Are humans the only ones capable of caring for children that aren’t their own? This video goes to show how universal the maternal instinct can be, even with animals you never thought would get along. Dogs with nursing kittens – and vice versa – to literal tiger moms and piglets – share their milk, comfort the young ones and adopt them as their own. Have you ever seen something so cute?
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Why do we need to be aware? Because there are approximately 130,000 children in foster care in America right now, waiting to be adopted. These children do not have a “forever family.” At least, not yet.
Is adoption part of your personal story? Was your family formed or expanded through adoption? If not, here is a secret I want to share with you, about adoptive families: We’re not that special.
We might be a little unusual, and our individual stories might make us interesting in some circles, but we are mostly just like you.
Equal parts happy, crazy, challenged and blissful.
The truth is, most days I don’t even think about adoption. My day-to-day existence is more than consumed by the usual complexities of family life: Getting the boys to school on time; pushing another load of laundry through the washer and dryer; paying some bills.
When I look at my children, I do not see strangers looking back at me. I rarely note the differences in skin tone or eye color. I forget that we haven’t always been together.
What I see are my children. And what I feel is a deep, tugging sensation coming from the vicinity of my womb. Regardless of the circumstances of their birth, we are connected.
The truth is, other people often make a bigger deal of this adoption thing than we do.
Sometimes they are positive and supportive. They might be considering adoption themselves and we are happy to share our story.
Other times, they are intrusive and misinformed. There are still plenty of people who view families formed through adoption as somehow less valid, less permanent or less “real” than those formed biologically.
And perhaps most unfortunately, they pass these hurtful beliefs on to their children. Like the little boy in third grade, who was determined to make sure my son understood that I was not his real mom.
The truth is, adoption is not 100% wonderful. Few things in life are.
Children who are adopted experience heart-breaking loss before gaining their forever family.
It’s like they need to be born twice.
Anyone who has lost a parent – or a sibling, or a beloved grandparent – at an early age understands this. No matter how wonderful your life becomes, there is always someone missing. There is always a hole in your heart that can’t quite be filled.
And as with most traumas in life, the loss needs to be processed, over and over and over again, as you pass through each developmental stage of life.
The truth is, adoption is part of who we are, as individuals and as a family. It is part of our identity, but it doesn’t define us. We have nine years (and counting) of shared history, that makes us who we are today. Nine years of laughter, tears, struggle and growth.
And what I know is that I could not possibly love a being more than I love these two children that came to me through adoption. All that is in me loves them completely.
The truth is, adoption is a blessing in our family. We would not be here without it.
A recent news story that is horrifying on so many levels: a 30-year-old woman from Michigan pleaded guilty to charges of having sex with her 14-year-old biological son. The woman gave up her son for adoption when he was just a few days old, and later tracked him down through the internet. She can face up to 30 years of prison time for her crime. According to the article:
"When she saw this boy, something just touched off in her — and it wasn’t a mother-son relationship, it was a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship," the newspaper quoted attorney Mitchell Ribitwer as saying. "Aimee’s searching for a reason why this happened. She can’t understand it. She’s going to get some counseling."
The woman AND the son will need counseling for the rest of their lives, and that’s clearly an understatement. Could this incident have been prevented if the woman was warned about incidences of genetic sexual attraction (GSA) among separated biological family members who reunite after many years?
Genetic sexual attraction, according to Wikipedia, "is sexual attraction between close relatives, such as siblings, first and second cousins or a parent and offspring, who first meet as adults. GSA may occur as a consequence of adoption, when the adopted children knowingly or unknowingly encounter biological relatives. Although this is a rare consequence of adoptive reunions, the large number of adoptive reunions in recent years means that a larger number of people (about half) are affected. If a sexual relationship is entered, it is known as incest, and may be distressing to both parties…"
Academic research on GSA is lacking for several reasons: incest is a taboo topic that many people don’t want to touch, and individuals who have personally experienced GSA with a related family member are usually too ashamed of their experience to share with others.
Several theories exist for why genetic sexual attraction occurs. It could be the by-product of "missed bonding" that would have normally occurred between a mother and her newborn child, or the natural biological attraction for people with similar physical and mental characteristics as yourself.
