Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Listening to adult adoptees: Do others really want to hear what we have to say?

First of all, I would like to clarify that when I write, "adoptive parents," I hope readers have the discernment to understand that I am not writing "all adoptive parents" but rather simply "adoptive parents," which can more specifically be interpreted as "those adoptive parents to whom the said description or behavior applies."

If you read a post and the said behavior or description does not apply to you, then voila, it doesn't apply to you. If you read a post, and it does happen to apply to you either at some point in the past or currently, understand that it is not meant to tear you down or make you feel poorly about yourself. Rather, it is meant to help. The intention of blogging about these topics is never to tear down, but rather to build up, out of a hope to educate those who are willing to read along.

* * *

This leads me to the other issue I'd like to address:

The Catch 22 of being an adult adoptee, and in particular an adult adoptee who strives to educate. I blog, in part, with the goal of raising awareness and promoting education regarding the adoptee experience, often using my personal experiences as well as those of other adoptees to inform my blogging.

So often, as adoptees, we can feel misunderstood by (a few or sometimes, many) adoptive parents, social workers, friends, family, and the general public.

Subsequently, I have always believed that a very effective way to deal with misunderstandings and ignorance is to make honest efforts to educate people whether the issue is disease or gardening, racism or adoption.

That's, in part, why I blog--to educate. While it's also therapeutic and a way for me to process and work through my own thoughts and emotions regarding the adoptee experience, I also hope that in doing so, others will benefit from the insight.

* * *

What I am realizing, however, is that not everyone wants to be educated. More specifically, not everyone wants to be educated in ways that do not confirm their biases or preconceptions. In other words, some prefer selective education. (I have to watch this tendency toward confirmation bias in myself as well. We're all subject to it, and hence, we must all be vigilant not to succumb to it...)

What I mean is this:

People ask, "Well how can you expect others to understand what it's like to be an adoptee if you don't help them understand, if you don't take the time to explain it to them?"

True, I say. You're right. What good is it for me to rant and rave about the lack of awareness if I'm not willing to do anything to cultivate and advocate increased understanding.

Hence, I blog and try to bring certain issues to light--and not hypothetical issues, but real-life issues from personal encounters and experiences.

Yet, even with these attempts, I am faced then with reactions from those who try to redirect me, whether passively or blatantly, by telling me that I focus too much on the negative aspects of the adoptee experience and that I need to expose myself more to those who have had a more positive experience.

And voila, we have a "Catch 22."

Please, tell us what you're feeling, please...well, except for that. Oh, and that, too. Oh, and well, that one, too. But no really, we want to hear what you have to say...well, maybe you could say this instead, and maybe leave that out, and well, omit that, and maybe add this. But other than that, yes, please we really value your insight and experience. But maybe don't focus so much on that. You got it?

First of all, do you or don't you want to know the realities of not only my adoption experience, but of many? Folks tell me I can't expect anyone to understand what it's like to be an adoptee unless I talk about it, but then when I do, they proceed to react in such a way that communicates that they don't really want to hear about it unless I'm praising and adulating all the wonders of adoption.

Second of all, just because I may write about some of the more difficult issues doesn't mean I'm a negative person. Criticism does not equate "angry, negative adoptee." I'm simply trying to provide balance.

There is no dearth of veneration for the practice of adoption. In fact, at least in my experience, the predominant perspective toward adoption among the general public and the adoption field remains one of veneration and admiration for those families who adopt. Let me be clear--my goal is NOT to oppose or demean those who participate in adoption, whether agencies or parents, but simply to provide balance to the perspective. You say toe-mah-toe, I say toe-may-toe.

There is no need to fear visiting the difficult and darker sides of adoption. It is necessary, for the sake of everyone involved, and in particular, the children who must ultimately live with such complexities for the remainder of their lives. Children will encounter no shortage of people telling them how grateful and happy they should feel about their adoption. But they also will encounter no shortage of conflicting emotions and thoughts internally, at school, and in the general community. The way to help adoptees to cope with such complexities is not to shut out one perspective to the detriment of another, but to allow them to face each.

