Archive for January, 2010


Adoption Oversimplified

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile but after a recent discussion of the topic and reading another blogger’s take, I decided to let it out. The discussion centered around birth mothers, the role they play in the lives of our children, and how we portray these women to our children.

Are they saints for making such a “brave, loving, selfless” decision? Are they uncaring for giving away part of themselves? Or was the decision even theirs to begin with? Did someone convince or coerce them into making this decision saying it would be best?

There seems to be two opposing sides when it comes to adoption. I’ve heard a lot of adult adoptees essentially say that if there weren’t white Americans wanting to adopt (and no poverty and there were social programs to assist families), there would be no need for adoption. It’s supply and demand they say, and adoption brings in huge amounts of money for the country sending its children away.

On the other hand, a large number of adoptive parents feel that adoption is a win-win situation for all involved–birth mother doesn’t want to parent her child, we want a child, child gets a home, it’s all good.

I feel that both sides have oversimplified the topic. Like everything about adoption, there just aren’t easy answers.

Even if there were no parents waiting for children, I believe there would be some women who would chose to place their children for adoption. Some women become pregnant and don’t want to have an abortion, yet don’t want to parent the child either. Even without coercion, I believe these women would exist and for them the best option would be to place their child for adoption.

Many anti-adoption advocates (for lack of a better term) seem to believe that every child is better off with his biological parents. But I don’t think that’s the case. If it were, why do we have children who are abused or neglected by their biological parents? The fact is sometimes mothers keep their children for selfish reasons. I’ve personally seen some instances where this is the case. Keeping the child is more about being a means to an end (getting financial support, for example) than it is about loving the child and wanting to parent him in a loving and nurturing home. Would that child be better off being placed for a adoption where he could grow up in a home where he is loved and nurtured? I would say probably.

Yet, on the flip side, adoption isn’t the perfect answer either. It’s not a win-win situation for everyone. It’s a solution that will have a lifetime of consequences for everyone involved. To believe otherwise is to live in the “adoption fantasy” I talked about in a previous post. Even if that child is loved and nurtured in his adoptive home, his birth family is part of him and he’ll likely wonder and question the decision that was made.

Each adoption story is different so generalities hardly apply. For some women in certain cultures making an adoption plan for their child might be a “brave and selfless” act of love. Given the attitudes and circumstances she and the child would face, maybe she feels like she’s making the most chose. In another instance, maybe placing the child is a selfish act meant to avoid the consequences and hard decisions that come with parenting a child.

And I know that sometimes there’s more involved than just the birth mother’s decision. Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve learned more about coercion, unethical practices, and even child trafficking that can be a part of adoption, especially international adoption.

I don’t believe we should turn a blind-eye to the situations that exist, especially in other countries, that lead to some adoption placements. In fact, it turns my stomach to see large religious agencies and churches proclaiming adoption to be the way we can help. I would rather see these large groups find an in-country association or ministry where money or other donations could be sent to keep families intact, instead of believing the children are better off with us.

But also don’t believe that there would be no children placed for adoption, even if we “cured” all the aliments that lead to placement. Even with all of its consequences, I believe that adoption is the best option for some birth mothers.

So I guess I’m saying that in general, birth mothers shouldn’t be either vilified or pronounced saints. Nor should adoption been seen as the cruelest option that’s out there or as the savior to kids who need homes. I feel that each family has to look at it’s story and be honest about what it entails. After all, we were never promised that issues in our lives would be simple.


Love and Lunar New Year (설날, Seollal)

설날, seollal (aka, Lunar New Year), is one of the most important holidays on the Korean calendar. Since the date is figured based on the lunar calender, it’s date on the Gregorian calendar changes every year. And all of that is to say that this year, 설날 falls on Feb. 14, yes on Valentine’s Day.

Last year I did a comprehensive post about 설날 and ways Korean adoptive families can celebrate. I’m not going to repeat all of that.

