Why Is It So Important to People that Their Kids Look Like Them?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in Adoption | 3 comments

Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA 12 of 12

This past Saturday afternoon, I sat with another mom at my tween son’s futsal game. (For the uninitiated: think fast soccer moves on a basketball court with fewer players and a smaller, weighted ball. That’s futsal.) We were commenting on how tall both our boys had grown lately, and then she mentioned how much she thought my son looked like me and my husband.

“What? Looks like me? No one ever says that.” My son looks nothing like me. I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “I think he may be the most perfect combination of two people I’ve ever seen. He’s got your build and your husband’s face. He’s totally the two of you.”

I stared at my son as if I’d never seen him before. She was right.

For a single second, I felt a rush of pleasure–my son looks like me! Then it was over. But I don’t care if my kids look like me, and I never have. So what was that moment of delight about?

Nearly twelve years ago, I gave birth to a baby boy who had blue eyes, a full head of blond hair and features that in every way resembled his father’s. This likeness was commented upon by every person who met him, and that was understandable: our baby really did look like a “Mini Me” version of my husband. I didn’t mind the comparison–it was true, and he was a beautiful baby–but I couldn’t help noticing how many people asked if it bothered me that my son didn’t look like me.

“No, of course not,” I answered for the fifteenth, twentieth, thirtieth time.

When we began to consider whether we wanted a second child–a child we knew we would add to our family via adoption–one person close to us asked me, “Are you sure you don’t want to try for one that looks like you?”

I laughed and thought, Who cares?

Between our two children, our adopted, now eight-year-old daughter probably resembles me more, though she and I aren’t even of the same race. My daughter and I both have dark brown eyes and dark brown hair that shows hints of copper in sunlight (though, truthfully, my copper has morphed more to white now, as my daughter likes to point out). My Caucasian eyes even have a slight almond shape to them, though not nearly so much as her Asian eyes. But, as she and I have discussed, that’s where the resemblance ends.

Both of my children have, at various times, been curious about the origins of my daughter’s physical features and certain aspects of her personality. I’ve had more conversations than I can count with my daughter about what comes from genetics, what you get from the people who love and surround you and what comes from just being you. Both kids know–I hope–that it’s fine to examine the question of who you look like, but while it may be interesting as a curiosity, it doesn’t determine who you are.

In contrast, I do sometimes wonder about the origins and consequences of some non-physical traits. For example, my daughter is a never-ending talker, living in a family of relatively quiet people. Are her biological origins in a family of constant chatterers, where everyone talks at once? Does this mean our family is tough for her sometimes?

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What Children Need is Unconditional Love & Support. Period.

Posted by on Mar 21, 2013 in Adoption, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

gay adoptive family

(Image credit: Poes in Boots via Flickr.com)

Okay, kids need a lot more than this. But at the foundation, children need unconditional love and support. Does it matter if they get this love and support from one adult or two? If they are biologically related to the adult or adults or not? If the adults are straight or gay, the same race or ethnicity as the child or different, from the same religious background or not? Yes. Also no.

These questions matter because our backgrounds and experiences make up a large part of who we are. So it stands to reason that they will affect the ways in which we raise our children.

But more important is the central question of how we will love and support our children as we raise them. Kids–all kids–need to know that they can count on one or more adults in their lives to guide them, to explain the quandaries of life to them, to show them how to open themselves to the experiences of the world and to model caring, compassion and resilience so they can develop these qualities themselves.

Biological parents can do this. Adoptive parents can. Gay parents, straight parents, same-race, interracial, same-faith or interfaith, mixed-political parents–these values and skills are possible across the spectrum.

The national ground is shifting on the question of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry and therefore obtain legal recognition for their families, and thank goodness it is. The American Academy of Pediatrics is the latest important body to state publicly that it supports marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples, releasing a statement earlier today noting that “[c]hildren thrive in families that are stable and that provide permanent security.” These families already exist, and we do them a disservice by failing to afford them the same legal recognition and protections we grant to heterosexual families in this country.

It’s heartening to see leaders like President Obama, Secretary Clinton and even Republican Senator Rob Portman come to the same realization.

What is not good about the forward motion of the legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is the collateral damage opponents are carelessly inflicting in their desperate attempts to stave off progress. Arguing against gay marriage in the Supreme Court last week, the National Organization for Marriage’s John Eastman called all adoptions, including those of Chief Justice Roberts’s two children, a “second-best option.”

