Archive for May, 2009


I Didn’t Know It Would Still Be This Hard

Three years ago at this time our lives were filled with excitement and the anticipation of becoming parents. Our incredibly short wait to bring our son home was still terrible (any amount of time waiting in the adoption process is terrible) but we had the hope of our lives together.

Just a warning now: This is a pity post. Today I sit at my computer in tears over how hard the last month has been. I’ve alluded to issues that have arisen in previous posts so I won’t rehash all of that here. But I can honestly say that three years ago I could never have imagined the struggle that we’re currently dealing with. I understand now that my optimism was really my being naive.

I knew that the first few months would be hard but then I expected things to get back to normal. A new normal, yes, but still a life more like we were used to living. Instead what we’ve found is disappointment in the support systems we thought we had in place and issues that are creeping up partly because our son is older now and beginning to process things and partly because we didn’t think about how he would see recent experiences.

Honestly it feels like the first month all over again, only with a little more sleep. J needs lots of reassuring, lots of understanding, lots of patience, lots of compassion, and I can honestly say that lately I haven’t been up to the challenge.

I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and I have been out together since J came home in September 2006. That’s something I never thought would happen to us. Before becoming parents, I was eager to lecture my friends on taking care of their marriage and taking care of themselves.

Now I’m one of those mothers who almost never has time away from her child. Not be choice but by circumstance. I miss time with my husband, time to myself to pursue hobbies. I miss the accolades and camaraderie of the work place, though I don’t really miss being at work full-time everyday. I miss vacations, time away to relax and rejuvenate.

Some people will read this and say that I should go back to work. That would provide the accolades, camaraderie, time away, and additional income to do things like vacations. But even if I had the inclination to do that (which I don’t right now), I know that being away from me all day is not what my son needs.

We have such hopes for our families future, but right now they feel like they will never come true. Instead of our lives being filled with help and support, the last couple of years have been filled with loss. We’ve lost close friendships because we chose to build our family through adoption. Our relationships with our families is different now because there is so much about transracial adoption that they don’t understand. And even within the adoption community, where we thought we’d find support, we feel alone. Since so many adoptive families don’t share our views or understanding of the role that adoption, race, and loss of birth culture play in a child’s life, we’ve found it hard to connect even with people who should understand.

That’s not to say that our son doesn’t bring us joy. He does. He’s an amazing little boy who is struggling right now. I understand that and want to be there for him. It’s just that right now I feel like he deserves better than I’m able to give.

Probably lots of moms, biological and adopted, can relate to that. Motherhood truly is the hardest job in the world. And I know that these struggles won’t be the last ones that our family experiences. For our son, adoption is a life-long journey and with it will come wonderful times and hard times. My prayer for our family is that we can find support, mentors, resources, and friends, who can help us along this journey.


Top 5 Myths about International Adoption

Our society (America) has a very positive view of adoption—positive to a fault. Few people recognize that with every new beginning there must have been an ending. Each Wednesday during the next month I’ll blog about what I think are the top five myths about international adoption. Some of these beliefs are held by the general public, some by adoptive parents, and some by both. But no matter who holds the belief, I’ve found them to be not only wrong but detrimental to our kids.

5. Adoption is a win-win, joy-filled, one time event in the lives it touches. This one is linked to No. 1, but I felt it deserved it’s own place in the list. I remember when we were waiting for our son to come home. I didn’t put much thought into everything he’d be losing–I could just hardly wait to get him in my arms. We would have the son we’d dreamed of and he would have a family. Others, too, weren’t thinking realistically about the situation. He’d be 9 months old so he’d be sleeping through the night. How, lucky we were to be skipping all those newborn night wakings. (Ha!)

Then while we were in Korea to pick him up, it all hit me. Seeing him play games with his foster mom and social worker; understanding that while he was only 9 months old, he knew his name and understood some of the Korean language; and getting a feeling for what it’s like to look different from the majority of the people around you.

