Despicable Me. Mr Peabody and Sherman. Meet the Robinsons. Annie. Tangled. Mowgli. Kungfu Panda.
Adoption – or the search for roots and heritage – seems a very recurrent and strong theme in children’s movies and tales. I guess it has to do with the struggle each child goes through, when exploring her identity and finding her place in an increasingly bigger world while she grows up. Who hasn’t fantasized, once, about being adopted and actually being royalty, or an adventurer’s kid? We wanted to have a strong heritage, because it would radiate on us. We would be strong and shiny and extraordinary too. Or we just wished for those other parents who would never ever make us go to bed at eight pm or force us to eat broccoli soup.
As an adoptive parent, I try to carefully probe for my daughter’s feelings about the adoption-themed movies she loves to watch. We are very open about her adoption, but it’s not like we organize family discussions around the theme. We just make sure she knows she can talk to us about anything, including her feelings about being adopted.
The movies help her to grasp the complex feelings she has about her adoption-status. She loves us, but she misses her birth mother. She feels loved, but also rejected. She belongs in Belgium and in Ethiopia. She’s torn between two loyalties. It’s all way too complex for a seven-year old to deal with. Being adopted is not the gift many people seem to think it is to her.
She watched Tangled (or Rapunzel for some of us) right about the same time she was struggling with being our daughter. She was absolutely thrilled when she found out the ‘mother’ of Rapunzel was actually a witch who had stolen the princess as a baby. Oh yes. I became that witch to her in no time. We must have stolen her, she tended to say. Because no parent who loved her child would ever give it up for adoption. It was her way of dealing with rejection. And it give her leave to rebel against every single ‘no’ we gave her. We were not her parents anyway.
The Tangled-phase passed. Today, she relates to Po, and not just because she likes his Kungfu that much.
This Panda is as clearly adopted as she is. His is both black and white, like she is. And, most importantly, he met with his birth family. Just like she wants to.
So she watches Po’s adventures over and over again. She has this special giggle she keeps just for him. And she talks to me about her wishes and sorrows afterwards, without being probed. Infinitely more agreeable than the Tangled-period, for sure.
I’m already looking forward to the next movie-releases.
Do movies or cartoons help your children to reflect about their emotions? Can your children relate to struggling movie characters?
This is an original post by K10K of Belgium. Photo credit: homard.net. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
This time next week, I’ll be in Ethiopia with my daughter. My Ethiopian daughter. She is six years old, and four of those have been with us. Four years which have been wonderful and rough all at the same time.
Before she was with us, we already spoke about returning to her birth country. Later. When she would be a teenager, in search of her identity. It would be a roots trip for her.
It turns out that six-year-old adoptees have glaring roots questions too. One day, she came up to us, plumped down on the couch and sighed dramatically.
I don’t know who I am!
I explained to her that she is the daughter of two mommies. One in Belgium, one in Ethiopia. She loves to hear that.
But not this time.
No, I mean…how do I know where I fit in the whole wide world?
I honestly told her that’s a difficult question. I don’t even know how to answer that one for myself.
She was devastated and sighed with even more drama. She’s good at that.
If it’s difficult for you, how am I supposed to find the answer then? You know where you come from. How am I supposed to know where I’m going if I don’t know where I come from?!
These kind of conversations led us to decide to take a roots trip with her now, instead of waiting for her to reach puberty. Moreover, we’ll keep on returning every few years, to keep her in touch with her roots. We know from fellow travelers that Ethiopia is addictive anyway.
Ever since we booked the trip, she has found a kind of peace. Returning to her country really means a lot to this little girl.
Of course, returning won’t all be magical, as she imagines it. No doubt, she will experience a culture shock, just like we did the first time we visited.
We try to prepare her for the poverty she will witness. The poverty she and her family were in, as she knows. It will be hard for her.
But Ethiopia is far more than poverty. To me, it’s the most beautiful and safe African country, with the kindest of people and of course, the best coffee. We’ll visit wild life centres, hike in the mountains and have injerra, the traditional dish, as our Christmas dinner.
