Thursday, August 16, 2012

Five Tips for Talking to Families of International Adoption

I am a fairly laid back person (except during fantasy football season), and it really takes a lot to get my feathers ruffled.  Lately though, I have been nearly shocked by some of the things that people think - and then say out loud (or put on Facebook) - on a broad range of subjects.  I was raised old school - if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.  (Or in our house it was, "If you don't have anything nice to say, be hushed.")  It's a simple but effective rule that anyone can follow, especially with regards to adoption.

Even though it can get discouraging at times dealing with people's feedback about our adoption, I do realize that 99% of the things people say regarding adoption in general, and international adoption specifically, is because adoption (domestic or international) is complicated, and it is nearly impossible to understand all the nuances unless you are walking it (and even then folks can whiff spectacularly).  People are genuinely curious about adoption, and I can appreciate their good intentions and I can appreciate their interest, if it accompanied by even an ounce of teachable spirit.  I have grace in abundance for people who express an interest.  It's the folks who would rather express judgement that chaff.

As a wise woman (me) once said...dude.

I know we have probably been down this road before on my blog, but let's go there again briefly.  Here are five tips for talking to international adoption families.

1.  Common sense dictates that some questions are just off limits.  Examples include but are not limited to:  Are her parents dead?  How long was she in an orphanage?  Was she abandoned on the street?  Do you think she would end up a prostitute?  Was she beaten, sexually abused, etc?   An adoption decree does not come with a free pass to the child's personal business stapled to it.  Just know that children are not available for international adoption because they lived like the Cleavers.  Every child's story beyond that is different, and really should only be shared in the context of real relationship, if at all.  (Note:  Standing in the same check out line at Kroger does not a relationship make.)

I do understand that people have a general curiosity about adopted children's pasts.  A large part of that, I believe, is that the general public is made up of people with tremendous amounts of compassion, and I deeply appreciate those folks' hearts.  There is however a small minority who are not sated with an hour of Maury Povich and an hour of Jerry Springer a day.  They need more juicy stories.  Those folks creep me out.

2.  You do NOT have to give money towards our adoption.  But it would be great if you'd be hushed beyond that.  Adoption is expensive.  You wouldn't believe how much one piece of paper can cost you and how many of those expensive papers you need to adopt.  Often times, adoptive families don't have the $30,000+ up front they need to adopt, and so they work to fund raise through various means.  Apparently, this bothers a small segment of the general (and by "general", I mean "Facebook") population.  

Here's the inside scoop.  You can choose not to help a family adopt.  Read that again and soak in the absolution as needed.  There is a great movement among Christians regarding adoption right now, and while I love seeing the body of Christ come together to do what we have been called to do, I also realize practically that not everyone can (or should) adopt, and not everyone can finance adoptions.  Obviously our family is very pro-adoption, but I don't know if that means we will adopt again or not.  In the meantime, we try to do what we can to help others adopt, and from a purely practical standpoint, that often means giving financially.  We aren't always able to give lots, but we give what and when we can because we think it is a worthy investment.

If a family asks for financial help with an adoption, please know that a) it is never easy to ask for money, and b) they want you to give out of joy and not guilt or resentment.

Here is another important tip - if you aren't going to give, fine.  But don't be the guy who says, "If you don't have the money to afford to adopt in hand, you shouldn't adopt" unless you also greet a pregnant woman with, "It costs $235,000 to raise that child to age 18.  Do you have that kind of money in hand?"  Give joyfully if you choose to, and if you choose not to give, chose to not give silently.  That silence is also a gift.

3.  Just because a child speaks with an accent, it does not mean that the child is dumb.  Or deaf.  You are going to not want to get me started on this one.  And I go.

Because we did an older child adoption, our precious daughter came to us with the ability to speak.  (Lots.  She is a 14 year old girl.)  Her English has been astoundingly good from the moment we met her, and she has continued to flourish in her expressive language skills.  Even though she has been home for over a year, she still has the most beautiful Latvian accent when she speaks English.  Honestly, I love it.  I hope she never loses it, because it is beautiful.  But sometimes, people assume that because Alina talks with a bit of an accent, she is slow.  While she may not like math (AT ALL), this girl is very, very bright.  She is smart, thoughtful, and articulate...just with an accent.  

