Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 18: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part II

Tara's Kids Goofing Around!

Tell me about your family today. How many children do you have? At what ages did you adopt your adopted children?

I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years. We have two sons by birth who are now 19 and 15. We also have two adopted daughters, ages 17 and 10 and one adopted son, age 13. Our children were adopted at the ages of 15, 11, and 8.

How does being an international adoptee yourself influence how you parent your internationally adopted children today?

It can be a good influence in some ways, and quite honestly, it can be a bad influence in others.

On the good side, I’m very intentional in teaching our children the culture and history of their birth country. We also honor and talk about their birth mother. I'm able to connect to them by sharing my own childhood struggles. My background as an adoptee helps me support and guide them in their own healing journeys.

However, I have my own abandonment and rejection issues. Sometimes, I find myself contending with feelings and frustrations that don’t bring out the best in my parenting as I work to deal with the effects of abandonment and trauma in my kids' behavior. It’s hard work, and I’m still learning. For me, being an adoptive parent means working through my own issues -- issues that are magnified by their behavior..

Briefly, what encourages you and what concerns you about how adoption is being practiced today?

I’m encouraged by the opportunities available to parents to understand and become skilled at parenting children through adoption. There are conferences, books, webinars, workshops, retreats, and blogs that help adoptive parents help their children heal. These forms of support and education simply didn’t exist when I was adopted, and I think it could have changed the landscape of how I was parented as a child.

I’m most concerned about the ethics of adoption. We have to be willing to continually improve adoption, making it more ethical. Everyone involved suffers at the hands of unethical practices, and it’s vital for all involved that we do our best to protect families through this process.

Finish this sentence. One thing I'd like adoptive parents to know is. . .

Adoption is hard on everyone. The triad of adoption (child, birth parents, adoptive parents) is very precious, and we must hold it gently, respecting each member of the triad. To remove one of these people is to completely change the story of adoption. 

We must never minimize or gloss over the fact that adoption begins with the loss of one family and the gain of another. The adopted child is caught in the middle of this dynamic and yet is the one who seems most powerless of their life circumstances. 

If you choose to embark on the adoption journey, please do so with your eyes wide open and your pride checked at the door. You are key to how your adopted child will move through their healing process, and it’s vital for you to have the skills to help them know how to heal. Please do everything within your power to get the proper training to parent an adopted child, work on any wounds you may have individually, work on strengthening your marriage, and never lose sight of the great responsibility you have been given in caring for a child who comes with a background of pain, trauma and loss.

Tara Bradford is a transracial adoptee, mom by both birth and adoption, and orphan care advocate. Tara blogs at Smore Stories.


  1. Tara, Could you tell us some specifics of how you intentionally incorporate your adopted kids' birth culture and history into your family life? I think a lot of us would like to educate our kids on the culture and history of their birth countries, but often we feel inadequate and don't know where to start.

  2. When we made trips during our adoption process, we made it a point to learn about the history and culture of their birth country. We bought clothing and food items that were indicative of it and make those available to the kids to use at their choosing. For instance, berbere, is a spice used in Ethiopia and we make sure we have it on the table at every meal as a condiment for them to use on their food.

    My daughter and I make doro wat together, which is a food that was commonly made for celebrations, and as we cook it I ask her about memories and what it represented in Ethiopia as she thinks about it.

    We continually encourage our kids to speak their first language, Amharic. We remind them that we don't want them to lose that language and how important we feel it is for them to keep it. We will ask them to teach us what words mean or how to speak it as well.

    Many older adopted children have lots of memories, so we seize those moments when they mention one and we will ask them questions about the background or a nuance of why someone would do a particular thing in their culture.

    By helping them continue to remember what they can and teach us in the mean time, we feel this communicates to them that we respect and care about their birth country and it supports that it's important to us that it continues to be a piece of who they are here in America.

    I think letting it happen naturally through moments such as discussion, eating cultural meals, or reading books is helpful so the child doesn't feel like it's a "forced" issue but one of genuine interest by the parents.


Comments will be visible after approval by the moderator.