December 31, 2013

The Six Little Words


                                                     ...that hit a nerve.

As an adopted person as well as a former foster parent I joined an online group of local foster/adoptive families.  I had never commented on a thread before this one.  Needless to say, I was shocked when doing so generated such fire.

It all started when a woman questioned the group about changing a foster child's name upon adoption, and I responded with this simple question...

"Why change a child's birth name?" 

That prompted several commenters responding with passionate reasons as to why they changed their child's entire name. Although I respectfully agreed that in some instances it may be necessary to change a child's name for safety reasons, I offered the perspective that honoring a child's name may actually honor a child. 

I was angrily accused of asking parents to honor a (nothing but trash) birth family who was responsible for the reason these children need foster care/adoption in the first place.  I made the point that a child is very much defined by their name and by honoring their name alone, it *may* be the best way in which to honor the child.  Honoring a child's heritage, by finding something good in the child's family line for the child to embrace and be proud of as who they are biologically, will honor and increase a child's self-esteem.

I offered a differing perspective of how an adopted person *may* process a name change as feeling that their very personhood is so "shameful" that they need to be somehow "amended" in order to be accepted or cared for.   

It only got worse from there.  Did I not realize that domestic adoption cannot be compared to foster adoption IN ANY WAY?  Among other things, I was told I was being self-righteous and "angry" and to "find a therapist". 

"THEY were the ones who needed to be honored because they were the ones who were sacrificing to take in and love the children who society throws away."   

Shell shocked, I reached out to an adoptee friend for moral support and she said something very profound. 

"Adoptees have no rights, and everyone knows it"

Why I was expecting to be treated like an equal in this discussion rather than reprimanded like a perpetual child, I have no clue.  I should have known when one commenter (adoptive mother and therapist) asserted during this unbelievable discussion, "We can only hope, with the right upbringing and home environment, OUR children will 'make the right choices'.

Since also being accused of only wanting to perpetuate an "agenda" and "get more material" for my blog, and finding this seems to be a much safer place to share differing perspectives on adoption, I guess I'll oblige. 

Here are a few of the best of 159 comments these six words sparked.  It felt reminiscent of the diner scene in Lee Daniel's The Butler.  Between throwing stones, the commenters revealed quite a bit about the prejudices of some who adopt.
Coupled with the fact our state has one of the highest adoption rates in the nation and the revenue this generates, these comments made me seriously question the pre- and post-adoption services our system is providing, and the effects it may be having on the children we serve.

"For us we are considering it because of the direct threats to kidnap the children after adoption. This would make it harder for them to find them in a school .. their names are quite unique and our daughters name is most definitely a strippers name..."

"We feel names hold significant meaning and our daughter was named after an aunt who was killed at 2 years old from physical abuse.  Her mother was a product of foster care as well.  I wanted to sever the backgrounds and by choosing a name and praying extensively and continuing to pray for our daughter not to be affected by the generational sins of the prior family my hope is that she won't be affected by her biological background."

