“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”This quote was written by the philosopher Socrates. This was the first thought that I had as I stumbled on a zoom discussion with a group of adoptees on a hot July day in 2020. This was the day that my title as adoptive mother transformed into adoption researcher. The adoptees who were born in different countries were transracially adopted into white families. They shared their thoughts of what they experienced growing up in their adoptive families. This conversation tapped into my thoughts, fears, and joys. It was a thoughtful and honest discussion on their experience in adoption. I found myself writing down question after question. After writing down discussion notes about race, adoption ethics, adoption-appropriate language, various attitudes, I found myself with more questions than I had answers about the adoption community. I believe that during this time in 2020, many people in the United States had more questions than answers as well.
Summer of 2020 was one of the most revolutionary and emotionally charged summers in the United States. There was a display of racial tension very present in the United States. As a family of African Americans with an adoptive son, we were approaching our first year as a family. More importantly, our son was approaching his first year with his family and in the United States. Our thoughts were inundated with healing and fear for our son growing up. I felt that with our adoption classes and my experience that maybe I knew everything about adoption, but this particular conversation among the adoptees showed me I had so much to learn. I felt that it was a call to action to research and study all things adoption. If I was to raise my son with all of the support and care, I felt I should at least research adoption, the history, the myths, the people in the adoption triad. Through their research, I read countless stories from all points of view. It was very enlightening and I couldn’t stop researching. While I saw so much growth due to the evolution of thinking in the adoption community, I saw things that could be done better. Through the use of various media sources, books, podcasts, articles, and conversations I find that my thoughts of the adoption community are evolving and there are many action steps after finding the information. Here are some reminders and action steps to make 2021 better in the adoption community.
Adoption brings loss of birth family culture.
Educate yourself on the birth family or their culture as much as you can.
Adoption can be a complicated process. As the adoptive parents, you are blending two or more cultures into one family. There is no way to erase the loss and trauma of the child not being in their birth culture. Despite the pain it could potentially bring, honest information about the birth culture is important. Culture is a main component of knowing an individual’s identity. Throughout my adoption training, I do not think culture was emphasized enough. There were classes on trauma and rightfully so because adoption itself is a trauma. By contrast, there were practically no classes on acceptance or research of the adoptive child’s birth culture. I honestly believe that out of the 10 classes that I took, only two of them were on culture. None of them shared what culture looks like and the foundation of culture. When we went to our son’s birth country, we were filled with curiosity and wanted to enjoy and explore his birth culture. I remember the day that we picked up our son. In the car with his social worker, I just looked around at the women with baskets on their heads, men cutting hair on the side of the street, the many many cars, and the discussions between people. The city came alive to us on our first day in the country. We ate the food, interacted with the people, and soaked in as much culture as we could. We found that the people of his country were just as intrigued by us learning about his culture as we were into learning about his culture. I remember one night my husband and I were up at night and I mentioned to him, “How can we take him away from such a rich history and culture in this country?” A month later we emerged from the country thrilled and wanting to know more about his birth country. It was the first time that I honestly thought about what he would be missing while growing up with us.
Life experiences, heritage, and culture are paramount to identifying and maintaining identity. Sue Kuligowski, in her article, “How Do I Incorporate My Child’s Culture into Our Lives More?” says that acknowledging the birth family and exploring their culture is important. She suggests that you should go into adoption with this mindset before beginning the adoption process. Kuligowski mentions that the adoptive parents should be open to exploring the culture. Culture is more than just a dish once a year, it can be the TV shows, visiting the area, celebrating holidays, and, more importantly, researching the area. Before we began the adoption process, we did soul searching and thought of every possibility of keeping our child’s birth culture in their life—domestic or international. My husband and I decided that even if our child was from the next county over, they would understand that they were from the next county over and we would take field trips to their birthplace and they would fully understand the culture.
Adoptees are the main character in the adoption stories.
Listen to Adoptees, whether the message is positive or negative.
Through my research, I found a lot of literature on adoptive and birth parents, but I found little on the adoptees themselves. My first interaction with adoption was with adoptees. I will never forget sitting down at the table while my friend who was visiting in town shared that she was adopted. She is African American and an African American couple adopted her. Through the years, I’ve appreciated her transparency and thoughtful advice. After a frustrating morning of racial tension, I was grateful to stumble upon this conversation with transracial adoptees. I found their thoughts helpful. It made me truly face the facts that my son suffered losses. I began to cry after hearing the heartbreak of adoptees growing up searching for their identity and their attempts to find themselves.
