School Age a Key Time
Elementary school age is a key time for adopted children. As they start school they begin to see differences among children and try to figure out where they fit in.
Parents of cross-cultural adoptees might consider the advantage of living in a multi-cultural community. "The emotional impact on a child adopted overseas is lessened in a multi-cultural setting," says Goodman, whose own daughter was born in Korea. "They realize that it is fine to look the way they do."
"The first time I looked at Andrew I saw how different he was from me; his skin color and his eyes," remembers Kahn. "And I've heard a few thoughtless remarks from people such as, 'does he speak Spanish?' Other people may feel there is something different about him, but I look at Andrew and I just see my son."
The Kahn family plans to visit Mexico frequently, saying, "We want Andrew to feel at home in both countries. We want him to be bilingual."
Dr. Goodman applauds this attitude and says it is important to keep in touch with the birth culture in order to help the child establish a sense of personal identity.
Families participating in open adoption may wonder how to maintain the relationship over time. "Open adoption is many things to many people," says Deborah Silverstein, LCSW, of Focus Counseling in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It may range from letter contact once a year to extended family involvement."
Although it has been popularly practiced for over a decade, open adoption is still evolving and there is no clinical data on how the child is affected five or 10 years after birth.
"For the child to be able to manage in an open adoption the adults must be comfortable and secure in the roles they have created," says Silverstein. "Before birth the adoptive and birth parents, with professional support to help, should think about the family structure they want. Be cautious initially. Things can more easily become more open than more closed."
Often it is the adoptive parents who are interested in having contact more than the birth mothers. "The birth mother who has played an active role in creating the adoptive family for her child, assuming it has been an open, healthy process, is more likely to feel secure because she has a sense of where the child is going and a trust in the family she has chosen. Ongoing information continues to indicate that she has made a good choice. Rather than a sense of loss she experiences a sense of well-being," concludes Silverstein.