That experience, as well as continuing to educate ourselves about adoption, has led us to a better understanding and more compassion to the fact that adoption will be something that will always be a part of our family now.

As adoptive parents we need to realize that our child’s adoption experience will likely be very different from our own. We need to understand that when our children miss their birth parents, struggle with how they feel about their adoption, and other such feelings aren’t directed at us. And we need to know that there will be times throughout our children’s lives that they will experience those early losses again and again.

Our job isn’t to tell our kids how to feel–trying to force them to see their adoption as a happy thing if they don’t, for example–but to have an understanding of their feelings and be there to support them.


Bizarro World

The other day I was thinking about how being an adoptive parent is like Bizarro World in the Superman comics. That was the universe in which versions of Superman and Lois Lane existed, but just about everything was opposite of the earthly versions. There was also an episode of Seinfeld that had a similar theme.

Well, that’s how adoptive parenting feels to me. You read regular parenting books and they tell you to do one thing, then you read an adoptive parenting book, and it tells you just the opposite. Here are a few of examples.

* Regular parenting books will tell you to wash “lovies” often because kids get attached to the smell. Adoptive parenting books tell you NOT to wash them often because that smell is the smell of your family, which you want your child to be attached to.

* Regular parenting books recommend time-outs as punishment for your children, but most adoptive parenting books prefer using a time-in or some form of correction in which your child isn’t separated from you.

* Regular parenting books discourage parents from sleeping with their children. But many adoptive parenting books encourage it because that’s a time of intense bonding with your child.

* Lots of parenting books say it’s OK to let your child cry it out as they learn to sleep on their own, but this is strongly discouraged by adoptive parenting books because it breaks the trust your child is building in you.

And those are just the examples I thought of off the top of my head. It can be so confusing!

I used to think that if adoptees had issues it was because their parents treated them differently than they would have or did biological children. Now I know that the opposite is actually true–certain things should be done differently with and for an adopted child.

Parenting an adopted child IS NOT the same as parenting a biological child. I know that’s really hard for a lot people to understand, but you just can’t do everything the same way. Your adopted child has suffered some trama because of breaks in trust with their caregivers. Your biological children, likely, have not suffered those tramas. (However, issues affecting adopted children can affect biological children too. It’s just most parents with biological children aren’t educated about these things.)

That different parenting style means being aware of the issues that might arise and understanding the cycle of trust that promotes attachment and bonding. It means being knowledgable about how your adopted child might process situations differently. It means knowing how following “regular” parenting advice might actually be harmful to your adopted child.

That’s not to say that everything is different. We love the Baby Whisperer’s advice about having a schedules and routines for the baby. This is actually really good advice for adopted children. We used lots of tips from her books, but always with the understanding of adoption issues.

So, adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, welcome to Bizarro World. It’s a wild and wonderful place to be.


A Transracial Adoptee’s Bill of Rights

What do you think transracially-adopted children should expect from their adoptive families? Is love enough? Does just loving the child cover all of the trama that child has experienced? Do you even buy into the thought that adopted children have experienced trama?

I used to think love was enough. I used to think that if adopted children had issues their adoptive parents must have treated them differently from biological siblings. I used to think that race issues were a thing of the past. Then I become the parent of a transracially-adopted child.

We’d been in the adoption process for about three weeks when we attended our prospective adoptive parent class. It was two intense days of learning how children of color feel growing up in white homes that are located in predominately white communities. And it was an eye-opener for me and my husband.

That class was just the beginning of our education about adoption, cultural and racial identity, and racism. I’m guessing that education will continue now for the rest of my life. But, as I’ve noted before, not every family built through transracial adoption feels the way we do about what we’ve learned. Many families do believe that love will be enough to cover the trama and that racism isn’t something that their children will have to deal with.

So I wanted to bring attention to a Web site that has an amazing amount of information and resources for parents of transracially-adopted children. Pact is an adoption alliance that provides adoption services for children of color with a focus on those children building connections with their birth cultures.  On their site is posted what they call A Transracially-Adopted Child’s Bill of Rights. In fact, the site’s press page has an array of articles that are great resources for adoptive parents.

