Parents of adoptees

20130329_171555This post is going to be directed to parents of adoptees. These ideas are not limited to just Chinese adoptions but can be implemented in any type of adoptions. You may have heard these suggestions before or you may not have. In my opinion, these are a few of the most important ideas to know and hopefully will be beneficial for you and your adoptee(s). Remember that each adoptee(s) is different and will develop in their own way. I am basing my ideas off of how I was raised and what I wished could have happened. As an older adoptee, I understand now that keeping the Chinese identity alive in a child is important. I think if my family would have taken a more productive role in my education on culture, I would not face some of the challenges as I do now. Do not get me wrong, I love my family more than anything, but as far as keeping my Chinese identity alive, they have fallen short. With this in mind, I do not advise you to force your child to participate in every Chinese event.

When we are children, we do not give too much thought to our future as we do when we get older. We do not look at who we are and ask ourselves how we identify ourselves in the world. As a result, we miss out on opportunities to learn about ourselves. That is why, even if a child shows no interest in their heritage, you should still educate them about it. Make it a fun learning experience for them and have the whole family get involved. Later on when or if they become interested, they will have that background knowledge to build upon. I was very sheltered at a young age and had to build my knowledge of the Chinese culture by myself when I finally wanted to know. There is so much to learn; it is almost over whelming. Most other adoptees I know do not understand the implications of adoption until they leave home. Some small random advice to consider is stay connected. Ask other parents of adoptees on what they think and how they dealt with certain challenges. Ask other adoptee(s) what their views are. Go to seminars and join groups that focus on adoption. It is easier to stay connected with others with today’s technology. Also read up on it. There are too many resources out there for parents to be ignorant of adoption. Be aware that adoption is a life long learning process, and if you do not actively seek to understand the world of adoption for your child, then you are neglecting your duties as a parent.

If a family has adopted an older child then it would be wise to document the child’s memories. Once they understand your language, have them write down what they remember from their past or have them tell you and you can document it. It is something nice to have for future references. As we get older, we forget, and old memories become more clouded. When I was adopted at the age of four, I had some recollections of my stay in China. However, I now cannot recall very clearly what my past experiences were and cannot distinguish false memories from real ones. IMG_20140317_000140

Language, I believe, is the most important thing to keep in a Chinese adoptees’ life if anything. Language connects everyone to their culture. Without it, limitations arise and true understanding cannot be obtained. I am faced with the limitations of not knowing my language. I wished my mother would have pushed me to learn my language as a young child. Seeking more information about oneself becomes harder without the appropriate language. It is best to start young, because when you get older, it is difficult to pick up the language as I have personally experienced. The gap between the child and the culture is diminished with language. If anything, it is beneficial over all. They may not use it for identification purposes, but it can be useful in other situations.

Adoption is a life changing process that lasts a life time for you and the adoptee(s). The complications and difficulties are greatly magnified compared to raising a biological child. As parents of adoptees, it is your responsibility to give your child all the opportunities to understand themselves and their past. Never hold back information from your child, and do your homework. Keep good records. Bprepared to face many emotional challenges when they get older as well as the regular challenges. From there, they must discover who they are and how they fit into society. All you can do is be there for them and help them to the best of your abilities. 


12 thoughts on “Parents of adoptees

  1. As an adoptive mother, I value your viewpoint. As my daughter grows and has questions, I want to be able to arm her with information and posts like this will help me to do this. Both of my daughters (one from China, one born to me–both 4 years old) are learning Mandarin as am I. I must say they are learning it much easier than I am! It’s nice to hear that this is something you would have liked to learn. Just know it is never too late! I’m proof of that, learning it now as a mother. zhù nǐ shùn lì! (I wish you good luck!)

