My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.

Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

Photo Jun 05, 6 38 54 AM

The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

How do I talk to my child about adoption

adoption, counseling, When you adopt a child, you are giving him/her the wonderful gift of a home.  However, with all of the love that you have to offer also comes the responsibility of being willing to discuss his birth parents at some point in his life. For many parents, this can be a challenging task; it can be even harder for the child.

Most adoptive parents understand that their child not only needs and deserves knowledge of how their family was created through adoption, but also that this knowledge must be provided in a way that will give the child the pride and self-respect every person needs as a foundation in life.

Years ago, parents thought that they should wait until the child was old enough to talk about the adoption. We now know that this way can do more harm than good as many adopted children are finding out about their adoption from other people and feeling betrayed.

Adopted children often have many questions about their heritage and they should be answered by their adoptive parents when they are asked. I have worked with foster and adopted children and families for more 15 years, and every child I have counseled has had questions about their biological family starting at a young age. Some younger children are often unsure whether they should bring up their birth parents to their adoptive parents, in fear that it will hurt their feelings or that it will cause anger and they will be abandoned once again. In some cases their fears are real, while in others they are not.

Prior to adolescence, children are extremely curious about their adoption stories. Although they question the circumstances that led to their adoption, most of them seem to accept the answers calmly – See more at:
Some of the questions adopted children ask are, “Did my mom and dad love me? Did my mom and dad love each other? Why did they put me up for adoption?” These are all valid questions which need to be answered to ensure that the child feels secure.

Adoptive parents have said to me, “I know that I have to talk to my daughter or son about the adoption, but where do I begin?” I think it is best to begin when the child is very young and is able to cognitively understand language — usually at around 1 ½ to 2 years of age. You want to be able to tell your child about the adoption often. Also, if you are married or in a relationship, you want to make sure that both parents agree on the same story. This will make the experience less complicated and stressful for your child. I always encourage parents to practice what they are going to say to the child before talking. It builds parents’ confidence and prepares them for questions. And be prepared — they will have lots of questions!

Here are a few more tips for talking to a child about their adoption.

1. Always be willing to talk about the adoption with your children. The more open you are about it, the more comfortable the child will be.

2. Keep the conversation age-appropriate. When a child is younger, use a story telling technique (Fisher, 2000) and keep the language simple. As the child ages and becomes more mature, more sophisticated language can be used.

3. Be honest but don’t scare the child. If you don’t know something, then say, “I don’t know.” If the child was a product of rape for instance, “You don’t want to start out by saying your mommy and daddy loved each other very much,” says Lois Melina, author of Making Sense of Adoption and Raising Adopted Children. “You can say something that would imply that their parents didn’t know each other very well.”

4. Help your child learn how to express their emotions about being adopted. This can be done not only through talking but through drawing or making a life book.

Addressing the adopted child’s past is the key to helping them move towards a bright future.

– By Dr. Sue, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Temple University and an expert in parenting, foster care and child abuse. This article was originally posted on montgomerynews.com

Post-Travel Reflections: Part II

This is the follow-up to the first part of this family’s story.  The second part of this narrative discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.

“We were surprised that James was fine as we went down the elevator, during the taxi ride, and during our walk to our hotel room.  About 5 minutes after we arrived at our hotel room, James began to cry quietly.  It was also his nap time and he was tired.  I got him to take a nap and I put him in a portable crib provided by the hotel.  He slept well even though his foster mother had slept with him on a floor mattress during their time together.  The foster mother had told us how much James liked the Korean character Pororo.  In preparation, we had purchased Pororo toys and downloaded Pororo shows on our iPad while in Korea.  They were very helpful during our time in Korea whenever he began to cry as well as on our long flight back to the States.

