Archive for March, 2010


Dreaming a World: Korean birth mothers tell their stories

I just finished reading Dreaming a World, edited by Sangsoon Han, which is a follow-up to I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. I read the first book while we were waiting for our son to come home, and it moved me to tears. Dreaming a World has just been published by Yeong & Yeong Book Co.

This book is equally good; in fact, I think I might have liked Dreaming a World a little better than the first book. Looking at the situation from an American prospective, it’s hard to understand the prejudice and discrimination that an unwed mother and her child face in Korea. This book brought to light those difficulties. Many of the stories are more recent, and each birth mother letter/story is followed by an update by the book’s editor, who is the director of Ae Ran Won (a home for unwed mothers in Seoul). Since after reading each story you feel like you know the woman, it was nice to read an update and see how they were progressing.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is that not all of the birth mothers whose stories were printed chose adoption, and a couple of the stories involved domestic adoption (within Korea). It was interesting to read the stories of the women who chose to parent and see an open adoption in Korea, which is rare.

One stories that really touch me was a young woman who went into labor but was refused delivery at two hospitals because she was alone (no husband or parents). Even when a friend and her mother came to serve as her guardian, one hospital refused to deliver the baby because the guardians must be relatives.

Another theme  I saw in many of the stories was that the birth mothers chose international adoption mainly to have a more open relationship with the adoptive families. Several of the birth mothers stated that since there is a prejudice against adoption in Korea, they felt that a domestic adoption would be close with little to no hope of receiving updates on the child or getting to meet the child in the future. International adoption, they felt, would afford them a chance to receive updates, photos, and meet at some point. The thought of meeting their children spurred the birth mothers on to better their lives, even in the face of hardships.

No matter which choice the mother made, each agonized over doing what would be best. Some felt parenting would be a selfish act since children without fathers have a difficult time in Korea. Others decided to face the hardships head on in hopes of someday being a part of changing attitudes in the country. Each woman loved her child and made the decision she felt was best for her and for her child.

Someday I’ll have my son read Dreaming a World and I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. Both books are great resources in helping Korean adoptees understand the role society’s attitudes play in adoption placement.


What Is a ‘Successful’ Adoption?

Recently I was following a debate on an adoption discussion board about “successful” adoption stories. In this discussion “successful” was defined as those adoptees who have never struggled with anything related to their adoption.

And it got me thinking, what is, or what should be, the definition of a “successful” adoption? And when do you declare your adoption journey a success?

We’re only four years into our adoption journey so I don’t think we’re anywhere near close to declaring it a success. But I do think we’ve been successful thus far. However, my definition of success is light-years away from the one listed above. I think we’ve been successful so far because we’ve learned about the special needs of adoptees and we’ve adapted to meet those for our son.

We started our journey trying everything to avoid cosleeping with our son. But that’s what he needed and almost four years later at times he still needs it. We’ve recognized when behavior some would call “normal” for his age really had roots in his adoption and we’ve faced the issue head-on. Thus far, we’ve been successful in introducing Korean culture to our son and incorporating it into our family life. And we’re laying a foundation of openness about adoption and race and already have regular talks initiated by our son on both topics.

By the popular definition of “successful adoption,” I guess we’ve already failed. J grieved when he came home, he still needs us during night, and in the last year has struggled with situations related to his adoption. He views certain situations differently from how I feel he would have if he had been born into our family. But what others might see as failure, I see as success.

Still, there’s a long journey ahead. How will our son feel when he’s 10, 20, 30, and older? Will he struggle to find his identity? How will he view our parenting? Those are all questions that only time will answer. Unlike some parents, I don’t believe we’ll be able to declare success when he’s a preteen or teen who seems to be confident and self-assured.

While I hope he is like that as a teen, I’ve read too much and know that many adoptees struggle, possibly for the first time, when they enter college or when they marry or become parents or experience the death of a parent. Various life situations can bring up feelings that had long been buried and cause an adoptee to reflect differently on his life and circumstances. But in my mind that won’t make our adoption journey a failure–it makes us all human.

So far, I feel like we’re on track. My hope is that our continuing education about adoption will serve our son well. I hope the openness we have about adoption and race will allow him to come to us with whatever he’s feeling or experiencing and know that we’ll listen and empathize and if we can help, we will. That we won’t trivialize his feelings or experiences because we don’t understand adoption or racial issues. I hope that by incorporating culture into our family, he’ll be comfortable around Korean-Americans. I hope he’ll be fluent in Korean so that language isn’t a barrier for him. That he’ll be familiar enough with Korean and Korean-American culture and language to not feel isolated around those he resembles, although of course our family will still be different.

And while I have all of these hopes, ultimately it will be our son who decides if our journey has been a success. More than likely, he’ll deem some things successful, other things mediocre, and others better left not done. But whatever he feels, victory will be his to declare. And hopefully whatever he decides, he’ll know that we love him and tried to do what was best for him.


New Culture Blog

When I began this blog almost two years ago, I thought it would be mostly about how adoptive families can incorporate their child’s birth culture into their everyday lives. But it’s evolved into something more.

