Talking adoption… when questions are asked.

What happens when you have a family member who is adopted and other family members start asking questions about why, where, how?

How do you manage this?

My husband and I have been very clear from the start that we believe that our son, and any future adopted children’s beginning stories will belong to them.  This means that we don’t ever discuss where their birth/ first families are or why we ended up as families.

Do we believe that there is a shameful secret around this?  Most definitely not. Even if the story has hard, sad, crazy, wish we didn’t have to talk about this one day, or maybe the story is the ‘ideal’ as much as adoption stories can be the ideal ito content.

We  ascribe the following:

It’s not our story to tell.  Not even as immediate or close family. Or friends.

It’s not our story to tell.  Which means that even well meant, seeking more understanding questions might be left feeling unanswered simply as our son’s right, as well as his first family’s right to privacy takes precedent in this.

Not because we think that family doesn’t matter, but because we are recognising that there are more things to consider than just close family and friends in this.

We love how much our family and friends celebrate the joyful one who is our son.

We also hold a space that we don’t get to share with anyone else, around parts of how he became our son.  There are elements of gratitude but also elements of grief in this.

Another tricky part of this is navigating GENUINELY curious question from children in their efforts to understand. We need to answer questions generally without allocating any of the answers to our son’s story.

Huh?

The reason for this simply is that general answers, (Like sometimes first mom’s can’t look after their children because… economics, relationship, life seasons) need to be given in a way that leaves the final answer with we don’t know why.  This is something that is for him and his first mom to know. Maybe he will know that information, by we don’t know.  This is part of his private story.

As our son’s parents, we get to give him the detailed version of the story-  and we don’t want to be correcting myths or well intended things that he might hear in passing that have been communicated along the way.  The truth of his adoption story will always be known by him, along with this is your private story and we, as his parents, are responsible for helping him share this appropriately as he grows.  Once things are said, they cannot be unsaid or taken back.

SO in our family – and we recognise that other adoptive families might choose to do this differently – if you have children or maybe you are asking these questions, or are an adoptive family trying to navigate this, below is some of what my husband and I  are asking be used in response to these questions:

  • We use the term first family to cover first mom and other first family members-  as much as we are the family our child is doing life with, there was another family  he was born from first.  Before us.  It also makes explaining two families a little easier for us when we have already introduced the concept – whether clearly understood or not just yet.
  • There are lots of different reasons for why first families (moms, dads, grandmothers and all the other adults in a child’s life) might not be able to look after a baby that grew in the first mom’s tummy.
  • We don’t know the reason why *insert child’s name* was adopted
  • Some of the reasons might be that the first mom was too young, or maybe didn’t have enough money or enough resources to look after a baby. Another reason might be that the mom didn’t plan to have another baby and so she needed to have someone else look after the baby.  We don’t know why *insert child’s name* first mom made this decision.  That might be information that they have or don’t have-  but it’s private information and so we don’t know.
  • You might be wondering who helped the *insert child’s name* join our family? There are people called social workers who look after children and try and make sure that every child whose first mom can’t look after them gets to join another family.
  • When children are adopted most of the time, the first family isn’t a part of the child’s life anymore.
  • Alexa and her husband always wanted to adopt – even before they got married, they spoke about this. About choosing to have children whose first mom’s couldn’t help their babies get big.
  • Adoption means that there are two families for *insert child’s name* – one they were born from and one that they live with forever – one day *insert child’s name* might have a lot of questions about this all and then it’s up to his mom and dad to help figure this out.

Some questions to help both adults and smaller people process this include:

  • Do you think that this might be confusing for him sometimes? Or maybe it might make him a little sad?  What do you think would be something that might make him happy about being in our family or community? What makes you happy or sad in this story? Does anything worry you in this?

Practical ways of talking about this might include:

  • Using one piece of paper, drawing two different families but putting a line down the middle to explore the two families.
  • Using play dough to create families and social workers and explaining the story.
  • Using photos to tell the story of families becoming family and internet sourced scans of pregnant bellies.
  • Using different feeling faces along the way.