I can’t wait to discover Ethiopia again through my daughter’s eyes.
How do you deal with identity questions from your little and big ones? Do they know struggles as well?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K @ The Penguin and The Panther.
The picture in this post is credited to the author.
I remember when I was little playing with my dolls and pretending that I was a mom from a very young age. I don’t think I ever remember a time when I was young thinking I wouldn’t have children. I remember coming up with names for girls and boys. As I grew up and got married and the thought of having my own children became more and more real, I began thinking and dreaming of what they would be like. (more…)
They call me “MZ”
Never in a million years, did i ever think that i would be in a relationship that meant loving and embracing a child that was not my own, as my own. Not that i felt anything against the idea, its just something i never thought of or considered. But that is just how you see it. You have ideas and make plans and then Life happens.
Where did the term ‘step-children’ come from? Why is there a step?
For about four years, my ‘step’ children and I have been in each others lives. It seems like an easy enough relationship whereby i know my boundaries, in manner of not attempting to be their mother, rather a loving figure in their lives. It was a rather difficult relationship to define at first, because well i am not really ‘Auntie’, but yes ‘Dad’s Companion’ and also their sister’s mother.
Eventually they settled for an abbreviation, which i think is pretty cool, MZ they call , from “Mama Zuri.” Sort of like a superhero type? Or close? It feels like it.
And so on and on it goes – this journey of ours. We sometimes have growing pains. It cannot be easy to have someone around who they did not plan for. And this someone playing a role that they did not expect to see me play. But i am thankful and blessed in many ways. It is easy, when they are good kids. There is an occasional discomfort but we paddle through. Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. But we work at it and it works out. I do not ask for much, other than respect for themselves and others and self discipline. I guess those are simple standards for children everywhere.
The notion of the evil step mother that is perpetrated in history never helps. So there is hesitation in getting close.
But I am confident that the less I think about it and the more love I give, we will get to where we are meant to be, which is in a space of comfort, ease, trust and love.
Do you have any step-children? How is your relationship with them? Any tips to share with the world?
This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.
Photo credit to the author.
Those moments, when you are driving the carpool to swimming or to soccer, and the children in the backseat are talking about you while having forgotten your presence, merely inches away in the front –those are the moments of truth.
Over the past few months, there has been plenty of discussion in our house about the coalition war which is taking place just across Jordan’s borders. We have talked, constantly, about the important work that my husband is doing with the UNICEF Jordan office and how children, just like our own, are being forced out of their schools and homes because of the continued fighting in Syria. As all parents do, we try to explain why we do what we do and live as we do.
Despite claims by my children that I am brainwashing them about making a better world, I always felt the need to repeat these conversations, over and over again, because I never really knew how much our children internalized. And then I drove the carpool.
From the backseat of our Prado, the conversation went like this:
D – How long will you be here?
C – Oh, we’ll be here for five years because my dad has important work to do with UNICEF helping kids.
D – We will be here for two, and then the Embassy moves us back to Washington. Do you have a Wii?
C – Yeah.
D – Do you play Grand Theft Auto?
C- No, I’m not allowed to play violent games. My mum is all about peace. One time, I tried to convince her that the games with guns were really for hypnotizing the other guy, but she didn’t believe me. In her last job, she was the principal of a peace school.
In that moment, I knew he understood.
He knew why we are here and what we stand for as a family. In many ways, I felt my job as a mother was done. I could pat myself on the back and feel proud of the work my husband and I had accomplished. Until I heard the rest of the carpool chat.
D – You know Plants Versus Zombies Garden Warfare?
C – Yeah.
D – Maybe your mum will let you play that because it’s not really violent, it’s just plants.
And then I knew, you can be the Peace Mum, but you can’t stop having the conversation.
What are the repeated conversations you have with your children to share your values and beliefs?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog. Photo credit to the author.
In preparation for our adoption, we had to take an intensive course, dealing with the many dynamics involved. A while later, our gained knowledge, but also our personal history, relationship, parenting skills and social network were scrutinized by a social worker and a psychologist.