So, I’ve decided to start another blog that will be only on Korean culture and provide resources for adoptive families. My plan is to have a short post every day for the next year. Each day of the week will have a dedicated theme that will only be interrupted if a Korean holiday falls on that day. Then I’ll post about the holiday. Here’s what the schedule will look like.

Sunday-Food (recipes and food web sites)
Monday-Places to See (travel tips)
Tuesday-Language (Web sites and other language tools)
Wednesday-Books (for both parents and children)
Friday- Television and Movies (again for both parents and children)
Saturday- Whatever Comes Up (educational resources, for example)

This blog will continue to be what it’s become–a recording of our adoption journey, my thoughts on international/transracial adoption, and cultural resources that I want to share. But since this blog has become more about our journey and my opinions, I thought it would be fun to do a site dedicated only to Korean culture.

You can find this new culture blog at It will start today, March 13, which is the anniversary date of our adoption journey. I would love to hear about and pass on any Korean resources you’ve found. So if you have something to share, you can e-mail me at the address in the right-hand column.


White Day, Black Day, and Days of Love

So this proves that you can always learn something new. While I’d heard about White Day, and I vaguely remember reading something about Black Day, I had no idea that the 14th of every month has been designated as some kind of “love” day in Korea.

I first found the list on Wikipedia, but since readers can edit that site, I went looking for more official information. While I know that Wikipedia strives to be accurate, I thought this entry might be someone’s idea of a joke. But nope, it wasn’t. I found a complete list on Korea’s official tourist site.

Here the most popular love days:
Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14
White Day, March 14
Black Day, April 14
Pepero Day, Nov. 11  (The one exception to the 14th day rule, although November does have special day on the 14th, it’s movie day.)

In this entry I’ll only talk about White Day and Black Day. (Valentine’s Day was dealt with in a previous entry, and Pepero Day deserves an entry all its own later in the year.

With Valentine’s Day a month past, most American guys probably aren’t thinking much about gifts of love right about now. But guys in Korea are getting ready to show their gals how much they mean to them. (As you remember, Feb. 14 in Korea is a day for girls to shower their guys with presents, often in the form of chocolate.)

That’s because March 14 is fast approaching and now it’s the men’s turn. On White Day Korean men traditionally give non-chocolate candy, jewelry, and/or flowers to their sweethearts. A nice dinner out is often part of the celebration as well. And while it seems that non-chocolate candy is the tradition have I seen some mention of white chocolate being given in theme with the holiday’s name.

Although my son drew me a card on Valentine’s Day, upon hearing of White Day he wants to do something that day too. He’s in a giving phase right now, so even when there’s not a reason to give gifts, he gives you pretend presents consisting of some toy wrapped up in a bandana.

So what happens if you don’t have a sweetheart and are left out of the Valentine’s Day and White Day celebrations? Well, that’s what Black Day is for on April 14. The tradition of black day is to go a restaurant with your unattached friends and eat jjajang myun, or black noodles, and “mourn” the single life. Some even dress in all black.

I think it would be fun to celebrate some of the Black Day traditions, even though I’m obviously attached. I happen to like jjajang myun, although the rest of my family isn’t crazy about it. If you want to try this dish, you can find a recipe for it here.

Or if that doesn’t sound like something your family would enjoy, you can still recognize Black Day by having your kids work on this coloring sheet of kids eating jjajang myun on Black Day.


Can You Always “Grow Where You’re Planted”?

Note: This post delves into one of the parable’s Christ taught and what the Bible says about the above statement.

A popular saying in the adoption world these days is “grow where you’re planted.” The message seems to be that no matter where you were originally rooted, you can always be successfully replanted and grow in a new environment.

I personally have never been sure that this statement is true for everyone. Then recently I was reading about the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 (verses 3-8). While I know that Christ was talking about those who hear the gospel, I felt that the story has an application to adoption and the statement “grow where you’re planted.” For the sake of space, here’s my paraphrase of this parable.

This story is about a farmer who goes out to sow seed. Some seed fell beside the road and the birds ate it. Some seed fell on rocky ground and the seedlings sprang up quickly, but without deep soil in which to take root they died. Other seed fell among thorns (weeds), which choked the life out of the plant. And some fell on good soil and yielded a nice crop.

What follows is my adoption analogy on the parable of the sower. I’ve concentrated on international/transracial adoption since that’s what I know best. The different types of soil represent the different approaches of adoptive parents. The seed represents adoptees.

The Path–These are parents who believe that love is enough and that children who are adopted can be brought up exactly the same way biological children are raised. They don’t want to hear about race, diversity, or that their child is different. Children growing up with such parents may not feel they can or should talk about the difficult issues that face adoptees. Or they don’t have the language to discuss the issues because they’ve never been talked about in the home.

Rocky Soil–These are parents who do museum culture and believe it’s enough. It’s the once-a-year visit to an ethnic restaurant and learning ancient dances or musical performances. It might be going to culture camp once a year. There’s just enough soil to give the adoptee a start, but not enough depth for them to really grow and embrace who they are.

