November 9, 2010

Love, respect and adoptive parenting

I worry sometimes that all my ranting about adoption might give people the impression that my relationship with my kids is somehow damaged or distorted. This simply isn’t the case. Yet I know that when I visit some prospective adoptive parent blogs or talk to those who know where I write, their comments tell me they’re concerned that being outspoken might be a sign of trouble on the home front.

I assure you, dear readers, it is not. The relationship Third Dad and I have with the kids is like that of any other parent-child relationship. There has been smooth sailing and stormy weather, but it’s all tied together with shared experiences.

It’s easy, I think, to say we love our kids. What’s harder, at least from my point of view, is to respect them as whole people. Having never parented a child born to me, I can’t say what it’s like in that relationship. But I’ve been a child born to my parents, and I can remember the sting of feeling my individuality dismissed. I know my parents meant no disrespect, but it hurt all the same. I think they had an image of their kids that reflected their images of themselves, and it was just plain hard for them to see my brothers and me through any other lens.

It was impossible for my husband and me to seek such a reflection in The Boy and The Girl. They’re unrelated to us by blood and race, so perhaps strangely, I sought our differences as eagerly as I sought the parallels. And those differences became my treasures.

The slight downward dip of my daughter’s beautiful eyes, which I would trace as she slept, imagining the dreams behind them. Her long, slender fingers, which as a toddler would gently pat us awake in the middle of the night as she sought our company. Her gorgeous hair, long and thick, enough for three people, her stylist says.

My son’s full lips, which even as a baby were often pursed as he pondered the world around him. His earlobes, which in the very first photo we received of him struck me as the most perfectly formed ears I had ever seen. His eyes, dark and direct, the kind of eyes that force your attention and honesty.
When they were babies and toddlers, still willing to let mom hug and hold, I would trace their eyes and ears, hold their hands and stroke their hair, and think about the people on the other side of the planet who shared them. I imagined their mothers most of all, but fathers, too, and grandparents, siblings, cousins. I imagined whole families of people who looked like my beautiful children, entire villages of relatives with those long fingers, perfect ears, and beautiful eyes.

And I loved them. I loved the entire army of them, and love them still. Because even though reality may differ from these imagined families, they exist as my children’s history and heritage, and that of their future children and grandchildren. From Korea through the centuries, to the here and now, and on into the future, they exist. And because they exist, and have existed, it has never been possible for me to graft my children onto my family tree or my husband’s. To do that would deny what is uniquely them and theirs.

What builds family is respect, support and love – not ownership. My kids know that they are family; they know it because my husband and I are, always have been and always will be there for them. That’s not something you talk about, it’s something you do.

You just do it. And you know what? Suddenly twenty years have gone by, and your children are grown and have become strong and independent. Although you never forced them to choose, they are here, still a part of your family. You frustrate them, you amuse them, you help and guide them, just like every other parent does for their children. They in turn amaze you and make you love them more and more with every passing day.

We humans love to complicate things, you know? I think adoption is one of those areas that we’ve complicated to the point of lunacy. It’s a shame, because it really is pretty simple.

Love your kids. Love who and where they come from. Empower them to own their past, present and future. And then let them go out into the world with your support and respect to make their way.

This is what parenting is all about.

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