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Frenemies?: The Adoptee/Adoptive Parent Tension

Adoptees have been known to discuss the weird tension between active adoptive parents/adoptive parent groups and adoptee organizations. At times adoptee organizations feel that adoptive parents always want something “for their kids,” but are never willing to give anything back or listen to anything adoptees have to say. Conversely, some adoptive parents and organizations feel as though adoptee organizations are standoffish and difficult to approach.

Definitely not a healthy or productive dynamic. I, for one, believe that adoptees/adoptee organizations and adoptive parents/adoptive parent organizations need each other.

At any rate, below is an example of the tension. A friend, who is a part of an adoptee organization here in Minnesota and also a huge proponent of good adoptee/adoptive parent relations, forwarded the following e-mail exchange that she had with an adoptive parent, who recently published a book. A lot can be lost over e-mail, especially since my friend (and I) don’t know anything about this parent. However, my friend (and I) feels that this adoptive parent was being a bit pushy. Was she? Or did my friend (and I) misread the adoptive parent and her intentions? She’s clearly frustrated by the end.

You make the call.

*Note: All identifying information have been removed.

E-mail 1

Dear (name),

I received your name through my work with (employee) at chsfs.  My picture book, (book title), is my rendition of the adoption journey that led us to our daughter.  When we adopted her in 1997, almost no one had computers, so I’m something of a foreigner to all the website resources like yours that have sprung up over the years.  Nevertheless, I might be of some value to you.  I know my book, once people discover it, is turning out to be an important asset, not just to very young children, but to older children as well who are drawn to the sweetness of the story.  After I presented the book at a (city) school where my husband is (position), an adopted kindergarten girl stepped into his office to announce; “I’m the REAL (book title).”  I was deeply touched that the tale spoke to her so vividly.

I would always be delighted to give you autographed copies for fund-raisers.  I can sit with your organization and sign copies at events, something I’ve done with (bookstore).  If you have a suggested reading list and would like to see the book first to determine if it’s suitable, you can contact my PR rep (name) at (e-mail) for a review copy.

I’ll be doing an author event at (location) in July and wonder if you have connections there as well to help with promotion.

I hope (CHSFS employee) is right about the potential for our working together.  Adoption has been the blessing of a lifetime to me.

Sincerely,
(name)

Response 1

(name),

Your book sounds great, sorry we are an all volunteer organization and have our plate full for the next two years, as we are conducting a (program).  We would love to have an event for your book, but at this time we are unable to do so.  Thank you.

(name)

E-mail 2

Dear (name),

No, I’m not asking for you to host an event for me at all.  I’m suggesting that my book could be a resource going hand-in-hand with what you do.  At the Mall of America, there was an event honoring China and several adoption-related tables.  Perhaps you were one of those tables.  I would have been happy to sit there with your group and sign my book.  Sometimes it’s easy to make arrangements for books through (bookstore).  I’m volunteering my time, just like your other volunteers.  I don’t expect you to pay me.  If your hope is to mentor younger adopted children, you might find my book is a lovely connection to read to them and engage them in activities inspired by the book, something I’ve done with children.  I’m afraid you’ve read my email quickly and have missed the point.  I’ve given you the contact at (publisher) to receive a review copy free of charge.  I hope you’ll re-consider what I’m attempting to offer you.

I’m on your side, (name), and trying to volunteer, not just for myself, but possibly for my Chinese daughter, too, who is now fourteen.

(name)

Response 2

(name) at this time we are not able to assist you.

E-mail 3

I’m sure you know best about the kind of help you need.  Thank you.  I’ll let (CHSFS employee)…

3 Comments on Frenemies?: The Adoptee/Adoptive Parent Tension

  1. A lot, indeed, is lost in email communication. Clearly, the parent/author began this email from the perspective of an adoptive parent, and it seemed like she was speaking to your friend as though she was a child – so the initial email sounded condescending, and all about the parent/author. Language is loaded, choice of words can be twisted, interpreted, and re-designed. Words and phrases like, “attempting to offer you” (it’s a gift, baby – charity, almost) “I’m on your side” (there are teams, then?) “I’m something of a foreigner” (foreigner??? Who says that?), and “sweetness of the story” (all sweet, no sour…really? You sure about that?).
    And of course, we must acknowledge that we (like everyone), have built up defenses to be used in situations when our safety and autonomy feel threatened. Our defenses, as adoptees, can often be particularly sensitive to other adoptive parents, especially when we don’t know them, and they don’t know us.
    My assumptions in regard to this chain of emails are as follows: This parent is now raising a teenager, who is a-changin’ ever so quickly, unexpectedly, and in a disturbing manner. This 14-year-old is no longer the sweet, adoring child – might even have body odor and may be wearing a brassiere or using feminine hygiene products. Yes, I said brassiere. She is probably one of those parents who reflects on her past in sepia tones, and for her, this child was a dream come true, just like in Disneyland. She wanted to document that for herself and her daughter, not only be able to preserve the sweetness of their relationship in the format of her book, but receive ongoing praise and positive feedback/affirmation from her audience whose message will always be: “You’re such a good mother”, when she, like any mother, probably doubts that at least once a day, every day…

    Whoever she was emailing, and I can guess about this but might be wrong, probably gets asked to support stuff with GREAT meaning behind it ALL THE TIME. And not wanting to get into the whole teachable moment discussion with a parent who likely wouldn’t be in a place to hear it anyway, sent a brief reply, which was totally read into, more assumptions were made, leaving the parent/author feeling sorta stupid, confused, offended, rattled, and insecure, thus affirming whatever may be changing in her relationship with her daughter.

    We need to encourage open, honest dialogue with adoptive parents, but as long as the complex parent/child dynamic exists (no matter how old or educated we are), it feels unsafe to go there.

  2. I am sad that it feels unsafe to “go there,” referring to “open, honest dialogue with adoptive parents.” One problem I have is that we adoptive parents haven’t been given permission to talk about the difficulties surrounding parenting adopted children. Maybe I should speak only for myself here…I should say “I” feel like I need to paint a rosy picture filled with the blessings adoption brings and try to ignore the struggles. Why is that? So that other prospective adoptive parents won’t get scared? Did our adoption agency encourage us to paint this picture? Would I be a bad mom if I admitted the challenges and heartache? Would that make me disloyal to my son? Would it change people’s perception of adoption? Would I be made into a “home-wrecker” or “baby stealer” if I admitted that I my heart aches for my son’s biological mother’s loss? I feel like I have been taught to color adoption happy and grand and only talk about the blessings, which causes the avoidance of any difficult topics surrounding adoption. But the thing is, I (and I won’t try to speak for other adoptive parents) WANT to talk about the challenges, the negative impacts, the raw emotions of adoptees. All it would do is help me understand my son better. So BRING ON THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS! Let’s work to understand each other better. I know I have a lot to learn.

  3. Thank you for your response, Lindsay – I am so glad you talked about the pressure as a parent to only acknowledge the happy parts – especially when there’s an adoption agency checking in, and your relationship with your son is evaluated and judged by so many external forces.

    It sounds like your son will benefit because you are open to creating dialogue with him, in a gentle, curious, and caring manner. He’s lucky.

    Perhaps someday our paths will cross, if they haven’t already!

    Take care.

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