Telling the Story

For those who read lots of adoption stuff: blogs, protest articles, news, research – the tone of this generation of adoptees and adopters has taken on a slightly argumentative bent. Some celebrate, some mourn, some are angry, some are blasé. It’s hard as an adoptive parent to know which perspective is “right”.

Consider the concept of privacy in parenting. Many parents today are concerned about sharing their kids’ photos and stories on the interwebs, as we understand the longevity of anything digitally shared. That bath photo may very well still show up in a search someday when Jr. is applying for an important job.

Apply that concern to adoption stories, and the privacy woes skyrocket. As prospective adoptive parents go through training, we’re taught to ‘control’ the story and think through the ramifications of sharing – which I wholeheartedly agree with. Still, as we’ve continued down this merry path, I’ve heard a number of perspectives that differ. This article blew my mind a bit, and completely changed our perspective on communicating about adoption.

The author’s main point is we learn by modeling our parents’ behavior. Any parent of young children knows what I’m talking about. My kids even model the angle of my head when we laugh together! Over sharing can be crippling, especially in today’s world where information can spread so rapidly. But when the author talked about how silence about adoption stories isn’t that different from silence about adoption in a previous era, when it was seen as something less beautiful, I don’t think she’s wrong. We’ve walked a middle road on this topic. We adore talking about our birth families and where our kids came from. We feel so lucky to be their parents. Still, details about their origin stories to belong to our kids. There’s still a lot left to talk about without invading their privacy in the long run. Reading those words about modeling adoption language for our children made something click inside of me. We are absolutely responsible for teaching our children how to talk about this, and how to respond to questions both curious and cruel. Some of the most cringe worthy language that we have been exposed to has come from some of the sweetest people we have met. How can you be upset that a proud new adoptive grandmother doesn’t know how to talk about adoption yet, for example? Her excitement over seeing our interracial family comes from such a happy place.

David and I decided to go with our guts when we brought Tess home and we’re still doing that now. This is hard for me, as I am naturally more of a structured person. In fact, if you had talked to me before we had children, I had our entire parenting plan laid out through college. I can assure you none of that is actually in play, but I am a planner. The trick with adoption though is you can’t really plan anything: you can’t plan when you’re going to have a baby, you can’t plan when you’re first going to talk about adoption, you can’t plan the first family visit because life will get in the way (sorry Kat!), or even the first adoption conversations with your kids. We had tried to map out how to talk about adoption, what we would say, and what people would ask. But no one is that predictable. In fact, I would say one of the greatest gifts we’ve gotten out of parenthood through adoption is letting go of that need to plan and letting go of that need for perfection. A lot of people give us their sincerest condolences that we can’t be parents through biological means. Dave and I really couldn’t care less. We are parents to two of the most wonderful children in the entire world and we consider ourselves lucky. We’ve decided our language should mirror that. Beauty from sorrow, family from missing pieces. We live in an era when everyone wants a sanitized fairy tale. Life is messy and complicated for everyone, and I have yet to come across someone who isn’t haunted by misfortune of one kind or another. The flavor may change as may our attitudes in addressing it, but whether or not we allow the sad moments to outweigh the wonderful often comes down to choice.

Many adoptees from our generation didn’t get a family story; they may never have known much about their birthparents. How to share their origins wasn’t the most complicated part of adoption from what I gather. Lack of medical history and the lack of information broke their hearts and frustrated them.

In today’s information overload, we know so much more. And people know that we know more, as adoptive parents. That inspires more questions. The Privacy parents focus on maintaining control of their child’s story so they can choose to share it as they’d like down the road, similar to preserving a blank digital presence or history.

Dave and I see it differently. We will model the joyful choice for our kids. Joy, that simple concept so easily buried under piles of to-do lists and exasperation, will move front and center. Our kids were born to great people and are being raised by the parents those people chose. That part of the story should not be whispered about or off-limits. We aren’t ignoring the sense of loss or identity issues in saying that; we’re just saying that in our house, we digest pain and move past it when possible. Life’s short and messy and beautiful for all of us.

Tess managed to get out of her room for the first time. She’s watched us turn the knob a million times; today she copied us. We’re in a new era of child freedom; and while that puts breakables at risk, it makes for more fun all around. Our stories will be fun too, as we show them how to address adoption and their adoptions throughout their lives.

Speaking of Joy, that’s the name of our new au pair! It suits her, and we’re delighted to have her in our world. Add to that Dave’s new job and you’ve got an exhilarating end to the year.