Adoptive parents take various approaches to responding to nosy questions and aggressive or judgemental comments.
A reader wrote in to Ann Kearney-Cooke, a member of SHAPE's advisory board, in the August 2010 issue of Shape (34). The reader said:
"My mom keeps making remarks about the extra pounds I'm still carrying after having a baby last year. How do I get her to leave me alone?"
Kearney-Cooke's response was a few paragraphs long, but one part in particular stuck out to me. She suggested the reader respond to her mother's comments by saying, "And you're saying this because...?"
The reason this response works well, according the advisor, is that "you shift the burden of explanation back" to the person asking the question/making the comment.
Maybe I'll try this in the future when facing another nosy, judgemental, or condescending comment or question regarding adoption.
I got, before I was a parent, that toddlers could be a challenge. I also understood that the "terrible 2's" could start before age two and continue into the pre-k years. I have worked as a babysitter, day care employee, nanny, children's ministry director, Sunday school substitute, Bible School worker, etc. I have, for much of my life, worked with kids.
Now that I have my own child and she is well into her toddlerhood, I have begun to face new challenges. She always was an easy baby---good eater, great sleeper, content to play independently, obedient, and happy. She's still very much the same girl except now, she's stepped up her game and added a new twist---challenger!
Here's how it goes. Miss E decides to bite. We say, "No biting. Biting is naughty." So instead attempting to bite again, she pinches. We say, "No pinching. Pinching is naughty." So then she proceeds with trick #3 (out of her bag of tricks): hitting. Or if it's my husband, face squeezing. (She reserves this trick just for him; we have no idea why).
So, what to do? She's smart enough not to do the same naughty thing twice.
I ordered several discipline/parenting books from my local library in an attempt to broaden my horizons. And the truth is, I'm more confused reading them that I was before! (And honestly, all the parenting info seems to make one's self-esteem plummet---and I'm not sure how that's effective).
You see, so much of parenting to me is common sense. But I get that common sense to me comes from the fact that one, I'm the oldest of three kids and was a little Mommy since I was three, and two, I've worked with kids for as long as I can remember.
But I had to remind myself that perhaps I was missing something, or perhaps there was a new breakthrough method of discipline that I hadn't experienced yet. So armed with my stacks of books, I sat in my bed night after night, pouring over their contents and pondering the author's "expert" advice.
First up was Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay. This book annoyed me from the start. Basically, the authors talk about giving kids lots of choices to help them have power, or something like that. I agree with giving little ones choices, like which color of plate they want or if they'd like to swing or go down the slide, but the number and extent of choices the authors suggested were ridiculous. They do talk about responsibility and letting kids be independent---great. They also talk about having an "uh oh" song...or something like that. Ok, I'm so NOT into songs---like the "clean up" song from Barney. What a nightmare. Plus, this book contains too many "steps" and charts. I want simple and direct. When my child doesn't obey, I don't want to have to pull out the manual, find the right page, and read a chart and ten steps before initiating discipline.
My second read was 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan. The concept is rather simple. The child does an action that isn't appropriate, and the parent says, "Sue, no throwing your toy train. That's one." The child does it again and the parent simply says, "That's two." If the child gets to three, there is a punishment. Either taking the toy away, a time out, or something else. My argument here is that I'm not sure kids should get three chances to disobey. But I love that there is no arguing, no constant reminders, no threats, no emotional responses, no exaggerated reactions---just counting and punishment. I did implement the 1-2-3 idea for just one day, and my daughter caught on right away. The simplicity of the method is fantastic for little ones and parents. But counting has always annoyed me....so maybe that's why I'm struggling to jump on the "magic" train.
Then there's Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Dr. Kevin Leman. He talks a lot about birth order and a child's personality. He explains that there is a difference between being authoritative and being an authoritarian. He uses Bible verses to support his views, which I appreciate. But again, so much of what is shared seems like common sense. I have a few little sections flagged, but thus far, nothing monumental has been revealed to me.
Next I began to read Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel. I love how she has a chapter of examples and explanations followed by a chapter called a "Toolbox"---basically ideas on how to apply her thoughts into everyday parenting situations. I appreciate, like with Leman's book, Bible verse references. However, some of Lisa's "creative" corrections seem rather extreme. For example, if a child slams a bedroom door, he or she should be made to open and shut the door nicely one hundred times. I remember slamming my door as a teenager, and though I'm sure it infuriated my mom, I also think the physical act was a good release for me, it didn't hurt anyone, and I got the chance to then sit in my room and chill out for a few hours, think about what was said, reflect, get over it, apologize to my parents, and then move on. I don't think every act of defiance needs to be punished and/or punished creatively.
Oh, and also, many of these books use various words for punishment. Lisa uses "correction." I think Leman uses "discipline." And so forth. But really, I find this to be a matter of semantics, though they argue it is not.
I also think punishment needs to be consistent for little ones. I don't want to find a "creative correction" each situation---mostly because I believe little children need consistent, expected results for bad behavior. I think creative corrections might work better for older kids, but for little ones, consistent and practical seems to work best.