Seven years ago, The Guardian published a fascinating and disturbing piece on the instances of genetic sexual attraction among adopted individuals who reunite with their blood siblings, parents and offspring. There are instances of reunited siblings who wreck their respective marriages to pursue their uncontrollable desire for each other. Or a reunited mother and son who can no longer speak to each other due to their mutual sexual attraction. Not surprisingly, nearly all of the people affected by GSA are wracked with guilt, depression, shame, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts.
If the instances of GSA are too frequent to be written off as crazy flukes, could it be possible that more light can be shed on the issue of GSA among post-adoption agencies and individuals seeking to reunite with blood ties?
Perhaps in naming the illness and speaking about its existence more publicly, more heartbreaking incidents can be prevented in the future for family members reuniting with other family members.
All of us have some sort of stress is our lives. Stress can come from positive or negative experiences, in packages large or small, and over a long period of time or all at once. The Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Ratings Scale, developed in the 1960’s, is one way for us to measure stress that may have accumulated during the past year. The idea is to look at the list of “life events,” choose the ones that you have experienced in the last 12 months, and add up the corresponding scores to evaluate your possible stress load.
Let’s take a look at Sandra Bullock’s score to get an idea of how this works:
Divorce is second on the list to “Death of a spouse” and comes in at 73 points. She has filed for divorce, so I’m using that score rather than the one for “marital separation.” Gaining a new family member, her son Louis, adds an additional 39. Given the circumstances surrounding the divorce, I’m guessing we could say “change in frequency of arguments” applies, for 35 points.
There’s no score for “winning a major award” but there is one for “Outstanding personal achievement, so we’ll use that, at 28 points. Since she won several major awards, we could probably multiply that, but we’ll just double it for a total of 56 to keep it simple. Change in residence is 20 points. I’m guessing she’ll be keeping her home in Austin, but she did move out of the home she shared with Jesse. Having a new baby around means a change in social activities, so that’s another 18 points. There’s definitely a change of sleeping habits, too, for another 16 points. She’s probably had a vacation in the last 12 months, which gives her another 13 points. And Christmas comes in for an additional 12 points. With that, Sandra has a total of 282 points.
There are other factors we don’t know about that would add in more points. A major mortgage is worth 32 points. Change in health of a family member is 44 points. Trouble with in-laws is 29 points. Change in responsibilities at work is 29 points. Any one of these “events” would put Sandra’s total over 300 points, which increases her risk of serious illness over the next two years by 80%. Now that’s stress!
Many people would fall apart under these circumstances, let alone having the circumstances played out for public scrutiny in the tabloids. And yet, this woman who has gone through so much in such a short period of time looks no worse for wear. Here she is smiling at her sweet baby on the cover of People Magazine! What makes a person so resilient to handle all of this stress with such grace? In a word – Closure.
Closure is understanding that there is a purpose to the events in our lives, and it is being able to move forward with a newfound wisdom from the experience. Sandra Bullock has been able to recognize this strength in others. Of the students at Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans, a school that she has supported after Hurricane Katrina, she says: “I fell in love with the kids at Warren Easton – their spirit, their elegance, their soul, their profound ability to see the beauty in an experience that would have left most people hardened and angry.”
Now, after weathering her own storm for the past couple of months, Sandra is modeling this same strength for her fans. Rather than playing the role of the victim, or lashing out at a betrayal, she instead has opted for a kind of “chop wood, carry water” attitude and has gone on with the business of her life. She is learning and growing from the experience, from the changes in her relationships, and she is grateful. In the People Magazine interview she says: “To say that I am changed is an understatement. But that might not be a bad thing. I have learned a lot about what I am and what I am not. But the most important thing to me was to protect and know the truth. And the truth is simple. The things I hold most dear are things that could not have happened without Jesse.”
Life is complicated. Relationships change. But yes, the truth is simple. The truth is that all of it, the good and the bad, the fantastic and the painful, the sunshine and the rain – no matter how we choose to judge it or categorize it – all of it is here to serve the process of our growth. We can take these lessons and learn from them. We can look at examples given to us and follow them. When we are in gratitude, we are in the present moment. We’re not dwelling on the past or worried about the future, we’re simply in the here and now. And now is the only time there is.
