Parenting your adopted child may be different than traditional styles of parenting. There are many aspects to consider. There will be questions that will need answers at some point. Adoptive parent Rachel Garlinghouse interviews “not so angry Asian adoptee” Christina Romo. Christina offers adoptive parent help and advice when it comes to answering these questions.
Advice from an Adoptee on Parenting Your Adopted Child
Meet Christina Romo, a self-described “not so angry Asian adoptee”. She blogs about adoption and works for a national adoption organization. She’s a mom of two, wife, writer, and volunteer who enjoys music and photography.
Rachel: Tell me a bit about your adoption story. Where were you born? What was your adoptive family like? Do you have any contact with your biological family?
Christina: I was born in South Korea. I was found abandoned in a subway station. I spent a year in a foster home and was adopted at age 2. I grew up in a transracially adoptive family. I also have an older sister who was also adopted from Korea and a younger brother who is my parents’ son through birth. My family has always been wonderful. I was adopted at a time when training wasn’t really required or available. There was very little knowledge on parenting your adopted child and understanding of the needs of adoptees. My parents truly did the best they could with the resources they were given. I could not have asked for a more loving and supportive forever family. When I was abandoned, I was left without any identifying information. I don’t know my true date of birth. And I have had absolutely no contact with my birth family.
Rachel: As an adoptee, what do you want adoptive parents to know about talking about adoption with their children?
Christina: I strongly believe in telling your child the truth about who they are and where they came from. But I also believe in the importance of acknowledging a child’s age (emotional and chronological) when doing so. A child should know they were adopted. Withholding that basic information only perpetuates the stigmatization of adoption. It is important when parenting your adopted child to normalize adoption. This is especially true for your child and your family. The adoption conversation need not dominate your family’s life. Yet it should be something you can speak openly about within your family. There are often details from your child’s history that you may feel the need to withhold due to issues. Issues including a history of trauma, painful details about your child’s birth family, etc. These are details that should not be held from your child indefinitely. They are best shared when your child is emotionally ready to have that conversation. My parents kept my information in a scrapbook. It was there for me to read whenever I felt ready to do so. Some of the information was difficult to read. However, it was never hidden from me. I have read through my history (or lack thereof) numerous times throughout the years.
Rachel: Talking with others about adoption when the kids are present?
Christina: It is important to remember that this is your child’s story. So it is highly recommended (whenever possible) that you discuss with your child what details. Are they comfortable sharing details (if any) with others? It is also important to remember that your child is learning to tell their story through you. Basic information (child’s age when joining your family, where your child is from, etc.) is generally okay, but it is still a good to know and respect your child’s comfort level of what is shared. Specific details about your child’s history (trauma, birth family history, etc.) should be protected and shared only when appropriate and with your child’s consent. When parenting your adopted child, be respectful of your child’s birth family. Advocating for your child is essential and can help reassure your child of your love and support for them. However it must be done appropriately, especially when your child is present. It is absolutely okay to refuse to answer questions that may potentially hurt your child and your family. Some questions and situations may warrant the need to walk away without saying a single word. And that is absolutely okay.
One thing to keep in mind is the importance of using adoption-competent language. I have heard parents refer to their children through birth as “their children” and their children who were adopted as their “adopted children”. Adoptees are your children too, and need no qualifiers! Being cognizant of the language you use will be extremely important. It will help your child feel more secure and reinforce the message that they are a part of your family and they belong!!
Rachel: Talking with others about adoption when kids aren’t present?
Christina: Share only what you feel comfortable sharing. Be careful not to share too much. Once your story and details of your child’s story have been shared, please remember that there is no going back. There are times when you will need to advocate for your child within your family, your friends, your church, your child’s school, and your community. It certainly is not your job to change the world. But as a parent, it is important to do what you can to potentially make life better and a little easier for your child and your family. Also important to remember is the importance of self-care, as it is common to lose sight of oneself when parenting. Especially when parenting your adopted child. Some of the best support you will receive is from other adoptive parents. They are people who truly understand the issues and know the difficulties you and your family may face along your adoption journey. These are people with whom you will be able to share your life. Your joys, your fears, your successes, and your sorrows and truly feel like you are not alone.
Rachel: Many adoptive parents read things written by adoptees who struggle with their own adoption stories, the adoption industry, the way adoption is treated in the media, etc. This can enlighten adoptive parents, but it can also discourage them or make them feel that no matter what, they won’t get adoptive parenting right. Sometimes reading too much from others can hinder adoptive parents from making decisions and being effective parents (when they are always fearing they will screw up!). What’s your response to adoptive parents?
Christina: Being a parent is difficult regardless if you are parenting your adopted child or biological child. It is completely natural for parents to make mistakes. and The hope is that we are able to pick ourselves up, acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, and move on! Love is certainly not enough in adoption, but it absolutely helps. Your child needs what every child needs. Your love, guidance, support, and understanding. Children are so incredibly perceptive, so there is a great importance in parenting your children with love, support, and understanding—not with fear. Part of parenting your adopted child is innate—the natural ability and desire to parent that many (not all) people have, and the other part is very much learned.
There are so many opportunities to grow and learn through the experiences of others. One issue that I sometimes encounter with adoptive parents is the unwillingness to hear the message. Maybe because it hurts or it’s too difficult to hear. Or maybe they refuse to believe that the issues don’t apply to their family or children because everything is currently going so well. It is important to know that the information out there is being shared for a reason. Adoption issues can manifest themselves very differently and at different times in your child’s life. One of the best things you can do for your child and your family is to acknowledge that the journey is not always going to be easy. Educate yourself now and prepare yourself for the potential ups and downs. Weathering those storms won’t be easy, but knowing that they may happen and preparing to face them head-on with your child will reinforce to your child that your love is unconditional and you are not going anywhere.
Every adoption experience is unique and should be treated as such. So, while it is important to learn from others, it is also important to adapt and use that information in a way that is most helpful for your child, your family, and your adoption journey.