I understand that children aren’t the same and what’s needed by one child isn’t always needed by another. But based on research and experiences of past transracial adoptees, I think there are some things that the majority of our children need. And the transracially-adopted child’s bill of rights lays out a wonderful road map to help adoptive parents on this journey.


Sharing Motherhood

As all of you know, Mother’s Day in the U.S. was yesterday. It’s a bittersweet holiday for me. I’m so thankful that I get to be the mother to this amazing little boy who is full of energy, who is full of charm, and who’s smile lights up a room.

But it’s never far from my mind that I get to be his mother because someone else couldn’t be. I don’t know J’s birthmother, but I’m sure there is a lot of her in him. His athletic ability alone is a testimony to the athletic tae kwon do instructor who gave birth to him.

I know a lot of adoptive moms feel territorial about their kids; many are offended when others refer to the birthmom and the “real” mom. Somehow I’ve escaped that, which is amazing since in general I seem to be a territorial-type person. I see me and J’s Korean mommy as partners–we both have and will continue to play important roles in his life.

We’ve talked to J about his Korean family since shortly after he came home. Even before he was talking, I would sit and talk to him about his Korean mommy and wonder out loud who gave him his beautiful chocolate brown eyes. In the beginning it was uncomfortable, but now I’ve been doing it for so long that it seems natural.

Right now he’s just beginning to understand that he has another family that lives in Korea. He’s Korean mommy often shows up in his imaginary family (we have three imaginary brothers who all have families and homes of their own). Sometimes his Korean dad is part of the imaginary activity too. I encourage this talk since I believe it’s how he’s beginning to process his family history. Just in the last month and half has he become interested in hearing his story. But now if I tell it any differently from how I usually do, he’ll point it out (Mom, tell me how Mrs. XXX was so sad when I left her house).

I hope our openness about his Korean family will help him feel that it’s normal and natural to love both families. I pray that he’ll never think he has to choose between families, which seems to me to be essentially choosing between parts of himself.

So today my thoughts go out to a Korean family who gave my son life and contributed so much to who he is today.


New Insights for Mom

Recently I posted about what I feel is a must-read book for adoptive parents, Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen. I decided to give some more specific examples about how this book helped our family within a couple of days of finishing it.

First, let me say that after reading this book, my feelings on sleep issues have completely changed. Our son’s sleep issues aren’t the worst we’ve heard about, but in the last 2.5 years, we’ve probably had three or four nights of uninterrupted sleep.

The first week was a nightmare, but after that things slowly started getting better even if it meant Mom sleeping on the floor with him since that was what he was used to in Korea. Now he’s been home for 2.5 years, and he still walks up at least once a night calling for us. Maybe it’s habit; maybe he really needs the reassurance that we’re still here; maybe it’s a little of both.

Over the last two years, I’ve been envious when I’ve heard adoptive parents talking about how their kids sleep through the night, in cribs, and have from the first night home. But after reading this book, I’m thankful that our son feels like he needs us in the middle of the night.

Cogen says that often being a “perfect sleeper” means that the child has learned to manage on his own and doesn’t have a sense of connection to his parents. “A child from the age of seven months through six or seven years of age who is connected to a parent does not want to separate from Mom or Dad, even to fall asleep,” Cogen writes. As she goes on to describe what she calls “Five Family Skills for Sleep Development,” I learned that it seems our little guy is right on target with his sleep issues. So thanks, Patty, for turning what I’d perceived to be a negative into a huge positive for our family.

Second, the book helped me navigate what I believe to be an adoption-stress issue that occurred recently when a family member came to stay with us for a month. After the first day or so, our son’s behavior went through the roof. Tantrums at the drop of a hat; waking up crying and sacred (instead of his normal calling for us). I’ll admit J has tantrums from time to time (he’s 3 years old, after all) but it seemed his behavior had escalated from what it normally is.