Haiti has already been a trading ground in the past for traffickers, and the natural calamity is making the situation even worse now. Unicef adviser Jean Luc Legrand has reported that children have gone missing from hospitals, and we have started seeing the first evidence of trafficking. Trafficking networks are springing into action, taking advantage of the weakness of local authorities and relief coordination to kidnap children and get them out of the country.
It is clear that orphans are at risk of being separated from their family, and the well-meaning moves by Westerners to adopt the children could be considered abuse. Some efforts have been made by welfare groups to call for an immediate moratorium on new adoptions until sustained efforts can been made to trace and reunite children with their families.
When you see any child who has lost his or her family on the news, your natural instinct is to want to go and pick the child up. Of course, sometimes international adoption is the right solution for a child, but far more often it is not. Children who have started growing up in a community and lost their parents still have some inner security from knowing their environment.
Even though Westerners may find it a worthy cause to provide a lending hand to raise an orphan child, when the child turns 15 and is in enormous need of signpost for his identity, it would be difficult for him to undergo the trauma once again. It’s not abuse in the sense of mistreatment, but it’s abusive in the sense of making a permanent break.
The best option is to provide a loving environment that is culturally local where children can feel secure.
We as a social human race need to understand that children can be happy in their original habitat and with their families.
The most important message about children, whether they are orphaned or not, is the fact they desperately need our help at this point of time. Please help us prevent children from being sold into adoption. You can go to www.troniefoundation.org for more info on today’s slaves.
Adoptions are expedited as advocates around the globe work to help Haiti’s orphans.
Prior to last week’s earthquake, Haiti was already home to 380,000 orphans (according to the United Nations Children’s Fund). While the new figure remains unknown, it only continues to grow as more children are in need of homes than ever before.
Advocacy groups around the globe are working frantically to expedite already in-progress adoptions, to send rescue workers to evacuate children and petitioning the government to grant special permission to enter the US.
According to the Associated Press, on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced an emergency humanitarian program, that will allow Haitian orphans to enter the US temporarily on a case-by-case basis. Thanks to this policy, 53 children were flown into Pittsburgh early Tuesday, escorted by the state’s governor Edward Rendell. He told CNN, "adoptions are already underway for 47 of the children: 40 to the US, four to Spain and three to Canada." But this was no small feat; 14 of those kids were missing paperwork, presumably lost in the rubble. Fortunately, Gov. Rendell and Rep. Jason Altmire refused to take no for an answer, and pushed until the US granted humanitarian parole for all 14 kids. By the time they did, however, the plane to Pennsylvania was already in transit. Altmire flew with the kids in a military cargo plane.
On a smaller scale, another promising story recently took place in Florida. Mindy and Oyvind Haehre began the process to adopt Dayana,7, and Moise, 5, back in 2008. The plan was to bring them home to Loveland, Colo. next month, but the earthquake moved things along. Dayana and Moise survived the earthquake (as did all the other children of the orphanage) and were flown to Fort Lauderdale to meet their new family, including siblings Silje and Jakob. The Haehres were able to spend their first days as a family enjoying the sun and sand. Nothing short of a miracle, considering what their fate may have been.
And, while much of this sounds like nothing more than red-tape disasters waiting to happen, it’s not necessarily the worst thing that could happen. Children’s safety is the number one priority right now. Groups such as The Joint Council on International Children’s Services and UNICEF are on high alert to protect the rights of Haiti’s youngest victims. While crisis like this can bring out the best in humanity, it can also lend itself to the worst. In a January 19th statement, UNICEF’s Executive Director Ann Venemen said:
We are extremely concerned about the situation of children in Haiti, many of whom have become separated from their families and caregivers. These children face increased risks of malnutrition and disease, trafficking, sexual exploitation and serious emotional trauma. The race to provide them with life-saving emergency food and medicine, safe shelter, protection, and care is underway.This is only the beginning.
