The Colour of Time provides twenty-eight intercountry and transracial adoptees an opportunity to reflect on their adoptive experience as adults.
The Colour Palette
The publication is a sequel to The Colour of Difference which was published in 2001. Of the 28 participants featured in The Colour of Time 13 contributed to the first publication and 15 are new, representing a younger generation.
The contributors have linkages to nine countries – Belgium, Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Korea, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. They range in age from 18 to 70, with the younger cohort, representing the new generation, aged between 18 and 36. Fifty seven percent were adopted before one year of age, 35% adopted between ages of one and six years old and 7% adopted at nine years or older.
The publication, complied by Lynelle Long, is a joint initiative between International Social Services Australia (ISS), The Benevolent Society, Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) and InterCountry Adoption Voices (ICAV) and was produced by funding from the Australian Government, Department of Social Services.
The Colour of Time and The Colour of Difference, are apt titles for describing adoptive pathways.
Colours have an extraordinary ability to influence our perceptions about ourselves, our moods, emotions and intimate connections. Rarely, do we think or experience colour in the same way as others. Colours are incredibly expressive and deeply personal.
It is also unlikely we would ever agree on what colour is time or what colour is difference.
Trying to mix colours to resemble time or difference is like expecting our senses to perform a function they are incapable of: to taste a sound or to touch a sight or scent. Any attempt to rearrange our individual sense functions confuses both mind and body.
Adoption, as experienced by the adopted person, requires similar sensory adjustments which are equally confusing to adoptees as they have to learn to fit into the world and their new family spaces in the absence of their original familial primary colours.
In severing one set of familial connections and replacing them with another, and in the case of intercountry and transracial adoptees, adding the colour of distance, by transporting them across oceans to new countries and into unfamiliar homes—a radical mix and match of random colours so to speak—is akin to sensory meltdown.
They have to confront a whitewashing of their primary life colours. And thereafter are required to rework their familial colour spectrum in the absence of their base colours — their natural reflective markers.
These natural familial markers non-adopted people seldom have to look for as they remain present — they start with a family colour palette that is clearly visible and accessible to them. They don’t experience a separation and loss that imposes early colour blindness.
In contrast adopted people have to search, through trial and error, to find out who and what their primary colours are, as they seek their personal information which, hopefully, will lead to contact to confirm who they are. Before they ever get there, however, they have to learn to adapt to a totally new colour palette, that may or not be complementary, as they try to relate and fit into their substitute families and new surroundings.
In the reflective short stories of The Colour of Time the contributors provide insights into how they remixed their palettes to deal with:
- good or poor adoptive parenting (notably 42% endured further post adoption familial change, with their adoptive parents divorcing or being raised by a single parent. In addition, 11% experienced abuse);
- being racially different to their adoptive parents, community and peer groups, many seen as an outsider and having to endure acts of racism as a consequence;
- questioning or trying to establish a healthy sense of identity, coupled with a deeper sense of belonging. The mirror telling them one story, their hearts another;
- the inevitable pull of home countries and their original families, language and culture. Eighty-two percent visiting their countries of origin at least once in search of family or, by finding a sense of place, often returning to simply enjoy their birth cultures (notably the remaining 18% all plan to visit their birth countries sometime in the future);
- whether to enter long term relationships and have children of their own, and when the latter happens (in 39% of cases), deal with the additional impacts, usually positive and profound, that being a parent to their own biological children brings to understanding more about their adoptive journey and intergenerational effects.
Paradoxically, a colour for time and difference does unfold as each contributor, standing at the easel of their lives, relate how they tentatively mixed and matched colours to paint self portraits of lives transitioned into the unfamiliar parental and cultural environments that adoption placed them in.
What they attest to is attaining colour harmony and bringing stability back into their lives is an unpredictable, slow and a difficult process stretching over their entire lives.
The impacts of adoption are not confined to childhood or adolescence, they continue to occur across adult life cycles, with some finding a comfortable balance while others continue to mix without match.
The Colour Council
Aside from the 28 individual stories the book includes a chapter by ISS and PARC staff offering a collective analysis across the stories, focusing on the themes of Trauma and Attachment; Race and Culture; Adoptees as Parents; Search and Reunion; and Theories of Identity Formation.
The analysis emphasises that adoptees, in dealing with two families across different countries and cultures, do face complex challenges to ‘feel well-adjusted’ or to reach a ‘healthy sense of self’.
The importance of good parenting is also emphasised. To be heard and understood, and to be encouraged to connect with birth cultures, positive cultural role models and, in time, with birth families, open, honest dialogue about adoption needs to be present within adoptive families as it is a vital factor to enable healthy identity formation, stronger sense of belonging and secure long term relationships with adoptive family members.
Furthermore, it is acknowledged that for adoptees and their families to benefit in managing these complex dynamics specialist services and peer support are required.
Original Colours Matter
My own observations, looking through a different lens at the words most frequently used by the contributors in writing their stories, shows that positive descriptors such as ‘love’, ‘identity’, ‘hope’, ‘happy’, ‘belonging’, ‘joy’, ‘trust’ along with more challenging terms, for example ‘loss’, ‘racism’, ‘shame’, ‘trauma’, ‘abandonment’ and ‘suicide’ are far less prevalent than the words ‘family’, ‘child’, and ‘mother’ which dominate the narratives. The latter are used 5 to 10 times more than the terms in the other two groupings and there is also a greater tendency to use them in relation to first families.
This tells its own story. How important family and family connections are in our lives in general and, for adopted people, just how important it is for them to get access to know and reconnect with their mothers, first families and cultures. To add their primal colours to their palettes so that they can complete their self portraits.
As hard as it is to mix a colour for time or for difference, so too is the journey for adopted people to be reconnected with their primal colours that indivisibly bind them to their mothers and first families.
To the colour of time and difference we need to add the colour of our primal connections.
Of the original 27 participants to The Colour of Difference, five choose not to contribute to the latest publication citing they have nothing more to add or they had found a comfortable life position. Another nine, or 33% of the total, were untraceable, opening further intrigue.
Where are they? What is the state of their lives and wellbeing? How could they disappear with such ease?
Their absence has the effect of diluting the overall colour palette as we do no know whether the tonal qualities of the portraits we are looking at need to be brightened with tints of lightness or darkened by shades of grey.
Adoption is seldom without its mysteries.
Caring for the Colourists
Intercountry adoptees need guidance and assistance as they navigate through their lives.
Notwithstanding the improvements that have been made in Australian services, provided by post adoption support agencies and International Social Services Australia, more needs to be done to support intercountry adoptees deal with the challenges and obstacles they face.
For more information about what these additional services could be refer to the Ipsify interview with Lynelle Long and the earlier posting which reviewed ICAV paper on Search and Reunion: Impacts and Outcomes.
I acknowledge the courage and determination of all the contributors to The Colour of Time as they continue with their self portraits and to Lynelle for her hard work and dedication in bringing to our attention the ongoing stories and needs of intercountry and transracial adoptees.
The Colour of Time, 2017, compiled by Lynelle Long and printed by Inscope Books, Sydney, NSW. ISBN 9780 6480449 18