During those months and months of preparation, there are two statements that came up several times and which I will always remember:
1) Having children is NOT a universal human right. Having a parent – or a dedicated caregiver – IS.
In other words: We were not entitled to a child. It’s the child’s benefit that comes first at all times. A hard lesson to learn for some, and next to impossible to swallow when the judge doesn’t give you the much hoped for green light. But true nonetheless.
2) We were NOT judged for our parenting skills. We were judged for our ADOPTIVE-parenting skills.
Especially to couples that were already parents, the course and social exams could be seen as an affront. And yes, it could be quite provoking and private at times. But in our case is was also very respectful at all times, and educating as well. And it was necessary.
Why? Because adopted children come with a backpack filled with their history. Because, as an adoptive parent, you might need to help carry that backpack.
A central topic to both the course and the exam was: attachment, and with that, basic trust. It was explained to us beautifully by ‘The parable of the little sailor’, in which a child is at first safely on a boat. All of a sudden, she finds herself in a storm. The boat sinks and she struggles to survive. When next she is picked up by a new boat, full of small children like her, and a new captain, it takes a while before she believes that the captain will keep them safe. And she proved right to be hesitant, because a new storm comes up and eventually, that boat also sinks. The child is alone again. From that point on, the child decides to not trust any captains any more. So when a new boat arrives, she goes in hesitantly, because she has no other choice. But she will keep her guards up for a long time now. She will test the captain’s sailing skills over and over again, and whenever a storm comes, she will be ready to take over control.
Some adopted children will have experienced more boats, more caregivers, than others. Some will have had worse storms than others. In quite some cases, gaining the trust of that little sailor will be a tremendous task for the final captains of its journey, the adoptive parents.
Attachment disorder can be an overwhelming Damocles’ sword that hangs above an adoptive family.
We were told the best way to avoid attachment disorder, was to make sure we were going to be the only captains during our precious sailor’s first months on our boat. A minimum of six months of semi-isolation, they recommended. Ideally not letting anyone else take care of her, not even hand her gifts. After that, the time she would need to safely attach to us and rely on us to steer the boat, was estimated as her age upon adoption, multiplied by two.
Our daughter was 2.5 years old when she came to live with us, and she’s been with us for three years now. That means we still have at least 2 years to go for her to let go of her anxieties and mistrust.
At least 2 years. Probably longer, if we look at where she is today on her journey towards trust and attachment. I personally believe attachment, at least for our daughter, will be a constantly evolving process for many years to come.
We’ve also had our share of storms. For one, we broke her trust those first, crucial months. You see, in Belgium, maternity leave is fairly short, only 15 weeks. When adopting, it’s even less. We were ‘lucky’ to adopt when our girl hadn’t reached the age of 3 yet, so I got to stay at home with her for 6 weeks. When your child is older, you only get 4 weeks. Or zero weeks, when the child has reached the age of 8, or when you’re a foster parent… So, a maximum of 6 weeks to complete this huge task of gaining trust. It’s extremely frustrating to have been pressed repeatedly on the importance of a strong basis for attachment and then being forced to send that little sailor off to another captain, one in the boat of day care or kindergarten, after a mere 6 weeks or less.
There have been quite some voices and petitions these lasts months, to once and for all equalize maternity leave rules for all sorts of parenthood, including adoption and foster care. The old statement of ‘You don’t need physical recovery from adoption like you do from giving birth, so you don’t need the same amount of time’ has lost its validity the moment regular maternity leave was extended with an additional (unpaid) month, for the sake of ‘bonding of mother and child’.
No need to say the adoptive community was outraged, or at least strongly disappointed at that time. We still are. The adversaries of our request don’t seem to understand that we don’t ask longer maternity leave for ourselves, although I must admit that some time for emotional recovery would have been very welcome in those first, stormy months.
But essentially, we request it for the benefit of the little sailors to come. They deserve more time to explore, defy and scrutinize their new captains.
How long is maternity leave in your country? Is the same for all kinds of parenthood? And how long do you believe it should be?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
Photo by Alejandro Groenewold under Creative Common license