"Why I Attend Adoption Conferences"

So how do we provide safe places for our kids? How do we raise healthy children? We get educated. We read, we talk, we go to support groups.

A group of people talking at an adoption conference

In a fascinating movie called The Truman Show, a man of thirty becomes aware that his world is fictional. The movie is a commentary on the media, on fact as fiction, and our support of that fiction. As with many great movies, however, there are several ways to understand this film. As I listened to the haunting soundtrack recently, I realized that The Truman Show is also about adoption. As the realization of his life dawns on Truman, he confronts his fears, leaves his home, and runs straight to the only person who has ever told him the truth.

There are powerful lessons here for adoptive parents. When we hang on too tightly, for example, we lose what we’re trying to possess so desperately. In another example, our children cannot be themselves until they learn their truths, whatever they may be. There is much, much more. But what does all this have to do with adoption conferences?

Adoption is amazingly complex. As parents, we know that most people don’t get it. Often we don’t get it ourselves. But there is a way around the helplessness of ignorance. We can attend an adoption conference.

Last May, in Traverse City, Michigan, I had three of the most illuminating days of my life. I went to the 8th Biennial Conference on Open Adoption, where I listened to and spoke with the smartest people working in adoption today. Most attendees were adoption professionals, but I went as an adoptive parent with a serious interest in one of the defining issues of my family’s life. It was, quite simply, amazing.

“But,” you say, “we’re good parents. We’re helping our child deal with any issues as they come up and she seems fine. If we run into trouble, we’ll seek professional help. Conferences cost money, and it is difficult to get away.”

But fast forward a few years. Suddenly your child is a teenager. Her job is to figure out who she really is. Not so easy for most teens, and especially for your daughter, since she is adopted. How can you help her?

The answer is “adoption education.” I have found that attending conferences has empowered and enlightened me to a degree I never expected. Sorting out the complexities of adoptive parenting and learning to recognize common threads in adopted lives have given me insight and confidence. Adoption education is a powerful antidote to worry. It strengthens us and our families. So get yourself to a conference if you can. You will be nourished and supported, you will laugh and cry, and you will learn.

Our children are blessings. Their arrivals bring us joy we never imagined. However, if we fail to see that, for that joy to have come into our families, tragedy had to first come into in the lives of our children—in separation from their birth and foster families—we do our children a terrible injustice. If our children are “the best thing that ever happened to us,” how can they give voice to their grief, sadness, or longing for what they do not have? They cannot, and if they try and we don’t hear them, they will run in whatever way they can. We must provide intelligent sanctuary for them, a place where the realities of their lives can be honestly acknowledged.

So how do we provide safe places for our kids? How do we raise healthy children? We get educated. We read, we talk, we go to support groups. And we can show up at a conference for a much-needed shot in the arm. It’s that simple.

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