Archive for August, 2009


Only Shades of Gray

I’ve recently returned to reading blogs of adult Korean adoptees. I’d laid off for awhile because so often the thoughts depressed me and made me question whether adopting our son was the right thing for him. Some recents posts have me a funk again, which is part of the reason my posts have been sporadic lately. Maybe it’s time for another hiatus.

Why do I torture myself, you ask? Because I feel it’s important to acknowledge and understand (to the best of my ability) the feelings of all transracial adoptees. It’s easy to stick with the ones who say they’re fine with their adoption, that race hasn’t been an issue for them, and that assimiliation worked out just fine (since most adult adoptees were raised under the advice to assimilate them and make them American). It’s much harder to listen to the adoptees who are no longer speaking to their adoptive parents, who are outspoken about the injustices of transracial and intercountry adoption, and who would prefer the practice of international adoption to end.

Of course, both prespectives are valid because we’re all unique individuals. Two people can go through the exact same experience and come away from it with vastly different opinions. Our prespectives are colored by everything that has gone on in our lives up to that point. And no two people have exactly the same experiences.

And, of course, each person is looking at the bigger picture through the filter that is their experience. That’s why I think many of the issues I’m reading about aren’t black and white, but really shades of gray.

Many adult adoptees feel that if there were more of a social system to support single mothers (especially in Korea) that more first moms would choose to parent their children. Is that true? Probably for some; but I doubt it would be true for all. Because it were true for all, the U.S. shouldn’t have any children placed for adoption at birth. We have the social system in place to support them, and the social stigma of being a single mom doesn’t really come into play anymore (generally speaking). Yet the U.S. still has first moms choosing adoption.

The next shade of gray comes when the social system is in place and young mothers do choose to parent their children. Is that always the best option? I know that adoption comes with issues. But so does being raised in poverty. One statistics I found stated that 80 percent of teenage mothers end up in poverty and reliant on welfare. (Maynard, Kids Having Kids).

So the U.S. system–while providing support and lack of social stigma–has it’s issues too. And with so many kids ending up in foster care in the U.S., I wonder if earlier adoption wouldn’t have been a better option. Maybe it would have been better if those children had been adopted at birth instead bounced from foster home to foster home?

I agree that international adoption has it’s problems, ranging from adoptee issues to corruption. It’s not an ideal solution. In a perfect world, every child would be born into a family who could love and support him in every emotional and financial way needed. In a slightly-less-than-perfect world, every child would be raised in the country where she was born by loving adoptive families who are able to provide for her needs.

But in this far from perfect world, I still think being adopted internationally by a family who loves and cherishes you is better than being raised in an orphanage. Yes, I realize that not everyone gets a loving family. And it pains me to think of the adoptees who end up with parents who abuse them. I admitted already that the system is flawed.

So it all comes down to prespective. And if we’re all honest with ourselves, there probably isnt’ much cut-and-dry about the issues of international adoption. It’s all shades of gray.


Korean Independence Day–광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)

Well, my plan had been to remind everyone a week or so ago that August 15 is Korean Independence Day. Sorry to say, that didn’t happen. But I thought I’d share some thoughts about the day, even if it’s too late to encourage you to celebrate.

On this date in 1945 Japan surrendered to the Allied forces during World War II, thus ending the Japanese occupation of Korea. Then on this day three years later in 1948, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was officially established.

Our family spent the day at an event hosted by our local Korean association. The day was beautiful and sunny–the perfect setting for a celebration. (Unlike last year when it poured rain and many of the festivities had to be cancelled because they were outdoor-only activities, like a volleyball tournament.) We enjoyed lots of Korean food, heard the Korean national anthem and a celebratory song about the day, did three cheers of “Mansei,” which is like the English hurrah, saw a performance of Korean drummers (drumming is one of J’s fascinations so he loved this), and visited with Korean-Americans from our area.

But for me, it’s also a day to reflect on our son’s first family. Having read several histories about the Japanese occupation of Korea and Korea’s liberation, I wonder about his family’s experience. Were they originally living in what is now North Korea? Were they separated from family members during the Korean War? Did they lose sons, uncles, grandfathers during the fighting?

And I wonder if these are questions J will ask when he’s older. Will he wonder about his family’s experiences? They are questions that may never be answered. But I know that may not stop him from wondering. It doesn’t stop me.