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Guest Post – I’m a Mom, Part I

Posted by on Dec 6, 2012 in Adoption | 1 comment

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to run a guest post than I am to run this one by writer and mom, Veronica Brooks-Sigler.

That’s right, I said, “mom.”

Longtime readers may remember Veronica’s previous posts in which she shared some of her experiences as a prospective adoptive parent, including the heartbreak of a failed adoption.

Today, in her first of two posts, Veronica returns to share with us the best of all possible news: she’s a mom!  I encourage you to read this post if you’ve ever wondered if parenthood will ever happen to you, if you’ve ever been desperate, if you’ve ever thought, “How can I get past the sadness and keep going?”  Most importantly, I encourage you to read it because it’s a wonderful story and I couldn’t be more excited for Veronica.

And if you haven’t already, please join me in wishing Veronica and her family congratulations.  Now, of course, the parenting journey really gets interesting!

I’m a Mom

 “I’m a mom,” I said into the phone.

Silence.

“I’m a mom,” I repeated.

Fearing a student’s parent was calling for an intense discussion, my sister-in-law braced herself.

“Heather, it’s me, Veronica.  They are placing a baby with us.  We’ve named him Kellen William. We pick him up at the agency tomorrow.”

My sister-in-law uttered the exclamations and shared the confusion we heard and experienced from nearly everyone that day and for at least a month afterwards.

Why didn’t you tell us about this?

You had a baby?  I didn’t even know you were pregnant.

Huh?

Parenthood, though many plan it, is still a shock.  Much more so for me, my husband, and our families.

In the summer of 2011 my husband and I went through an adoption process that didn’t work out for us.  We had that little boy for less than two days.  Although we understood the birth family’s decision to keep the baby, we were devastated.  I began to feel as if I would never be a mother.

During November of 2011, I underwent surgery that was intended to jumpstart a potential biological pregnancy.  If you’ve ever been in this situation, you understand how desperate I was to become a mother.  I couldn’t stop smiling at other people’s children; I was sure these little people were telling their parents about the creepy lady in the checkout line at Rouse’s who kept staring at them.

My mother came to stay with me for a few days as I recovered from surgery.  Anyone who knows me knows it is hard for me to sit still or let other people do things for me; when my mother left, my husband insisted I spend a day in bed watching a marathon of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  Feeling silly, I agreed.  Being in bed didn’t mean I couldn’t work on my computer and check my e-mail.

At 8:15 A.M., we received an e-mail from our adoption agency about a potential adoption situation

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Talking About Talking to Our Kids, Part II – Adoption

Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Adoption, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments

adoption talk

(Photo credit: WizzyWigg via Flickr.com)

Have you had “The Adoption Talk” with your child yet?  I haven’t, and I don’t plan to.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about adoption.  On the contrary.  The topic can–and does–come up all the time.

Last Friday evening, for example, seven-year-old “Emmie” and I went out for a mommy-daughter sushi dinner.  Somewhere between the miso soup, the nigiri salmon and the whiplash-inducing conversation (regular readers know how Emmie likes to switch topics faster than the speed of light, and without warning), Emmie found herself attempting to describe a tiny object.

She held her thumb and index finger very close together.  “It’s like when I was this small in your tummy.”

Now Emmie knows well the facts of her origins as we’ve gone over them countless times.  But just to be safe, I didn’t want to let this slip go uncorrected.  “You weren’t in my tummy, remember?  You were in your birthmom’s tummy.”

Emmie: “When ‘Jack’ was in your tummy.  Whatever!”  Translation: Mommy, that’s not the point.  Duh!

Before we left this subject behind, however, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t leaving her with any confusion or uneasiness.  I decided to offer one more comment.  “You were that small once, you know.  It’s just that you weren’t in my tummy then; you were in your birthmom’s tummy.”

She put on her contemplative face.  “Right.  So, I have a question.  Are you my real mom?”

I noticed that the dad dining with his young son at the table next to ours had stopped playing and become very quiet–as had his son.

“Well, honey, I think ‘real mom’ is kind of a silly term.  I’m your mom who loves you and takes care of you and will always be here for you.  I help you when you need help, we talk about things, I take you to dance and make you dinner and we do things as a family and we have fun together.  We laugh about things together.  I’ll always be here for you.  So yes, I’m your real mom.  But I’m not the mom you were born from.  That’s your birthmom.”

“Oh.”  She stuffed a piece of sushi into her mouth.

