L.A. Adopt Offers Monthly Support Group in Palisades

Palisadians Kristin Jones (left) and Maureen Donley have started a support group for adopted families that meets monthly. Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer
Palisadians Kristin Jones (left) and Maureen Donley have started a support group for adopted families that meets monthly. Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

Surprisingly, support groups for adoptees and their families are largely absent in Los Angeles, according to Palisadian Kristin Jones, who teamed with Maureen Donley a year ago to form a group, L.A. Adopt. The group meets the second Sunday of every month at the Palisades Lutheran Church (corner of Sunset and El Medio) from 3 to 4:30 p.m. New members are invited to join.
The emphasis of L.A. Adopt is that no matter the circumstance children are born into, he or she can take pride in their birth. “Adoptive children have big stories,” said Jones, who was adopted as a child and grew up in Plano, Texas. “It’s important for them to know their stories and the culture they came from.”
Donley, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said that the group’s focus is on the day-to-day realities of adoptive parenting and the experience of an adoptive families from all perspectives,
Currently the group has parents who have adopted children from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Guatemala, China and the United States.
“Pastor Wally Mees has been wonderful and generously opened up a place for us to meet,” said Jones, who with husband Finn-Olaf Jones, a freelance journalist, adopted a Chinese daughter, Vivian, when the girl was 16 months old. Now 4, Vivian joins older brothers Austin, 14, Leif, 12, Cody, 10 and Stellan, 7.
L.A. Adopt also serves a special purpose for Jones, who elected not to share her background. “I wanted a place for families to go where they could talk about anything that would come up.”
Donley and her husband, John Schimmel, adopted Amelia (also Chinese) at age 16 months. Now 12, she joins siblings Gabriel, 18, and Grace, 15.
“After our son and daughter were born we realized (in that very subjective way) that our family was not yet complete and felt that we wanted to offer a home to someone who needed one,” Donley said.
Given that most adoptions are now open (meaning that children have access to biological parents and the reasons for the adoptions), Donley and Jones, who met while their children attended Seven Arrows, were asked whether adoption still has a stigma.
They said that some issues never change: kids feel different; adoption is not spoken about; trans-racial adoption issues; and how to address the innocent but curious questions that kids sometimes face, such as “What happened to your real parents?” “Why did they give you up?” and “How much did you cost?”
The two women say the difference between an adoptive and biological child is nebulous. “There is no difference in the intensity of my feelings for my adopted child,” said Donley, who grew up in Chicago and worked in the New York and L.A. entertainment business before switching to counseling.
“It’s kind of like having a girl and a boy,” said Jones, who graduated from Texas A&M and worked for Lehman Brothers in New York City. “You love them both, but each child you raise differently.”
They note that adoptive children often have to navigate two sets of parents, and that constructing a family tree for a school project can be difficult.
Donley and Jones often field adoption questions from people who are thinking of adopting.
“There are fewer overseas adoptions,” noted Jones, who with her husband adopted a child with a cleft palate; this put her in a special-needs category, and more readily adoptable. “Special needs can generally be corrected with minor surgery.”
Donley and Jones were asked how they explain to their Chinese daughters that they had been given up for adoption because of their gender. (In 1979, China adopted a one-child policy for urban couples. Since it is customary for the male child to take care of his parents, trying to have a boy became a pragmatic decision.)
“I frame it in government policy,” Donley said. “Parents didn’t have a lot of choice because of the severe economic sanctions imposed on couples who had more than one child.”
“I also explain that parents live with the family of the man, that it was a type of social security in that country,” Jones said.
Asked about the periodic news stories about a biological parent taking back a child that had been adopted, Donley responded: “Even though the media loves to cover those stories, it rarely happens.”
Visit: adopt.salon.org.