Stories like the one in Pittsburgh are developing around the world as you read this. On Wednesday a Dutch charter plane is scheduled to bring 109 children to the Netherlands. While it is likely too soon to start a new adoption, there’s much to be done right now. To learn more or help create safe, positive futures for the children of Haiti check out these sites:
Photo by Getty Images
By Lisa Germinsky for Tonic.com
As the former head of two high schools for girls, I know that this is the time of year when many parents begin wondering what is going on with their teenage daughters. I used to get a lot of calls from parents asking, "What is that school doing to my daughter?" With a bit of inquiry I heard pretty much the same thread from the mothers who called me looking for answers: "Crying, unhappiness, secretive, sudden emotional outbursts–she is completely disrespectful. She used to tell me everything, we were like best friends, now she spends all her time in her room on the Internet and won’t share anything. Slams her door to her room. Pouts. What’s going on?"
My first response is that this behavior is normal.
Between the ages of 14 and 16 girls begin their search for independence. This journey begins with a girl’s need to establish an identity that is separate from her mother’s. This process is often a source of conflict for the young girl who is often still immature and unsure of just how to separate from her mother. It is even more difficult and conflicting for a daughter who has been adopted because she is trying to find her own identity as separate from her adopted mother, but underneath, she is also unconsciously trying to find out who she is in relation to the absent birth mother. This produces more conflict in the adopted teen because she often feels the need to be grateful for being adopted at the same time she experiences the need to reject the parent in search of her own identity. This creates confusion over who she is rejecting–her birth mother or her adopted mother? It’s both. Rarely are girls mature enough to see this, but my experience with dozens of confused adopted girls has validated that the coming of age process is sometimes more turbulent for them.
This all happens at the same time an adolescent girl is undergoing enormous hormonal changes. This process is not easy for anyone involved, however, understanding what is going on can be very helpful.
The most difficult year of high school for most girls is the 10th grade. For some girls, the process begins at the end of the 9th grade, but in general, the 10th grade is the most difficult year of high school. Keep in mind–this doesn’t last forever. Sometime between 10th grade and the junior year, girls begin to settle down and find their strength as independent young women in their own rights.
Common behaviors are more time spent in the bedroom (a girl’s room becomes her sanctuary). You may suddenly see signs on the door that say, Keep out! Girls who have been thoughtful and sweet, may suddenly turn impulsive and prone to saying less than kind things. Everything is "so stupid", "boring" or " like, duh". Eyes roll, tongues cluck, "as if". Her cell phone is always clutched in her palm, or pulled from her pocket in the middle of an important family moment to receive a text from–who? Who is it? She brushes her parents off. Her excessive communication is the result of one thing: in her mind, her friends are now the most important people in her life.
In becoming a person in her own right, separate from her mother, she will push her parents away and pull her friends in too closely. Her friends, no longer her mother, are her new role models. She may become critical of her mother, making unkind comments on her style, her shoes, things she says. This behavior can be very painful for mothers.
Calming the Storm
Here are some simple suggestions for making these times go a little more smoothly. First of all, despite her behavior, your daughters want you to talk with them–not at them. They want you to listen to them more than anything else. Girls will talk and talk and often mothers will respond with sage advice. To the dismay of many mothers, girls often do want advice; they simply want to feel understood. Resisting the desire to give advice is practically counter intuitive; however, there is a time and place for giving advice and it’s not the same as lending an ear. When things are really tense and upsetting for teen girls, parents can help with empathy: "I know this is a hard time for you, it’s hard for me, too, we will get through this. Tell me what you are experiencing, I want to understand"
Girls who are adopted want to talk about being adopted. Yet, they are scared to talk about it with their adoptive mothers because they sometimes feel guilty. One girl once said to me " I am starting to feel mad at my birth mom and I can’t possibly bring this up with my mom because it would get her mad to think I was thinking so much about my "other" mother–especially now that we aren’t getting along."
The reality is that parents and teens, adopted or not, are in it together and a sense of togetherness coming as an offering from the adult will help girls with all the confusion they are feeling.
Remember, even though your daughter may say and do things that hurt your feelings, you have a responsibility to guide her through these times.
Pick your battles. Don’t make every issue the big issue. If you want to preserve family time, maybe you should let up on the messy room. Many of her new behaviors will rub you wrong, but if you are constantly correcting her, she will only recoil. Take a stand on the things you believe are most important and be patient in the passing of some of the other behaviors.
