Thinking about the international adoption films on PBS POV

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy aired on some PBS stations yesterday.  I was surfing around the POV website last night in the hopes that I’d find it on one of our local schedules, but they don’t have it scheduled yet, so I’ll be watching online starting tonight.

Each of the film’s pages includes online discussion, so I spent a little time reading some of the comments. Although it hasn’t been aired yet, there were several comments on the page for In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, Deann Borshay Liem’s second film about her adoption experience. Perhaps the commenters had seen preview showings elsewhere, perhaps they were commenting with Deann’s first film, First Person Plural, in mind. Regardless, it was disappointing to see comments by adoptive parents that show how far we have to go to get them to see reality.

A couple of comments were of the “I’m the real parent and I’m tired of the media saying I’m not” variety. I understand this, because I remember thinking the same thing when our kids were little. The media likes sensational adoption stories about adoptees who murder their adoptive parents and adoptive parents who abuse their children.  And frankly it makes sense that a reunion story would focus on the reunited.  At the end of the day, ordinary adoptive families aren’t news.

Deann Borshay Liem’s films, however, aren’t media coverage, and they’re far from sensational. They tell a true story about a Korean adoption experience that isn’t unique (very important to remember that), and tell it in a personal way that demands adoptive parent attention. It's disappointing to read comments by adoptive parents focusing on their role in the experience, rather than acknowledging that what happened in the case of Deann Borshay Liem’s adoption was simply wrong, and is wrong whenever it happens.

It was also interesting that more than one adoptive parent pointed out exorbitant adoption fees. Honestly, it’s stunning to realize that there are people who adopt who believe they deserve a special place in the parenting hall of fame because they went through a homestudy (one called it “rigorous scrutiny in two countries”) and paid a fee (the same commenter called it “a small fortune to ransom them”).

A homestudy and payment of a fee, no matter how high, do not give adoptive parents the right to consider themselves “real parents.” Our job is to love our children, to be the best parents we can to them, and to respect their individuality, which includes their heritage and connections to their first families. Period.

I just don’t know how to say this any more clearly. And I don’t get why this is such a stretch for so many adoptive parents.

When I look at my kids, I see two young adults whose have lost more in their young lives than I have lost in my long one. I see potential: to love, to learn, to enjoy, to grieve, to search, to be satisfied with what life brings their way, to strive for more. I see individuals who have a right to know the truth about their origins, not a half-baked “truth”.

I also see two young people who love my husband and me. If they were both to decide tomorrow to go to Korea to meet their families and live with them, I’d applaud their decisions. I don’t feel threatened by that, because the relationships we have will continue, no matter where life takes them. I suspect that should they decide to do just this, at some time or another they’d invite Third Dad and me to join them, so we could know their families, too. I also know that if they chose to keep those relationships to themselves, that would also be fine.

It’s all good. Being their mom is an honor and a privilege. I’m happy to stand on the sidelines and watch them go for their personal golds. That’s real enough for me.
Visit the POV website for details. Click here for check local listings.

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy
PBS Broadcast August 31, 2010
Online September 1, 2010 through November 30, 2010

Stehanie Wang-Breal's film about an 8-year-old Chinese girl adopted by a family in Long Island, NY airs on Aug. 31.

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee
PBS Broadcast September 14, 2010
Online September 15, 2010 through October 15, 2010

Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee.
Off and Running
PBS Broadcast September 7, 2010
Online September 8, 2010 through December 7, 2010

Nicole Opper's film about Brooklyn teenager Avery, the adopted daughter of a white Jewish lesbian couple.

First Person Plural
PBS Broadcast August 10, 2010
Online August 11, 2010 through September 11, 2010

After being told all her life that she was an orphan, filmmaker Diann Borshay Liem recounts her discovery that her Korean birth mother was alive.

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