So it’s time to wrap up my KAAN coverage. There is just no way that I can really convey everything I learned and all that I experienced. But I promised to try, so I will just hit some of the high points for you.
- One of the sessions I went to centered around the question of whether or not adoptive parents have any role in a search for birth family. I have a strong desire to reunite Matthew with his birth family if at all possible, so I was definitely interested. (Notice the wording in the previous sentence: I have the desire. Matthew? Who the heck knows?? And as I’ve come to learn and understand on this journey–it is SO not about me.) We heard from a number of adult adoptees with different experiences, some who had searched, some who had not, some who wanted to, some who had no interest, some who took that journey with their adoptive family, some who lovingly asked their adoptive family to step back and let them do it on their own. And after a lot of discussion, I’ll give you the short answer. No. It isn’t our place. We can support them if they decide to do it, but we simply should not take those steps on our own. Was I bummed by that? Yes. Will I respect it? Yes.
- Also, one speaker really encouraged everyone to “work on your stuff” before sharing your story with others. For adoptees, their “stuff” might center around abandonment or identity issues. For adoptive parents, our “stuff” might be that we experienced infertility and haven’t properly grieved that yet. The point is, your “stuff” is really going to cloud your experiences and your story and you might end up taking some anger out in a misguided way. For example, the spring after Matthew came home, we were at the zoo, and some lady starts telling me how she thought it would be cool to adopt and she seemed to have this idealized vision of adoption and I really wanted to shove some reality down her throat. Especially when she said something like that it couldn’t be harder than bringing a newborn home from the hospital. That steam coming out my ears? Yeah that was my stuff–an incredibly rough adjustment period. And I needed to work it out–without assaulting a lady on the zoo train.
- The generosity of the adoptees to who shared their stories was so helpful and I had a lot of questions. Here are some of the tips that they very generously shared.
- Do culture camps or language classes AS A FAMILY. Singling out your child just makes them feel even more different than they might already feel.
- Normalize experiences with Korean culture so that it doesn’t feel like an anomaly. Kids always resist anomalies.
- Find a mentor for your child–an older teen, maybe, who was also adopted from Korea (or at least Asia). You don’t have to call them a “mentor” or make it feel so official–this can just be someone who comes for dinner sometimes or maybe to your kids’ birthday parties. As the relationship grows, your child will probably feel comfortable opening up to them about some of the feelings they would not want to share with you.
- Your kids are getting teased. PERIOD. If they haven’t told you, it is because they might not even understand themselves exactly what is happening and they don’t think you will understand.
- Help your kids develop the skills to respond to questions about why they are different. This wasn’t mentioned at KAAN, but the W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook is a great resource to use as your child begins elementary school.
There was just so much more that I learned and experienced at KAAN, but like I said, you kind of had to be there. One of the best things about this conference was the way everybody accepted each other. If you spend any time reading a variety of adult adoptee, first parent blogs, and adoptive family blogs, you know that sometimes there can be such an air of volatility between ALL members of the adoption triad. Part of me was afraid that I would be tiptoeing over landmines and worried about saying the wrong thing when asking a question. But it was such an environment of understanding and that was so refreshing. I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider attending if you ever get the chance!!!