Yet, repeatedly, I encounter folks who clearly find it annoying or undermining that I discuss the difficulties of adoption again and again. They want me to "move on," and get to the "happy stuff."

Okay, how about this? I'll "move on" when being adopted ceases to affect my every day life.

* * *

Not too long ago, a fellow adoptee friend, whom I'll refer to as "D" had an experience that exemplifies consummately the Catch 22 to which I am referring. Just for context, D is a mature adult and an accomplished professional. She is a warm, respectful, and emotionally mature individual. She is honest while considerate and understanding.

An adoption agency, which will remain anonymous, contacted her and invited her to speak with a group of prospective adoptive parents. It is important to mention that this adoption agency lauds itself as being one of the more progressive adoption agencies in operation, as demonstrated by its outreach program to include adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.

(Indeed, I appreciate such a program, and I personally wish that all adoption agencies would establish open programs that involve adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.)

Again, keep in mind that the adoption agency initiated contact with D, not the other way around. The agency repeatedly invited D to participate, even after D expressed some apprehension, not because she did not want to participate, but because she was not certain whether she was the "type of adoptee" the agency preferred.

In other words, D very clearly expressed to the program coordinator that she wanted to be able to very honest about her experiences, but that D felt hesitant that the agency had a certain expectation or agenda for what she could and could not share.

The program coordinator (who herself is an adult adoptee) reassured D that the most important thing for D to do was to share openly and honestly, and that if any of the parents had a hard time with what she shared, then all the more reason that D needed to share her perspective. The program coordinator stated that the parents needed to hear what D had to say, especially if the parents were going to be serious about adopting.

So, with such reassurance, D, along with another adult adoptee, attended a meeting with a group of prospective adoptive parents considering adopting through this particular agency.

The other adult adoptee shared first, during which D would occasionally interject her insight or feedback. Eventually, D spoke about her experiences as an adoptee with the group. At one point, D got a little emotional, simply meaning her eyes welled up with a few tears, and she got a little choked up as she tried to explain how being adopted has been a lifetime process for her rather than one with a clear beginning and ending.

She simply wanted to make it clear to this particular group of parents that being an adoptee never ends or stops, but rather it is an ongoing process of maintenance and discovery that is not only wonderful and hopeful but can also often be painful and difficult. Although D got a little emotional, it was not disproportionately so, nor did she lose control or raise her voice. Her pain simply pierced her words and revealed itself in a few tears. As an adoptee myself who has spoken to numerous adoptive parent groups, I can completely relate.

After the meeting was completed, the program coordinator approached D and the other adoptee and thanked them profusely, telling them each that what they had shared was so valuable and meaningful, and that surely the parents would benefit.

D, obviously, felt relieved and glad that she had been able to participate and had been able to share so vulnerably and openly, despite her initial reservations. She felt comforted, as though she had been able to make a difference in these parents' and their prospective children's lives.

Shortly after the event, the program coordinator (who, again, is an adult adoptee) called D. D was thinking that perhaps the program coordinator wanted her to come speak again with another prospective adoptive parent group.

Well, not so much.

In short, the program coordinator basically told D, "You are not welcome here at any point in the future."

Say what?

Yep.

Basically, the coordinator told D that the agency had made a mistake by inviting her to speak with the parent group, not realizing D's "current state." The coordinator explained to D that because of her "emotional state" it would be best for her not to return to participate in the program.

More specifically, the coordinator cited that several of the parents had gotten upset and had experienced difficulty with D's emotional expressiveness when she was sharing about her adoption experience, and that some of the parents felt disturbed and unsettled afterwards.

Uh, ok? Isn't that the point? To give parents a realistic and balanced view? The other adult adoptee who had shared expressed less difficulty with her adoption experience and provided reassurance to the parents that, despite the initial losses, everything would be just fine. Great. Every perspective is valid. Again, everyperspective.