For us, time outs do work. I think it was Leman or maybe Phelan who said time outs are great because really, kids sometimes just need time to chill out. An all out punishment, a yell from mom and dad, or whatever, rarely helps (it's actually selfish on mom and dad's part because it's for them to release anger, not to help the child)---when the kid just needs a few moments to get it together.
The authors each have their reasons and rules regarding spanking. Though they are interesting to read, it's an age-old argument. To spank or not? What is spanking? How and when to spank? Where to spank? Blah blah blah. They dissect the whole "spare the rod" Bible verse. BORING.
I have tried to have an open mind while reading these books. In fact, I was almost giddy to find THE answer to toddler discipline. I should have known that when there are hundreds of books on the subject, an answer isn't going to be found. (Each book had it's good points, but they were often buried in so much other advice and opinion, that the good parts get lost).
Having a toddler is a challenge. Some days are serene and sweet. Some days are chaotic, inconsistent, and frustrating. But what's so great is that children are forgiving. Even when parents do not discipline the perfect way, the child usually gets the message (the action wasn't good), shows some remorse, and moves on. Meanwhile, parents can reflect on what does and doesn't work, adjust accordingly, and move on.
So for now, I'm going to just do what works and adapt when whatever that "what works" is loses it's power. And I'm going to hopefully keep reading what the best parenting book is of all---The Bible. Because I know if I'm walking with God as I should everything else will fall into place.
Miss E is an only child right now, and yep, she is the star of the show. Our world essentially revolves around her. I know it's not supposed to (saith the parenting experts), but realistically, toddlers are demanding---sometimes purposefully, sometimes not. Now that's not to say our daughter "rules the roost" because she's a little princess (although I do, gulp, call her "Princess" sometimes....), but instead because we feel that we only have one child once, and it's our joy to give her our attention, our affection, and our praise.
I have no idea right now when we'll begin our adoption process again. Sometimes I hear of "situations" (for lack of a better word) where a child might be available for adoption, and my heart leaps.
I tell myself many things. First, that a child needs a home. (In the case of domestic infant adoption of children of color, need can be an accurate description---because there are much fewer families open to children of color than families open to children who are white).
Second, that we have a home---a happy, healthy home.
Third, we have the money to go through the process. Thank you, adoption tax credit!
Fourth, we have the heart for adoption. We want to adopt again. We are educated on adoption.
Fifth, Miss E loves babies---toy babies or real babies. She points out babies when we are out shopping, yelling out, "BOBBY!!!" (baby). She recently went down the bottom shelf at Target, kissing every single baby doll on the face and grinning. In June we had our first interim care infant, and Miss E was constantly loving on her and "holding" her (with assistance---MAJOR assistance---of course). When the baby cried on afternoon in hunger, Miss E got the saddest look on her face, wanting to make the baby all better.
BUT....after a few breathtaking moments where I'm decorating a second nursery in my mind and generating name combinations, I realize how happy and whole we are right now. We have a CALM life right now. I know the switch from one child to two will be dramatic, life-altering, and chaotic at times. Yes, there will be sweet moments and happy seasons; however, there will also be many days when I'm going to want to pull my hair out. Am I ready for the challenge of two kids?
Contrary to what most moms say, I WAS ready to be a mom for the first time. I didn't feel uncertain. I was confident and ready.
But this time? Well, I think it's just not our season yet.
The very thought of mountains of paperwork, homestudy interviews, writing check and check, and the worse, waiting, is something I'm not sure I want to delve into in this season of our lives.
However, my heart aches for mothers planning to place their children for adoption who do not have many profiles to choose from. They don't have options, because many families aren't open to their brown babies. I want those moms to have options. But I know that we shouldn't jump into an adoption process in an attempt to possibly better one person's situation. To me, that's not a good reason.
I hope that when the time is right, we will clearly know it and will proceed, as I did with our first adoption, with complete excitement and anticipation.
Meanwhile, I'm going to keep enjoying our "life's a stage" moments, watching the Princess do her cool tricks while we stand right by her, cheering, clapping, and relishing.
Short 'n Sweet Intro: Jana Wolff is an adoptive mama and a writer, who put the two together and composed one of my favorite adoption books: Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother. Read more about Jana, by Jana, here. Also, visit Jana's Q and A section on her website.
Rachel: An online friend suggested your book to me, and I found your book to be humorous, honest, and heartfelt. You say what every adoptive mom thinks---but we are too scared and embarrassed to voice those thoughts. Why did you decide to write the book? What has the overall reaction been from readers?
Jana: I wrote the book I wanted to read but couldn’t find. Throughout the adoption process, I had burning questions I felt too ashamed to ask: What if I don’t like the kid I get? Will my child ever really feel like mine? What if the birth mother wants her child back? Even thinking about these sorts of issues made me wonder if I had what it took to be a good mom; I wasn’t like those blissful, eternally grateful adoptive mothers I had heard and read about.
When our son came along, I sill had a mixture of feelings I had never heard anybody else describe. This time, my unvoiced questions boiled down to: What have I done? I don’t even know how to be a mom and now I have to teach this kid about his race and he doesn’t sleep very much and people are staring and I think he prefers his birth mother and he’s really dark. (Wince.)
