Sunday, April 20, 2008

Adoption and Redemption

Over 12 years of adoptive parenting my kids and I have had to face an ongoing discussion about why did this happen.... why did my mother leave me... it becomes an ongoing lifelong discussion with my kids... In facing "the elephant" with my kids (kids are now ages 7, 8, 12 yrs), I have to start with the idea that we live in a world that is incredibly different from China. In our world we expect to have all the food we can eat, more or less open government, an education, full Internet access, a relatively free press, at least one car, a house with a garage.... tons of fun toys and stuff that makes everyday life pretty easy. On a deeper level our Bill of Rights actually says that we have the right to pursue happiness (if not necessarily achieving it...we have the right to try). For all this we practice gratefulness.

But most importantly, we live in a culture that values and teaches individual freedom -- personal privacy -- free will -- the right and responsibility to make our own decisions about our own individual lives for better or worse (for example, Our popular press glorifies celebrity unwed parents... Angelina Jolie comes to mind..from that kids could get the idea that this is true everywhere... but it's not true in China).

Little of this holds true in China. China is a very old, very successful culture that has survived over thousands of years... on the other hand, it is rooted in traditions and values that our upstart Western culture just doesn't hold. Coming from our environment it's almost impossible to fully comprehend the pressures that Chinese birth parents face with an unplanned pregnancy. In China women tend to be first and foremost a member of the family and community... independent decision making isn't taught or valued in the same way. In fact, much in Chinese culture actually subverts individualism. Birth parents are often not the ones making the final decision about an "adoption plan"....

When the kids were young we kept it very simple and focused on how thankful we felt to the birth mother for eating healthy foods and taking care of herself so that she could deliver our daughters into the world and give them life. In the world of a Chinese woman bringing a birth to full term can be an act of tremendous courage. (We read aloud good historical fiction to help add details to this idea such as "Bittersweet" "Wild Swans"). How ever it happened that my kids got to safety as a mother how can I be anything but grateful?

As the kids get older this discussion becomes a chance to talk about personal responsibility, decision making, and a general philosophy of life. In my case that means telling my kids that the world is a miraculous place and every life is a holy journey... however it happened that we became a family I am grateful... that each of us has a responsibility to live that life with a sense of purpose... it's really a religious experience for me... full of depth, tragedy, redemption and wonder.

This work has been made easier over the years by the Chinese school we attend. We have learned so much from our friendships with the generous parents and teachers who have grown-up in China and moved to the US. They have given my daughter a bridge from our world to the world of her birth. In offering us their friendship and their stories they have helped my daughters create a sense of herself and flesh out their stories in their minds.

Adoption, like anything in life, can be really hard work sometimes... it requires self knowledge from parents and a willingness to grow and change. There is tragedy but there is also redemption. And in this there is hope. In this there is a future. We can't be perfect, we can only do the best we can with the information we have to do what is best for the children.

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