There are many adoptees that feel very anti-adoption. They recall various moments of trauma in their life and how it affects their lives today. There are adoptees that are very glad that they were adopted and have a positive attitude towards adoption. I believe that both feelings are valid. Life experiences are individualized and are personal to the individual. While we can have an opinion, it is not fair to take away someone’s life experience from them.
There are many wonderful sites where adoptees speak out and encourage other adoptees or share tips with adoptive parents. I’ve placed below resources to hear from adoptees.
Black to the Beginning—
Dr. Samantha Coleman & Sandria Washington speak with various people in the adoption triad. Black to the Beginning: The Black Adoption Podcast amplifies the adoption conversation by placing #BlackAndAdopted voices and Black families at the center.
The Honestly Adoption Podcast
Torie DiMartile is a transracial adoptee who has a mission to foster honest discussions of race, identity, and adoption; seek out and provide meaningful educational resources; and grow and connect in a community that challenges and uplifts.
The Adoptee Next Door
Angela Tucker is a transracial adoptee who has made it her mission to encourage adoptees and to educate others about the ins and outs of adoption.
Recommended Books by Adoptees and for Adoptees
In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption by Rhonda Roorda
Rooted in Adoption by Shelby Kilgore and Veronica Breaux
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis
Motherhood So White by Nefertti Allen
The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, Wendy Lyons Sunshine
Classroom Teachers are a part of the adoption community.
Administrators should have a PD session in adoption-appropriate language and various tools to use with children who are adopted.
Marilyn Schoettle and Ellen Singer, in the article “Adoption at School,” share that the school environment can be a wonderful support to the adoption community. Singer and Schoettle add that “when teachers understand the emotional trauma and the issues that adoptive children face, they are able to make the child and their family comfortable at school by altering assignments and using appropriate language.” It is my experience that unless you’ve adopted a child or had a child who was adopted in your classroom, you are clueless as to the issues that you may face in your classroom as an educator. I believe that a Professional Development session with staff members in interactions with adoptive parents and children will be helpful. Training in working with children from traumatic backgrounds will be helpful for teachers as well. Also, knowledge about what conversations to have with various adoptive parents will make them feel comfortable with having the child at the school. Jennifer Kaldwell, an adoptive parent herself, gives tips to adoptive parents in her article “Talking About Adoption with My Child’s Teacher,” which addresses concerns that your average adoptive parents have for their child in the classroom. They are speaking on behalf of their child. In my experience, I know that school-aged, especially preschool-aged, children respond well to literature. This list of adoption literature from Adoption.com was a wonderful resource for me when discussing various books that I could add to the school library in my classroom for children who were adopted. It is wonderful to have for both children who are not adopted because each is exposed to literature about adoption.
There are no easy answers in adoption. There is no checklist to make loss and trauma go away for an adoptee.
Find support as an adoptee, adoptive parent, or birth parent.
Before we adopted our son, our agency suggested that we find a support group. They recommended that the group come from a group of people who work in adoption as social workers, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. During his first year in the country, I had issues with my son at school. Instead of going to a group of people that are in my adoption support group, I went to people who did not understand adoption. It was not until I went to my adoption support group that I was able to not only meet adoptive parents who related, but they were helpful in providing resources I needed for my son.
I’ve learned throughout my adoption journey that there are no easy answers in raising a child— let alone a child who was adopted. There is no checklist and no quick fix for successful adoption. Adoption is a journey and there are hills and valleys at every turn. I’ve heard the same from birth parents and adoptees who are involved in an adoption. I believe that those who are in the adoption community do need support.
Resources for the Adoptive Parents: This is an article written by Kristen Chamberlain that shares the different resources from financial, emotional, and emotional resources for adoptive parents.
Brave Love: This is an organization for birth parents that gives them resources to help them cope in the adoption journey.
Resources for Birth Parents: An article written by birth mother Leslie Bolin. She writes about different types of groups and different resources for birth parents.
Resources for Adoptees: An article written by Karly Pancake, a foster mom who gives her suggestions for adoptees.
Adoption is ever-evolving with new updates in adoption education and the experience of others in the adoption community expressing new ideas more and more. Overall it is the openness of all involved that helps to adopt education and information year by year. The evolution of mindsets and the support given makes me hopeful for adoption in 2021 and beyond.