Thorny Soil–These parents “get” some part of the adoption equation. Maybe they understand the loss and trauma of adoption, but don’t understand the need for diversity in their child’s life. Or they embrace the culture, but don’t believe that early loss and trauma can continue to have an impact throughout a person’s life. The fact that the parents understand some things about adoption allows the adoptee to grow to a point. But once confronted with difficult issues like racism they don’t have the space to continue to grow because they can’t rely on their parents to really understand the issue.

Good soil–These are the parents that “get it.” They understand the loss and trauma, the need for diversity and role models, the importance of embracing the child’s culture, and the need to learn the language of the birth country. Are they perfect? Of course not. But they understand the whole package when it comes to adoption. They aren’t threatened by birth parents and they’re enthusiastic participants when it comes the child’s birth culture and language. They work to give their children a firm foundation by talking about adoption and embracing cultural activities and diversity from infancy. They do this as a family so as to not single out the adoptee. Then, as the child grows these parents allow the child to begin to take the lead.

Clearly in the parable told by Christ, some of the seed could not grow where it was planted. And it wasn’t the seeds fault that it fell in a place where it couldn’t sustain life. The seed had no choice at all about where it fell.

I believe it’s the same with adoption. I don’t believe all adoptees can grow fully where they are planted. The adoptee had no choice over the adoption or the family he was adopted into.

Think about plants–all plants need sun, water, and nourishment from the soil. But not all plants need exactly the same amounts of sun and water, or the same kind of nourishment. Adoptees are like plants; each one needs the right soil for them. And while the right soil isn’t the same for every adoptee, I bet there are some common denominators just like all plants need sun, light, and nourishment.

I feel one common denominator for adoptees is having an open, honest, and relaxed dialogue about adoption, birth families, and race. The key to being comfortable with this complex issues is to start early, even in infancy.

I can remember talking to my son about his birth mother in the first month or two he was home and it felt so awkward. I was just starting to feel like his mom and here I was talking to him about another mom. But those early talks allowed me to get past the awkwardness and now it’s normal and natural to talk about our son’s birth family.

Another common denominator is to live out embracing the child’s birth culture as a family. Children who were born in another country deserve to know about that culture but they also deserve to learn about it without it singling them out within the adoptive family. When we adopted our son, we became a multicultural family. And just as our son will learn the American culture in which he’s being raised, we felt that it was our duty and responsibility as parents to learn about the culture in which he was born. One of the greatest gifts I feel we can give our son is the language of his birth. But it’s not something we plan for him to do alone–my husband and I are learning the language to.

Adoption agencies, adoption experts, and adult adoptees are now teaching about and encouraging families to live out these common denominators. They’re educating about the importance of being open and honest not just about adoption and birth families but about issues like race. They’re encouraging families to live diverse lives and make sure children have role models and mentors of the same ethnicity. They’re asking families to embrace the child’s birth culture and help the children have a knowledge and understanding of that culture. And, if at possible, make sure the child learns his birth language, since language is such a key to making connections.

Those are the things that go into making sure our children have good soil in which to grow. By starting early, instead of waiting for our children to take the lead, we as parents are preparing the soil in which our kids will grow. But as they grow, each adoptee’s need and interest should guide the continued nourishment they receive. Some may need more talks about adoption; others may need more about race; while another might need to do more with the culture.

But before any growth can take place, the soil must be prepared and that’s our job as adoptive parents. Adoption experts are teaching about these preparations because they too know that without good soil, you really can’t “grow where you’re planted.”


Interesting Observation

Recently we were driving through the older part of town where the houses are very colorful. Our son was tired and bored so I told him to look at the houses and tell me what colors he saw. He called out pink, blue, green, yellow, and “skin.”

He said it several times so finally I asked what the color was of the houses that were “skin” color. “They were white, mom,” he said.

It made me kind of sad, actually. Last April, when our son was 3-and-a-half, he asked why our African American friends had dark brown skin. And thus began our talks about melanin and why people have different colors of skin. We read books like The Colors of Us, and I try to ensure that our bookshelf is filled with books that include people of all races. Our son knows his skin color is darker than my husband’s and mine.

Our inner circle of friends is very diverse–including African Americans, Latino, and Asian. But the community we live in is very white–about 75 percent. So, while whites are the minority at our son’s birthday party, his swim classes, preschool classes at the zoo, etc., are almost always filled with caucasian children. In fact, in those settings our son is usually the only child of color in the bunch.

I think he is beginning to see white as “normal” or starting to think that “most” skin is white.

So much that is being written today about raising adopted children includes the need for transracially adopted children to live in racially diverse areas and have friends, mentors, and role models who reflect their race. In the last two years my husband and I have become more educated about race and the part it plays in parenting a transracially adopted child. In fact, we’ve become so convinced of the importance of living in a racially diverse area that we’ve been looking to move to another state.

I had wondered if having a diverse inner circle of friends would compensate for living in such a white community. If my son’s remarks are any indication, which I believe they are, the answer to that question is definite no.

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: It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

Favorite Korean Movies-TV Shows

Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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2worlds1familyblog at gmail dot com

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