Q&A with the Ann Arbor Adoption Community

Tracy at PARC kindly invited me back on my last evening in Ann Arbor as a guest speaker at a round table discussion. It was an opportunity I was especially looking forward to, as it was another chance to sit down with community members: practitioners, adopted parents and (most importantly) their children to talk about adoption. We had young girls with adopted siblings, an adopted boy, an adopted boy with learning difficulties - it was invaluable to be able to interact in this way with a varied group of people.

I kept the agenda open to promote topics that resonated with the group. I also kept notes to a minimum to promote more natural and comfortable responses.

There were 13 of us altogether. We started with introductions - our names and 'what adoption meant to us'. Some offered interesting responses that synergised with norms of social media: 'broadening my world' and 'coming together as one'.

An intern at PARC spoke eloquently and pragmatically about a workshop she helped develop for parents scared about social media. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that they didn't understand it - fundamentally, in terms of how it worked and how it was used. There are hidden benefits that I thought were interesting; sometimes a face to face interaction isn't suitable or necessary. 'Meeting' online is a compromise and parents who help their children to do this may be preventing far more severe reactions as their children attempt to reconnect with family members or reconcile their pasts. At the same time we don't want to create a culture of dependency - good education for parents about social media will help them work with their children (digital natives) in a more healthy way.

It seems that fantasy surrounds social media in lots of ways; from parents who imagine that it will only end in trouble, to children who believe with naivety that it will bring them closer to others - without supervision or mutual support from an informed parent this can be dangerous.

Another adoptive parent talked about the language that a local group of adopted children from South America began to use to describe themselves; 'squad' was one such term. She remarked that when peer groups formed they revelled in shared identity and used their differences to boost their social status, if only in relatively small ways. This isn't surprising or unusual behaviour but it reminded me that for adoptees, knowing others who are adopted is often rare but can serve an important function in social development.

This round table session - over more pizza and American candy - was one of the most enjoyable and valuable of my time on this fellowship. Rather than pure ideas or information, it provided me with a grounding in community that I hadn't seen before. It allowed me to speak to children directly - to understand for myself how siblings feel when talking about adoptive siblings; how boys (there were two there) are hesitant to share ideas in front of adults but clearly had thoughts on their minds that they wanted to explore. Adopted parents were passionate about adoption and many had taken to it as a career. There were no fathers there.

It was in some ways a microcosm of what I had seen in different forms across the 5 weeks of my fellowship and it reassured me that I was on-track.