James is doing well.  We were pleasantly surprised how quickly he adjusted to our family and living in the United States.  We arrived home on a Friday evening and our daughters were very excited to meet him.  Our older daughter Ellen, who recently turned 8, and James have bonded very quickly.  The first few nights, James woke up frequently and I held him until he returned to sleep.  Fortunately, he did not resist being held.  By Monday evening, he began slowly sleeping in our time zone.

We were fortunate that my mom stayed with us for almost a month after our arrival.  Having her with us allowed us time to bond with James as well as reassure our younger daughter Chloe, who recently turned 3 and was having a difficult time with having another child in our family.  Chloe is very fond of James now and tells everyone that he is her brother and that he is now part of our family.  However, she still gets annoyed when James follows her around or chases her when she attempts to run away.  Overall, we believe that having two young children has helped James feel more comfortable at our home.  We feel very blessed to be together with James.”

Continue to check back to the Spence-Chapin blog for more narratives from adoptive families.

Korea Program 2013 Roots Tour

There are still open spots for this year’s Root Tour to Korea!  We have extended the registration deadline to Monday, March 18th.

The Roots Tour is a twelve-day guided tour through some of Korea’s most important cultural and historical destinations.  It is a chance for Korean adoptees and their families to reconnect with Korea, broaden their understanding of Korean society, and observe its dynamic culture firsthand.  An important part of the Tour is the opportunity for adoptive families to visit the SWS office and tour their facilities.  Your family may have the opportunity to make arrangements to meet foster family and visit birthplaces. If your child was not adopted through the SWS, we will help you in making contact with the appropriate agency during your visit in Seoul.

This year’s Tour will take place from July 3rd to July 15th.  Major destinations include Seoul, Busan, Seoraksan mountain, and Gyeongju, the historical capital city of Korea.

Prior to departure, there will be a full orientation for Tour participants.  Homeland preparation sessions are also available to traveling families through the Adoption Resource Center here at Spence-Chapin.

If you are interested in participating in this year’s Tour, please visit the Summer Programs page and fill out the registration form.  You can also contact Ben Sommers, the Korea Program Coordinator, at BSommers@spence-chapin.org

Post-Travel Reflections: Part I

The following is another contribution from one of our adoptive families.  This narrative speaks to not only the way their trip to Korea was structured, but also highlights the attentiveness of the social workers in Korea as well as the sorrow felt by the foster families as they say goodbye to the children who have been in their care for so long.

We received the call to travel to Korea about three months after our official acceptance.  We felt overwhelmed.  In less than a week, we had to reschedule my husband’s work; make arrangements for child care for our two daughters during the week we would be in Korea; make hotel and air reservations; purchase gifts for the foster family and SWS staff; and make sure that we had everything we needed for our son when we went to Korea.  However, we felt most overwhelmed by the prospect of finally meeting James after waiting for so long.  We began the adoption process more than a year and half ago.  We told our children about the adoption once we received the referral and made our official acceptance.  We thought we had at least four months before going to Korea to finally meet our son.  We were not emotionally ready at the time we received the call to travel.  In retrospect, we were fortunate that we were able to go to Korea prior to the four months.  James had turned 15 months when we brought him home.  A month later, James seems to have jumped to the next developmental stage.  He is more aware of his surroundings and more expressive.

We arrived in Korea on a Saturday evening.  We met James and his foster parents the following Monday at his foster family’s home with our social worker.  He was shy but very comfortable at his home and very playful.  We met James again the following morning at one of the SWS offices.  The office had a bunch of toys and we sat with James (without the foster mother or the social worker) playing with different toys.  The social worker, who was very familiar with James, came into the room occasionally to encourage James to interact with us.  At one time, he sat on my lap, which surprised me.  Later, he sat on David’s lap.  It was a great feeling.  Even though we met for only half an hour, we felt that this time was significant in giving us an opportunity to get to know each other at a place familiar to James but not at the foster parent’s home and without the foster mother, who was sitting just outside the office.  Further, meeting James both on Monday and Tuesday prior to taking him home on Wednesday, seemed to make the transition a lot smoother.

