Monday, 12 March 2012

In On It

While we were waiting to adopt, I remember seeing my mother-in-law standing in our hallway, looking hopelessly at our shelves and shelves of adoption books. "Are any of these books for me? I just wish there was something about adoption that I could read" she said, and I wished there was too. Once when she came over, she pulled Joyce Maguire Pavao's The Family Of Adoption off the shelf, hoping that it would be the 'grandparents' guide' she was looking for. Now, that is a really good book but it is not a grandparents' guide. Neither is this, or this, or this, or this or anything else that was on our shelf.  There were a few books aimed at family out there, but they were mostly hopelessly anodyne - anything really helpful about adoption parenting is going to be fairly raw in places, and that's not what she or I were looking for. 

My mother in law was the only person who directly asked me for a book, but there were a lot of people I would have given it to if one existed. There was so much I wanted friends and family to know about adoption, but every time I talked about it I got upset  because they never seemed to ask the right questions or say the right things or read my mind like I wanted them to. I was definitely hypersensitive, but (some) people also say some crashingly dumb things. It would have been better all around if they could have had those crashingly dumb misconceptions corrected by someone else, someone who wasn't me, someone who would take them by the hand and tell them all the things that I wish I had the presence of mind to think of.  

It turns out that what I needed was In On It, by Elisabeth O'Toole. This is a book about adoption for people who care about adoptive parents (or parents-to-be) and who plan on loving their kids, too. It's an overview of adoption - what is it, what does it feel like, how does it work, what does it mean? aimed at the interested bystander / grandparent / brother-in-law / friend. The author (who is lovely, by the way) recently sent me a copy to review (and once again, I'm going to stress that no, I'm not getting any money from this review or anything else on my blog).  When it arrived, I opened it up and started flicking through it and within minutes I was hooked.  I started reading... and kept reading... and didn't put it down until it was finished.  I could tell straight away that this was the book I needed back in 2008 for my mother in law. So. Can you tell I am about to rave about this book? Well, I am. I am about to rave about this book. 

Here are my three favourite things about this book: First, its tone is extremely generous. It assumes the best of the person reading. It assumes that the reader has nothing but the best intentions and really really wants to do and say the right thing and be there for their friend / relative as they go through the nightmare rollercoaster confusing process of adoption. It isn't sarcastic, it doesn't condescend and it doesn't treat the reader like he or she is an idiot. Revolutionary, I know. But that is a lot more than I could do in person when we were waiting to adopt.  I was easily offended by people saying the wrong things. I was easily upset by people putting their feet in their mouths, or even just putting their feet near their mouths. I was prickly and defensive and hurting and I was not feeling generous. I wish I could have given some people a book that would have been generous on my behalf, without me actually having to screw my face into a smile. Win-win! 

My second favourite thing: It's respectful of all the people involved in adoption. Even the subtitle (What adoptive parents want you to know about adoption) is respectful - it doesn't assume that adoptive parents speak for everybody. Again - revolutionary, I know. This book talks about the different ways that adoption affects adopted people and first families (again with the revolutionary!) but doesn't try to speak for them. Another big tick. 

And this carries through to my third favourite thing, which is the hardest to articulate: I was really impressed by the way this book deals with the sensitive topic of adoption and loss / trauma in children. It's so hard to get this right, and this is what I found most difficult when I was talking to people about our adoption before we adopted - in fact, I still do. I found that most people I talked to about adoption didn't really have many opinions about it - which is fine, obviously. But those who did seemed to fall into one of two groups. The first was 'adoption loss, what adoption loss? Adoption is great! Who doesn't love adoption?'  which was a nicely cheerleader-ish attitude, but made it difficult to talk about attachment strategies, issues of race and how our family would be different from other families.  The second group was 'adopted kids have seen too much and suffered too much. They're damaged. I wouldn't want one of those in my house'.  (The second group was not my favourite. Obviously). 

I found that it's really hard to talk honestly about loss in a way that says these kids are vulnerable, but they are valuable. They have suffered; they have faced difficulties and sadnesses that most of us will never need to, but they are precious and worthy and fully human. I really thought this book did an excellent job of talking about the realities of what adoption is like for a child in a way that is compassionate rather than fearmongerish.  (Not actually a word. I know. Sorry. But you know what I mean). 

Here is the one thing I didn't like about this book: It wasn't around in 2008, when I really needed to hand it out like candy.

Which is not to say it's too late to read it now. I'm no longer an adoption beginner, and I found this book really helpful and very moving. Anyway, you should all have a copy, especially if you are still pre-adoption, especially if you are at any stage of adoptive parenthood and have family who are well meaning but occasionally clueless (don't tell your family I said that about them),  especially if you have friends or relatives who have adopted / are adopting and want to be even more awesome and supportive than you already are.  Did you miss the amazon link above? Here it is again. (This is a US link; there doesn't seem to be a UK link). And here is a link to the author's site with more information about the book and other ways to buy. 

While I was reading my copy, I originally thought that I would do a giveaway and let one of you lucky ladies get your hands on it when I was done. But when I finished, I changed my mind immediately. You're all going to have to buy your own copies - mine is going straight to my very-supportive, now-quite-adoption-educated, but I-think-she'd-still-enjoy-it mother in law. 

30 comments:

  1. Awesome!! Thank you for sharing - I can't wait to check it out! ;)

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    1. I really hope you ike it - I thought it was great! (Obviously!)

