Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cross Racial Adoption

The subject of white parents adopting African American children can't possibly be exhausted in one blog. There are so many factors to consider, and like raising biological children, every single case is unique, and one outcome can't predict another. I adopted my two girls (both African American) back in 1994--after having them as foster children for three years.  Did they have identity issues as teenagers? Sure they had some. But my best friend's two daughters also had identity issues and they weren't adopted, and were the same race as their parents.

Recently my husband and I watched a video at an adoption training given by the state (GA). It was regarding adopting children of a different race, and all of the examples were of African American (or black & white mixed) children being raised by white parents. During the video it struck me that the two main spokespeople, an adult black male and an adult black female who had each been adopted by white parents, seemed to have had so many identity and self esteem issues growing up, even though, at their own confession, their parents seemed to do everything right. Both of them shared how their parents made it a point to celebrate "black" holidays (like Kwanza, which, in my opinion is not a black holiday, but a Muslim holiday that not even Muslims care about) and they socialized with African American families, and visited African American festivals, museums, etc. They made "African American food" (I don't know exactly what foods they were referring to, because my African American friends eat the same foods that I eat). And they listened to "African American music." (Again, not sure what that means--do they mean the singer is African American, like Seal, Rihanna, or Dianna Ross...or are they referring to a certain style--rap, raggae, jazz?) But anyway, my point is that these two individuals said that THEIR parents, more than most white parents adopting African American children, did EVERYTHING right. Yet, they were still talking about all of the issues they had growing up--the constant questions arising--"Who am I? Where do I fit in? Who will accept me 100%?"

So this got me thinking--could it be that their parents did too much to try and help their adopted children find a solid identity, that, quite frankly, most kids and teens don't develop, adopted or not, until they are in or close to their thirties? To be honest, I never did most of the things that these "perfect" parents did, and I think my girls, now adults, had less of an identity crisis than the two spokespeople on the video. Why? Well first of all, because each adoption case is different. But my guess is that raising your kids to be so centered on themselves and THEIR identity, and where THEY fit in, and who THEY are, etc. etc. must be a recipe for disaster. What about raising kids to focus less on themselves and more on those in need around the globe? What about instead of introducing them to "black food and music" we introduce them to starving people in South America and Haiti; to kids whose feet are literally corroding because they don't own a pair of shoes and they've picked up so much bacteria from the ground that they will end up having their feet amputated or having the infection spread throughout their whole body. What about teaching your child that s/he belongs to the family of God--that our identity is in Christ Jesus and that he died for us and adopted us into God's family--that we are now seated together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus and that because of God's adopting us, we are now joint heirs with Jesus!! Isn't that amazing? To think that God has made us to share everything he has--equally with Jesus! When you live that way--outside of yourself--eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven; and here on earth focused on loving the unlovely and those in need, I don't think you grow up with so many identity and self esteem issues.

So do we just ignore that racial differences exist? Of course not--they're obvious and they'll need to be addressed, but it's so important to remember that this is not our permanent home--we have a Kingdom waiting for us--where we will be in God's presence for eternity, and I'm 100% sure that at that point, race is not going to be a factor--so why spend so many precious hours dwelling on our differences here on earth? I like the saying--"we are all part of the human race" and we have SO many more similarities than differences. Let's get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the hurting people in our communities and around the world. And see if that isn't a great cure for the dreaded teen identity crisis.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adopting Our Girls Against PA Objections

When I was 22, I got my first foster care placement--two sisters--Shannyn, age 6, and Elizabeth, age 5. It was supposed to be only a six month placement but it ended up becoming a three year placement instead. We had regular visits with the girls' mom and their four other siblings who had been split up into different foster homes. I had tried to keep a sort of emotional distance between myself and my girls, dreading the day when they would have to go back to their mom. As time went on, though, it was harder and harder not to become emotionally attached. Of course I know NOW that keeping that emotional distance was not healthy, either for my girls or for myself--but at 22, that's what I thought was the wise thing to do. Anyway, time passed and I was so distressed about the girls going back to Philadelphia, that I decided to strike up a closer relationship with their birth mom to see how she would feel about us adopting the girls. I had already talked to our caseworker about the possibility and she told us that the state (PA) would not be in favor of a cross-racial adoption. I asked her, "So, what if their mom can't get them back? Are you going to look for a black family to take them even though they are already attached to us? Or are you going to leave them as foster kids until they turn 18?" She was young like me and didn't really have any good explanations--only that having white parents adopt African American children caused identity problems with the kids, etc. and that the state frowned upon it. This was why I decided to go straight to their mom. She and I talked several times on the phone and I let her know how crazy we were about Shannyn and Elizabeth and how it was going to be so difficult for us and for them when they had to leave and go back to Philly.

For all of the issues Shannyn and Liz's mom had, she did care about her children a lot and she knew that she was limited in how she could raise them--especially having six children to care for. She wanted to see which of the foster parents would be willing to adopt her kids--but she didn't want to sound like a horrible mother who didn't want her kids back. So she made up a story, telling us that she had Leukemia. She told me that the doctors weren't sure if she'd get better, and that she wanted to know if we would adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. I really didn't know whether or not to believe her story, but I knew that even if she was lying, she was doing it because she wanted what was best for her kids. We were ecstatic and told her that of course we would adopt the girls. So she signed over her rights to us, thereby taking them out of the foster care system completely. Unfortunately, none of the other foster parents felt they could adopt the children, so a couple of years later the other four kids were returned to their mother.

