Saturday, April 17, 2010

Teaching a Baby to Love You is a Lonely Business

My second daughter, adopted as a baby from China, was a challenge to parent. She came to me with an awareness of her loss, memories of a woman she loved, a sensitive nature and an intense personality. My first three years with this beautiful and intelligent child drained me emotionally and physically. I learned what I had to do in order to help her with her adoption issues, and re-wiring my life, I did what was needed. I don't remember the details...but I remember being tired! And scared and anxious and resigned. We made progress together, but teaching a baby to love you is a lonely business.

My daughter grew to feel safe and secure in tiny little steps. I rejoiced in the smallest of things: her first unsolicited kiss at 15 months old almost stopped my heart! I spent most of my day, every day (and a lot of my nights) meeting her needs and teaching her to trust; it's hard to comprehend the immense amount of energy that can go into adoption-parenting, unless you're familiar with the bittersweet experience of bringing a child back from the edge.

I had a lot to learn about support systems, both for my child and for myself, and if I had to do it again I would be as proactive in finding assistance for myself as I was about finding resources for my daughter. I would help my family and friends understand the work I was doing with my child, and I would ask for their emotional support. I would let them know exactly what I was dealing with, and how important it was for them to put their arms around me and my baby, literally and figuratively. Adopting a child opened a whole new world for me, but I think I was too blurry-eyed to realize that my friends and family weren't sure of how to offer to help, or even what I was trying to accomplish. What had become second nature to me in doing attachment-work with my daughter probably made me look like a rigid and over-protective parent to an outsider, and probably made me appear unapproachable.

I wanted a coach, a mentor, a friend who understood--I needed the village that was supposed to help me raise my child! I didn't get the whole village, but I did find women who reached out to me, who extended sisterhood and who told me I was doing something valuable by mothering. They noticed. I held on to their words of honesty and support, and was enormously touched whenever another mom mentioned how well my little girl was doing. Simple words had a powerful impact:

"You are a great mom," my own mother told me one day, after watching me slog through months of attachment-parenting.

"You are a strong woman," an adoption therapist told me, which gave me the mantra to get through my week.

"We are so thrilled for her!" a group of moms told me with excitement when my toddler was finally able to sit happily on the play parachute at Gymboree. It was a big day when she decided to go for a gentle circle ride with the other babies, instead of clinging to me in fear. The moms' sincere celebration of my baby's big step forward surprised me; that they had noticed what my daughter was working to overcome, and had shared their appreciation of her accomplishment, meant the world to me.

More than time alone or bubble baths or even chocolate, the words and company of other mothers re-energized me to be the kind of parent I wanted to be. Moms who understood what I was trying to achieve, who acknowledged and validated my time with my daughter, were my cheerleaders. They gave me the words to go forward and the words that re-filled my inner reserve. I was, and continue to be, extraordinarily grateful for the women in my life who spoke up and reached out to me, who helped keep my attitude healthy and happy, and Who Noticed when I needed it most.

There is invisible strength in Motherhood, and we need to watch out for one another. Giving a struggling mom a compliment, noticing the incremental progress of her child, or offering your encouragement (or shoulder to cry on) are not-so-random acts of kindness that fuel the thankless job of parenting. Showing up with a flat of flowers and planting them, dropping off a DVD and a bag of chips and dip, or simply sending an admiring email, are motherly gestures we can do for tired moms to help void the feelings of isolation that parenting challenging children can engender. We can do this for each other; we can extend a hand, we can connect, we can all notice a mom who is in need of the essential, human magic of other mothers.


Artwork: Healing Hands by Silvia Hartmann

Copyright 2005 MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
Originally published as Women Who Notice: Speaking Up & Reaching Out; excerpted from Adoption-Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections (2006 EMK Press)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

‘SWM, 64, Looking for Asian Woman’

How do I describe the spasm of parental pain, anger and fear induced by Date*Line’s Ad of the Week? Like it’s not enough that I have to worry about prepping my Chinese American high-schooler for student shootings, abductions while jogging, and 16 year old bad boys--now I need to figure out how to talk to her about old white guys looking for fantasy China Doll sex?

