A wider circle of family
Parents who adopt outside the US find value in bringing their kids together.
"I'm from Moldova," proudly proclaims six-year-old Charlie Phillips. "I came on an airplane, my sister came on an airplane. Babies come on airplanes."Skip to next paragraph
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In Charlie's world babies do indeed come from airplanes - because in his world most babies are adopted. As he grows, this fact will trigger many questions. But with lots of encouragement and exposure to children in similar situations, his mother Carol Blakenhorn hopes Charlie and his younger sister Syrena will never feel insecure about the fact that they were adopted.
"It's as important for me as it is for them to go to reunions," says Ms. Blakenhorn. "They don't see adoption as such an issue. They see other kids from Moldova, other kids who were adopted. It helps them feel special, but not different."
Families who have adopted children from overseas are making connections with others through play groups, potluck dinners, and reunions. While adoption agencies often have a mandate to followup with children they've placed, many parents take it upon themselves to organize regular get-togethers as the kids grow up and issues of identity
Adoptive families don't have to go it alone begin to surface.
Blakenhorn takes her children to as many events for adopted children as she can. She recently took them to a reunion of families who had adopted children from Moldova at Spence-Chapin, a private adoption agency in New York. There, in a room festooned with clusters of blue, yellow, and red balloons, young children and their parents had a chance to mingle.
Such events provide a way for the families who traveled together to stay connected and for children to know they are not alone in their experience.
This is important, says George Wu, director of the Gladney International Adoption Agency in New York, because "the return of parent and child to the United States is not the end of adoption - it is only the beginning."
After kids settle in, issues arise
As the newness of the adoption wears off and families settle into life in America, the questions begin. And without the support of either the adoption agency or outside groups, these times can be especially challenging, particularly when children begin school and again when they enter the teen years.
These are the years when questions of identity surface for any child, and the issue becomes more critical as adopted children grapple with questions of racial and cultural differences.
Anticipating these questions, Mary Spaulding says she attends picnics and other such gatherings with her two children: Victoria, 5, and Max, 3-1/2, both of whom were adopted from Moldova.
"It's important for them to have a chance to hang out with other kids like them. It will be especially important for them as they approach the teen years when it is sometimes easier to talk to a peer rather than to a parent," says Ms. Spaulding.
Many of these children will struggle with not looking like their parents on the outside, and also with the fact that they are of two lands, languages, and cultures. They also question who they are in relation to their adoptive parents, biological parents, culture, and country.
Jacey Norton and her husband, Joe, of Framingham, Mass., started the Korean Adoption Circle to help families like themselves.
The Nortons adopted two Korean children, and as they visited with other white adoptive parents, they realized that the children, who had rarely seen an Asian adult, were under the impression that they would grow up to be Caucasian.
Norton decided it was time to introduce her children to role models in their own culture. She began taking them to a Korean church in the area, and the group she founded meets there regularly.
Transcultural adoptions growing
While international adoptions in the United States represent a small percentage of all adoptions, estimated at 100,000 to 120,000 a year, the numbers are rising. There were 16,396 such adoptions in 1999 compared with 7,093 in 1990, according to the Joint Council on International Adoption Services. Russia was the leading source country, with 4,348, followed by China, with 4,101, and South Korea, with 2,008, according to the council.
Yet as more adults seek to have a family, "transracial and transcultural adoptions are becoming the more conventional, nonconventional way to have a family," says Ronnie Diamond, head of post adoption services at Spence-Chapin. Even so, many adoptive parents are not clear on how to raise their children.
To assist parents, Spence runs a support program for children aged 7 to 13. In these groups children can explore issues of teasing, isolation, and racism. The children are able to get validation from peers.
"Parents must understand that they're a multiracial or multicultural family now," says Ms. Diamond. "Some feel the need to expose only the child to its birth tongue or culture. But really they should all learn together. Make it a family thing so the child isn't set apart, isolated."