Sure. Adoptive parents need reassurance at times, but not necessarily that things will always work out as planned ("Sticking with a Wounded Child" & "The Myth of the Forever Family"), but rather that there may be certain unpredictable elements and variations that are normal, considering the circumstances of adoption.

Hence, both D's and the other adult adoptee's perspectives are valid. But the fact that D's perspective was rejected by this prominent and so-called "progressive" adoption agency greatly discourages and disturbs me. And honestly, it makes me angry.

And of course, I can't help but wonder if this so-called "progressive" adoption agency is rejecting D's perspective, which is a very normal, healthy perspective, what are other "less progressive" agencies doing?

It's not that the aforementioned agency was not teaching that loss and grief are normal aspects of adoption. It's that they were teaching parents that D's response to such loss and grief was not normal or acceptable. This simultaneously hurts and infuriates me, because such practices fail the families involved.

It's not that the agency was not including adult adoptees in the education process, but that the agency was excluding and rejecting a valid and honest perspective because that perspective made the parents uncomfortable.

If agencies expose parents only to those perspectives with which they are comfortable, who are they truly seeking to serve, themselves, or the children being adopted?

Look, I know it's a complicated web of trying to triage the desperate needs of thousands upon thousands of children and finding able parents for these children (we must also remember that there are many children who would have remained with their biological families had the resources been available). Due to the multiple stresses coupled with a sense of urgency, mistakes happen and the "ideal situation" often abdicates to "good enough."

But this is all the more reason to continue to discuss and seek out ways to ameliorate a flawed and overworked system.

* * *

I understand that we don't always have to agree with one another on every point. That's unrealistic and, well, simply not possible. But we can provide a safe and open environment for the varying experiences and perspectives of different adoptees.

To shut out an adoptee because her perspective deviates from what you prefer is painfully narrow-minded and selfish.

I may not always agree with every fellow adoptee, but I can respect each experience and point of view as valid and worthy of consideration. It is true that there are plenty of folks out there who do practice such tolerance and openness.

Yet, sadly enough, it is also true that there are agencies and people out there who choose not to demonstrate this basic consideration, as exemplified not only by D's unfortunate experience but by countless others.

* * *

There are so many adult adoptees eager to share their experiences and insight with the hope that doing so will contribute in very real and practical ways to the much needed changes and reforms in adoption practices and philosophies.

Many tell us that they want to hear what we have to say. Many express a desire to consider and apply what we have learned.

Yet so often, when we finally choose to speak up and share our insight and ideas, our voice is either discounted or patronized. We encounter resistance and rejection from the very people who claim to value what we have to offer.

Adult adoptees are not the enemy.

We are the experts, and we deserve to be taken seriously.


24 comments:

Margie said...

Yes. Yes, there are APs who want to hear everything, and do listen. But I'm not at all surprised to hear that this adoption agency rejected D's participation in their programs, because many (most? I don't know) are focused on their clients (the APs) instead of their true constituents (children and adopted adults).

I honestly don't know how to break that model. It's incredibly frustrating.

Von said...

I'll respond more fully on my blog, it's a part of adoption that has been concerning me more and more.It is I think a natural progression and part of where we are in terms of the movement to be heard, understood etc.
These hurtful and rejecting incidents will happen and all sympathy to your friend who had reservations but went ahead anyway.
What really bothers me is the adoption agenda is very small, very restricted and has no place for the truth, as told by adult adoptees.It is sometimes set up or promoted by adult adoptees who appear to be out of touch with the issues, have sold themselves down the river or perhaps never were in touch.They do it for money and have bought in to the corrupt system.They're still living the happy adoptee story and it's very sad, for them and for all those adopters who will not know the truth or don't care, but primarily it's destructive for adoptees, the new generation for whom things should have been better.

윤선 said...

Oh man, great post. I'm always feeling that although adoptive parents SAY they want to learn from us, they'll then turn around and say how wrong we are (either in comments or in their own blogs), or how judgmental and awful we are for saying such things. Drives me insane.

Yoli said...