“You know, someday, when you’re older, you will learn about something called ‘genetics.”  Genetics is all about…”  At this point, I realized I had just stepped off the cliff and was about to lose my audience.  The light was flashing red.  “What I mean is that there are some things you got from your birth parents, like the color of your hair, and your skin.  Those didn’t come from me and Daddy.  But other things you do get from me and Daddy, like the things that we teach you…”

Emmie’s face took on that wry look that makes her look like a teenager and that is all her own.  “Well, you don’t really teach me that much.  That’s what school is for.  It’s my teachers who teach me.”

I burst out laughing, and we moved to another topic entirely.

____________________________

The asking and answering of The Big Question–Are you my real mom?–is one that many adoptive parents dread.

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In Adoption, “You Were Meant to be Mine” Can be a Loaded Phrase

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 in Adoption | 5 comments

adoption

(Destiny? Photo credit: Jai Sanders via Flickr.com)

The words, “you were meant to be mine,” are so powerful, so full of love, that it’s tough to argue with them.  This phrase is uttered often by grateful adoptive parents in answer to questions from their children or third parties asking how a family came to be.  The response is meant to encourage, to celebrate.  “We were meant to be together.  Everything worked out as it should.”

But sometimes the best intentions can go astray.

At first glance, it’s hard to argue with the notion of destiny in adoption.  Fate can feel like a powerful force, and when a child in need of a home reaches parents who have been longing for a child, sometimes for years, we all rejoice.  We thank the destiny that has led us to this point, finally believing that all the hardships we’ve traversed on the road to parenthood had a purpose: to bring us to this child.  And this is what we tell ourselves, our families and friends, and our children, as discussed most recently in an August 15 post on the New York Times Motherlode blog written by Matthew Hutson.

I don’t deny that when I look at my two children–one my biological child via infertility treatments, one my child via international adoption–I have moments where I feel that somehow, destiny intervened to bring my children to me.

But even in those moments, I know that the notion that my daughter was somehow predestined to be mine reduces a crucial aspect of her identity.  She has a history, a part of her that is all her own that I can’t claim.  It’s made up of choices made by her birth parents and by me and my husband, and those choices combine to create her beginnings.  On different continents and without knowing each other, we each made decisions that would bring my daughter to me.  You could call it destiny.  But the truth is that if any of us had decided differently anywhere along the way, or even if a government delay had taken a month longer or a month less, my daughter would be someone else’s daughter right now.  Does it cause me a pang in my side to write that truth?  Yes.  But it is the truth nonetheless.

Any adopted child’s story begins with loss, the loss of her birth family.  To say that destiny preordained her membership in her adopted family is to say that destiny intended for her to be separated from her birth family.

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Why Do the Media Frequently–and Unnecessarily–Refer to People’s “Adopted” Kids?

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 in Adoption, The World We Parent In | 2 comments

adoption in media

(Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum, Royal Tenebaum’s “adopted daughter” in The Royal Tenenbaums)

Why do so many media stories qualify an individual’s child as his or her “adopted” son or daughter in stories having nothing to do with adoption?

There’s a tendency in the media to label unnecessarily the adopted children of some public figures.  These figures can be celebrities we idolize, like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, or people we hold in contempt, like Jerry Sandusky.  The media treatment their children receive is the same, because often, it has nothing to do with the actual story.

For example: as news of Cruise and Katie Holmes’s divorce spread like a pandemic in recent weeks, some discussion of Cruise’s older children from his earlier marriage with Nicole Kidman was inevitable.  And there it was: in this Hollywood Reporter article (found courtesy of Lisa Belkin at The Huffington Post), the gratuitous mention of “Cruise’s adopted daughter Isabella.”  In May, numerous articles ran highlighting nineteen-year-old Isabella’s independence and supposed reconciliation after a strained relationship with Kidman, and more than a few of these threw in the “adopted daughter” reference in the same manner.

In a more negative light, every story I saw about Matt Sandusky after he came forward alleging sexual abuse by his father referred to him as “Sandusky’s adopted son, Matt.”  What is the relevance of how Matt Sandusky came to be part of his family here?  How does whether or not he was adopted change the impact of any abuse he may have suffered?

Of course, if the purpose of a story is to discuss a child’s origins, or if a reporter is writing a piece about, for example, a celebrity’s adoption of a new baby, that’s different.  In that case, the adoption is the story.   But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Remember that movie from 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums?

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