Part 2 and the conclusion of my interview with Mike Morrell.
Jeremy: That brings me to another question. Did you feel there was a piece of you that was in a sense “filled in” by this connection or did you know it was there, did you not know it was there and you only discovered it when you began speaking to her?
Mike: That’s such interesting question. Connecting with both her, and shortly thereafter my birth father, I did see some aspects in common in terms of they were both very opinionated people, they are both entrepreneurial, and creative. And so there were some cool resonances there but it actually wasn’t as intensely “Oh I found this missing piece of myself” as I think I may have built it up in my mind. I think there’s a bit of allure that develops around adoption that makes you feel like there’s this sort of ache or primal wound or something that once you find these people you’re going to have a missing piece of yourself.
I was very fortunate to have a wonderful reunion experience with both of my birth parents. I know in some cases the birth parents don’t want to be in touch, or they turn out to be co-dependent, or addicts, or there’s all kind of horror stories out there. I’m really grateful that none of that was the case with me.
At the same time I think that what it confirmed that there are some ways in which I am simply unique. So in the ways in which I felt like maybe I didn’t fit in when I was growing up among my parents, my adoptive parents, that maybe if I ever imagined “well I don’t fit in with them but it’s because I’m more like my birth parents” in some ways I’ve discovered that I’m just a unique person on my own two feet. It’s great as an adult to be in a relationship with the parents I’ve always had as well as my birth parents.But I’m relating to all of them really as an adult.
Yeah, its an interesting process. It’s not over yet by any means so I’m still along for the journey in this regard.
J: So in some respects it offers you a larger palate to work from than other people.
J: Not necessarily the way people would choose but it’s the hand you were dealt.
M: Yeah, it is the hand I was dealt. And I think increasingly in this day and age there are a lot of adopted children, and lots of blended families, people who have step parents of one sort or another, I think a lot of us are getting to play with larger palates these days as we’re discovering why we’ve developed in the way we have and what’s formed our identity.
J: Now this particular question is going to be important for me and anyone reading, or for a lot of people reading this. What do you feel adoptive parents should know about their adopted children? Is there something about the experience? For Jennifer and I we can’t relate in some respects to the experience Penelope has. What is it that parents should know in this circumstance?
M: That’s a good question. Now I’m a parent myself of a 5 year old who is my biological child. But I think what I would like adoptive parents to know is that first of all “thank you, congratulations”. I want to say to both birth parents who need for whatever reason or choose for some reason to put their children up for adoption as well as those who adopt I think you all need to give yourselves a round of applause. Because to me there is no blame or shame in deciding for whatever reason that you are not able to raise a child that you’re birthing. There are all kinds of reasons, whether financial or emotional, that you might not be able to raise your child that you brought into the world. Adoption is a very responsible and very compassionate path to choose rather than doing something that you’re honestly not sure you’re capable of doing. That’s to the birth parents out there.
To the adoptive parents “congratulations and thank you” for giving a child the opportunity to grow up in a loving, stable home. You’re not going to be perfect. You have the desire and you have the means and ability to do so. I think that’s an amazing thing.
What I think I’ve leaned from my own experience with reunion and communicating with my adoptive parents it sort of re-realizing unspoken reality that I learned in childhood was that they were not comfortable talking about my adoption. I think that adoptive parents need to give themselves some grace to realize that no matter what kind of excellent, exemplary job they do raising their children their adoptive kids are still going to be curious about their roots. At least I was. Maybe that’s not across the board . But chances are that at some point in your child’s development whether in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood they are going to be curious about and interested about their family of origin. And that’s no slight on you or your parenting skills. You’ve still done an amazing job and there’s something deep down in a child’s DNA that they want to know where they’ve come from. They are curious about it. And they might even want an ongoing relationship with their birth parents.
But I think that while that’s an unusually familial situation it’s not unprecedented and there are ways to healthily navigate that so your kids will still have a relationship with you forever and they are introducing, if all parties are willing, a new set of relationships into the equation. What I would want adoptive parents to know is that’s OK.
J: That’s a lot to think about!
M: Sure, I can imagine from a parents side there might be all kinds of anxieties involved. “What does this mean, am I losing my special connection, am I losing what I’ve invested and poured out my life into?” But I’d say no, it can be a both/and. It can be a win/win scenario. I’m not sure if that’s the sort of response you’re looking for, as opposed to some day-to-day parenting advice. It’s probably about 95% similar to parenting any child I’m guessing.