I’ve been rewarded for my candor in writing Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother by hearing from thousands of people around the world, whose secret thoughts are now less so. The overall reaction has been gratitude—“Thank you for saying what I didn’t dare say”—but I’ve also heard from people who think I am the devil. Here’s a sample: “You are an ungrateful bitch and completely unfit to be a parent. That poor child.” (Ouch.) I always answer my mail—even the venomous kind—because someone has taken the time to write. I may be irreverent, but I’m not rude.
How have you evolved as an adoptive mother since your son was born?
I started owning the role of Mommy little by little: my son taught me what his different cries meant; I became the one who knew him better than anyone else; and I gladly morphed into his love slave.
I stopped feeling like I had to tell our whole story to anyone who asked. I reminded myself that my son’s birthmother chose us to be his parents; even if I wasn’t always confident, she had been. I dropped the mantle of ADOPTIVE mom to feel just like MOM … though with a transracial adoption, reminders of adoption are never far away.
Adopting a child of another race fundamentally changed the way I saw the world. It awakened me to racism, forced me to figure out where I stood, required me to reach for help, and empowered me to speak out. In the process, I become bolder and more humble at the same time.
The humble part came when I began to realize that, no matter how much I knew about adoption, no matter how well I/we parented my son, there is so much that is out of my reach. I honestly can’t sort out how much of a role adoption has played in my son’s personality or choices (or mine, for that matter). So while adoption still lurks as an explanation for everything or nothing, the influence of genetics becomes clearer as time goes on. Parents of younger kids don’t like to hear this. They like to think that their wonderful parenting and intense love will trump everything else.
I think it’s hard to be a parent. I think it’s even harder to be an adoptive parent. I think it’s hard to be adopted. I think it’s even harder to be adopted transracially.
Harder doesn’t mean bad; it means more complicated. Don’t get me wrong: I can’t imagine loving my son more if I had given birth to him. But if I had given birth to him, he might not be the person I love so much. Does that make sense to anybody else?
What has your son taught you recently?
My son has taught me that my influence goes only so far. It’s humbling to have put so much of myself into him and finally understand that he gets to take it from here.
How do you handle questions about your son's adoption and/or race now that he is older and is listening to your reaction?
I tell the truth, just like I’ve always done. Two decades into the experience, my family doesn’t think much about adoption these days. What once felt like a new outfit now feels like a second skin. We are a non-issue to relatives and friends--a luxury that came with time.
We spent years talking about adoption--"Not that again," my son used to grumble--and years trying to boost the racial identity of a black child with white parents. We sought enrichment in all the recommended ways: culture camps, a multiracial neighborhood, books, role models, friends of color, frank conversations, travel, and a family holiday we called Kwanzukkah.
It’s hard to say whether any of these had a lasting impact on our adolescent son, though we certainly have some great family memories. We hope that the values took hold at some level; they certainly did for my husband and me. Transracial adoption changes the world of our children and the world-view of their parents. When racism becomes personal, as it has for us, introverted personalities become outspoken, as we stand up against inappropriate comments. Thousands of tiny corrections hopefully have a cumulative impact on breaking down stereotypes and increasing the acceptance of unmatched families like ours.
But our son’s life is not about promoting global tolerance. Being black is much more an issue for him than being transracially adopted is, especially as he spends less time with his white parents. The sight of a six-foot-tall black youth evokes a racist reflex sometimes--in a store clerk who follows him around or a suspicious security guard at his own high school. When he seems detached about the country’s first black president, when he himself embodies ethnic stereotypes about dress and language and definitions of success, our son is choosing a world that is more limited than the one we had hoped he’d internalize.
But he is still young, and he has a lifetime of chances to embrace his potential. So for now, where he is going is more important than where he came from.
How old is your son now, and what adoption-related issues or questions is he facing?
My son is 19 going on 16 (not a typo). After growing up in Hawaii, he is a snowboard fanatic. (Go figga.)
Now that the relationship with his birth mother is in my son’s hands and not mine, he is much less gung ho to pursue it. Truth is, he’s not too jazzed about relationships with any adults these days; I think that has less to do with adoption than it does with the friend-centric existence he’s living.
Having said that, you never forget about adoption—and when things go wrong you tend to look to adoption for reasons. But once the family cement has completely hardened, you don’t give it the energy you once did.
Adoption is never far away, though. It comes up when adoptees date; when they start thinking about starting their own families; and when new people are introduced to the family.
What are you up to (professionally) now? Can readers expect another book from you? I’ve lived in Hawaii since 1989, where I work as a professional writer and ghostwriter, having authored five published books (not about adoption) and over 100 feature articles. I’m also a senior mediator at Mediation Center of the Pacific.
I am working on another book; though I’ve taken a long break from writing and keynote speaking about adoption, because I didn’t want to infringe on Ari’s privacy. If you’re really into reading more, check out my website: http://www.janawolff.com/.
Thanks, Rachel and friends, for the chance to think about some of the topics your thoughtful questions posed.