The state no longer had the right to tell us whether or not we could adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. We had the legal rights and could proceed with adoption as soon as we wanted. But there was still one little issue to work out--the finances of paying for both adoptions.

The Financial Miracle The state wasn't going to pay, so we had to hire a private lawyer, but it was going to cost around $2,000 per child. So we let several months go by without doing anything. This was a bit nerve racking because we knew their mom could change her mind at any time and take them back. But back then, it wasn't like today, where you can just give the attorney your credit card number. We needed the cash and we didn't have it. One night I decided to get serious about praying for the finances for our adoptions. I sat before God and told him, "God, I know that you can easily provide the money for us to adopt Shannyn and Elizabeth. I know this is your will and you see that we don't have the resources to do it on our own. Please God, send the finances..." And then I proceeded to give him several ideas of ways in which he could provide the money we needed. I suggested having some anonymous person send us a check in the mail; or someone could put the money under our front door; or someone from our church could make a donation, etc. etc. But the very next day I was shocked and humbled to find that God had his own plan all set up. When my then husband got to his office at Merrill Lynch, he called to tell me about the amazing answer to prayer he found sitting on his desk. It was a letter from Merrill Lynch headquarters to all Merrill Lynch employees and said something to the effect: "In an effort to encourage families, for any Merrill Lynch employee who wants to adopt, Merrill Lynch will contribute up to $2,500 per child to cover adoption expenses"!! Wow! What an amazing answer to prayer--not any of the ways I had "thought up" but all in God's perfect plan!

Committing perjury in the courtroom....We contacted a lawyer right away and started on the paper work. Because the girls' fathers hadn't signed over their rights, notices had to be put in the papers to the fathers, stating our intent to adopt, allowing them to make objections. The girls' mom had lost contact with Elizabeth's dad, but Shannyn's dad still visited their mom occasionally and saw the girls. About a month before the adoption, one such visit took place. The following month we were sitting in the courtroom. The lawyer first called up the girls' mom and one of the questions he asked her was "Has either father been in contact with either of the girls in the last six months?" Under oath she answered "no." I didn't know why she did that, and I didn't know what would happen when the next person went up and told the truth. Shannyn was called up next, and when the lawyer asked her if she had seen her biological father in the last six months, she also said, "no". Now I was even more nervous, and I couldn't believe that Shannyn had flat out lied to the judge!--I knew they were going to call me up and I would have to tell the truth--was that going to throw everything into confusion??? My then husband, Chris, was called up next and when asked the same question, he also answered "NO"!!!! I couldn't believe what I was hearing--he was the type to never tell a lie. He KNEW they had seen their biological dad just about a month before. I was so nervous and praying to God to help, because I knew there was no way that I would lie under oath. Was I going to get the others in trouble for lying? I had such a sick feeling in my stomach. But God intervened when the lawyer told the judge "I see no reason to have Lisa come up and answer questions." And the judge, to my great relief, agreed! After the court hearing, I asked all of them "Why did you guys lie under oath like that?" The mom's answer was "I was afraid that if the judge knew that the girls had seen their dad, he wouldn't have let you adopt them." Shannyn's answer was "I thought I had seen him within six months, but when my mom said I hadn't, I figured that the visit had been more than six months ago." And Chris answered, "Well, I thought they had just seen him recently, but when both their mom and Shannyn said 'no' under oath, I figured that I had misunderstood and that in fact, they hadn't seen him last month." LOL. After that stressful event we all went out to eat together and a couple of days later we had a small adoption party with the family.

The first difficult transition we had to make was in having our girls call us "mom" and "dad" instead of by our first names. When you're used to calling someone something for three+ years, it's awkward changing that, but we kept reminding them, and soon enough it was like they had called us that all their lives. I now felt like I had some catching up to do on bonding with my girls. Had I known when I first got them that they were going to be mine forever, I would have allowed my heart to love them and nurture them like my own flesh and blood instead of being reserved in my emotions. Home schooling really helped us to draw closer to one another--being together working on things every day all day long created more oneness between us, though it took a while to feel like real mother and daughters, I honestly know that my heart towards them now is no different than had I given birth to them. God has been gracious to adopt us into his family--the Bible even says that he has made us "joint-heirs" with Jesus Christ. That's pretty amazing if you think about it--God has made us to be his "real" children just as Jesus is his Son!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My First Adoption Experience

When I was 20 and engaged to be married I told my then fiance that I didn't want to have biological children--that I felt a strong desire to adopt orphaned children, possibly of various races--that there were so many unwanted children, so why bring more children into the world--better to take in the ones with no parents.  That first year of marriage we were involved in an inner city bus ministry, working with hundreds of city kids, ages 4-16.  I absolutely loved those kids and wanted to make a more lasting impact on children's lives, so we decided to become foster parents.  I told our caseworker that I only wanted short-term placements at that point because I didn't want to get too attached and be heartbroken when the kids went back with their parents.  About a month after we were approved, we got our first call.  We were asked to take in two sisters, ages five and six.  It was expected to be a six month placement, as their mother was working towards getting her children back.

