Oh, media and adoptive parents, will we ever get adoption reporting right?

I had to change that title, because really the problem isn't just with the media, it's with APs, too. And that includes me.

Time to take the plunge back into a little writing! NPR’s Sunday interview with transracial adoptive parent Rachel Garlinghouse is a great way to jump back in. By now I’m sure everyone who in the adoption community has heard the piece, but if not, go on over and listen.

Your paradigm-shifting word for the day is bifurcated, which is how I describe my reaction.

The me who is living in the present reacted with skepticism. Actually, that’s not right; I really though both NPR and Rachel Garlinghouse blew it. The fundamental flaw with the piece, in my opinion, is that Ms. Garlinghouse was interviewed at all. But OK, she was asked and accepted, she has written a book and therefore considers herself at least moderately qualified to speak on the topic, as NPR must also. To me, what she spoke about was the same old PAP pap. And please don’t even think about saying she was only responding to the questions. By now any adoptive parent who spends any time with the media should know how to reformulate the questions into something that matter – or how to answer the ones that are asked by continually reminding the interviewer that only an adopted person could effectively respond.

On the other hand, the me who is humble enough to remember her past thought “you are listening to yourself.” Had I heard this interview when my children were toddlers or pre-schoolers, I wouldn’t have questioned the choice of interviewee, but instead would have felt that Rachel Garlinghouse was perfectly entitled to speak for the entire adoption community. I would have found it appropriate for her to share with authority the things her family was doing to support their children, and I would very likely agreed with her overwhelmingly positive portrayal of adoption. What I am unlikely to have realized is that, although the interview seemed to be about her children, it was really about her as a parent. Because when I was a young adoptive parent, adoption was all about me.

Ouch. Painful, but the truth must be told.

With that truth in mind, I have come to my present view of the adoptive parent role in adoption dialog. As I share above, there was a time when I thought we were entitled to own it. There was a later time when I thought maybe we had no role in it at all, But now I think we have a responsibility to share our experiences, but must keep a couple of things in mind to it ethically and effectively.

  • First and foremost, we must remember that we cannot speak for the adoption community. It can be appropriate and helpful for us to share our experiences with other adoptive parents, and with adoptees and first parents as well, in the spirit of furthering understanding. But when the topic is adoption generally, we have to learn to hand the mike to adoptees. They, having lived adoption first-hand, can talk with credibility about the experience of being adopted. Unless we happen to be adopted ourselves, we adoptive parents shouldn’t even try.
  • We also need to learn that we can never, ever know enough to claim expert status. I am seeing comments in the online dialog indicating that Ms. Garlinghouse should not be speaking because her children are young. Does this mean that because my kids are older I am considered more experienced? I certainly hope not, because if there is anything being a parent of adults has taught me, it’s that I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I think maybe a better approach would be for all of us APs and TRAPs (I am in love with “TRAP” – transracial adoptive parent) to remember that what we don't know may very well exceed what we do. It can be appropriate for us to share our own experiences, as long as we make it clear that we change and grow because of them and may very well disagree with ourselves at some point in the future. But we need to stop writing and speaking as if we have all the answers, because no adoptive parent does.

I hope that finding herself at the center of so much discussion will do one thing above all for Rachel Garlinghouse: I hope it will remind her that, no matter how much you love your transracially-adopted children and no matter how much you have embraced your role as their parent, expertise will always allude you. All we can do is our best, for our children and for their community. And sometimes we do our best when we do no more than listen.


Deborah Hartman said…
Great piece. Glad you are writing again!
Goosegirl said…
Thank you for writing this. I feel the same way.
Dmdezigns said…
Great piece. You said it perfectly.
Thanks very much for commenting, I appreciate it!
Mirjam said…
NPR should have called you instead. To tell this.
Macey said…
Did you watch yesterday's "48 Hours" episode, "Perilous Journey" about corruption/trafficking in international adoption? Amazingly enough, it featured exactly ZERO input from international adult adoptees (or adult adoptees at ALL). Horrifying.

The investigation featured CCI/Sue Hedberg's misdeeds in Guatemala (trying to adopt out two clearly trafficked kids, as was detailed in Erin Siegal's "Finding Fernanda") and the problems US PAPs who were working with CCI faced in attempting to get 2 little girls (who may or may not have legitimately been orphans in need of new parents) out of the DRC. The PAPs, the Owens family, detailed how 1) CCI lied to them by providing them with paperwork that was clearly falsified, 2) an ethical orphanage director (not affiliated with CCI) was refusing to release the girls as she suspected they'd been trafficked, 3) the Owens manage to get the girls out of the orphanage and are IMMEDIATELY issued exit permits by the Congolese government (no info on how this happened, given the DRC stopped issuing exit permits months ago) was provided and 4) merrily left the country with their 2 newly adopted girls, NOT BOTHERING TO ASK A SINGLE QUESTION, e.g. are these 2 girls really orphans? do these 2 girls have any biofamily that could care for them? where did these 2 girls come from, given that ALL the paperwork they were provided by CCI was clearly falsified?

The take-home messages was that PAPs willing to spend LOTS of money and who chose to consciously look the other way will succeed in adopting kids who probably didn't need foreign parents in the first place. *sigh*

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