J: This question is a bit off course here. In our situations both of our children are racially diverse. I’ll let you discuss that. Jennifer and I have adopted from China. How do you believe discrimination may affect their lives as they get older?
M: That’s such an interesting question. You’ve adopted cross-culturally. I am essentially a Caucasian guy, though there is a wrinkle to that which I might get into in this interview. I’m married to an African American woman so our child is mixed race. I don’t know if this has happened for your wife, Jeremy, but I know that when mine has been at the public library in Raleigh where we live there have been a couple of times when the same librarian, bless her heart, (which is a southern euphemism for F-U if you don’t know), she has said to my wife, because my daughter is considerably lighter skinned than my wife is “Oh, the nanny doesn’t have to pay the overdue charge!”
J: Oh my goodness!
M: So there is a lot of presumption and assumption on behalf of people out there in the world working retail, working in public service jobs, that they have this insider knowledge about how you’re related to the little person that’s beside you. So they will often, I wouldn’t be shocked, as a different race child gets older, maybe as a teenager, sometimes even if the three of you are out for a meal if they will ask “Is this together or is this separate?”.
All kinds of questions that you get when the appearance of a family looks different from one another. It’s a very superficial, judgmental level that people will react on . But I guess thinking about that in advance and talking to your child in age appropriate ways as they grow up about the difference, being open about those differences will be important to help protect and nurture their emotions as they are growing up.
J: Do you believe it was generational? Is this something that you feel in 10 or 20 years will be as much of an issue? That it will be just something that happens randomly and people will look around “I can’t believe that person said that” whereas 20 years ago people would look at you and be like “I can’t believe you’re married to that woman and have this child”
M: I think the inherent racism will go away generationally. That does seem to be what’s happening. But the innocent naiveté may not go away generationally. Even having dated, and then marrying, an African American woman as a white guy I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked, we still get asked, “Is this together or separate?” when we’re going out to eat. And sometimes, often times, by people younger than us at the register. And then other times if I happen to be out with a female friend who happens to be white they assume we’re a couple.
So there are these cultural assumptions that are racially embedded. It might be too strong to call them racist or prejudice. I think it would do for any reader to consider, the next time you see a group of people out who are different ethnicity, and especially if they have a child that seems like one of those Sesame Street “one of these things doesn’t quite belong here” games, realize that they might indeed belong and that interracial families and interracial adoption is here to stay and it’s always better to ask a question than make an assumption.
J: In your situation it was an adoption where essentially you did look like your parents.
M: That’s true.
J: How do you feel, as someone that was adopted domestically, how does international adoption fit into the grand scheme of adoption and the future of the way society looks and how we interact with people?
M: I have a few responses to that. One, even though I’m adopted myself I’m not really expert on current trends in adoption per se. I’d be happy to recommend offline a few resources that would be interesting to explore, to get a more educated, global look at how that’s going.
But I also want to back up because I just answered “that’s true” when you said I essentially look like my parents. What’s intriguing about that is all the time growing up, now that I think about it, where people pointed out how I looked different than my parents, mostly in terms of height. I am taller than they are by many inches. So coupled with my parents overall attitude of secrecy around my adopted status, I know it was painful for them often times when friends of theirs or friends of mine would comment and say “Oh wow, you’re a lot taller! How did that happen” or ask jokingly “Are you adopted?”. So that did come up even though we’re the same skin tone, even though with one of them being part Native American and the other Italian there is a bit of a darker complexion in my adoptive family than I have as being half Scotch-Irish.But there was still a tension drawn to difference.
So if there is one thing I experienced growing up was the sense of “otherness” to some degree that was apparently evident to everyone around. And I think whether or not that is traumatic to a child or whether it is a source of pride partially depends on how parents handle it. I think that I had my own sense of ego development where I told myself I was special. And I think that if a family openly acknowledges the fact of adoption, which in the case of someone adopting cross culturally is an obvious given, once a child reaches a certain age, there can be a more healthy ego formation where they realize there are ways they are connected to their family and they realize the ways in which they are unique.
For part 1 of the interview, click here.