Shannyn and Elizabeth didn't fit the description of what any of the naysayers warned us about.  They didn't have rebellious attitudes, didn't steal things, weren't wild, and didn't try to set the house on fire.  On the contrary, they were sweet, funny, well behaved, confident, well adjusted, and street-smart in a humorous way (you can check out the pictures below!).  They seemed comfortable in our house the moment they stepped foot inside.  Now, granted, I was only 22 and so even though I THOUGHT I knew everything I needed to know to be a good mother to these girls, I really didn't have a clue.  I pretty much treated them as if I were their big sister--we did fun things together, I drove them to their dance and soccer classes, but I was lacking in emotional nurturing and physical affection.

Learning to do Shannyn and Elizabeth's hair was a new adventure.  They are African American, and I, with all my "experience" of doing people's (and Barbie heads') hair, figured that it wouldn't really be that difficult.  So I boldly took out their corn rows after the first week, and I washed their hair, put some detangle spray (for white people's hair) and started trying to comb through it.  Right at that point I started to think I could be in a bit of trouble.  I got the parts as straight as I could and then proceeded to do small french braids all over their hair.  It wasn't very pretty.  I felt really bad for them having to go to school looking like that, so right away I got in touch with an African American woman from my church and she showed me how to do their hair.  It was a primitive technique though, and I still wasn't happy with it.  Then, at our first visit with the girls' mom she showed me how to do the little corn rows, and after that I got more and more creative, soon adding beads and extensions--the whole nine yards.  In fact, their hair looked better than most other African American girls we knew, and the African Amercian moms would gladly admit it (and would ask me to do their daughters' hair, which I politely declined!).

The six month placement turned into a year, turned into 18 months, turned into two years, etc..  Of course I was emotionally attached to them by now but I still tried to keep an emotional separation between us.  After all, we were having visits with their birth mother and she was still expected to get them back--she was just slow on her progress.  So I tried to keep both them and myself prepared for the break-up by talking about her frequently and not getting very close emotionally.  This was a bad decision and I wish I would have been more mature, not to be so selfish in trying to preserve my own emotional well being, that I neglected theirs. 

My girsl hadn't been enrolled in school prior to living with me, so they were a year behind grade level. This seemed to affect their self esteem, so three years after their placement with me I quit my teaching job and home schooled them.  This was a great decision.  It's amazing how much a child can flourish when given so much one-on-one attention--when taken out of  the school system, where kids learn despite being in a classroom of twenty other kids and not because of it; where the number one thing they learn is how to abound in foolishness and worldliness because they're so influenced by their peers.  My girls progressed so quickly academically.  In four years, we did five years of school and caught them up to their proper grade level.  And when they did finally go back to school (a decision I now regret!) they were delighted with how easy school was compared to home schooling--they pretty much breezed right through.

Going back to the beginning--most of us don't know what it's like to be around kids who aren't spoiled.  We're so used to it that it's normal to us.  So I was really touched with how much my girls appreciated everything that was given to them or done for them.  I remember our first Christmas with the girls.  Let me first back up and say that when I got the girls in September 1991, they each came with only one outfit, one pair of pajamas, and not a single toy.  My parents came over that first weekend and took the girls shopping at Wal Mart to buy several new outfits.  You should have heard the "ooohs" and "ahhhhhhs" at the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc. outfits they were picking out.  They weren't picky or unappreciative--anything you offered to buy them was like a treasure to them and they didn't think of asking for something high priced.  So back to Christmas--we kind of went overboard that first year because everything we saw in the toy store we felt they "needed."  That first Christmas morning was a morning I will never forget--there were packages everywhere and two little excited girls thrilled at absolutely everything and anything they opened.  I mean, when they opened a deck of cards, they were like "Ooooh cards! thank you! thank you!"  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Had I opened a deck of cards at any point in my childhood, I would have said a polite "thanks" with a smile and then moved onto the next gift.  All our relatives had a blast that year giving Shannyn and Elizabeth presents.

I think one of the best things we did for our girls was keep them grounded by continuing to serve in the inner city bus ministry.  My girls came with us on Friday nights when we visited families downtown, and they came with us all day Saturdays when we picked up the kids on the buses and brought them to church for their Bible classes.  It was good for them to be in regular contact with kids who had less than they did.  It helps a person remain content and thankful for the circumstances they are in.  Even after we moved to GA and no longer did any type of inner city ministry, and lived in a pretty affluent area, my girls were never dissatisfied with their life or their lack of a BMW the minute they turned 16, or their lack of Abercrombie and Fitch clothes, etc.  They had a realistic view of life and are better adults today because of it. 

In my next blog I'll talk about how I was able to adopt my girls even though the state of PA was against it (yes, it was a racial thing).  And also how God miraculously provided the finances to do it:)

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