Just remember it’s not New Year without tteokguk (rice cake soup), your best or new clothes, and games such as yut nori. If your child likes to color, you can find a coloring sheet featuring a Korean family in their new clothes for Seollal here. (You can find last year’s detailed entry on Seolnal by either clicking on the Korean holiday how-tos category and scrolling down or looking at the January 2009 entries.)

2010 marks the year of the tiger so you could also have tiger-themed crafts or coloring sheets for Seollal. You can one tiger coloring sheet on the Crayola site. And here’s an interesting Korea Times article on Korea’s connection to tigers and the year of the tiger.

Since lunar new year shares it’s date this year with Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about Valetine’s in Korea. Although it’s still a day about love and chocolate, it’s celebrated a little differently in Korea.

You see many American guys would just as soon forget Valentine’s Day. Well, in Korea they can. In Korea on Feb. 14  girls give chocolates to guys they like, but the guys don’t have to give anything on that.

But don’t think that Korean guys are totally off the hook. One month later, on March 14, Koreans celebrate White Day. It’s a day for guys to give candys and gifts to the girls in their lives. Tradtionally the candy given on White Day isn’t chocolate, although I’ve read that some guys now give white chocolate.

Researching this post led me to find out about the “love days” in Korea. More on that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, 새해 복 많이 받으세요! (saehae bok manni badeuseyo). That’s Happy New Year in Korean.


Your Adoption Story Is Not Your Child’s Story

Recently I’ve heard a couple of adoptive parents describe two of the highly recommended adoption books as “negative.” (FYI, the books being referred to were Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge and Beyond Good Intentions by Cheri Register.) And the description bothered me–it seemed harsh, especially when one of the books was written by an adoptee. 

Both books detail some of the hard truths about adoption–loss, trauma, racial issues, etc. And those truths can be difficult to hear, no doubt. But I feel like I’m a better adoptive parent for having read, and taken to heart, those hard truths. So I began thinking about why an adoptive parent would label these books as negative, and I had a light-bulb moment. It’s because adoption is a completely different experience for most adoptive parents and adopted children.

For the parents adoption is filled with joy and love. It’s a way to become a parent for the first time or expand a family already filled with the joy of children. It’s the agony of waiting, which is completely forgotten in the elation of meeting your child for the first time. Adoption is a one-time event in the lives of the adoptive parents. They go through the process, finalize the adoption, and it’s done–they’re a family.

For the child, adoption is a lifetime experience. An experience that’s filled with trauma, loss (of families, culture, language), sadness, questions, and feelings of not belonging, as well as joy and love.

I have no doubt that the majority of adoptees love their adoptive parents and families. But from reading about those hard truths, I’ve learned that the joy and love they have in and for their adoptive families doesn’t prevent them from feeling sadness over the families they lost or wondering why they were placed for adoption.

Before we started the process to adopted our son, I too felt that adoption was a win-win. There were children who needed homes, and my husband and I had no desire to have biological kids. Back then I thought it was all joy too. That you just love the kid and everything will be “normal.” But books like the ones written by Eldridge and Register helped enlighten me to truths about adoption. My view pre-adoption was what I now call the “adoption fanatsy”–that adopting or being adopted is no different from having biological kids.

What I’ve learned in the three-plus years I’ve been part of the adoption community is that many adoptive parents never let go of that “adoption fantasy.” They continue believing that love is enough and that adopted children can be raised exactly the same way biological ones are raised. An example of this is that one person I heard call these books negative was a parent-in-process who is waiting for a referral. She’s still educating herself and learning more about adoption. But the other has a child adopted transracially as an infant who has now been home for seven years.

While it’s true that in some areas raising adopted kids is the same (for example, they should be loved, disciplined, and taught responsibility), in many other ways it’s not the same. And it shouldn’t be the same because love ISN’T enough.

