I was thrilled to be matched with another adoptive mom, Robyn at the Chittister Family.
We actually had a great deal in common, which made writing interview questions so much more fun and interesting. I loved reading through her blog, which was insanely well-written (I’m a little jealous :)) and very thoughtful. And, I’m really looking forward to following her journey as she parents her two adorable children! Thank you Robyn for being such a wonderful interview partner!
My questions are in italics…and Robyn’s answers follow mine.
You write about ethical adoptions being very important to all members of the adoption triad. What is your advice to those who are just starting the adoption process? How can they be reasonably sure that they are entering into an ethical adoption?
First, we have to agree on what an “ethical” adoption is. In a nutshell, I think it’s one in which the expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents go into adoption with an understanding of all of their available resources, their rights, and their responsibilities to the other parties. When I say “parties” I mean to one another, but also to the child(ren). I think it’s important to use adoption professionals who present all options and resources. There are professionals who coerce expectant mothers into placing, even in this day and age. I would also say that an ethical adoption is one that really is in the best interest of the child, where all parties involved want to do what’s best for him or her.
In general, agencies seem to be better able to provide counseling to expectant parents than facilitators or attorneys. Some facilitators do, and some states require that e-parents receive counseling. Prospective adoptive parents should always look at the “Pregnant?” pages of a professional’s web site. You will learn a lot about their approach to adoption that way. You definitely want to ask about counseling options. You want to make sure that e-parents aren’t required to move to a specific state, or stay in specific housing. If these options are available, that can be a good thing, but requiring a woman to move away from any support system she might have is not.
I remember talking to one agency and the social worker said, “We induce all of our mothers for the convenience of the adoptive parents.” I ran away from them.
Make sure the expectant father is found and on-board. There can be some exceptions to this, such as abuse, rape, or prostitution. Someone – either the agency or a lawyer – needs to do the due diligence in this area. In many states, a man has very few rights to his child, and, as the mother of a son, that concerns me. On the flip side, adoptions have fallen apart because the wrong man was named the father, or the expectant father found out at the last moment and asserted his rights. It’s better to know the person involved, and if he’s against the adoption, to not go into it at all. (An exception would be for abusive men, or possibly men who will be in prison for an extended period of time.) I would also say, be careful when adopting from Utah, specifically. Utah has a horrible track record when it comes to birthfather rights.
If possible, try to have a relationship with the expectant parents. Knowing S and Laine, I knew that they weren’t being coerced into their decisions. But I also got to know them more as people, and that’s very important for so many reasons.
I know that for us, we feel that any agency that discriminates against people for any reason doesn’t have the best interest of the children in mind. Research shows that closing off avenues – for example, saying “only heterosexual Christian couples may adopt” – hurts children. All qualified parents need to be available. We didn’t want to work with any agency that wouldn’t work with GLBT people, even though we’re a heterosexual couple.
We also feel that charging fees based on the child’s race is, well, racist. I have a huge post planned about this topic. We wouldn’t use any agency that charged fees that way.
Now, you can ask all of the right questions, research up the wazoo, and feel all warm and fuzzy about the people you’re working with, and something still may go wrong. Maybe the expectant mother lies about who the baby’s father is. Maybe the attorney forgets to file the proper paperwork. Maybe a social worker is a overzealous in “selling” open adoption. You can’t control everything. You just have to have an idea of what you might do if everything goes pear-shaped. What does “ethical” mean to you?
What have been some of the challenges and joys of being a parent to two transracially adopted children? Is there anything you wished you would have done differently to prepare yourself for transracial parenting?
We weren’t required to do any specific training for transracial adoption before we adopted Jackson. When we decided to be open to any race, I joined a Yahoo! group and started learning from other parents. I wish I had done more reading before I had kids, because now that I have them, I don’t have as much time to read!
I don’t think I was prepared for the onslaught of opinions. I’m fortunate that I don’t get a lot of attitude in real life, but it seems like people online have very strong opinions. There’s the myth that white people adopting black children is a fad inspired by Angelina Jolie, for example. There’s all of the judgment about the hair – I still don’t understand why hair is so important. There are opinions about what products to use for black skin, when to start using protective styles in hair, what clothes black children should wear. Everyone has opinions.
White people tend to be very clueless. There are too many who think that we live in a “post-racial” society. White people really don’t talk about race, and that is a problem.
One thing that has been difficult is finding friends of color. I don’t make friends easily to begin with, and for me to go up to someone I don’t know and start talking… that’s very hard. I’m fortunate that we have a few friends from Jackson’s preschool who are Black or mixed race, but I can’t think of any person of color whom I’ve befriended from his new school. (OK, I thought of one, who is Asian, and another who is part Asian.) I mean, I’m friendly with a lot of people there, and there are a couple of moms I really do try to talk to, but it seems that they’re shy like me, or that they have their friends and aren’t really interested in having more.
So, in a nutshell, the challenges: Making friends of color, finding role models of color, figuring out the people to trust when it comes to opinions.
Now, on to the joys. I think brown babies are cuter than white babies. I have always thought that white babies are just too pale. They look like fish. So, as far as I’m concerned, I have the cutest babies ever! I have gotten to meet people and have discussions that I would not have had otherwise. I feel like I’m learning a lot more about Black culture, but also about the world when one isn’t white. I think it’s a very valuable perspective to have. I’m trying to look at the world from my children’s perspective more too. I’ve discovered a lot of children’s books with non-white characters, and with a global focus, and I try to share them with all of my friends.
I have been in love with “words” for most of my life. It seems as if you share that passion. Was there one book/play/poem from your childhood that really sparked your imagination and love of words?
