' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Kinning. To which family?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kinning. To which family?

Ahh, no guys, "kinning," according to the big Scandinavian academic who came up with the word, means the process by which an adopted person becomes part of the adoptive family....

It has nothing to do with the original, first, birth family. Quite the opposite. In fact, if you had been listening to the folks talking at the Second International Conference on Adoption and Culture at the University of Pittsburgh last fall (2007) you correctly would assume that the adopted person became so totally integrated into the new family that the old family...shucks, hardly matters at all. The adoptee point of view--about how maybe adoption is not that great--was relegated to the creative sessions...since we did not have academic papers to present.

By the time I heard the "kinning" paper presented, I knew what was coming.

Of course, I remember the time that my daughter Jane told me how she knew she was home: when my husband told her that her footfall on the stairway was just like mine. Heavy. She told me not long ago that she had been criticized for years...Jane, can't you just walk quieter?

Well, um, no she couldn't. It was an inherited thing.

There may have been more mothers at the Pitt conference, but Carol Schaefer, Mary Anne Cohen and Shelia Ganz and I were the only ones that I'm aware of who attended. Although Carol and I read at the opening session, which was good, Shelia and Mary Anne read at the late night and very poorly attended session for poetry and other original contributions. It was an academic conference, and our contributions were...not in the mainstream of what this conference was about. I was so glad to have the company of other birth mothers (along with Marley, my favorite bastardette), especially at the conference dinner.

However, I did have some nice interactions with several adoptees who seemed glad to have us there. Mostly, it felt like a conference of adoptive-mother academics who were hell-bent to "prove" that the original culture did not matter. But Marianne Novy, the adoptee academic at Pitt who was the main organizer, did invite Emily Prager to speak. And Emily raises hackles in some adoption families (and among those I know) because she did immerse her Chinese child as much as possible in the Chinese culture when they were living in the states, and then moved to Shanghai, where she and Lulu live now. Emily's book, WuHu Diary, is an interesting read. It's about taking her daughter back to China when she was five to see if they could track down her birth mother, or at least more information. They could not.

As a side note, Emily spent a part of her own youth in China with her father, who was a military attache there. And he is a close friend of mine, so I've known Emily since long before she adopted. Lulu, he says, the little girl in question (Emily kept the Chinese name she had been given) intends to come back to the states when she is older. She is just going into high school in Shanghai this fall. As for Lulu, it is almost certain that she will never be able to connect to her first family. She was left on a bridge near a police station, with a note from her birth mother, as I recall from the book.

But if I mention Emily...to another friend who also has a Chinese daughter...she sees red and does not contain her disdain. Which is what happened when I simply said I was going to be away the weekend of the conference, and that Emily was speaking.

This is not to say that these parents aren't good parents, they are; or that the girls who were adopted here are certainly better off than if they were languishing in a Chinese orphanage; or that adoptees do not form strong lifelong bonds with their new families, the only ones they grow up knowing.

But how one views or reacts to the nuances of "adoption and culture" is skewed by one's frame of reference. Absolument.


  1. I found a little more info on this topic: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=HowellKinning

    "She argues that through a process of kinning, persons are made into kin. In the case of adoption, kinning overcomes a dominant cultural emphasis placed upon biological connectedness. Secondly, it is a study of the rise of expert knowledge in the understanding of ‘the best interest of the child’, and how the part played by the ‘psycho.technocrats’ effects national and international policy and practice of transnational adoption. Thirdly, it shows how transnational adoption both depends upon and helps to foster the globalisation of Western rationality and morality."

    Foster Western rationality and morality?...smacks of imperialism.

    Improper adoptee, I hope you find your kin!

  2. Does kinning only apply to transnational adoptions? Or do us foster-to-adopt adopters kin our kids as well?

    I smell baloney! Or maybe my non-academic brain just doesn't get it!

    Also, inside my mind, I am hearing the theme song to 'The Beverly Hillbillies'...Well, the next thing ya know Old Jed's a millionaire, The kinfolk said, "Jed move away from there!"

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  4. Thanks too Lorraine for clarifying the real meaning of that word. We Adoptees are misunderstood enough, all I need is too use the wrong terminology with out knowing it! Argh..

  5. "This is not to say that these parents aren't good parents, they are; or that the girls who were adopted here are certainly better off than if they were languishing in a Chinese orphanage; or that adoptees do not form strong lifelong bonds with their new families, the only ones they grow up knowing."

    But it is these parents with these theories that send the message, either by implication or direct statement, that for an adoptee to show an interest in their first families is a betrayal of their second.

    It causes guilt and confusion in the adoptee.

  6. dear unsigned masterpiece:

    Right. I just meant that there are lifelong connections for many adopted people, and they need to be recognized. Adoption leads to so many different outcomes.
    hugs to all

  7. Wow "Kinning" - the new "attachment therapy"?

    My son's aparents are Dutch. One of the first things that he said to me (with amother present) was, "We were the first generation of Dutch people to come to America."

    I'm sure I had a very confused look on my face, and my reaction was something really profound, like, "oh?" All of the time thinking, but you were BORN here - you didn't COME here! My oh my how they do like to brainwash our kids. I just hope he sees their claims for him for what they are in his later years.

    We bought you, be own you, and we're "kinning" you! (Or is that suppose to be, we're "kidding" you!)

    Only believe...and you too can become a forever family, while the rest of us see right through your shallow, slimy, shit.

  8. "Kinning?" Do we really need another word for "building relationships?" Why is it so hard for earth people to understand that adoptees can have warm relationships with all our families, that it's not a horse race with winners and losers?! Thanks for an interesting post. Nicole Burton, author of Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption. Read or listen to the first three chapters at nicolejburton.com

  9. I was also at the Adoption and Kinship conference and had many of the same impressions as Lorraine of adoptive mother academics justifying themselves. It was at times intimidating, at times infuriating.

    However, there were some other voices, especially some interracial black adoptees and some Korean adoptees that I got to hang out with one evening. These were much more down to earth people talking about real life, not theory which was refreshing.

    One black guy and a black woman gave great talks to the whole group, the woman about family preservation and they guy about growing up in an all-white community, which he did not recommend. And adoptee Marianne Novy did a great job of making us all feel welcome, despite the sometimes forbidding atmosphere in some sessions.

    As to the whole "kinning" thing, that is just bizarre. As Nicole said, what it is really about is forming relationships. From what I have heard from many adoptees, even though their adoptive parents are their "real" psychological parents, this does not often extend to the rest of the "kin"; extended family who seldom fully accept adopted family members.How many stories have you heard of adoptive grandparents, aunts, cousins etc being cool or even cruel to adopted family members?

    Adoption provides a child with parents, but not with kin in the real sense, as kin implies ancestors, family resemblances, a whole lot of things that are a blank for adoptees.



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