Raising an adopted child requires more understanding, a willingness to delve under the surface of behavior and attitudes, an openess to discuss some difficult topics that no child should have to experience. It requires an understanding that being separated from the mother who carried you for nine months is a traumatic experience. That babies feel things we don’t give them credit for feeling. That children aren’t as resilient as our society wants to believe. That our world isn’t a colorblind place in which race doesn’t matter.

That’s what Eldridge’s and Register’s books are trying to say. They’re not trying to be negative but instead are trying to educate adoptive parents about the thoughts and feelings of adoptees. Will every adoptee experience everything covered in these books? Probably not. But the fact seems to be that the majority of adoptees struggle with at least some of these feelings and emotions at some point in their lives.

Our adoption journey thus far has shown me the truth behind the hard facts these authors discuss. While our son is very attached to us, he’s still at times insecure wondering if moving to another family is in his future. The education I’ve received from these books and others like them mean I don’t just brush off his comments or concerns, but instead tackle them head on.

Yes, my adoption journey is quite different from my son’s journey. But my adoption education has allowed me to empathize with his journey in a way I couldn’t have while living in my “adoption fantasy.” Hopefully that will be a help to him as he grows.


The Enthusiasm of a 4-year-old

We have family stationed in Japan with the military, and they’ve just asked us if we’d like to meet in Korea for a vacation together. Our son heard us talking about it over dinner and his response, “Yes! I want to go to Korea. Let’s go now!”

I love his enthusiasm. He’s like his mom–passionate about the things he’s interested in. So now we’re looking at a trip to Korea sometime in the next 18 months or so. Since bringing our son home, we’d planned on returning to Korea several times throughout his childhood. We can hardly wait to show J the country that is his by birth. But it will also be fun to share the country with our relatives.

We tried to explain to J that the trip wouldn’t happen anytime soon; that these trips take planning and saving. But those concepts are hard to grasp as a 4-year-old. His response to our “later” speech was: “OK, I’ll go to sleep ad when I wake up we can go.” Boy, don’t we wish it were that easy.

J is passionate about Korean things. He knows he’s Korean and recently explained to us that he’s the only Korean in our family, emphasizing that Dad and I aren’t Korean. There was no sadness connected to the thought (although I know there might be in the future); it was just a matter of fact. He loves Korean food (his favorite restaurants are “the Korean restaurant and Chick-fil-A”) and is very excited about the Korean dining table we recently found at a thrift store. J wants to learn to say more things in Korean and someday wants to “break boards” (tae kwon do).

I love his pride in his Koreaness. I hear so many stories about adopted kids this age who just aren’t interested in Korea or Korean things. And I wonder what makes J different. Is it just his nature? Is it how we’ve chosen to parent him (including Korean things in our daily lives)? Is it a little bit of both?

We’ve never thought the parenting strategy of “we’ll do Korean things someday, if my kids are interested” would be in our son’s best interest. After all, if we as parents don’t introduce things into our children’s lives, how will they ever become interested? I don’t believe my son would love basketball the way he does, if we’d never given him a basketball to play with or took to watch a game. Likewise, I believe at least part of his Korean pride comes from the fact that Korea has been presented to him almost daily in a positive light.

But on the flip side, I realize that just giving a kid a basketball doesn’t guarantee that he’ll love the game. That’s where I think J’s enthusiasm for Korean things is partly just who he is. But the fact is when he came home as an infant, we had no idea if he’d be interested in Korean things or not. We just decide to parent him in what we felt was the best way when it came to his birth country and culture.

Does talk about Korea and Korean things fill our day? No. Our days are filled with learning the English alphabet, playing basketball, cooking, and so much more. But we include mentions of Korean things often in our regular conversations. And as a result, I feel that we’ve been laying a foundation that will help him as he begins the hard work of developing his own identity in a few years.

I hope is that J is always this passionate about his Koreaness. But realistically I know that his feelings about Korea and his ethnicity will probably ebb and flow throughout his childhood. And someday, when he’s older, we’ll know whether our choices were the right ones. In the meantime, we’ll plug along doing what we believe is best for our son.

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