That Wednesday, while the social worker gave us the documents for our travels, James and his foster mother were meeting with the pediatrician on the first floor of the SWS building.  Once the appointment was over, James came up with his foster parents and their son.  Their older daughter was in school.  At the adoption offices, the foster mother showed us the things she brought for us – James’ hanbok, several of his favorite toys, and his clothing, much of which were new.  She had wrapped each item carefully and lovingly in plastic bags.  Shortly thereafter, the social worker called a taxi for us and told us that we would depart first and that we would say our goodbyes at the elevator.  As we were waiting for the elevator to come up, the foster mother was so sad and began to cry softly.  James had been with his foster family for over a year and it was clear that he had bonded with the entire family, especially the foster mother.

Part II will be published next week.  It discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.

Upcoming Korean Cultural Programs in NYC

The Korean Cultural Service NY (KCSNY) often has exhibitions, film screenings, and performing arts events at its New York building as well as at various locations throughout the city.  Visit their events page for a calendar of upcoming events.

Padak
Of particular interest to Spence-Chapin Korea families with young children is an upcoming screening of Korea’s version of Finding Nemo.  The film will be screened next Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7PM.  Admission is free and the theater is easily accessible by subway.  Visit the event page to find out more.

Open Stage
KCSNY is also hosting a three-day series of dance exhibitions which fuse contemporary and modern Korean styles of dance.  “Open Stage” provides a platform for artists and performing groups to showcase their talents to the public.  The event will be held over three days, next Wednesday Jan. 30-Friday Feb. 1 at KCSNY.

Padak Poster

“Padak – Korea’s version of Finding Nemo”

“I want you to know”: A Birthmother’s Letter

Birth mothers rights have been evolving over the past decades, from fully closed adoptions where birth mothers had no information about their child, to today’s adoption practices of openness and ongoing communication between birth and adoptive families.  Sheila placed her child at a transitional time when adoptions were still closed, but birth mothers were able to select an adoptive family.  Here, she bravely shares her thoughts and feelings about what this experience has been like for her.

 

I am Sheila and I am a birth mother.

I want you to know that my daughter was conceived in love within a beautiful relationship.  I want you to know that allowing my child to be adopted altered my very being forever.  I want you to know that I did not want to give her away; I wanted to protect her and love her and give her a beautiful life.  My child should have known me and how much I loved and still love her.

I want you to know that as a scared young woman who was given two alternatives…abortion or adoption.  No one talked to me about how I might be able to raise my child.  I wish I knew then the woman I would become.  I am and was strong enough and resourceful enough to raise my child, but no one ever told me that!  I wish I had had confidence and self- esteem; I doubted myself and didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough to care for another human being.  I had nothing materially, but I had love.  I want you to know that if I could turn back time, I would change the day I signed those papers and gave a part of myself away.  But, at the same time, I don’t want to diminish the importance of her family and the life she has lived.

I want you to know, through my blinding grief, I picked her parents carefully.  I was told of what a gift I was giving to another family.  All these years, I have prayed for them and felt like a part of their family from afar.  I wish her family would open their hearts to me.  I don’t want their thanks, I don’t want them to be grateful to me,  I just want them to know me  and perhaps pray for me, too.  I have this feeling that we may be able to have a pretty decent relationship.  I was drawn to them for a reason, and all my prayers brought them to my daughter for a reason.  If this all was meant to be for the good of her life and the richness of her family, then so be it.  I can cope with my loss, but I want you to know that I pray that door will open.  I am not a criminal or a stalker, which is the first thing everyone thinks when a birthmother seeks a connection with her child.  We all share something very beautiful, very natural and very strong.  I want to celebrate and honor that – together.