Or Geisha sex, or Dragon Lady sex, or Miss Saigon sex? Aaaargh! Yes, I was really happy to add ‘perverts’ to the list of difficult topics I’ve been attempting to address with my Asian daughters:
  • Overt Racism. The ugly, ignorant, sometimes life or death encounters with fearful, power-hungry, bullying individuals, groups or institutions
  • Invisible Racism. Masquerades as ‘Niceness’ and Positive Stereotyping. Also may be used to diminish, or control.
  • Asiaphiles with Yellow Fever. Men looking for de-humanizing Asian stereotype for sexual gratification. No real relationship required.

But to complicate matters, tough topics are rarely all black or white…or yellow. How do I explain to my kids that the ‘nice’ white guy who only dates Asian girls and claims he is without a bigoted bone in his body, is likely objectifying a race and projecting his own sexual fetish?

Yeah, I’ll bring that up right after my girls and I discuss who’s old enough for a cell-phone and why Taylor Swift is more talented than Miley Cyrus…

I don’t want to go there. How do I explain what I can’t wrap my own mind around? Intellectually, I understand how our history and foreign policy have played into the Asian Mystique, and how Hollywood and The Media have continued to fan the ‘exotic’ yellow flames.

Emotionally, it is a different thing to sit across the table from a 14 year old and try to make dating sense out of Asian wars fought and lost, out of dominance, power and control, and out of the alien fetishist effect this world arena has had on some white males (with their accompanying de-personalized dream of Asian females).
The men I have met over the last 14 years as an active member of Families with Children from China are truly the best dads I have ever known. But we don't talk about this--this--niche porn based on race and sick fairy-tales. It is scary and disturbing, especially when applied to the international children we love and protect.

Sheridan Prasso, author of the book, The Asian Mystique, writes:

“There is a patronizing, missionary aspect to America’s foreign policy toward Asia, just as there is an aspect of “saving” the poor Asian girl (prostitute, war victim) from economic circumstances, life of prostitution, or “oppressive” cultural practices which we see in so many of our fictional stories about Asia – and played out in real life…”

Prostitute? War victim? When will ‘Chinese orphan’ become the hot, new, fantasy sexual experience for Asiaphiles?

I don’t want to go
there, either…but I’m the parent and I read somewhere that hiding under the bed is not allowed. I adhere to 'best parenting practices' for supporting my daughters’ Transracial Adoptee identity formation, and I realize how important it is for my daughters to learn from the strength and collective primary experience of other Asian women.

But, still, I’m the Mom. What I’ve discovered as an adoptive parent is that there is NO EASY WAY through a conversation with my children on adoption, racism or sex. The adoption topic was tough when my teen was in preschool; however, believe me, Yellow Fever trumps all...

I may feel socially awkward bringing up painfully personal subjects with my tween and teen, but I’ve learned my occasional gracelessness simply doesn’t matter. What matters deeply and profoundly is…
honesty. Truthfulness is our adoption-parenting formula for success! With it, we can wade through embarrassing conversations, empower our teens, and hex the Date*liners looking for ‘yellow sex’ with our Asian daughters. It is also really good to know that speaking honestly precludes making a complete idiot of yourself (I fall back on this parenting truism a lot).

Movies, particularly older films, offer up marvelous conversation starters on racial stereotyping and discrimination in general. Catch Flower Drum Song, The Good Earth, Auntie Mame, Breakfast at Tiffany's or The World of Suzie Wong on classic movie channels (or Netflix), and talk about the impact of the stereotypical characters, or the situational racism, or what has changed...and what hasn't. Sometimes communication with our kids is a process, accomplished in steps; sometimes we just need to find the words to use; sometimes we need help in recognizing the other’s truth.


SWM, 64, Looking for Asian Woman’: First, you get deal with me, AWP [Angry White Parent]. I have a few things I’d like to honestly discuss…

This post is part of my
Transracial Parenting Savvy! series
with Psychologist Doris Landry