have been there too.  I am proud of my children being there.

And yes, I understand the anger and frustration.  Maybe I would lash out too.

I do not agree or support or condone the rioting, looting, stone throwing, burning  and pray that there will be a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

I do not know what the future holds for my children or grandchildren. I hope and pray that they will be able to study in freedom, without the yoke of being slaves to debt.

That is why I say I have HOPE because we have hope that if we act and speak out for justice, there is Hope.

Isaiah 58v6    “is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cord  of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

V7        Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood

V12      Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;  you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls , Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”

I want to be able to stand before God and say “Lord, I chose the true fast”

I pray that our country will be the country it can be.  A country with a hope and a future.  Too long there has been too little hope for too many.

Are there more white people like you?

In the past few weeks I have been faced with my ‘privilege’.
My white privilege.
Yes mine.

I have been faced with the fact that as much as I am surrounded by amazing people, doing things to see communities shift and healed, that there is not enough contact between different (colour)people happening to make people realise that actually there are many(white)who are seeking this change. Who think that justice matters, who think that restitution matters.

How do I know this?

Simply because too often, it’s the same people in contact with the same circles –regardless of what the circles look like. I know this because a friend boldly told me this. He heard me say that my heart was sore because in 2 days I had two friends of colour (from different contexts) voice this sentiment:

Are there more? Maybe there are more but we don’t see or hear them?

Then I got thinking about how do we make these circles bigger? How do we mix them up more?

The next challenge then got thrown at me by someone whose dreams I respect and support, whose voice is loud, whose passion for community, for people and for South Africa is being refined and yet I know that these dreams seem to belong to someone else at times for this friend, as he has other responsibilities in life that stop the pursuit of these dreams.

Why do I think that his dreams matters?
• I believe that we need more young leaders and men like my friend in communities speaking, advocating and encouraging people.

• I believe that we need to relook at how we understand supporting education in this country – for some of us it is about equipping teachers, advocating for bursaries – but I was recently challenged to think beyond that to what does it mean for someone whose very BASIC income is needed to support their family (with basics – regardless of the nature of their work) to how do we support big hearts and brilliant minds out of relationship to be able to study further. We all know that education matters, in this instance though – relationship matters too.

• I was privileged in having parents, who still had to sacrifice, but were able to put me through Varsity with no study debt. My friend’s starting point is not this but it could be if we stood next to him in this. If we acknowledged our privilege – our connections, our contexts, our means – and used it to support him. Then maybe there would be more – more people with privilege being seen as people who are there, who truly are committed to seeing things change.

I want to stand beside a friend to see his dreams come true while his family still live and eat and can celebrate his dreams too. So I am talking with others (yes more of us & mixed racial circles), and praying and seeking other people to stand alongside him. Not out of charity. Out of relationship. This is what family does. This is what we do when we are in relationship and see and hear and acknowledge each other’s dreams.

We help find ways of seeing them happen. I have had people doing this with me. And still do. I want to be a part of someone else’s story too.

This was written with the knowledge of my friend whose story challenged mine – I am grateful that he shared his story with me. In doing so it made me a part of his story as much as he became a part of mine.