This is another excellent post. So much truth here. Thank you.

Sona said...

such a good post; exactly what i needed to read. i just had a conversation the other day with a non AP/non adoptee who totally dismissed my experience and opinions because APs are seen as the experts. it's frustrating that to a lot of people we are always the child in the scenario, even though we are grown, thinking adults who also lived through and are living through the experience.

Sandy said...

Excellent post - the disconnect that will always be there - the bridge never crossed.

Agencies most likely will never allow all sides of the adoptee experience to be presented so we will forever live with the sterotypes of 'must not have had a good experience' and 'had bad parents' and 'will not happen to my child' when none is true always.

Mei Ling said...

"Please, tell us what you're feeling, please...well, except for that. Oh, and that, too. Oh, and well, that one, too. But no really, we want to hear what you have to say...well, maybe you could say this instead, and maybe leave that out, and well, omit that, and maybe add this. But other than that, yes, please we really value your insight and experience. But maybe don't focus so much on that. You got it?"

I laughed so much at this.

Don't forget, we're the perpetual children! We were saved from the streets by heartless abandoners! We also should have been glad we were never aborted or tossed into dumpsters!

Terra said...

Ditto what everyone else has already said.

I feel so passionate on this topic a few years ago I wrote an article with the title "Listening To Adult Adoptees: A Lesson For Parents."

I can't know what you know, but I'm willing to listen, learn and grow and change. And I've linked to you.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Great post.

The story about D and not being welcome at the agency (why not name it, you are only telling the truth and why should they be unhappy with that?) after getting emotional and upsetting prospective clients by telling them adoption is a lifelong process was right on the money.

So is being a birth/first mother a lifelong yoke.

I've been hearing from other folks--not adopted, not first mothers--that "every adopted person I know" is perfectly happy with their lives, blah blah blah. And I've heard from friends of adoptive parents that when the children get older they, the adoptive parents say..."why didn't somebody tell me?" what it really would be like to be an adoptive parent? My kid is ... not like me. At all. And I did not expect that. Why didn't somebody tell me?

Because you might not have adopted, and the agency would lose the business.

Claudia said...

I really, really want to know what agency that was! That's the kind of thing you expect from the bottom-dwellers.

Melissa said...

"...all sympathy to your friend who had reservations but went ahead anyway."

Her decision to go ahead despite initial reservations was made based on information given to her by the program coordinator (who is an adult adoptee) that alleviated and dismantled those initial reservations.

The coordinator specifically told D that if indeed the prospective parents couldn't handle what D had to say, that was all the more reason for D to participate. The coordinator encouraged D to be as honest and as candid as possible and NOT to hold back.

And even right after the talk the responses and feedback D received were positive and adulatory. The coordinator herself approached D and praised her and reaffirmed that what D had shared was so meaningful and important.

It was not until a couple of weeks later that the coordinator retracted her statements. Certainly, D had no way to anticipate this.

Again, she decided to participate because she was reassured by the agency that her experience and perspective were welcomed, EVEN if they did upset the parents.

D had no reason to believe that the coordinator was lying to her. And in fact, I don't think the coordinator was "lying" at the time. I believe the coordinator changed her tune later, because she was probably directed to do so by her higher up and again, to pander to the parents. (And that's on the coordinator's head.)

[continued in following comment...]

Melissa said...

The point here is not that D participated despite initial reservations (that again were addressed & put to rest by the coordinator).

The point is that this agency, rather than backing up the adult adoptee who shared truthfully & seizing it as an opportunity to further educate these parents, decided to pander to the parents and allowed the parents to basically control and alter their practices in a way that is detrimental to the children they're adopting out and to the families adopting them.

As to why the agency & coordinator made this decision? Well, I don't have to get into that here. Other commenters have already alluded to that.

The outcome is due to the folly and inadequacies of the agency and industry, not D's desire and willingness to try to educate those who need to understand the realities of adoption.