I want you to know that I didn’t know the depth of love I would feel for my first child.  The day she was born, I held her and talked to her and kissed her and hugged her and never wanted to let her go.  After I gave birth, no one told me what it would feel like to be a mother…I felt it later… overwhelming and unconditional love but she was gone and I couldn’t get her back.  I want her to know that I love her deeply.  While that may be strange to hear from someone she doesn’t know, it is the one absolute truth of my life.  That feeling didn’t go away over time, and was not replaced.  I have had four children since my first daughter was born and the feeling never diminished – it only grew.

Adoption may be right for some, and I hope it was good for my child.  I want you to know it completely altered who I am and the way that I live.  My daughter is in my thoughts every moment of the day.  I want to feel the touch of her hand.  I want to know her likes and dislikes, the similarities we may share and all about her that is unique and individual.  I want to know about her childhood, her favorite places, and fondest memories.  I want to share something with my child.  I want my child to wish these things too.  I want her to have all of her questions answered.  I don’t want to be an intruder in her life – but to be seen as someone who has a big heart for her – another person to love and be loved.

I want my children and my cousins and friends and aunts and uncles to know that I have another child; my first child.  My children deserve to know the truth and to know their sister and to share in friendship and love with her.  I can no longer go on denying her…I worked too hard to bring her into this world.  What kind of person am I that I deprived them of my first beautiful child?

I want you to know that for the majority of my life, I never knew another birth mom.  I thought I was the only one – the very bottom of the barrel – a terrible, awful person.  When I finally got the courage to join a birth mother support group, I was surprised by what I found.  Our group at Spence-Chapin is a casual and comfortable atmosphere that includes the most beautiful, strong and intelligent group of women.  We simply share our experiences and help one another.

I want you to know that we know we are being judged.  Not only do we judge and punish ourselves our entire lives, but society judges us as well.  There is still a negative perception of our existence, our motives and the “who” that we are.   We are very concerned with what society labels us as, how adoptive families perceive us, and what our children believe about us.  We want you to know we are not heartless, dirty, thoughtless and selfish.   We love our children – we long for our children and we need to be valued, understood and welcomed into the adoption conversation.  We are just like you – people with struggles and successes, failures and  accomplishments.

I want you to know that I am pretty wonderful today  because of all that I have experienced, endured, accomplished and contributed to life – all of it!  Everything!  My child deserves to know me and I deserve a chance to know her! I know I don’t have the right to call her my child, my daughter, but what other word expresses the closeness, the importance and the bond that she is…?

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo: NYS Should Fund Statewide Post Adoption Services

This message is from New York State Citizens’ Coalition for Children who started the petition “Governor Andrew Cuomo: NYS Should Fund Statewide Post Adoption Services”.


We met with a staff person in Governor Cuomo’s office on December 19 to discuss the need for post adoption services (PAS) in all areas of the state for all families and future funding options for PAS. We shared that the Office of Children & Family Services estimates that 609 of the children in foster care were previously adopted (this is a low estimate as NYC doesn’t not currently collect this data despite the fact that it is a federal requirement to do so).

The good news is that NYSCCC believes that the Governor’s office understands the unique mental health of the children. Unfortunately, with NYS facing a $1billion dollar short fall in next year’s budget it appears doubtful that PAS will be in the Governor’s proposed budget. We emphasized that there will be savings for NYS if PAS is enacted statewide with a decrease in children in foster care and residential treatment. With an average cost of foster care of $56,000/child, we believe that an $8 million statewide post adoption services would pay for itself if 2.5 children per county moved from foster care to a permanent family. This does not take into account the savings from less residential treatment placements. We encouraged the Governor’s office to look at using Title IV-B Subpart 2 funding and the millions of dollars saved by the federal government picking up a larger share of adoption subsidies (money which is supposed to be reinvested in child welfare!) as well as review how other states are funding PAS.

With the Governor’s budget not being submitted until mid-January there is still time to make our voices heard. Please call Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 (press option 3 to speak to a person, not a recording) and tell him how important post adoption services are to children and their families! Feel free to call as many times as you want and to have your friends call too. There is money available for post adoption services; NYS just needs to make it a priority.

