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.

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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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