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    2. Oh, I have no idea if I am replying in the correct spot, but have to chime in some how! I am a lurker, but have to thank you for this book recommend. Having had a LONG, HARD adoption journey, we have not felt the support from our family (and some friends). They thought we were nuts when we started, and several years later, they think we are insane. And frankly, I am pretty much a lunatic now, but what I have not achieved in making them ever understand is why we continue on. I will be ordering these books and sending out several copies. I hope that this can maybe help build that bridge of understand a little. Thanks again! Jen

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  2. Cool! I will order it right now!
    Amy x

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    1. Amy, when I read this book I was thinking about how much effort you put into researching adoption and for how long, so that you could support your sister. If all families were like you, there would be no market for this kind of literature!!!

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    2. Hi Claudia I only just saw this! Thank you, that really means a lot. I do try, but I know I've said the wrong thing to her so many times that she's just in the eye-rolling stage now.
      Amy x

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    3. Actually, she hasn't said anything that has made me roll my eyes. Ever. :-)

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    4. You two are unbearably cute.

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  3. Yes, thank you for sharing, I will definitely be getting my hands on a copy of that. :-)

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  4. After the fact, I bought my mom a copy of The Connected Child, which I loved and so did she. It's more the kind of book to get when you know more about your kid, such as having lived with them.

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    1. Essie, I think you're absolutely right.

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  5. Wait, fearmongerish isn't a word?

    I have been wanting to read this book since I heard about it and see if it's something good to buy and pass around to our families, so I'm glad that you reviewed it. You just saved me the trouble of having to request it through the library; I can order copies straightaway. Even though so many people close to us are starting to understand adoption better, I love that this option exists so I won't have to explain things so awkwardly anymore.

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  6. Sigh.

    This topic is HARD for me and I didn't realise how hard until I almost couldn't read this post, because it deals with...the HARD thing. My mother is being very difficult about my adoption application. Her classic quote when I told her of my plans, that had been flagged for a while after some unsuccessful fertility treatment, was "it's like you've thrown a brick through the window" to describe her shock and pain. She then went on to say every conceivable insensitive thing possible to someone who has announced they're adopting - you won't love the child because it's not yours, what if it turns into an axe murderer, adoption is only for old people, yada yada. I was looking around for good resources in situations such as this and the best I could do was buy 'Adoption is a Family Affair!' with the extremely daggy cover photo (and that exclamation mark can't go by without comment). Well, Mum has now 'lost' that book without reading it and has started praying I'll find a man - a preoccupation she didn't bother herself with when I was trying to conceive a child on my own. I'm not sure if there's any use in getting this book, but since it comes so highly recommended from a fave blogger, I'll give it a go and keep persisting with Mum. Did I say SIGH already?!

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    1. @Jess - my mother went with "I guess if you want to screw up your life like that, that's YOUR business." I'm not sure if this book would have worked for her either, but it would have been worth a shot. Hang in there - based on my experience, once there is a *real* child in the picture, the most opposed of parents can become quite enthusiastic grandparents.

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    2. Thanks for your comment and that is EXACTLY what I'm counting on. It's so tiresome in the meantime though. Thankfully we live in different cities, so I don't have to hear about it all the time and I just prattle on with my progress updates and ignore her uncomfortable responses.

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    3. Oh Jess, I'm so sorry, that's awful!
      When I said in my review that this book assumes the best of the people reading, I think that the target audience is definitely people who ARE well-meaning. It's a really great resource for people who want to do the right thing and dont' know how. It's probably not much help if the person concerned does not actually care about whether their attitude is one hundred different kinds of wrong. I'm so sorry you're not getting any support from your mother - that must be so hard. Same for you, tafel - that's incredible. Ugh.

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  7. Thanks for this. I passed the info on to all my friends. :-)

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  8. Oh, I'll have to check it out. Next on my list. Thanks for reviewing!

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  9. Thank you so much for this, Claudia. I have someone I want to share it with right away. Lots of love your way!

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  10. Perfect timing. I have a post brewing about my mother visiting...

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  11. I'm ordering 7 billion copies- one for every human...because even if you're not adopting you know someone who is adopting.

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  12. YAY! My mother said the exact same thing to me after bravely working her way through some of my adoption books - "there's nothing for grandparents". I'll definitely check this out, thanks for passing on the link.

    Irene

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  13. Do you think it would be appropriate for teenage siblings (who were not adopted)?

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    1. Huh. That's an interesting question. To be honest, I'm not really sure. It's got a lot of information that would probably be useful for siblings, but it's not really written 'to' that audience. So my gut feeling would be - I probably wouldn't give it to young teenagers, but would consider for older teenagers (after pre-reading for any particular points that you would need to be ready to discuss, obviously!)

      Gosh, can you tell I know very little about teenagers?

      This is a really interesting question. I do think this book could be a useful tool in your situation, but I really can't think of any book that is directly aimed at that audience. Can anyone else????

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    2. I would try the in their own voices series. There is one for siblings.

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    3. Ah, Renee, of course!!! I haven't read this, but friends with non-adopted kids say it's really good. Such a good suggestion!!!

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  14. Picked this up last year and tore through it in record time. Then I sent it to my mother. Then asked her to send it to my MIL. Then asked her to send to my SIL. I hope to get it through the entire family by the time our son comes home. I think your analysis is spot on about the generosity and tone, too.

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    1. Oh, I'm really glad someone else can corroborate! It's great isn't it?

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Over to you!