It may be overdue, but there is no doubt that the views and voices of adult adoptees are increasingly being heard—including the challenging ones.
I recently presented at the COFFEE Ethiopian Heritage Camp that takes place near Mount Hood in Oregon. The weather was beautiful, and the energy from the kids—biking, skateboarding, swimming, playing basketball, walking around in chatty groups—was wonderful and palpable.
For some of the kids, it’s one of few times where they are surrounded by other adoptees and by other Ethiopians.
For the parents, mostly white couples, it’s a chance to visit with friends and also to learn from the workshops presented by Adoption Mosaic.
In fact, the parents got to hear from an Adoption Mosaic panel of adult adoptees from Ethiopia, Colombia, and the U.S. All had been transracially adopted by white parents.
All the adoptees had different experiences growing up, of course. For some, their adoptive parents had been unaware of racial identity and adoption trauma issues, though they were loving. Some parents did a lot of work on racial equity, and still fell short sometimes. Some parents were unaware, uncaring, unreachable.
Adoption Mosaic founder Astrid Castro, adopted with her sister from Colombia, brought other staff with her as well, adoptees from Korea, India, and China: incredible mentors and sources of wisdom for all the camp attendees.
And that said, it is not the responsibility nor burden of any adoptee to educate adoptive parents. The emotional labor can be intense.
At a general session with the adoptive parents, the adoptees literally held the microphone, and the adoptive parents, while they could ask questions, could not hold the mic.
I found that a powerful metaphor, a reflection of the past when only adoptive parents held the mic, and adoptees and first/birth parents were an afterthought at best. We still, in the adoption community, need to work on centering the voices and lived experiences of adopted people and of first/birth parents.
That said, I am also a believer of inclusion, and really everyone should have the physical mic at in-person meetings so that everyone can hear equitably. Questions from adoptive parents were repeated by adopted people with the mic, so that was helpful. The symbolism, though, of who holds the microphone (at a conference, at a policy meeting, at a hearing, etc.) was valuable.
At the same session, Astrid noted the wealth of information available from the Adoption Mosaic staff, and also asked if the adoptive parents looked at #adopteetwitter or adoptees on TikTok. There are some wonderful, challenging, wise adoptees posting videos and sharing their truths.
Here’s a link to an article about Adoptee TikTok titled “Adoptees Are Using an Unexpected Platform to Shed Light on the Downsides of Adoption.”
We adoptive parents need to do the work of learning about adoption whether our kids are 8 or 46.
In fact, that phrase “do the work” permeated the time at camp with the adoptive parents.
I’d say that “do the work” for us adoptive parents is to be willing to listen and take in a variety of views about adoption; to dig deeply into anti-racism work; to learn about the role of money in adoption; to educate ourselves about grief, loss, depression, and confusion in adoption; to recognize that even if our kids aren’t talking about adoption they may be thinking about it (and absorbing all kinds of messages about it from friends, the community, the Internet); and to recognize the both/and of adoption (adoptees can love their adoptive parents and also want to see adoption abolished, for example).
Adoption Mosaic offers classes for adoptive parents, including one I co-facilitate, called “Seasoned Parents.” The 6-week online class is for adoptive parents whose kids are now in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, or even older. Back when we “seasoned” adoptive parents adopted our children, the preparation process was limited at best. From the Adoption Mosaic website: “When people adopt, they are oftentimes told that love would be enough. Your kids are now adults with their own thoughts and feelings about adoption; unfortunately, love alone is not enough for you to engage in tough conversations about adoption with your adult adoptees. In the class, we reflect on why we chose adoption, and what we have learned over decades of raising children. We dig into the challenges of talking about adoption as an industry, as well as about gratitude, anger, adoption fog, search, reunion, and race. And we practice talking about these adoption issues with our adult children and with others, in ways that are clear, respectful, and helpful.
Often adult adoptees ask their parents to take this class, including adoptees who are estranged from their parents.
Kudos to the folks who organized the camp (it’s a lot of work), and who attended the camp. Gratitude to the Adoption Mosaic crew for sharing their years of lived experience and professional work in adoption.
May we all keep learning not in isolation but in community.