Every year the Korean association invites our local Korean War veterans to the Independence Day celebration. Because, as everyone knows, the fight for the Korean penisula didn’t end with the establishment of an official government in South Korea. In 1950 North Korea invaded the South and a three-year battle ensued with each side at one time or another taking almost the entire penisula for themselves, before things settled back with a division at the 38th parallel and cease fire between the two countries.

A few years ago I met a Korean War vet and thanked him for his service. He then thanked me because he said most people don’t think much about the service these men gave or appreciate it. So it’s wonderful to see these men recognized each year at our local celebration. It is easily to see that the two communities–Korean American and the veterans–have such an affection for each other.

So today, I’m thankful for Korea’s independence and thankful to all who helped bring it about. I pray that someday the people in North Korea will experience the same freedoms that those in South Korea now have. And that the country will be one again.


The Ministry of Adoption?

A couple of weeks ago our local newspaper did a feature article on a couple of families in our town who have adopted internationally. I believe both of them had adopted multiple children from multiple countries. And their motivation, for lack of a better word, was that caring for orphans is a ministry from God.

I have to admit this attitude of adoption as a ministry bothers me. Yes, the Bible says in James 1:27 that we are to look after the widows and orphans. But as Sherrie Eldridge, adoptee and author, says, “There are many Christians who misinterpret the Scriptures about caring for orphans and widows. The verse doesn’t say to marry off the widows and adopt the orphans. It says to care for them. This can come in the form of financial aid, mission trips, etc.”

In my mind there are a couple of problems with this idea of adoption as a ministry. One is how it makes the adoptee feel. In in her book, Beyond Good Intentions, Cheri Register describes this attitude as one of the 10 pitfalls that adoptive parents fall into. And in that chapter she recounts the feelings adoptees have expressed when “ministry” was one of their parents’ motivations for adoption. Many said they felt that they weren’t free to feel upset or discouraged about being adopted; that since it was a ministry they had to feel grateful for being rescued.

Second, I think often parents who enter into adoption as a ministry to orphans fail to understand the complexities of rearing an adopted child. As I’ve said many times before, parenting an adopted child IS NOT the same as parenting a biological child. Adopted children need more than love and being rescued. Eldridge discusses this in the Q & A I linked to above.

In our community part of this motivation may come from the family’s church. A few of the large churches in our town have adoption ministries, through which they encourage their members to adopt an orphan–international, domestic, and especially from foster care. There is nothing inherently wrong with such a ministry. But some of our friends who had never considered adopting are now thinking it might be an option for their families. My question is, are they truly prepared for such an addition to their lives?

Honestly, I especially have problems with these larger churches and religious-based organizations encouraging adoption. Most people assume that since I’m religious and an adoptive parent, I must wholeheartedly support such efforts. But my feelings are that these churches and organizations could be doing work that better serves the “orphan.”

Today relatively few “orphans” are actually without parents. In so many instances they are without parents because of poverty, social stigma against single mothers, and government policy. I know that’s the case in Korea right now–with little support for single mothers, women feel they won’t be able to provide for their children, and thus make adoption plans rather than face the stigma and harsh realities of single parenting.

Why can’t these large churches and religious organizations work to support change in these situations? I believe all four adoption agencies in Korea have programs through which the agencies are helping educate and train single mothers so the mothers feel they have a choice in whether to parent their children or place them for adoption. Why can’t these U.S. churches and organizations provide monetary support for such programs? Or help with personnel to train the Korean mothers?

Not that we, as Americans, should be telling other countries what to do. But if there are programs in place or local organizations already working in these countries to bring about changes that would allow children to stay with their birth families, wouldn’t that be the best way to look after the orphan?

We love our son dearly and he has enriched our lives in so many ways. But we are the second-best parenting choice for him. He’s Korean; he should have been able to grow up in Korea, knowing the woman who gave birth to him and the family he was born to be a part of.

After reading this, you may be thinking that I’m actually against adoption. I assure you that certainly isn’t the case. Adoption is a great way to build a family. It isn’t difficult at all to love an adopted child with all your heart.

But it’s important that when a family is entering into an adoption, the motivations are right. That they have a real understanding of how complex this parent-child relationship may be. That they have an appreciation for the often confusing feelings the adoptee may have as she grows. That they are adopting because they want to be parents to this child and take on all that it may entail down the road. That, in my opinion, is the real ministry of adoption.

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