"We chose to rename to give them a fresh start. The oldest was 5...
It was quite easy, done on the day of adoption.  Smooth, no problems.
For me, I didn't want them to have anything else from their parents..."
"My son will learn to pray for his bio family. He will learn compassion and the need for volunteerism in our community. He will learn to forgive. He will learn that he is adored, safe, nurtured, loved and protected. He will learn all of these things with the name his father and I chose for him on his adoption day and I assure you that he will be no worse the wear for it. His bio parents do not qualify for honor and please do not assume that just because they are blood that they do."
"I have never fostered or adopted. I have raised a stepdaughter from the age of 4, and I have been a Child Welfare worker for the past 14 years (approximately). I have seen many joyful adoptions of custody children. Most chose to change the names. More emphasis should be on honoring these wonderful adoptive parents who have helped save these children."
My comment:  "I wonder if a child in the system somehow receives the prevailing message that they are more valuable if they get a "forever family"...considering they are attending adoption "parties"?  Could it be that they will take on a new name to avoid further perceived rejection or to please?"
"Not sure of what you mean of the child feeling more valuable. I can tell you from my and my children's experience they do feel more love than they did with their bio parents. We got to know them and picked their names individually for them. I'm sure to them that is valuable and important."
"My husband and I labored over choosing each of our children's names. Part of changing a name is to signify an event that changes the course of someone's life (Abraham, Paul, etc.). Our son's names cast a vision for their futures. When my Heavenly Father adopted me through His Son He changed my name. God identifies me as His now. I don't own my son but I have made a commitment to provide for and to protect him in front of a judge. It's a big deal."
"I think you have successfully ticked off some very amazing men and women. Long-suffering men and women. It has been rude and inappropriate. Please do not continue to belittle the sacrifices made to love our children.  What a sad life you must have lived to be so antagonistic towards adoptive parents. I pray you find peace."
"Obviously, we all know that children can question things, be abrasive, search for biological roots, etc. All any of us can hope for is that as parents, they provided the right environment, proper encouragement, unconditional love and support, etc. for those children to make the correct choices..."
"How exactly do YOU suggest I handle telling my three children what happened to them?? Or maybe I never should, maybe I should let them forever glorify their "wonderful" family line that no one wanted...and gave away like unwanted trash. What wise words of wisdom do YOU suggest?"
My response: "Maybe do a complete family history for your boys and find things you can honor and that your child can embrace as part of their amazing selves. Even if it has to go back several generations. They got something that you love from it.  If they perceive that you consider their family line as monsters or trash they will perceive themselves that way as well no matter how you work to cut the ties and hope they identify with you."

"OKDHS does a very thorough history on each child. That is given (redacted to comply with federal and state laws) to the adoptive parents prior to adoption. The possibility of going back generations is not feasible for foster children. Most of that information is not available. Further, it would be imprudent to use state resources in such a way."

"To answer your question "Is their identity as connected with their biological heritage so horrible that they need to be amended somehow as well?"  Yes, sometimes it is. And most of us here believe in redemption.  It changes their family connections as well. 

When you get in the trenches with us and do what we do then come back and let us know if you changed your child's name from "Mercedes Satin Dancer" to Jane Doe.  I pray you know the redeeming love of Jesus."
My response:  "I personally would embrace Mercedes Satin Dancer and show her that she, her name, and her blood line are not something she needs to severe herself from to be embraced and loved as she is."
"Not sure what you wanted out of this but I hope your intentions were not bad. I would hope that you are not suggesting that we keep the child's name and build up their bio parents so the child feels some sort of connection to the sickos who abused them."
"My family fosters. My only siblings are adopted. I have seen all sides to this. My sisters want nothing to do with a family that did not love them. They only wish for medical history. "Honoring" the family that was responsible for their lot in life is not on anyone's agenda. These kids' worth is not in many generations of abuse and sin. It is in the love they now have. The family they now have."
"I have preserved a copy of my sons original birth certificate for him but I haven't seen the new one so I'm not sure how it reads yet. I guess the old one is more important though, since his whole life with a family who adores him is nothing more than indentured servitude wrapped in a ribbon of lies."

My response:  "The love is not a lie, but the birth certificate he lives with is.  I personally feel that every child should have the right to their original identity and it may be more truthful and loving to keep their obc intact and issue a certificate of adoption, rather than amending the birth certificate.  It might actually help children process their losses more honestly, not having the added complexity of identity and loyalty issues." 
"As a therapist, I've frequently helped in name changes. Many of us honor the children by changing their names. We may even pass down names from our family to them. This is a way of attaching and bonding.  Sometimes the most therapeutic thing that can be told a child is YOU ARE NOT YOUR NAME.  You can be different."

"We are adopting a 10 year old and a 21 month old. .. Have had them for over a year. ...I wanted to change their name .... But realized it was about my feelings. .. The 10 year old had always known her 21 month old brother as his birth name. ....I had to give up my feelings of wanting to name him because she values his birth name. ... Each situation is different" 