View the petition.

 

The Adjustment Process: One Family’s Story from Korea – Part II

Korean AdoptionThis is the second part of a reflective piece that was written by a mother who recently returned from Korea to meet her child.  She shares about how she personally reconciled and dealt with some of the difficulties adoptive parents can face in the period of adjustment.

Our social worker came for her first visit and noticed that he was refusing to make eye contact with us, but especially with me.  For about a month after we returned home he still preferred my husband.  She told us from the start that I needed to be the main caregiver during the bonding process, but that I really needed to step up my game now.  While bottle feeding, I would offer toys by putting them in front of my eyes to encourage eye contact. I would also raise treats to my eyes before offering then to him when feeding. At bath time when I would rub lotion on him I would let him rub lotion on my arms too.  All these things were to try to get him to bond with me.  As soon as we came home, we put an air mattress in his room and slept with him at night.  I enjoyed rocking him before bed and singing to him, especially when he would start singing, “up above the world so high” from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I at least knew he was listening.

Four months later people ask us if we are adjusted.  My answer is always “no.”  I look back and feel like we have made progress, but I also know that we have a way to go.  Our son has substituted the face rubbing for rubbing our arms.  He has to do this when he falls asleep at night and wakes up several times a night moaning/crying and reaches through the bars of his crib for my arm.  I am still in his room after four months.  Our social worker said this could take a year or so for him to be fully adjusted.  She said he is bonded, but he has a fear that we are going to leave, so he wakes up making sure we are there.  This breaks my heart that my toddler, while asleep, wakes up to makes sure that we are still there and haven’t left him!!!  He now looks us both in the eyes and he will play alone longer than he used to.  There are still times when he cries and throws a fit to be held or to grab our arm.  The difficult part is distinguishing between when he is just being a toddler and when is he dealing with loss?

After three months of being at home with him, my husband and I have both started back to work and are now dropping him off at a friend’s house three days a week.  This transition has went well for him.  He usually cries a little when I leave, but she said by the time I reach my car, he stops.  When my husband picks him up, he will greet him but then go back to playing so we know he is comfortable there.

Overall, I am very pleased with how things have gone. We are so happy that our son had such a loving foster mother who cared for him so well for a year.  When you think about it, our four months is a fraction of what four months means to him.  He is very smart and is learning words, sign language and interacts well with others.  He is attached to us, he just has a fear that we will leave him. As parents, this is a fear that we must understand is our responsibility to alleviate.

Laurie Toth
Cleveland, OH
tothadoptionjourney.blogspot.com

Check back for future posts of stories and reflections shared by Spence-Chapin families.

The Adjustment Process: One Family’s Story from Korea – Part I

We are fortunate to have contributions from an adoptive parent in which she writes about her family’s personal experiences returning from their trip to Korea.  Her piece reflects the difficulties in forming the bond between adoptive parent and child, and the need for parents to be patient and empathetic as they absorb the fear and uncertainty their child is feeling.

In June of 2012 we made our trip across the world to meet our son in Korea.  He was 16 months old and had spent just over a year with his foster mother.  She was in her sixties with grown children, so from what we gather, it was just the two of them most of the time.  When we arrived for our first meeting at her home, she met us at the van with our son on her back in a carrier.  Although he had a huge smile on his face, and continued to look back at us and smile as we walked to her house, I know he had no clue how his world was about to change!

Our social worker warned us the closer he was to his foster mother, the better for us in the long run regarding attachment, but the harder our first month was going to be at home.  As we sat in the foster mother’s home and watched their interaction, those words circled my mind.  He sat completely content on her lap, and was hesitant to make any connection with us, although having our 8 year old son helped break the ice a bit.  He eventually came over and sat on our son’s and my husband’s lap for a quick second, but returned to his foster mom just as fast.  When she went to the kitchen to prepare a snack, he moaned and followed.  When I finally did get him to sit on my lap, he slightly cried as he was trying to grab something off the table, and his foster mom quickly swooped him up.  This showed us that their bond was very strong and we were going to have some work ahead of us.

