Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Adoption in the Every Day.

It's amazing to me how adoption touches every aspect of our lives.  I sometimes wonder what other families talk about, it's so constant a subject matter around here.

Prior to the younger kids coming home, I assumed that yeah, of course adoption is a part of our life.  But I didn't really understand how, at least in our family, it simply permeates everything.  Perhaps it's more pervasive because we adopted kids who were older, I don't know (I'd be interested to hear from parents who have adopted babies and whether this post resonates as their child has grown older).  Certainly in the case of our kids, a significant chunk of their lives had already happened before we met them; and they have memories of, and are influenced by, the living of their earlier life.

Whatever the reason, I'm still somehow amazed by how adoption is not an event that happened in our lives; it's not defined by that single moment in time when two children becomes legally ours.  Instead, adoption is like a verb around here - an action word, an active and ongoing part of our lives.  It's a fact of daily life in our house and impacts pretty much everything:

• It affects conversations every single day.  We talk about Seth's and Lizzie's first family, their birth community.  We talk about their friends, their experiences in the orphanage and transition house.  We pray for Gashi (their first father) multiple times daily.  We talk about these things while cuddling in bed at night, and while driving around in the van running errands.  The list could go on and on about the nature of discussions we have around here.

• Adoption (and the circumstances of their life in Ethiopia) affects how our younger kids learn and how I conduct h/school.  For example, I have concluded that Seth is really not ready to learn his ABCs, despite being six years of age and (very) theoretically at the grade one level.  Malnutrition, the trauma of everything he has gone through in the past eighteen months, so many things, have affected his readiness to learn (at least from an academic perspective).  He has enough to deal with for now.  The letters can wait.

• Adoption affects how our kids play and interact with others.  Despite having very gentle natures, both Seth and Lizzie have had to learn to play gently (I'm guessing because of being in an orphanage) and how to treat toys/possessions in such a way as to avoid breaking things.  They have also had to learn socially acceptable, and family acceptable, rules of engagement when interacting with others.

• Adoption affects how Geoff and I discipline.  I've talked before about how we do 'time in' instead of 'time out' - so that if there's behaviour happening that needs dealing with, I don't (ever) send them away from me (for example into another room), but they are instead isolated from the fun that the other kids are having but still present with me.  Because the last thing they need is to believe is that any poor behaviour on their part will result in their being separated from their parents...imagine some of the fallout of that kind of belief given their circumstances.  In fact, we don't do time-outs with Matthew either, for the same reason.

• Adoption means that (for now) Geoff and I are basically not able to get out of the house together without children because we're building attachment.  We have experienced one exception to this rule since the kids have come home - about ten days ago, my parents put Lizzie to bed while the rest of us went about other, conflicting, activities (a music concert and Disney on Ice).  That was a lovely evening out, but it certainly can't be more than the exception at this point that someone else puts our kids to be yet...not because the kids wouldn't survive, but because we're choosing to meet their attachment and security needs proactively.

• Adoption affects bedtime routines.  For example, we stay with the kids until they are asleep because they (especially Seth) grow anxious if we leave the room any earlier.  This makes sense given that in their earlier life (whether with their first family or in the orphanage), they always shared a bed with someone else.  We're not prepared to make them 'tough it out' by falling asleep by themselves; toughing it out, for children who have experienced the real and present trauma of being left (the worst nightmare for any child), would mean something quite different than it would for another child - Matthew, for example (though we lie down with him, too!).  Seth and Lizzie have had to tough it out already...what they need now is to be able to relax and know that they don't have to tough it out anymore.

• Adoption affects how I engage Matthew and deal with his behaviour/discipline issues - because heaven knows, he's had enough to deal with since his siblings came home without me coming down hard when he exhibits some challenging behaviours.  The control over his hands and tongue is coming, and I work hard and consciously at making sure he knows that his behavioural lapses are not about how 'good' or 'bad' he is.  I tell him that it's just a matter of time before his brain will allow him to control what he does...even when he's spitting mad.  In fact, I have never, ever, used the word 'bad' in connection with my children's behaviours because I never want them to associate their behaviour with who they are as an individual.

• Adoption affects how we look as a family.  Overnight, we transitioned from being a caucasian family to a transracial family.  It likewise affects how we get looked at by other people, and how we respond to people who comment.

• Adoption affects how I talk about my children with other people.  For example, I guard Seth's and Lizzie's privacy as it affects the circumstances of their earlier life.  It also occasionally affects how much advice or help I am able to take from family/friends who may not understand the implications of adoption on how we 'do life.'

• Adoption affects the activities that we encourage our children to participate in:  a weekly Ethiopian dance class, for example, and the very (very) long dance 'recital' that we attended before Christmas.