The turbulent years for mothers and daughters often give way to rewarding adult-to-adult relationships. Half the battle is in understanding what is normal and what isn’t. Rapid change in weight, either loss or gain; drastic change in physical appearance; too much or not enough sleep; rapid, significant change in friendships are warning signs that something may be amiss and not healthy.
There is a wide range in the definition of normal for teens, so don’t be shocked by the often clumsy attempts at defining themselves. Let them choose their own style, their own hair, clothes and music. Avoid criticizing their choices, this will only entrench them. Be clear about what matters most to you and negotiate these things with her so she feels you are respecting her independence. Finally, remember, like you did, most girls will mature and time will cause the storm to pass if you walk through it listening to her unique voice.
the definition of the purpose of marriage — as put forth by many proponents of proposition 8 — is summarized as follows: a man and a woman get married in order to provide the best possible environment for the development of any children that they either have or will have. furthermore, the best environment for these children is one in which the parents are representative of both sexes in this kind of loving, committed way that is most conducive to the child’s needs for the growth and the development of their self-esteem, personal identity and future role in family and society.
if i took all of these arguments as rote, i would agree with this definition and also be in agreement with creating laws to this effect. but to take that definition (that when people get married, it must be for the sake of their children), is to also imply, — by logical extension — that people must also STAY married for the sake of their children.
there are many countries, like ireleand, where divorce was outlawed, even until fairly recently, by the dictates of a concerned patriarchy. to their credit, they may well have thought themselves to be acting for the sake of the children involved. but eventually the reality on the ground won out. individual marriages largely succeed or fail on their own merits and staying married is often NOT in the best interest of the child at all.
two incompatible people GETTING married for the sake of their children (due to an unplanned pregnancy, for example), has also proven to be a solution that is ill-conceived, for the most part. and so have some rare enactments of would-be laws, which tried to force these marriages by means of local custom (the proverbial "shot-gun wedding", for an extreme example).
marriage and parenthood, although very integral and important ot one-another, are two entirely separate entities. for instance, the husband-wife relationship of my own parents was both crucially integral to and completely separate from their parent-child relationship to me. i was not married to them. they were not mother and father to each other. and as painful as i imagine it would have been, even if they had split up and either settled or abandoned their obligations to one-another, their obligations to me would have remained legally and morally in-tact.
and even more painfully, if they had to give up or abandon their obligation to me and relinquish it to someone else, then i’m certain that there would be no remedy — no matter how optimal — that could fill the ensuing vacuum in my soul.
so without circling back to the subject of gay marriage and gay parenting (which almost seems inevitable, given the overlap in issues), i want to first re-pose the question of what the purpose of marriage is and then move on to subjects of the donor-conception’s ethical pitfalls and choosing the optimal environment for children given to adoption.
i believe that the purpose of marriage is for two people who are in love to be able to make a life and form a partnership together, which they and the state acknowledge as being of at least equal importance to that of any of blood relation. that partnership is a partnership in everything that could present itself in the course of their lives: money, sex, estate, power of attorney,… AND the custody, care and upbringing of their children (adopted by either or both parties or occurring naturally).
the further role of the state is to enforce the the enactment of those obligations stemming from that partnership, when called upon by either party to do so. it is also to add other material and moral support to this and other pre-existing human institutions; not to co-opt them toward its own purposes or definitions, regardless of any myriad of precedence or tradition.
purely human institutions rightly out-date and trump co-option by their religious and civic counterparts. support for families is an important function of both church and state. the sate, however should not have the authority to extend any dictates beyond the role of that supportive function (and only a DEMOCRATIC state should have even this). the church, as something to be voluntarily adhered to by individual choice, should have nothing to say at all in this legal discourse.
so i contend that my definition of the purpose of marriage is as good as any. i also back its relevancy to the human institution of marriage with the fact that this definition is also held by many, aside from myself: heterosexual men and women who would choose to marry and clearly never have children. i don’t think that any of us would take away the rights and protections of marriage that are afforded to these couples.
on to the issue of ivf: i don’t believe in it. but because there are those who do — and because neither myself nor anyone else can rightfully deny them this alternative means when it’s needed to pass on their genetic legacy — i concede that there is a legal and moral compromise to be made, in light of the equal concerns of and for their children.