  2. In a perfect world that all sounds really wonderful. My experience is with parents who adopted children over the age of six and had to spend their time addressing emotional and psychological issues of the institutionalization and orphanage trauma. The act of adoption wasn’t a cultural adventure, it was a survival journey. Between making a living and raising children, the expectation on adoptive parents and your desires to discover yourself may be less than realistic. Adopted or not, we all travel through life finding ourselves. The bottomline issue is the abandonment. Reasoning through abandonment from the premise of a lack of cultural continuity seems to erase the very motivation of adopting, remove a child from danger. As adults we know that we cannot have everything perfected and we should not judge our childhood as the way we would have done it. Because life happens. Given a choice, if you were to adopt a daughter at the age of four, and you could only choose one of two paths; the cultural path or the attached to the family path. Which would you choose ? Would you want her to feel attached to her adopted mother and father or would you prefer that your daughter be raised in a separated fashion,
    potentially creating a self-esteem issue. Yes, the cultural background should be kept alive but not at the expense of family attachment. Just some thoughts from the parenting side. Truly wishing you the best in finding your place in this world.

    • Are you adopted? If not, I don’t think you know for certain that the “bottom-line issue” is abandonment. This is a huge generalization, and I don’t feel comfortable speaking on behalf of all adoptees. From my personal experience, I don’t know that there is a “bottom-line issue.” Sure abandonment is something that I’ve thought about a lot, but so so much is cultural. How do I learn how to be Chinese-American by white parents in a white neighborhood? How do I embrace my Chinese roots when some prefer to be “colorblind” and not see me fully or other see me only as a foreigner? I don’t think you understand how difficult it is to not have your original name, birthday, language, and culture. Even though I went to Chinese school on Saturdays, my journey so far has been so much about finding balance between the Chinese and American sides of myself. When I went back to China, the advice I received over and over again from people was “Don’t lose your language. Language is your key back into your culture.” Unfortunately, for me, my language skills had almost completely gone away. My dedication to regaining my culture is exemplified through my undergraduate major, Chinese, and minor, Asian Studies. I feel the need to academically study Chinese history, art, policy, and language because through doing so I learn more about myself and my Chinese-American identity. The author of this blog did not ask parents to make a choice between culture and attachment. She simply asks parents to be cognizant of the cultural issues and feelings of diminished Chinese-ness that so often accompany international adoption. Coming-of-age Chinese adoptees voices should be listened to and valued. We can now say what worked and what didn’t work for us. I would hope that adoptive parents, wanting what’s best for their own children, would be more open-minded when listening to the experts of the adoptee experience – the adoptee.

      • Yes, there are so many things to consider! I think many adoptive parents (at least today) want to help their children learn as much as possible about their heritage.

    • I totally understand what you are saying! The psychological and emotional trials of adopting a 6 yr old can be quite overwhelming…and can last many years. One thing I was able to incorporate even in the early trying days/months/years was allowing my daughter to dictate letters to me in a journal (first for her orphanage teacher and later for her birth mom). This allowed her to express many early remembrances from her home country as well as new experiences (before she was able to express them herself in writing). One thing we had to give up trying to do in the early years was having her trying to continue to be fluent in her mother tongue and English. Her learning difficulties (and traumatic experiences) made that too overwhelming for her. As the years progressed, though, we were able to continue adding cultural experiences to food and books and movies. Now (7 years later) we are trying again for her to learn the language of her home country. Short term memory has been quite the challenge for her, so even learning to read and write and speak in English has been difficult. And, when we adopted her, her speaking abilities in her mother tongue were quite delayed. Many things have to be taken into consideration. One of the most encouraging things for me to learn along the way, was that it can take a year for every year the child is old to fully adjust (unlearn the past and learn the new). Here is a review about a book I read that helped me understand this process.

  3. Reblogged this on Red Thread Broken and commented:
    How do I learn how to be Chinese-American by white parents in a white neighborhood? How do I embrace my Chinese roots when some prefer to be “colorblind” and not see me fully yet other see me only as a foreigner? The author of this blog asks parents to be cognizant of the cultural issues and feelings of diminished Chinese-ness that so often accompany international adoption. I hope that adoptive parents, wanting what’s best for their own children, will be open-minded when listening to the thoughts/narratives/requests of adult adoptees.

  4. Well said! I am glad you try to educate us, adoptive parents. I am glad that you as an adoptee, use your voice. After all adoption is about the child and we just hope we are doing the best we can to guide our children. I believe that your roots and your background are the most important part of who you are.