• Adoption influenced our decision to h/school back in the day when we were making that decision.  Amongst other benefits, we hoped that h/schooling would provide: greater opportunity for our kids to attach to us, and us to them; greater capacity and more time to impart values to them (particularly given that they we knew they would be older adoptees); and a chance to give them time to settle in and relax before having to worry about the academic stuff that can always be learned next year.

• Adoption has affected our finances.  In addition to incurring years' worth of  adoption-related expenses that amounted to many tens of thousands of dollars (and tell me one person outside of the Brangelinas or Madonaa that has that kind of cash just lying around), it also affected our decision that I be a stay-at-home parent for the time being.  I haven't worked outside of the home ('cause heaven knows I work inside of it!) since about April/May and, though I worked only very part-time before that, the difference in income is certainly noticed.  Oh, and of course, increasing our number of children by 66.6% has meant that our grocery bills have also gone up...not that far off from 66.6% either!  We regret not one penny of adoption-related expenditures, past or present, but it certainly has had an effect.

• Adoption affects my choice of words or my attitude when talking with my children.  One small example of this happened two weeks ago.  Matthew forgot to wear underwear under his pants one day, and he and the other kids laughed when they realized it.  It does sound funny, right?  Rather than join in, though, I was conscious that when visiting Seth and Lizzie's birth community last June, Geoff and I noticed that most men weren't wearing underwear (which was pretty obvious when pants were threadbare or falling down a little).  So rather than laugh off Matthew's commando status, we had a conversation about this and about how much money it takes to buy underwear and how much we simply take for granted.

• Adoption affects how I spend my time.  I am part of a few yahoo forums that impart information about adoption issues; I have developed friendships with many other people immersed in the world of adoption; I have read huge numbers of books and studies about adoption; I regularly consult with other adoptive parents about issues we have in common; I read blogs of adoptive parents and of adult adoptees; I research online to continue to learn about issues my children have/might have.  This list goes on and on.

• Adoption affects, to a degree, the food that we eat and the traditions that we are developing as a family.  As one example, we almost always have doro wot (spicy chicken stew) and injera in our freezer, which is a special treat for Seth (and, to a lesser degree, Lizzie) and I deliberately take the kids out for Ethiopian food on a fairly regular basis.

Adoption, quite simply, has been woven into the fabric of our lives.  I'm not sure that this is something that I ever, in all of our years leading up to this adoption, heard discussed...but then, there's so little that's really ever talked about in terms of how to prepare for the reality of your children being home (especially re: older child adoption).

Without a doubt, adoption has re-shaped our family; it is almost as much a living entity as any one of the five of us - maybe a noun instead of a verb, then.  Its presence in our lives is a challenge at times, to be sure; but it is also a life enhancer, an experience enricher, a soul 'deepener.'  I wouldn't trade it for anything.


  1. Hi Ruth,

    All very valid points, but I believe we must be careful not to attribute EVERYTHING our children do to adoption. Yes, it will always be one of the many factors that help define who our children are and will be come, however, I wonder if we become too lenient sometimes and the children use adoption as a crutch or an excuse for their behavior. I believe this is one of the most important balancing acts of parenting adopted children. Something I battle with everyday... Thank you for your perspective.

  2. Hey Anonymous -
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that we mustn't attribute everything our children do to adoption.

    I'm wondering, though, if we're maybe speaking to slightly different issues. I think you are talking about not letting the fact of our kids' adoptions be an 'excuse' for their behaviour...while keeping in mind that there are some differences between the behaviours of adopted and bio children...and thus balancing is required.

    What I intended to communicate in this post is how the fact of adoption permeates every thing that I do as a PARENT to those kids. So whether or not I attribute my kids' good/poor behaviour to their being adopted, we still talk every single day about adoption/birth family/memories of Ethiopia/race/etc etc. It's just a part of our life, its own entity. Not to excuse behaviour. It's just always present.

    I categorically do NOT think that the fact of our kids' adoption mens they should be excused for all of their behaviour. But it does affect HOW we discipline them (eg. time ins instead of time outs).

    I don't think it's using adoption as a crutch to lie with my kids at night time either. But their huge traumas do inform my decision to be close to them until they fall asleep, so that they can experience the bond of attachment in those long hours of separation from us at night time.

    Does that make sense?

    The more I think about this subject, the more I wonder if adoption is so upper-most in our minds and home because our kids were older when they joined our family. I'm not sure how how old your child was when s/he joined your family, but this may make a difference. I talked recently with a mom who adopted a 2-year-old from Ethiopia last year; she said that for them it was as if he were any other kid his age...adoption was not a huge part of their everyday conversation...perhaps because her two-year-old didn't need it to be at this point and didn't have any of the memories that, for example, my kids do.

    Anyway, interesting discussion and I appreciate your thoughts!