In some ways, this was the hardest question to answer, because I feel like I’m going to let you down. Basically, the first book I ever read on my own was Cinderella (the Disney storybook). From then on, I was hooked! I just loved reading. Not only was it a great way to escape, but adults were very impressed that I could read as well as I did. (I started reading on my own at age 4, and by age 8, I was reading 8th-grade level books.) It was also a way to learn, and I knew that learning – education – was the way to a better life. So, I guess it was that very first book, Disney’s Cinderella, that inspired me.
How has being a parent changed your relationship with Max? Do you feel your marriage is stronger? More complex? More easily strained? Happier?
One of the upsides to blogging anonymously, as you do, is that you can be very open about your relationships. I don’t talk a lot about Max or our marriage on my blog, with the exception of the several posts this summer before our 10th wedding anniversary.
Max and I both find parenting to be very difficult. However, I find it to also be rewarding. Max does not. He tends to take it personally when Cassie scratches him or Jackson misbehaves. He *knows* it’s not personal, but his gut reaction is to be hurt. We have some conflict over how to parent, especially when it comes to Jackson’s behavior.
That said, from 2003 through 2005, I was almost completely incapacitated by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and the medication merry-go-round it came with. That was incredibly stressful; far more so than parenting. It placed a lot more stress on our marriage, and we didn’t know when, or if, it would let up. Fortunately, I eventually found medications to control the symptoms, so I’m not in constant pain anymore.
I would like to have more time to focus on just the two of us. We may have finally found a reliable baby-sitter and now be able to have “date nights” together. Woo hoo!
So, I think the answer to your question is that parenthood has proved challenging to our marriage, but not nearly as stressful as dealing with chronic pain. We definitely need to spend more time together, though.
I am also a HUGE fan of the Oscars. I try to watch them every year, even if I haven’t seen the movies. Who has been your favorite host? And, who do you think should host the Oscars?
I love the Oscars! I miss the Oscars of the late 80’s/early 90’s, when the acceptance speeches were long and windy. These days, I’ve never seen any of the nominated movies, but I watch the Oscars anyway. Billy Crystal is probably my favorite host of all time. His openings are the best. Robin Williams hosted once, and that was hilarious. I’d love to see him host again. If the entire cast of The Daily Show hosted, with a cameo or two by Stephen Colbert, I could see that working. Poor Jon Stewart did a horrible job – you could tell he was nervous. If he had Sam Bee and Jason Jones with him… yeah… that could be awesome.
If you could make one change to the adoption world, what would it be and why?
This is an easy one: Federal adoption laws to govern both private adoption and foster care and adoption. No more ICPC. No more needing attorneys in different states. No more laws that prevent people from one state or county from adopting from a different state or county. It doesn’t matter if you live in New York, Wisconsin, or Florida. All states have the same home study requirements. All states have the same laws about adoption professional licensing, advertising, birth parent expenses, birth parent rights, open adoption agreements, who is eligible to adopt, how long revocation periods are, fees… I really hope we’ll see some work on this in our lifetimes. The industry really needs to be more regulated. It needs to be easier for people from a different state to adopt from foster care. I’ve read of kinship adoptions being denied because the kin lives in a different state, for example, but foster care is supposed to be all about “reunification” these days.
What gifts/talents/ideals do you hope to pass on to Jackson and Cassie?
Well, Max and I are both drama geeks, so it would be great if they got into performing. I’d love to see my kids on stage sometime!
We want them to be active. Jackson loves soccer right now, and we hope Cassie will also pick one or more sports to play.
My parents never really supported my interests, so it’s very important to me to support what my kids are interested in. For Jackson, that’s soccer, Cub Scouts (which he just started with Max), and now 4-H. Cassie’s a little young, but I hope she’ll want to do things like that too, or dance, gymnastics, basketball… she’s going to be really tall. The point is, even if we have to go out of our way, we want to make sure our kids get to explore their interests.
Education is very important to us. Jackson already knows he’s going to go to college someday. We want them to love learning, especially reading.
In general, we want our kids to live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We want them to be nice, good, smart, kind people.
Back in 2007, you wrote about your concerns about vaccinations. Do you still have the same concerns? Have your thoughts changed in light of more recent studies?
Our thoughts have changed. We don’t vaccinate at all now. While Jackson had the Hib series, Cassie hasn’t had any vaccines, and she won’t. I’ve done a lot more research, and I am convinced that the risks from vaccines outweigh the risks from the diseases.
My random question: What is your ideal vacation? Where would you go and what would you do?
I have two answers.
If I’m going with kids, the ideal vacation is Disney World, plus a Disney Cruise. I love Disney! Disney World is one of my favorite places. I would live there if I could. I’m kind of insane that way. We’d do all of the major parks, Typhoon Lagoon, stay at the Port Orleans Hotel, or, if we won the lottery, the Boardwalk Inn, or the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Then, go on to the Cruise to their island, where we can snorkel. I really love snorkeling, and I think Jackson would too. If I ever won the lottery, one of the first things I’d do is go on a month-long vacation to Disney World, and invite a bunch of our friends and our kids’ birth families to come on various days to join us. Jackson’s bio sister and cousin apparently love the princesses. I think it would be amazing to have them do the Princess Boutique thing.
If I’m not going with kids, then my ideal vacation is to go to France, with Max and another couple (our friends Christy and Morgan). That way, Christy and I can do all the touristy things, while Max and Morgan can do whatever manly stuff there is to do in France. And then at night, we each have our husbands for romance. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, especially, but it would also be great to see the countryside. Notre Dame is a must see, I know that.