On our “Family Day” when we returned back to our room at SWS it seemed the grieving started immediately.  He was very lethargic, although some of this was due to a cold, but he was only comforted by my husband.  If I even looked at him, he would cry.  This broke my heart, but inside I knew that he was not trying to replace his mom; he didn’t need another woman in his life.  In order to comfort himself, he would rub my husband’s face, usually until falling asleep.  This lasted for at least a month with both of us.  We thought that he was bonding with my husband until we were at the airport on our way home and he tried to go to any other Caucasian male, even when there were other Korean males around.

Once we were home we spent the first couple weeks waking up in the middle of the night with him crying inconsolably for his foster mom for about 3 hours each night. He would be screaming out her name and thrashing his body and no matter what we tried to do, nothing was comforting him.  At this point, all we could do for him was be there and make sure he was safe assuring him we weren’t going anywhere.

Laurie Toth
Cleveland, OH
tothadoptionjourney.blogspot.com

Part 2 will be published early next week.  It discusses the post placement period and the ways in which she worked to build a bond between herself and her child.

“I Feel Like I’m Waiting to Love My Son”

I love the show “Parenthood”.  I love the characters, the family dynamics, the twists and turns of inter-weaving inter-generational lives playing out themes of marriage, raising kids, inter-racial families, and more recently, the adoption of a school-aged child.

Julia and Joel, after experiencing a heart wrenching loss when their domestic infant adoption falls through, decide to approach their local social services agency and open their home to any child that may need one.  Seemingly a day later, with no preparation, a social worker rings their doorbell in the dead of night and brings them Victor, a cute, quite, and mysterious 8 year old boy.

Two episodes into the season, we see Joel and Julia, with no visible assistance from any social worker, trying to integrate their new son into their lives.  Or, rather, walking on eggshells around him while trying to act like everything is normal.  Julia alludes to some reading that she’s doing (good) and that they have to establish trust and help him feel like part of the family (also good), but we also see Victor spending entire days lying on the couch, shooting whipped cream into his mouth straight from the can, and watching violent reality TV shows (not so good), all while ignoring the family activities going on around him.  Finally, after a series of upsetting events, Joel and Julia argue about how best to manage Victor, to which Julia, defeated, finally states “I feel like I’m waiting to love my son”.adotive parents, tv show, partenhood

FINALLY, a genuine moment in this story – for many adoptive parents, and certainly for those adopting school-aged children, this is such a common feeling.  However, the guilt and fear of judgment prevents many families from sharing these feelings with their social workers and support systems.  While it is understandable that this is a scary thing to approach (“If I don’t love him now, will I EVER love him?” is a common thought that families struggle with), it is essentially important, when bonding and attaching with a new child, to keep a few key things in mind:

  •  Love takes time.  Everyone needs time to get to know each other and build genuine emotional bonds that will last a lifetime.  If you don’t feel “in love” it does not mean that you or the child are doing something wrong.  In fact, this can be looked at as a good thing – if a child has had multiple placements and many disappointments, she has built healthy defenses by learning to distance herself until she feels secure.  Use that time to show her that you are trustworthy – providing consistent, kind, and thoughtful parenting with healthy limits, expecting nothing in return, is the clearest way to tell a child that you will be there forever, no matter what.
  • Affection takes time.  Those first days, weeks, or even months, it may not yet feel right to have a hug or a snuggle on the couch.  Instead, a quick pat on the head might do, or kicking around a soccer ball in the yard can be a shared physical activity without the intensity of physical contact.   Find that balance between smothering and distancing – maybe insist on holding hands to cross the street (appropriate for any child under 5), braid their hair, or play Twister. Be creative and don’t forget to have some fun – it’s hard for a child to want to snuggle with you if you look angry or tired!
  • Talk about it to the right people.  Find your right outlet – other adoptive parents, your social worker, a supportive therapist, your spouse, partner, or best friend.  Use good judgment; if an acquaintance has given you the message that she thinks the adoption of your child was a bad idea, that’s probably not the person to share your feelings with.

