As we enter the final stretch of Adoption Awareness Month and given that yesterday was Thanksgiving, I thought it appropriate to take some time to contemplate the experiences, narratives, opinions and to unpack what I feel we should be aware of.
It has been a month with many organisations and individuals contributing to the understanding of adoption specifically and how it impacts the triad, being adoptees, birth family and adoptive family.
We were fortunate to be part of a wonderful campaign that was priveleged to give voice to five wonderful adoptees who shared their experiences. Click here to meet them.
Let’s have a look at some thoughts I have had, in no particular order, which have been informed by what I have been reading, learning, experiencing and teaching.
1.When should a child be adopted?…When it is necessary.
I watched as 2 adoptees answered this question with such clarity and authority. It should be obvious, but sometimes the romantic fairytale storytelling does take away from the fact that Adoption should always be a last resort, but it MUST be an option for some. Adoption is needed to give some kids a family BUT we also need to focus on family preservation when possible, we need to perhaps become better at serving people where they are, rather than adjusting the reality so we can provide a solution that sometimes feels more comfortable for us. When the family cannot be preserved though, we should expedite and minimise, as best we can, the trauma that child and family will endure. Yes, every adoptee comes from a place of trauma. Adjust your persepctive, lay down your right to not be offended, they all have experienced trauma and should be supported appropriately, and so should their birth family.
Every child deserves to be loved, protected and raised in a supportive family. If not their biological, then adoption should be an option. They should experience permanence, consistency and certainty in the context of a loving family.
2. Adoptee voices and their lived experiences are crucial, but all sides need to communicate with the other in mind.
It sometimes becomes quite awkward and sad when reading through the interactions of adoptees and adoptive parents on social media. It has sadly become a point of contention between certain groups, who’s voice matters more?
The reality is, adoptees are the only ones who know what it means to be adopted and they alone offer a unique, powerful and potentially life-changing perspective. We MUST listen as adoptive parents if only to learn what hurt them and possibly be empowered to do things differently with our kiddos.
Adoptive parents on the other hand also offer extremely valuable insight and they are often more relatable to other adoptive parents because they are living similar lives, facing similar challenges and hopefully seeking support from those who have gone before them.
As a dad and after having spent many years dealing with kids and their parents, I can say with certainty that parents are possibly the most insecure when it comes to questions around their parenting success. Add adoptive parents to the mix and you are met with people who are already primed to be defensive and along with the huge guilt because they cannot change or remove the pain from the children they love most, the defences are primed. As much as adoptive parents must appreciate and give voice to the adoptee, the adoptee needs to understand that to offer parenting advice, requires a posture of extreme tenderness and grace, even by fellow parents. In any parenting situation, if advice is not shared with this approach, the parent will shut down and probably come across as quite negative, arrogant or disinterested. Adoptive parents can be worse because they carry the burden of wanting to remove the pain of their kiddos but are unable to offer any real reprieve from the realities their children have experienced.
So where to from here? My belief is that, adoptive parents should not assume adoptees advice or experiences are shared in judgement, but rather recieve them as tools to better position and equip yourself. Take what applies, LEARN, LEARN, LEARN and if you don’t beleive this will benefit your child now (not you) humbly thank the teacher and store the lesson incase it becomes essential later on.
Adoptees, it may be a big ask, but give us grace, forgive us when we don’t receive your hard won experiences. But know this, you are valuable and our often fragile ego’s need you to approach us gently. As much as we will never know what it feels like to be an adoptee, you too may never fully understand how powerless we can feel to restore what was taken from you. We MUST hear eachother, teach eachother and show a greater respect than I have noticed since starting on this journey.
3. We must begin to understand Trauma and how it works itself out in the lives of our kiddos
I want to write a more comprehensive post on this soon, but suffice to say, there are far too many ill equipped people engaging with children who have experineced adverse childhood experiences (ACES). What may look like complete defiance can range from sensory issues, attachment styles, protective behaviours and other developmental delays.
My expereince is that people tend to be underequipped when it comes to how trauma impacts the child, how it presents in various settings (the classroom especially) and how much of what we see as “Bad behaviour” is born out of a child’s base level response to fear triggers, formed or developed through varying degrees of trauma and adverse experiences.
Become a detective, we always say CHASE THE WHY. We may be tired, completely exhausted and fed up, resulting in us blaming the ills of the world on this child, but if we can regulate ourselves for a moment and choose to be the adult in the situation, we may then be able to persevere and detect what was the cause of the behaviour that rattled our world, meet the need and in doing so, bring integration, allow regulation and teach our kids that they can trust us. Maybe next time we can then catch the need before it catches us.
4.Inter-racial adoptions-We MUST appreciate the complexities of raising a child that may not look like us
I do believe the narrative, especially in South Africa is largely focussed on engaging with the complexities of inter-racial adoption. What it means for your child to look different than you, how can you engage with this reality, who can you learn from, who else is speaking into your child’s life, what school do they go to, what role models do they have that look like them and do you ineract with people that look like your child. Obviously, the bottom line is, as a white parent, do you have people of colour in your space that can speak to the experiences your child will have, many of which you cannot appreciate and have not lived yourself. As people of colour, how can you then also support white families in becoming more aware of the many gaps in their parenting repertoir.
I do feel we need to increase our understanding and dialogue around trauma as it takes a backseat to race in many discussions on adoption. We must increase the trauma awareness, but that is not to say we should decrease the interacial awareness.
Having said this, I am still dumbfounded by the many comments that declare a colour blind family dynamic, parents choosing to embrace the idea that having a black child should not influence the parneting dynamic as all that is needed is love to smooth the paths their child will take.
Let’s be honest for a second, love is powerful and it covers all, embraces all (or should atleast). Love has the ability to go places nothing else can, restore and bring healing to people who never thought it possible, But, Can we please (I’m speaking to you white folks) realise that the world we grew up in and continue to engage with, is very different to the one people of colour need to navigate daily. Even if you don’t believe that colour matters, you will not be the only person your child engages with and I promise you, there are people, backward, hurting, ignorant people, who don’t hold true to your beliefs. If you don’t feel colour matters, atleast prepare yourself and your child for the moment they encounter those people that do. I pray oneday this will not be an area of concern, but currently, it is. We need to prepare our kids and ourselves for a world we never expereinced.
5: Adoptive parents need to engage with a process of life long learning
Most of the concerns I have with the dialogue around adoption, foster care or other family preservation tools could be greatly reduced if we simply chose to never stop learning.
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN. My best learning comes at end of discomfort. When I postion myself in a space which is uncomfortable, a space which seeks to challenge my thoughts, biases and experiences. I actively seek out narratives that don’t sit well, that don’t leave me feeling warm and fuzzy, so that I can see the other side. I may leave the expereince unchanged in my beliefs, but with greater resolve, or I may find that certain ideas need to change in the wake of new revelation.
If you are involved in adoption, foster care or a space where you engage with children who have experienced adverse childhhood experiences, trauma, emotional neglect, I expect that you would want to develop a plan to upskill yourself to effectively engage with and assist these kiddo’s and those they come into contact with. We owe it to these children to equip ourselves with every tool available to serve them better.
Thanks for reading and allowing yourself to become more aware this adoption awareness month. I’d love to hear your thoughts.