And the deaf thing?  Whew.  I first encountered that when Alina took horseback riding lessons.  She had only been home a few months when we started them, and while she had a great grasp of conversational English, her horse riding vocabulary was limited.  Even though the teacher knew Alina's situation as an English language learner, she wasn't sure how to change her instruction to more common English words Alina could understand.  And so Alina's teacher would just yell words Alina didn't know louder.  If Alina doesn't know the English word in a conversational tone, she probably isn't going to get it when you yell it at her.  Best part of this whole story?  The instructor was Hispanic - a Spanish speaker.  

4.  We love where our daughter is from.  Please don't talk down about her home country.  It is now one of our family's home countries, too.  My guess is that this attitude is a combination of the American superiority complex mixed with the "Eastern Europe is so 1970s" vibe that still permeates our culture.  Our daughter is from Latvia.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful country.  I love it.  The people are resilient, kind, curious, and welcoming.  Some of my very favorite people I have ever met live in Latvia.  Yes, their economy is struggling right now.  No, there may not be as many opportunities for young people there right now.  But we do not believe Latvia is "less than" the USA.  She is here because that's where her family is, not because Latvia was awful.  When the men's Latvian beach volleyball team beat the USA at the Olympics, we cheered.  Not because we hate America, but because we also love Latvia.

5.  Yes.  We know there are children available for adoption in the USA.  This is a tricky one for me when I encounter the whole "Why did you go overseas to adopt when there are kids right here in America who need families?" because I have two answers - the one that explains why we ended up with a daughter who was born in Latvia, and the one that says, "Why don't YOU adopt a kid from ANYWHERE?" (Also known as the "sarcastic, unhelpful answer".)  I do not mind at all having this discussion with someone who is genuinely curious about how we ended up with a Latvian daughter, and I would encourage folks to adopt from the USA as much as I'd encourage them to adopt from Latvia.  But the people who have never or would never consider adoption and still self-righteously feel as if I have pulled a Benedict Arnold make me crazy.  Every child deserves a family regardless of geography.  So be hushed and if my adoption from Latvia causes you to lose sleep or grit your teeth, please counteract my choice by adopting domestically.  Or you could always be hushed.  I have NO opposition to domestic adoption.  We may do one some day.  Not to get all super spiritual on you, but borders are a manmade thing.  God sees a world of children who need families.  

I have to say, we feel very, very fortunate that we are surrounded by a tremendously accepting group of family and friends who, like us, simply could not imagine our family without Alina now.  We have a small, but supportive online community of other Latvian adoptive families who walk through the nuances of international adoption with us.  And truly, most of the time I enjoy talking about adoption with folks who are interested.  I just hope some people who need to hear some healthy adoption talk boundaries stumble across this post, and if nothing else, they take away the wise words of my mother...

Be hushed.


parismom said...

Be hushed! I am so using that. Phonetically it's "shut up", but not so hateful. Thank you, Ann. You rock.

Renovation Girl said...

Love this! We experienced this type of ignorance with our infertility struggles. "Just relax and it will happen." "There's a reason for everything." "Just adopt...everyone gets pregnant when they start the adoption process." I could go on and on...but instead, I'll be hushed. Just know that I understand, albeit from a slightly different perspective.

Anonymous said...

WOW, is all I can say, some of the things that you have heard, it amazes me how ignorant people are sometimes. I have to give you credit for "being hushed" yourself to some of these comments, my reply back after awhile would be borderline insulting. You do rock!

Anonymous said...

Ann Kimmel is one of my heroes. I'm not blowin' smoke here. She and her family had the strength of will and the unfailing faith to go out into our wide, scary world and bring back their daughter, the girl who was always meant to be part of their family but, due to a cosmic hiccup, was born halfway around the world. Ann and fam KNEW Alina was out there somewhere. They found her and they brought her home. If only we all had the courage of our own convictions that these folks have shown. Imagine what we all might accomplish. Never let me hear a word against Ann or their family decisions. I'll come atcha like a cracked-out spider monkey.

Carol-Ann Allen said...

Enjoyed my first time visit to you blog! Hesitant to admit it, but came in search on the other Ann Kimmel! :)

lizavilpulla said...

Let’s not forget that God has created us equal. Help is needed, regardless of the country of residence or skin color. Recently, I learned that even in Europe there are orphans in need, especially in Ukraine - It’s not necessary to donate, a simple click on the link and sharing posts with others will help so much.