  5. Sawyerhope I don’t understand why it would be either/or, why can’t adoptive parents work on fostering cultural connections and competency as a family without sacrificing attachment and family unity? Our family participates in learning and activities that support our children’s Asian American identities, and at the same time we are spending quality time together, learning and growing as a family. We have made wonderful friends in the Asian American community who also serve as mentors and role models for our kids. My daughter is far ahead of me in her Mandarin lessons, but I have learned a bit and can at least support her in her own learning. None of this has come at the expense of attachment, I would say it has only strengthened our family bond. I applaud the author of this piece that cares enough about her fellow adoptees to offer some advice to their parents.Thank you. And I can’t speak for all adoptive parents, but when I signed up to adopt from China I was required to do hours of pre-adoptive education, plenty of which focused on the need to recognize that as an a transracial adoptive family we would have some additional needs to meet, both as a family (accepting that we would be conspicuous, being prepared to deal with comments and questions. and so on) and for our children as individuals. It our job as transracial adoptive parents to do our best to support our children, including in ways related to culture and identity. While my children were adopted younger, I can’t understand why that would change if you adopted a four or six year old instead of a one year old. If anything, it seems more important that some connection be preserved so that eventually the child can integrate their life experiences into a cohesive whole. I think the author, speaking as a person adopted at an older age, offers constructive & helpful advice to parents in that regard.

  6. Jennifer, I agree with you that the author of this piece does an outstanding job giving insight to adoptive parents. As an adoptive parent of an older child, I do understand some of the concerns and trials faced by parents mentioned in Sawyerhope’s note. That is why I left a comment above in regards to how adjustments (including grief, behavioral changes, etc.) can take a year for every year the child is old at the time of adoption. If you adopted a 1 yr old, then after having your child for one year, she/he had pretty much reached the point of working through a lot of those changes. But when adopting a 4, 5, or 6 year old, those initial phases and challenges working through the changes takes 4, 5, or 6 years. Also, whatever trauma a child experienced (or neglect or hunger, etc.) faced by a child also plays into that adjustment period. While cultural experiences (and many of the wonderful things shared by the author of this post) need to be explored and experienced, there are days/months/years in the beginning when an adoptive parent might be faced with how do I survive? How do I show my child that I love her/him in spite of the multiple angry outbursts every day, in spite of the hurtful words, in spite of the pain the child may inflict on herself/himself or on his/her parent(s). I think some of this might be what Sawyerhope is referring to. It is not so much that exploring culture/language, etc. is not desired…it is about the timing, the place, the peace of mind from which to be able to offer that. Most importantly, we as adoptive parents (no matter the age of our children) and others in the adoption community (adult adoptees, birthparents, bio-grandparents, etc.) need to love and support each other, learn from each other, and extend grace to one another.
    Blessings to you and your family!

    • Delana, I do understand that adopting an older child brings different and additional experiences and challenges, and I can appreciate the fact that, as someone who adopted relatively young children, those are experiences and challenges I know little about. But to me there is a significant difference in what you are saying in your posts compared to Sawyerhope, who makes it sound as if people adopting older children are faced with a choice between attachment and supporting their child’s ethnic/cultural identity development, with no room to do both. I especially don’t understand the idea that making efforts to support a child in this way would somehow alienate him or her from the rest of the family. Based on what you wrote in your earlier reply you clearly have made multiple efforts to address your daughter’s needs as a transracial adoptee, with sensitivity and flexibility, which is what the transracial adoptive parents of older children that I am personally acquainted with have done as well. I do understand the situation of a newly adopted child being unable to master a new language while maintaining proficiency in their first language, especially when they are not in a home where the first language is spoken. I also understand that some children have unfortunately suffered such trauma in their birth country that they want nothing to do with anything related to their birth culture, to the point even hearing someone speak their native language can trigger PTSD. So I can see where what would be good for one child might not be good for another, and of course we must tailor our parenting to meet our children’s individual needs, whatever they may be. But for many or most transracial adoptees, those needs will include support of their ethnic/cultural identity development, in addition to all the other things kids need to grow up healthy and strong. I am glad we agree that this blogger has offered valuable advice to adoptive parents toward that end. And blessings to you and your family as well.

  7. I feel lucky to hear the voices of adult adoptees. We attended an adoptive families camp where all of the speakers and moderators were adult adoptees with a wealth of knowledge and experiences. If you have a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it!

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