At the end of episode 2, Julia and Victor have a little breakthrough – he is emotionally vulnerable, she promises help, follows through on it, and is rewarded with a conversation and an awkward hug.  Not monumental when it comes to raising an 8 year old boy, but I was sitting on my couch, excited for these characters and all the adoptive families I have worked with, for that one moment, where even in its tiny doses, they can start to feel the love they’ve been waiting for.

Stella Gilgur-Cook, LCSW, Assistant Director of Outreach, Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children

Westchester Adoption Mini-Conference, April 28

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Resource Center provides the building blocks, education, and support that adoptive families may need at different life stages.

On Saturday April 28th we will be hosting a mini-conference day at the Yonkers Public Library in Westchester, NY.  Adoptive families and those considering adoption, will have the opportunity to participate in workshops with a trained social worker.  Our workshop topics will be:

  • Building Resilience in our Children – one of the best gifts we can give.
  • Different kids, Different Stories – helping your children cope with life’s disparities and discussing these differences in a positive way.
  • Adult Adoptees Share Their Stories – sharing their unique insights into the ways that adoption has impacted their lives.

We will also host an Information Meeting where those who are considering adoption can learn more about the options in International and Domestic adoption, what the current climate of adoption is, and how to make an informed decision about the type of child you could welcome into your family.

Learn more, and register in advance.

Long Island Adoption Mini-Conference, April 14

 

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Resource Center provides the building blocks, education, and support that adoptive families may need at different life stages.

On Saturday April 14th we will be hosting a mini-conference day in our Long Island offices.  Adoptive families and those considering adoption, will have the opportunity to participate in workshops with a trained social worker.  Our workshop topics will be:

  • Building Resilience in our Children – one of the best gifts we can give.
  • Different kids, Different Stories – helping your children cope with life’s disparities and discussing these differences in a positive way.
  • Adult Adoptees Share Their Stories – sharing their unique insights into the ways that adoption has impacted their lives.

We will also host an Information Meeting where those who are considering adoption can learn more about the options in International and Domestic adoption, what the current climate of adoption is, and how to make an informed decision about the type of child you could welcome into your family.

Learn more, and register in advance.

Location: Spence-Chapin Services
1363 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Suite 40
Hauppauge, NY

Spence-Chapin’s FACES Program Honored with Grant

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) recently announced the awardees for the 2011-12 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Prevention and Post Adoption grants. Spence-Chapin’s FACESFoster-Adoption Counseling, Education and Support– program was one of the honorees.

The FACES program supports families who have adopted from foster care, or are at any stage in the process of adopting from foster care. The program provides FREE counseling in both English and Spanish.

FACES also offers FREE on-site trainings for child welfare professionals.

For more information FACES contact Jana Leonard at FACES@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0267 .

Finding Birth Family Online

There was an excellent feature on ABC News on June 25th about how Facebook is impacting the world of adoptive and birth families.  As I pointed out in my article in Adoptive Families magazine on the same topic, individuals now have access to each other without the support or preparation that can be so helpful in negotiating these new relationships.  While openness is a wonderful opportunity for all members of the adoption triad to know each other and understand their shared path, relationships are never easy and often fraught with emotional landmines.  Teenagers are particularly prone to jumping in rather than slowly building these relationships.  Parents need to keep communication going about what their kids are feeling and wanting to do in relationship to their birth family.

Rita Taddonio, LCSW
Director, Spence-Chapin Adoption Resource Center

Adoption Reunion on Latest Episode of TV Show Glee

On Tuesday, May 25th, millions of viewers tuned in to watch the latest episode of the hit Fox show, Glee.  Perhaps of most interest to those of us in the adoption world was the reunion of Rachel with her birth mother, Shelby.  While such mainstream portrayals can successfully illustrate the expectations, emotional intensity and anxiety that accompany a search and reunion, Glee dismissed the importance of working to forge a relationship after the reunion.

