Here is the second half of Jana Wolff’s answers to questions from the Adoption STAR Book Club about her book “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother.” If you missed the first half, which was posted earlier today, you can read it here.
Q: Has your son read this book? How was it introduced to him? Did he struggle with some of the things you shared in the book?
JW: When the book first came out, my son was five years old and thought the TV, radio and newspaper interviews were cool. Because we have an open adoption with Martie, and because she seemed to like us, he didn’t have a negative association with the book.
As I explained to Ari before he read it, the book is about me, not him; it’s about my insecurities before adoption and my growth after.
Ari can understand that, before I met him, I worried about whether I could fall in love with a non-biological child. He also understands that I/we did fall in love; crazy in love. These are two truths. That duality gets repeated in an adopted person’s life. (For example, your birth parents loved you and gave you to another set of parents to bring you up.) It sounds contradictory and confusing for adopted kids but they get it.
Having said that, there have been times over the years where I’ve wondered if any of the challenges Ari has had growing up had to do with what I wrote. (Mothers are so quick to blame themselves!)
I actually texted my son Ari yesterday with this question and he said, “No I didn’t struggle with it; why do people keep asking?”
Q: You went into great detail about filling out the race section of the adoption application. What advice would you give to prospective adoptive parents who are struggling with what they will or won’t accept in a match?
JW: I think that some adopting parents answer what they think is “right,” and not what is right for them … and that’s a huge disservice to your future child. Transracial adoption requires a big stretch out of your comfort zone — and you’re the only one who knows if that stretch is within the realm of imaginable for you.
I didn’t know anyone who had adopted transracially before we did. But I’d suggest you go hang out with some families that have done it and see how it feels.
What were your expectations as it pertains to dealing with racism?
Adopting a child of another race fundamentally changed the way I saw (and see) the world. It turned on my racism radar, it forced me to figure out where I stood, it empowered me to speak out when I heard an inappropriate comment, and it required me to reach for help. I had not done any of those things before becoming part of a mixed-race family.
On one hand, we did a lot of things to support Ari’s racial identity—culture camps, books, friends from different races, frank conversations, travel—on the other, not enough. Sure, we lived in a multiracial community, but not one that had much of a black population. Ari was often the only black kid.
It’s hard to say whether any of the things we did in this regard had a lasting impact on our son, though it gave us some great family memories. There comes a point where a child of color has to travel the rest of the road with mentors other than his white parents. I hope that the values we tried to instill took hold at some level; they certainly did for my husband and me.
Q: You wrote about the stigma of being an adoptive mother and being asked by society where his “real mother” is. Do you think the culture has changed at all since you wrote the book?
JW: I think things have changed a lot since we first adopted. Obvious adoptive families like ours are much more common and more woven into the range of family types that are now considered normal. That‘s not to say that people aren’t curious. Each member of an adoptive family comes up with ways to answer (or not answer) predictable questions.
Q: Do you and your family still have a relationship with Martie?
JW: I spent years being the one who actively stayed in touch with Martie. The last time I saw her, though, was several years ago. At this point, my husband and I send a holiday card to Martie and are happy to talk to her if/when she calls … which she does about once a year. But Ari is now in charge of the relationship: he’s on Facebook with his birthmother and half sister and they have each other’s cell numbers.
I hope Ari will want to search one day for his birth father, but he is currently not very interested (in birth parents or adoptive parents).
Q: How have your views changed or remained the same about your feelings about transracial adoption, open adoption and birth parents in general?
JW: Here are a few things I’ve learned:
It’s hard to be a parent.
It’s even harder to be an adoptive parent.
It’s hard to be adopted.
It’s even harder to be adopted transracially.
(Harder doesn’t mean bad; it just means more complicated.)
Nurture doesn’t trump nature. The influence of genetics can be seen more as time goes on.
When things go wrong you tend to look to adoption for reasons. But you’ll never really be able to parse how much of a role adoption has played in your child’s issues (or yours, for that matter).
It’s humbling to have put so much of yourself into your child and acknowledge that, at some point, he or she gets to take it from here.
I think open adoption is healthy because telling the truth is healthy.
Respect your child’s birth parents—not just for their decision but also for their qualities (which are part of the kid you adore).
Adoptive parents tend to be extraordinary moms and dads.
We would all like to thank Jana again for taking the time to answer all of our questions. If you have read “Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother” and would like to join the Book Club conversation, please join us on the Adoption STAR Facebook page.