I think D did her part, and I'm proud of her. I think she deserves support and encouragement for what she did, not admonition. She was basically able to speak to a group of parents who really needed to hear what she had to say. If they decide to reject it, that's on them.

Despite the parents' reactions, they are without excuse now. They heard D and therefore have been exposed to the honest realities of the adoptee experience. They have a choice now.

And who knows, maybe over time, D's words will resonate and linger and eventually cause their minds & hearts to open.

There are many adoptive parents who initially don't get it, but eventually over time, choose to accept the truth. Maybe D's words will, with time, help to transform these parents' thinking.

It's true that the promotion of a certain adoption agenda is destructive, but it's never going to change if we let situations like that which happened to D discourage us from pressing on and continuing to try to reach the people who often don't want to hear what we have to say, but need to hear it all the more.

Melissa said...

"Agencies most likely will never allow all sides of the adoptee experience to be presented so we will forever live with the stereotypes..."

True. Yet all the more reason to keep speaking up and out. If the agencies are not going to do their part, then it's so important that we do.

Thanks, Terra, for linking and thank you everyone for contributing...

Chris said...

Just wanted to say that I thought this was a great post. I've been following your blog for a few weeks and as a PAP, I look at it like this... my child is going to be an adoptee, and eventually an adult adoptee. Why wouldn't I want to learn as much as possible about adoptee perspectives (ALL perspectives) from adoptees themselves since my child will be an adoptee, with some/all/different/none of these feelings? To me it seems like an obvious thing to do and I think it's really important, for our children, to listen to the good as well as the bad and ugly.

I appreciate your posts!

And that was just wrong what happened to your friend.

Kris said...

I loved this post and I agree with you. I am an AP trying to learn from you and many others who blog and I have learned so much, I really have. I think some of these adult adoptees' blogs should be required reading for PAPs - but of course I don't think that will ever happen....

Sandy said...

"Agencies most likely will never allow all sides of the adoptee experience to be presented so we will forever live with the stereotypes..."

True. Yet all the more reason to keep speaking up and out. If the agencies are not going to do their part, then it's so important that we do.

Melissa,

You are right that adoptees must continue to speak up because it does make a difference even if it is only one person at at time.

I think your generation of adoptees has already been a much stronger voice than my generation (older) and I think you will make a bigger difference to the next generation.

birthmothertalks said...

I want to hear what adult adoptees have to say but sometimes it's hard.

cindy psbm said...

I am a first(birth)mom.
When my son was five months old, I was invited to an adoption conference. Before the conference, the SW for my son adoptive parents "de-briefed" me.
Intially I wanted to say how my son's adoptive parents failed to keep the promises of updates to me, but the SW told me I couldn't talk like that. I could only talk about the postives. I agreed to say what she wanted me to because I was promised that I could hold and see my son. Which I did.

As a first mom many times random people do not really want to hear how I feel about adoption. They only want their own beliefs to be justified

Paula O. said...

This is such an incredible post - thank you for this.

I'm so sorry to hear what happened to your friend - and saddened that once again adoptees seem to be pit against one another ("good v. bad adoptee") by the voices and influences of others. When I hear or read about similar stories about the reaction to D's story, it makes me think about how these parents will react if and/or when their sons and daughters express some of the less pleasant emotions and feelings about their reliquishment and adoption. What then? How will they support their kids then? Or will the support only be there if the "right" feelings are expressed?

Reena said...

First, I read through the comments and Cindy psb-- I am so very sorry to hear about what happened to you. I think what the adoption agency did to get you to say what they wanted is sickening.

My heart breaks for you that the adoptive parents do not provide you with updates as agreed upon. My second daughter adopted from China-- we managed to meet her foster parents and I email them regularly-- updates and pictures. I really don't understand people sometimes.

Regarding the post-- I am sorry that D was treated this way and was hurt. I believe that adoptive families do need to hear both the *easy* and the *hard* of long term adoption effects.

I just wrote about this-- how "Of course adoption is going to effect a person throughout their life" on the Transracial Adoptive Parent site.

