|Corey speaking on stage during an evening session at Orphan Summit 2012.|
But that changes at Orphan Summit. Because there, Corey sees a purpose in being honest. He does it to help families who are adopting children of a different race, a different culture. Parents who are adopting orphans from hard places. They drink up information like a parched land drinks rain and there, his story isn't just tabloid fodder. It's truth that people want.
So at Orphan Summit, the man who holds his cards close lays down his hand. He tells more to a roomful of strangers than he's told to just about anyone. He sits on a panel with other adult adoptees and tells a bit of his own story and then answers questions and makes jokes and speaks wisdom and always points to God.
And I sit in the crowd and behold God's healing and I worship.
Technically, the session is called Becoming a Multicultural Multiracial Family; it's a two-parter. Corey's panel is the second half, the colorful follow-up to the black-and-white groundwork laid in the first half of the session. I think many adoptive and prospective adoptive parents look forward to the real-life perspective the panel members - all adult adoptees adopted transracially - bring to the discussion. It's always well attended and it always runs long.
I Tweeted my way through the session this year, and got quit a bit of feedback. So while I know this information is limited in usefulness to the general public, I wanted to share the points that stuck out to me. (And maybe if you know someone who has adopted or who is thinking about it, you could pass it on?)
1. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.
I want to start here, because it's the thing I hear over and over and over from adult adoptees. Every person is unique. Every story is original. There isn't one, easy, panacea for adopting transracially. For every expert who says the child will mourn the loss of their birth culture, there is an orphan who is happiest embracing their new life. For every study that says the child needs to be surrounded by a community of their own race, there is an orphan who is so scarred by contact with the culture that rejected them, it's better for them to move on. You have to get to know your child and hear their story and adapt the answers to fit them. (And really, this is parenting 101, adoption or not. No wise parent paints their children with a broad brush. Every child is a work of art, a poem written by God. They are individuals; treat them as such.)
2. All adoption begins with loss.
This is important to note, because I think it's easy to overlook by adoptive parents with the best of intentions. In an ideal world, adopting a child would erase their past. But no child, even a newborn, comes to you as a blank slate. Social workers have told stories of even babies grieving the loss of what was.
Adoptive parents need to gently respect, that, what is great joy to them comes at a cost to the child. (And honestly, many adoptive parents I know get this in their gut, because once they know and love their child, they grieve for them all that they lost.)
3. Let your adopted child own as much of their story as possible.
This means protecting their story, not sharing the details willy-nilly, giving them the "keys" to sharing it as they get older. Especially in transracial situations, it's important to not single out the child who already feels different by emphasizing it with every person you meet.
Which transitions nicely into....
4. Tell them everything.
This is the one that garnered the most reaction. "Tell them everything? Even the hard parts? Even the horrible parts?"
The panel members had differing opinions on many things, but this one they agreed on wholeheartedly and emphatically. Trying to hide painful parts of your child's story from them will always backfire. Total honesty is the best policy.
I realize this is a difficult directive. The question got brought up by a mom who has adopted three girls from China. Two of them were left at hospitals when they were born. One was found near death in a ditch. She understandably struggled with telling the daughter who was thrown out the reality of her story. But as the panel members said, this is the child's story. Even if it's painful, an adopted child longs for every fragment of truth.
Of course, it's still wise to be age-appropriate. That adoptive mom would't have to tell every gruesome detail to her three-year-old. But telling even a simplified version of the story normalizes it for the child. "Your sisters were left in the hospital. A kind person found you in a ditch. We are so glad God saved you!" Even that communicates the truth to the child without making it seem like something unspeakable. And as they get older, the rest of the story can be told.
5. You can't protect them from pain. Prepare them instead.
This was my favorite quote from Tara, one of the adult adoptees who is also an adoptive parent and an adoption social worker. (She's well-versed in these issues, you might say.)
Many parents asked about how to help their kids overcome the racial differences between themselves and their adoptive families. "What tools can we give them to help deflect the stares/questions/prejudices?" The blunt answer is: You can't. Growing up with a different skin color than your parents does make a difference. It just does. People notice. People point. People ask questions. It's unfortunate, but we can't change this broken world.
So yes, love your child as they are and expose them to people of their own race and explore with them their cultural heritage, if that's what they want to do. But trying to shield your child from the pain isn't a reality. It's better to teach them to how to deal with the inevitable when it comes. Where do you find security? Are you deeply loved for who you are? Do you believe God can redeem anything? These are the lessons to ingrain.
And really, this applies to all parents, adoptive or not.