We noticed similar behavior last year when my parents stayed with us and thought it was weird that he seems fine in a hotel but out of sorts when he’s at home but has in-house visitors. We thought it was age-related and didn’t give it much thought.

But in the book Cogen talks at lot about thinking of situations your child has experienced and seeing how situations he is currently experiencing might bring up memories or trama for him.

So after reading that, I got to thinking about a time when our son met and spent time with strangers–when he met us. I got to thinking that maybe he was thinking this family member would take him away. So I talked to J about the fact that this family member will leave our house but he will be staying with us and Mommy and Daddy would continue to take care of him. J seemed surprised by this. After this talk his sleep went back to normal.

Then my husband had to go on a three-day business trip and things escalated more. The second day my husband was gone, our son woke up from his nap in a meltdown. I contributed to the issues too because without thinking, I let this family member take J to the bathroom in a store without me going into the store. The way J was crying you’d have thought he was being kidnapped, which he actually might have been thinking. Then J took a second nap that day, which he never does.

My husband travels frequently so it didn’t dawn on me until after these incidents that my son might be thinking that this family member, who is male, had replaced Daddy since it’s usually just the two of us when Daddy travels. We again had a talk and it helped some, the behavior lessned, but didn’t go back to normal until Daddy arrived home and J was sure Dad wasn’t being replaced with a new dad.

I’ve only offered these insights up to a couple of people I know. One fellow adoptive parent related to the story because her son had recently experienced some similar changes and reactions to them. But most people think I’m nuts. Why would a well-adjusted kid think he is getting a new family or a new dad? Maybe because it’s happened to him before. Oh, they say, but he was just a baby then; he doesn’t remember that. My belief is that while he doesn’t have conscience memories of the losses he’s experienced, but those memories are stored in his body and sometimes his subconscious remembers.

Our society sees adoption as a happy, one-time event in the lives of everyone involved (more on this theory at a later date). While since becoming an adoptive parent I’ve never subscribed to that belief, it’s nice to have Cogen’s book, which provides insights, examples, and activites to promote connections between parents and children. I truly believe it’s helping me to better understand my son and the trama he’s experienced (which might be minor compared to some, but is still trama none the less), and is giving me ways to reassure him and help him process what he’s experienced.


May 5–Children’s Day in Korea

I remember asking my parents around Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, “When’s children’s day?” They always answered, “Everyday is children’s day.”

Well, the lucky children of Korea have a Children’s Day. It’s May 5. The holiday for children was created in 1923 by author Pang Jeong Hwan as a way to honor children since he believed they were the future of the country.

And it’s an easy Korean holiday to celebrate no matter where you live. In Korea, families spend the day together and go to amusement parks, museums or zoos. Children are often given gifts and treated to their favorite foods.

Our family follows this tradition. Myhusband takes the day the off work and we spend it together. The first year we went to a children’s museum and last year the zoo. This year’s holiday will mark our third together as a family and our little guy may get to choose this year what he’d like to do.

One great resource is the book Korean Children’s Day by Ruth Suyenaga. This book is about a Korean adoptee who spends Children’s Day at his local Korean cultural center with his family and his best friend. It’s a great way to introduce parts of the Korean culture to kids from the perspective of a Korean adoptee. I believe the book is out of print, but it can be found on used book Web sites, like the one linked to above.

Children’s Day would also be a good day to play Korean games, like yut, and eat at a Korean restaurant. I found some great information about Children’s Day here.

While Children’s Day is a more recent holiday, May 5 has been a holiday in Korea for centuries. Before being designated as Children’s Day, May 5 was Tano, a celebration of the start of summer. Here is some basic information about the Tano holiday.

And for you parents, while moms and dads get separate days in America, they share a holiday in Korea. Parent’s Day is May 8. Parents usually receive a red carnation from their children and maybe a small gift, and the children sing them the Parent’s Day Song. This Web site gives some background on Parent’s Day and Korean folk tales that correspond with the holiday’s purpose of honoring parents.

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