I am an adoptive parent.

In short, all people have certain expereinces that effect them throughout their life-- death of a loved one, divorced parents, etc. Why do adoptive parents think being adopted will not have a long lasting effect on their children? Why is it viewed as such a threat by so many adoptive parents?

I've discovered that it is-- viewed as a threat by many adoptive parents and I really don't understand it.

I do want to hear from Adult Adoptees-- what were your experiences-- any ideas what parents can do better? Quite frankly, I don't need to hear about all the good stuff-- the good happy feelings are EASY to address. It is the complexities that are more difficult to address-- that is where more help is needed-- In my opinon.

I am a member of a an adoption group-- kind of large organization (not an adoption agency) that involves all parts of the adoption triad. I just completed a survey that asks what I would like to see more of. My suggestion-- more workshops/seminars led by adult Adoptees, Transracail/Transnational adoption topics. Sugarcoating this stuff is not going to help us be better parents.

Reena said...

First, I read through the comments and Cindy psb-- I am so very sorry to hear about what happened to you. I think what the adoption agency did to get you to say what they wanted is sickening.

My heart breaks for you that the adoptive parents do not provide you with updates as agreed upon. My second daughter adopted from China-- we managed to meet her foster parents and I email them regularly-- updates and pictures. I really don't understand people sometimes.

Regarding the post-- I am sorry that D was treated this way and was hurt. I believe that adoptive families do need to hear both the *easy* and the *hard* of long term adoption effects.

I just wrote about this-- how "Of course adoption is going to effect a person throughout their life" on the Transracial Adoptive Parent site.

I am an adoptive parent.

In short, all people have certain expereinces that effect them throughout their life-- death of a loved one, divorced parents, etc. Why do adoptive parents think being adopted will not have a long lasting effect on their children? Why is it viewed as such a threat by so many adoptive parents?

I've discovered that it is-- viewed as a threat by many adoptive parents and I really don't understand it.

I do want to hear from Adult Adoptees-- what were your experiences-- any ideas what parents can do better? Quite frankly, I don't need to hear about all the good stuff-- the good happy feelings are EASY to address. It is the complexities that are more difficult to address-- that is where more help is needed-- In my opinon.

I am a member of a an adoption group-- kind of large organization (not an adoption agency) that involves all parts of the adoption triad. I just completed a survey that asks what I would like to see more of. My suggestion-- more workshops/seminars led by adult Adoptees, Transracail/Transnational adoption topics. Sugarcoating this stuff is not going to help us be better parents.

Anonymous said...

I'm so outraged by that agency - they are providing a disservice to their AP's and giving those folks unrealistic expectations. We need to hear the TRUTH - only then can we learn how to be better AP's.

I don't like to comment on adult adoptee blogs because as an AP I just want to "listen". I want to read what you have to say and think about it, sometimes for days afterwards.

I keep reading and slowly, painfully I'm starting to understand (as much as I can as I'm not an adult adoptee). I didn't go into adoption completely believing the fairy tales - no one would give up a beautiful baby unless they had no other option.

I'm grateful for your blog and for your perspective - tell me your unvarnished experience. I'll cringe and feel uncomfortable but that's okay, it doesn't mean I don't need to hear it.

Jill C.

Mia_h_n said...

I think some do want to know which is why blogs like yours is so important.

Like so many others I get frustrated and angry when I hear about what happended to D. But surprised? Not so much.

"It's not that the aforementioned agency was not teaching that loss and grief are normal aspects of adoption. It's that they were teaching parents that D's response to such loss and grief was not normal or acceptable."
- This is probably why it continues to be a surprise to so many APs and so much of society in general.

Gypsi Jane said...

Yes they love to hear EVERYTHING we have to say, as long as it maintains the Pollyanna-esque tone that they know and love so well.
To believe that there is ongoing happiness resting in the hearts of those of us that have been torn apart is as ludicrus as their (agencies) dishonesty with themselves. Actually this sounds very mych like the "prestigious" agency that pound puppied me out.