Response from therapist:  "Did you discuss name changes with the 10-year-old?  She might have some suggestions that would work beautifully.  I can't help but remind us of the long Biblical tradition of changing names when a new life was started. Even Christ himself both changed Saul to Paul and is know himself by different names.  We embrace the chance of something new."
"That's a great reference to the Bible, also Abram/Abraham! We changed our adopted children's names...and yes, their new birth certificate looks exactly like my bio kids' and doesn't even denote that they are adopted.  A new birth certificate is required by Federal law."
"We have the new birth certificate and it just shows me as mother and my husband as father. It doesn't say "adopted mother", just "mother". I agree that he should have access to his original birth certificate, but that is not my decision. The state of Oklahoma seals it. Not every state does, but ours does. There's nothing I can do about that. I just think all the banter here is crazy. I feel honored to fill in the roll as Mother and I cried when I saw my name on his birth certificate."
18 year old adoptee:  "When you sit there and tell an entire group of parents that they need to "honor" the biological families, that's where you messed up. My baby brother whom we just adopted, had his name changed because he was a third generation of his name. We changed his name because we didn't want him to be constantly reminded of his father.  By keeping his name as the third, we were making him a branch off his father whom is a failure, psychologically that would put him in a state of self fulfilling prophecy and could make him feel like he must be like his father since he shares his name. I know this is the case because I myself feel like I'm just as worthless as my biological mom because we share the same blood.  The only worth I have is from my adoptive parents and two years of counseling...The only ones who should be honored are the foster/adoptive parents who fix us screwed up kids. Until you have a foster kid, and the state won't work with you to do what's best for the kid and you have to fight with everything you have to be able to keep the kid in your custody and then you finally are able to adopt them and give them the family and love they deserve, than I think you should keep your mouth shut about the topic."
My response:  "So appreciate you sharing and I'm so sorry for the experiences you have dealt with.  As I've tried to explain, I am not suggesting we honor abusive parents.  I was simply trying to say that we as adoptees are honored if we can find and embrace (and our adoptive parents acknowledge) ourselves as whole persons wonderfully a part of all our heritages, even though people's choices can be cruel.  I am sorry you feel worthless because you came from your mother.  You got worth and beauty from your entire heritage and it made you into the beautiful person your adoptive parents know and love."


Dejected Embryo said...

Most people simply don't realize what you feel. It's because we've never had to think about it. I never thought about such things myself, until I realized how widespread are abortion and hostility to children in general and how I could have been a casualty too. Us non-adopted children are expect to keep our mouth shut too - about being loved and considered worthy of living only if we fit in the plans of our supposedly caring pro-choice parents. And yet if we hadn't corresponded to expectations we would have gone in the trash. And we're required to be ok with that. Because we were "wanted". It's scary how no one even talks about it. That's how I ended up on adoptee blogs like yours, looking for other people with existential problems. You actually speak out and that's good. Everybody should know what a mess the desire to program one's family can make. But of course they'll react badly to what you say.

It's interesting how in these comments some boast of their sacrifices. I believe the majority of parents have this self-admiring view of themselves where they sacrifice for the children's well-being. But it's not sacrifice when you do something you want to do. And it's not for the children when you do it for your own nice little image of how the child's life should be, regardless of what he or she actually wants or needs. I think adoption should be a last resort measure, it can certainly help but it's usually about parents wanting a child instead of being about the child needing parents. I don't know why even people whose purpose is really to save a child assume they are equivalent. Maybe they're just happy feeling they helped the child and don't look any further?

Dejected Embryo said...

Well, children in general have no rights (though as an adoptee you really do get hit from all sides). Parents always know better. They know whether we should be born or instead ripped to pieces, whether we'll be better off if our siblings aren't born, whether we'll be better off living with other people... in places like Belgium nowadays they even know euthanasia is something to give to ill children instead of care.

Dmdezigns said...

I completely agree with you. I've had similar conversations on a forum and never been given any validation to my view. I also oppose step parent adoption 99.9% of the time. That's what I was, a step parent adoption, I was part of the package to get my mom. I lost the only connection I still had to my bio family. I hated later that my name was changed but at age 7, you just want to be loved and accepted, so of course you say yes. I don't understand and never have changing a 3 or 5 year olds first or middle name. I can see possibly adding to it but keeping the original. If my children had been named by their birth parents I would have kept it at least as part of their name if not all of their name. It's their identity. I don't think foster parents should change a child's first name unless there is clear, inherent and present danger to the child if it's not changed. Otherwise, it's just the parents doing what they want. At least keep the name and add to it if you want to call them something different.

And they really do ignore the point, that these kids will especially feel an attachment to their first families. When you believe the first family is inferior, the child takes that association whether you mean for them too or not. It's so sad.