What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?

Sometimes being an adoptive parent leaves me confused and unsure of what I should be doing. Just when I think I’m on the “right” track, I’ll read something that makes me question our decisions.

This article, titled What’s My Heritage? International Adoptions and the Culture Debate, in Brain Child magazine has created just such a conundrum for me. Most of it I agree with. But once I’d read the whole article (and it’s a long one), I was left feeling like no matter what I do as an adoptive parent, it won’t be the right thing.

Part of the article talks about how going overboard with culture keeping could be as problematic as doing nothing. We are the parents who have embraced our son’s birth culture. From the day he came home we’ve listened to Korean music, watched Korean children’s shows, eaten Korean foods, celebrated Korean holidays, spoken what little Korean we know and are trying to learn more.

In the beginning I thought we were doing everything right. But over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve started to understand that there’s only so much I can do. And I mean that in a couple of ways.

First, at some point it will J’s decision about how much Korean he wants to embrace. Our hope is that Korean culture will always be part of his life, because it is part of who he is. We think that if we embrace Korean culture as a family (not singling out the one person who is ethnically Korean) that it will be something that he feels good about. But only time will tell if that belief holds true for our family.

And secondly, I know that there is much about the Korean culture we can’t teach him. Just knowing history, language, foods, and such isn’t enough to give him a true sense of what it means for him to be Korean. This has been a realization I’ve only come to in the last year. As I’ve learned more about racial identity and racism, I’ve come to understand that he needs to know what it means to be Asian in America, which is something I can’t teach. That is one thing about the article that I really appreciated–how it explains that culture keeping can’t substitute for talking about race.

What it comes down to is this: being an adoptive parent is a one-day-a-time experience. I’m a planner so there’s part of me that wants to plan out everything for the next 20 years. But I’m coming to understand that I can’t do that. At this point there’s no way to predict how my child who loves Korean things now will feel about his birth culture in five or 10 years.

So I guess all I can do is be prepared. I continue to educate myself and think I am knowledgable about adoption issues. With that knowledge, I need to work each day at listening to and understanding my son.

I suspect that as with everything we do for our children, our family’s embracing Korean culture may come down to a lot of compromises as J grows. That may sound harsh to some who think, “It’s his culture; he should get to choose.” And someday he will. I’m just not sure at this point at what age he’ll truly be ready to make such a decision. That’s something we’ll have to figure out as we get there.

After all, we don’t allow our children to eat only chocolate bars just because that’s what they want. Or allow them to decide at age 10 that they’ll quit school just because they’re not interested at that moment. Those of us who are religious don’t sit around waiting for our children to become interested in the Bible; we introduce it to them, teach them, live a life (hopefully) that’s an example to them, and pray that they’ll make what we feel are the right decisions when that time comes.

That’s how I feel about our son’s birth culture. It’s our job as his parents to start building a strong foundation for him–by learning the language, cooking Korean foods, celebrating holidays, etc. And it’s our job to help him continue to build on that foundation by having people in his life–Korean Americans and adoptees–who can help him navigate the difficult issues of race in America. People who are not simply resources for our family, but trusted friends.

It feels like each generation of transracial adoptees is a new case study. One generation is raised as caucasians and told to assimilate. That didn’t seem to work, so the next one is raised with culture keeping on some level–be it daily or once-a-year culture camps. For this one, my son’s generation, adoptive parents are being encouraged to embrace the culture themselves but to strive for balance. Only time will tell how that turns out.

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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