 

We are aware that we might seem over protective, unwilling to share or over sensitive in this.It’s not about us though – it’s about our children. It’s about figuring out how to best love them, allowing our broader community to be loving them well and modelling the values and core beliefs we hold as adoptive parents in this.

It’s about ensuring that their story remains fully theirs.

 

#unfenceSA

This morning the first conversation I had with another person involved a story of her young (teenager) cousin being beaten to death by 4 other people.  She was called out of church, along with her family. On arriving at the scene of where he was barely alive, under a black bag at the local rubbish tip, his body was okay, but his face was damaged and scarred beyond what seems to be humanly possible to do to another human being.

Then I thought back to my own childhood where a story like this was unknown.  Where the drugs we were warned about including dagga and tippex thinners and stranger danger with sherbet straws or sheets of stickers – this one I have never checked on snopes to verify?!  Where a drug like TIK (yes, I know it’s everywhere) seemed highly unlikely to even get a mention.

Last weekend I sat and listened to stories of people I know and love but who because of our political history being what it was I never got to know and love growing up.  They were isolated from me and me from them based on the amount of melanin I have in my skin and they in theirs.  Based on the amount of melanin and race, secondly by ethnicity, my black friends – for black in this context incudes anyone not white – would have had their education, their life paths and their potential potentially prescribed. One of the most painful things for me to hear was someone whose family I consider one of my closest, most loved people in Cape Town talk about the battle to get to where he is and the chance that a (white) manager took on him years ago, allowing him to work in a store that my family frequented on a monthly basis to receive scripts for my mom’s blood pressure and my asthma.

How ironic, that someone who holds this much value in my world, is someone whose path I could have crossed so much earlier, but didn’t simply because my schooling and local world was 10km in a different direction.

I nearly didn’t go last weekend – when the invite came and I realised it was in the same 10 day period as 2 other preparation heavy workshop engagements, I thought maybe I need to wait for the next one.  I am really glad I did.

I sat this weekend among people I respect as people wrestling, truth speakers and people further down the road in figuring some things out that I am still working on wrapping my head around and listened.

I listened to a friend speak out, knowing that he would offend some listeners, in a safe enough environment to do so.

I watched people who would usually be deferred to first in speaking, or were used to being given the floor, listening more than they spoke.

I learnt about the depth of wisdom and a history that belongs not just to friends, but to communities to, that wasn’t my shared history.

I engaged with a friend who voiced that he wished that the white community would experience what it feels to be hopeless. Not because he is wishing hopelessness on people but because he wants the white community to experience what it is to feel like there are no choices and to mobilise from there and not just be in an inverted power dynamic.

I was reminded again about how we can be hopefully naïve and in this space it diminishes the hopelessness many feel.

Hope matters, but hope needs to be more than just a feel good thing.  It needs to be something that stirs and disturbs us when we are sitting in a place of too comfortable and too easy and too much going on to think that things need to change.

Hope matters for all of us when we are angry and scared about what things could look like, might look or won’t look like.

Hope matters when we see systems in place that still don’t serve us all well.

Hope matters when I have to speak up and out within my own community against things or for things that need to be heard.

Without Hope we all die, but without any action Hope is just a warm fuzzy thing to hold onto.

I am grateful for this weekend.

I am grateful for the reminder that actually, it takes courage to speak into spaces of privilege and power.

I am grateful for being able to think back to my first weekend, at the age of 16, as a family experiencing listening in Strandfontein 25 years ago, led by Wilson Goeda and Gerrit Wolfaardt (I stand under correction here!).That shaped me in ways that I am still figuring out.

Was I comfortably uncomfortable all the time this weekend?  No

Was I challenged to keep listening, to keep wrestling?  Yes.

Let’s #unfenceSA as we keep listening to those who don’t look, think or sound like us and let’s #unfenceSA by engaging in our own spaces more and challenging the areas where we can do better.

Thank you Johan De Meyer for kicking this off.