Rachel and Shelby find out that they share many traits, but they also discover all of the things they do not share.  Having been absent from Rachel’s life for 16 years, Shelby realizes that she will never have the sort of anecdotes and memories that Rachel shares with her adoptive fathers.  While Rachel looks to Shelby to be the instant mom she’s always wanted, the two eventually realize that such bonds are forged over time and do not automatically exist through genetics.  The Glee writers can be applauded for bringing to light such an important aspect, but the applause quickly dies as Rachel and Shelby almost instantly decide to maintain a relationship from a distance and the characters part ways with a shared song.

In real life, search and reunions are far more complex than in the magical world of television.  Spence-Chapin’s post-adoption team advises that forming a relationship with a birth relative is never instant but is a process full of ups and downs.  “Reunion relationships are amongst the most complicated, with no road maps or etiquette to guide the process,” says Spence-Chapin post-adoption expert, Ronny Diamond.  Following initial contact, the birth family member and child can go through a “honeymoon” stage.  Afterwards, either the adoptee or the birth parent often pulls back.  In the episode of Glee, this is the stage at which Rachel and Shelby parted.  Future episodes may show whether they continue to work out their differences and issues.  If they do, the relationship can become more settled because expectations will have been discussed and agreement reached in many areas.

Of course, reunion experiences will not be the same for all adoptees and birth parents.  Many factors can have an impact, such as their ages, value differences, lifestyles, economic status, educational levels, religion, etc.  Birth parents who placed in the years before “open adoption” became a common practice do not have shared history with the adoptee.  However, they do have genetic and emotional ties and, with some work, a relationship may be formed.  Such relationships “can be incredibly rewarding or painfully disappointing, so I always recommend clarifying one’s expectations prior to reuniting,” advises Ronny Diamond.

Adoption, Genetics and Schools

Teaching Genetics in an Adoptive World was the topic of Lisa Belkin’s recent New York Times Motherlode blog.  “A staple of elementary-school science classes across the country,” it is an assignment dreaded by adoptive parents who do not want their child to feel left out or different.  Many of the comments from readers expressed the feeling that parents should step in and provide education to the schools both about the problem and possible solutions.  A New York City reader posted that Spence-Chapin had been invited to her child’s school and given all the teachers training.

For over fifteen years, Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Resource Center has sought to inform and support educators by offering workshops specifically for schools.  Spring is the time schools schedule staff training for the next academic year, so you might want to contact your child’s school and let them know about the training Spence-Chapin offers.

Adoption Awareness for Educators
Teachers are often faced with students’ curiosity about adoption, dealing with a child’s negative comments about adoption and classroom assignments that involve genealogy.  Sometimes these situations can confuse, alienate or even hurt an adopted child.  This training provides teachers with the language of adoption and the tools to intervene in classroom, lunch room and recess situations.

Clinical Issues in Adoption
Here, the focus is on how grief, loss, identity, control and attachment issues may surface in the lives of adoptees.  The workshop explains the adverse effects on test taking and learning situations these issues may have for adopted students if they become overwhelming.  It also presents the learning issues and delays common to children adopted from Institutions and deprived early environments.  It is designed for guidance counselors, school psychologists and school-based support teams.

Adoption and Schools
This seminar is for adoptive parents, and focuses on how and when to approach schools regarding their adopted child.  It offers guidance on how to work with teachers as part of a team, and how to advocate for their child.

Spence-Chapin social workers are available to present during the day and in the evenings.  For further information about our complete range of workshops, visit www.spence-chapin.org. To schedule a training for educators, please contact Rebecca Braun-Slife at 212-360-0213 or rbraun@spence-chapin.org.