After my post about Jazzie standing in front of her class discussing her adoption with such confidence, I got several e-mails from people wondering what I have done and what I have told Jazzie to instill that confidence in her about her past.
To be honest, I don't know what exactly I did that has caused Jazzie to be so proud and confident, but I can tell you what I have always done from the moment Jazzie came in our lives. From the very beginning, I have always talked to Jazzie about us traveling to China to get her. I have always talked about China, since we have a lot of artwork and artifacts from China in our home, which evoke conversations. I have never NOT talked about it. From the very beginning I have read adoption books to Jazzie and I always pointed out similarities between Jazzie and things that were happening in the books.
I have never been afraid to talk about her adoption or her birth parents. I have a friend who has trouble even saying the word "birth mother". Even though I am Jazzie's mother in every sense that is important, the truth is that I did not give birth to her and there is another family out there. So why deny that? Why not talk about it? I have never forced anything down Jazzie's throat, but I have always been honest and open and I have always taken the time to mention something about her adoption, China or her birth parents whenever the opportunity has presented itself. As long as Jazzie knows that I have no problem talking about it, she will hopefully not have a problem talking about it as well.
Now that Jazzie is older, she is asking a lot more questions, and I am always honest. I have never tried to romanticize her beginnings. Often times I have to answer her questions with "I don't know", because we really don't know much. I have also talked to Jazzie about the one child policy. She might be too young to fully understand, but I want her to knowthat her birth parents made a choice. Sure, I tell Jazzie that I think her birth mother loved her, but she still made a choice to not keep Jazzie because of the circumstances. It breaks my heart to imagine how Jazzie feels to know that someone decided not to keep her, but I think it is better to be honest and try not to sugarcoat things. I don't want to tell her a different story now because she is young and might not understand. Jazzie is very bright and a deep thinker and she understand more than most people give her credit for. I want her to be able to say later: "My mom was honest about everything for as long as I can remember". I struggled with knowing in my heart that I was doing the right thing by telling Jazzie about the one child policy and families preferring a boy at such a young age. But I recently read some writings by an adult adoptee who struggled with the fact that she was always told that her birth parents loved her, but then didn't understand why her birthparents didn't keep her. If they really loved her, why not keep her then? After reading that, I knew that I did the right thing by discussing this with the girls. They need to understand there was a choice involved.
I have also always told her that it is okay to be sad or mad and that it doesn't bother me if she is and that I understand. The last thing she needs is a guilt trip from her mother. I try to keep Jazzie's and Tahlia's birthparents' memory alive by putting up a special tree each Christmas in honor of them. The girls know this and understand what it stands for. We celebrate Chinese holidays (with just our family or some close friends) to keep their heritage alive. We decorate the house with items that we purchased in China. This also keeps the conversation open since it gives me an opportunity to talk about Chinese customs and traditions.
From the very first year that the girls were at school, I asked their teachers if I could come in and talk about China and adoption. Jazzie and I would talk about what we were going to discuss with the class and then we would give the presentation together. Teachers are very open to this kind of thing and welcome it. I have always been very involved in Jazzie's school (and now Tahlia's), so Jazzie has watched me and listened to me talk about China and adoption over the years and now wants to do it herself. I do make sure that it is okay with Jazzie if we talk about it to other people (I want it to be her choice) and she has always been very excited to do so.
I make sure the girls understand that they get certain traits from Matt and myself (the way they talk for instance), but that a lot of things are only theirs and that they might have come from their birth parents. Jazzie for instance will often mention that I am the only one in the family with blond hair. I in turn will then mention that I got my blond hair from my mom and that she got her black hair from her Chinese mother. Just the other day she asked me why she was deaf and I told her that she was born that way and that I wonder sometimes if someone in her Chinese family is deaf. I just want her to know that I wonder about her birthparents, so it's okay if she does as well. I have always used the term "Chinese mother". I want to honor the women who gave birth to my daughters. For their sake. I want them to know that I am not threatened by them (even though we will probably never know who they are) and I want my girls to know that I respect their birth parents.
I was talking about all of this to a friend yesterday morning and I asked her if she ever thinks about her daughter's birth parents. Her answer was "never. I am her mother". I agree, but how could you NOT think about them? At least, I can't. Her daughter has also never asked any questions and my friend is always surprised when I tell her how often Jazzie does ask things. To me it seems like if you don't open the door and let your kids know that it is okay to talk about it, they won't.
Like I said before, I have never forced any conversations on the girls. It is more in the little things and it is never planned. These kind of things do not come up very often. But when they do, I think it is important to talk about it honestly and openly and with lots of reassurance. We have always told the girls that we were meant to be a family. Forever. It was decided a long time ago that we would be together and that the way we became a family might not have been the "traditional" way, but it was a lot more special.