I think there comes a time when we adoptive parents need to try, without telling them we are trying. We need to make an obvious effort without forcing them to know about it. There is a time when we adoptive parents need to be the anonymous donor, supporter, helper WITHOUT their knowledge.
This weekend was a hard one for our daughter who is almost 14 years old. She has been with us since she was around four but she has a real mom and she has a real family.
She has a family that she is connected to by blood but not connected to in the physical sense. She does not live with them and because she has a romanticized idea of who they are and are becoming, she can’t connect.
I am at fault for this. We adoptive parents are at fault for them not being able to connect.
My APs did something a little right while I was growing up. They kept in contact with my birth family by sending them pictures of me, and having me write letters to them. But I didn’t connect. To me, my birth family were strangers; just like random people I meet on the street each day.
There was very little talk about my birth family. The things that stood out however were the things my adoptive parents said about what THEY were doing for my supposedly extremely poor family. For them, it was not about me connecting with them, but it was about showing me that their white hands were trying to sustain them. For what? I don’t know.
“We bought your brother a briefcase” my adopted mother would say. “And he was so thankful.”
I never could really understand why they had purchased him a briefcase instead of put him through school. I never understood much of what my APs did for the Haitian people in our community. They never seemed to create sustainable projects that would actually help them be their own people and empower them to overcome.
I catch myself slipping into my adoptive mother’s rhetoric. I hear myself telling our daughter things like “We sent your mother money for groceries” or “We sent them 50 dollars for rent.” What is this accomplishing?
I can’t help but wonder if this is hurting our daughter. Is this a classicism issue?
Our daughter is a same race adoptee so we have the racial mirrors in the home. But it is clear that my financial standing is at a level that is different from her birth family’s. It has to be, otherwise I don’t believe she would have given her child to me.
The fact that I/we can send money every couple of months, or send clothing….is this communicating a level of superiority? Is this telling our daughter that we are somehow better than her birth family? Is this trying to convince our daughter that we care? Trying to show her that we care. How is this helping them out of poverty?
I think there comes a time when we adoptive parents need to try, without telling them we are trying. We need to make an obvious effort without forcing them to know about it. There is a time when we adoptive parents need to be the anonymous donor, supporter, helper.
As a child, my APs forced me to write letters to my birth family….was this healthy? I am going to say no. No because I had no idea why or to whom I was writing. No because of the lack of conversation associated with the concept. No because my “tummy mommy” to them was just a baby-making machine; and incubator they felt bad for.
There was no empowering them. They just gave them things, which ended up making them even poorer. And they felt good about giving them things….and this built their ego and made it bigger, and bigger and more gluttonous that they needed to find more poor people to give things to.
They became a glutton for poor people. They became the temporary answer to the poor people’s problems.
But this just made them poorer.
Over the weekend I encouraged our daughter to talk to her birth mother. It was mother’s day in the Dominican and memorial day here in America. She spoke to her in Spanish because that is one of her birth languages and she loves it. She spoke to her in Spanish because that is the language her birth family speaks.
The phone call lasted about 16:05 minutes and it was hard for her to hear them on the other end because it was raining hard.
She wished her mother a happy mother’s day and then proceeded to ask about her siblings and how they are doing.
She was genuinely happy to hear that her mother was doing well (as well as she could be doing since she had just gotten out of the hospital three hours away from her home).
Her mother put our daughter’s siblings on the phone and she got to speak with them. She spoke first with the youngest who is about seven years old and she asked her when she would be returning.
Our daughter could not give her an answer. She just looked straight at me and I told her “As soon as we can.”
Her sister heard it as “no se” and then said that she knew she would not return.
All of a sudden our daughter got disappointed. She repeated “as soon as we can” but her sister kept repeating that she knew she would not return.
As a mom, and as an adoptive mom, this broke my heart. I wanted so much to say “we will be there this summer” but I knew it was not true. We can’t leave the US until we are assured her papers are in good standing. We can’t leave until we know we can return. Immigration is a bitch. I was so angry inside, and sadness welled up in me.
Our daughter’s sister passed the phone to one of her other sisters and this was interesting because this sister actually lived with all of us for the first six months when our daughter came to live with us. She is a year and a half younger than our daughter is.
Their conversation was very simple, and as mentioned before, it was hard to hear because of the rain. But one thing that stood out to our daughter (and she brought it up after the call) was that her little sister was no longer in school. Our daughter was upset, not sure what it mean that she was no longer in school. She was 11 years old.
I tried to reassure her by saying that maybe she was out of school because of the summer but then I remembered that kids get out of school there in mid to late June. I put my hand on her back to let her know that I was there for her if she wanted to talk further. I told her that maybe she stays home now to help her older sister with the baby.
Our daughter wanted so badly to speak to her older sister but her mom said she was not available to talk. She really wanted to wish her a happy mother’s day too because she is now a mom. Our daughter is now an aunt and loves the baby pictures they sent us through whatsapp. But she also knows (after our chat a few days prior) that just because she is happy to be an aunt, she needs to think about how her sister may not be happy to be a mom at 15. Excitement is good, and healthy, and fine but as long as you are not forcing the other party to be excited if they are not feeling it.
After about 16 minutes of a hard to hear conversation (I only heard her side because I don’t need to really “listen in”), I could tell she was getting frustrated. She had exercised all her questions she had wanted to ask and to her, there was just nothing else to really talk about.
At some point early in the phone call, at around 5:18 she handed the phone to me and said “here, I don’t know what else to talk about”. I told her that she is in control of the conversation. She can choose to wrap it up or she can continue but this is for her, not for me. I don’t ever want her thinking that she is talking to her birth family because that is what I wanted her to do. We had spoken about this before the call and she expressed interest and I encouraged her.
What she needed was encouragement on topics to speak about. So I did. I suggested she talk about school, and her after school activities, and her friends. She did this with a smile. And then it dawned on me that the connection was not there.
Even though she was joyful in talking about what she is doing in school, and with her friends, and after school….her siblings seemed disengaged. This saddened her and internally I can imagine there is this conflict going on. Has survivor’s guilt started so early? Has it always been there and I just have not seen it?
I ask adoptive parents everywhere to evaluate how you are keeping your children connected to their birth family. Not just their family but to their roots, culture, heritage and language. Are they unable to engage? Is there a classicism complex? A superiority complex?
Has survivor’s guilt started already?