first off, when used, ivf should be purely a DONATION of gametes. money should never change hands. secondly, it should not be indiscriminately done to the point where the parents and the donor have not considered what will be the long-term involvement and commitment of them ALL to the child, itself.
i imagine that a minimum legal obligatory standard for the donor to live up to should be somewhere BETWEEN that of an illegitimate biological parent (who’s legal obligations are similar to that of a divorced parent) and that of a biological parent, who is surrendering all of their rights, claims and obligations surrounding the child over to the adoptive parents.
neither scenario is without it’s complexities, difficulties or inherent hardships (for the child or parents). but (in the case of illegitimacy, and adoption) both scenarios actually have always been in existence AND have had clear definition under the law.
with ivf being perfectly legal (and likely to remain so), the question is, when there is donor conception, what kinds of scenario(s) should be legally designated as "optimal" and how much of any scenario should be left up to the individuals involved to decide upon amongst each other, on behalf of their child (not their property, but THEIR child, none-the-less)?
that will be the segue to my last query, surrounding adoption.
are the studies presented by the proponents of prop 8 showing married heterosexual couples as the optimal adoptive parents speaking to the needs of MOST children, or are they saying that this situation is optimal for EVERY individual child? are they accounting for things like different learning styles in different children (similar to how a montessori education is better for some and waldorf is better for others). is these kinds of questions things that can be looked into individually for each child when assigning it to ITS optimal family?
i understand that the child identifies with the parent of the same sex and learns about the parent of the opposite sex… but the child also learns about the parent of the same sex and (read next paragraph) identifies with the parent of the opposite sex.
the on-the-ground reality of any relationship is that traditionally accepted roles often take a back seat to that which is actually needed and must be done. i could go on and on about my mother’s masculine bull-dog determination, or my father’s feminine intuitive understanding. and overall, as individuals and as a couple, they fit well within the norm. but they also contributed ALL of their natural born gifts, regardless of conventionality, toward upholding the family unit.
and i could go on and on about how i have my mom’s sarcastic sense of humor or about how i inherited my dad’s ability to listen (at least somewhat). but these traits can’t be statically classified as either masculine or feminine, or coming strictly from the man or the woman.
but learning and self-identity don’t just come from within the nuclear family unit, either. a child learns about and identifies with EVERYONE it comes into contact with. we learn from our teachers and identify with our peers. we identify with our heroes and learn about our pets. we identify with our pets and learn about our neighbor’s pets.
in other words, the whole world shapes who we are and how we relate to it. those within it help us to develop both sympathetic and empathetic characteristics. the village is raising the child, whether we know it or not.
although the way that personalities kind of transfer or rub-off is apparent in classical psychology, i’m not convinced at all that having a parent of the same gender is ultimately what allows a man to identify himself as a man, or a woman to identify herself as a woman. there are too many conventional men who’ve grown up with single mothers for that to be the case. i’m sure they needed a father (or a male father figure), but i would venture to say that so would a woman and for much the same reason.
the ability to relate to people of either sex takes practice and life experience with others, but self identity — while affirmed and supported by this outside experience — comes from the deeper experience of living every day in the embodied self. it’s much more personal and unique to the individual.
it may be that many of our assumptions around the need for male and female representation in the family stem from our culture’s more or less exclusive exposure to the nuclear family unit. in some cultures, like chinese, the family unit branches as far out as the extended family. in some, like native american, it branches out to the entire village. i don’t know that the two parental figures are any less primary in either case, but there should be plenty of other influences around to make up for any lack in gender representation.
then that leads us to the next question of what kind of other representation is lacking in the extended family or in that village if same sex couples are not allowed to be parents and contribute toward shaping their society in this same way. shifting the understanding of family away from the nuclear unit would shift the issue of gay marriage and gay parenting right back into the context of this discussion around the needs of donor-conceived and adopted children, as well as the need for diversity in society as a whole.
i read an entry by one blogger, calling that a dangerous experiment without precedence. but who can site the precedent that brought about the experiment we’re now in and who can say that it is any less dangerous? look at our world.