Archive for February, 2011


I Want to Look Like… Big Bang

So today I had an interesting conversation with J that gave me some insight into how he sees himself. Bear with me as I recount it; it will get around to racial identity eventually.

J: Mom, does God look like me?
Me: Well, God doesn’t really look like a person.
J: But someday we’ll see him, then he’ll be a person.
Me: Yes, someday we’ll see God but when we do won’t look like we do now. The Bible tells us we’ll have new bodies but not what they will look like.
J: Oh. Do you think there will be mirrors in heaven?
Me: I don’t know. Why?
J: Because I want to see if I look like T.O.P. when I’m in heaven. That’s what I hope I look like there.

How, you ask, does this have anything to do with racial identity? Well, because T.O.P. is a Korean singer/rapper who is part of J’s favorite Korean band, Big Bang.

As I’ve learned more about racial identity development, I’ve wondered how J will be affected with so few Asian’s in the U.S. entertainment industry, and those who are often limited by bad stereotypes. Yes, I realize that kids should have role models whom they know and interact with and not idolize entertainers. And hopefully, as J grows he will have those real, tangible role models. But the fact is, like it or not, we do look up to entertainers.  

If his favorite entertainers are white and, given that his family is also white, will he wish he were white too? I’ve always hoped he never wishes that. So when he said he wanted to look like T.O.P., I was proud.

I’m sure that some parents question our decision to let our 5-year-old son listen to Korean hip-hop music. We do closely monitor the lyrics of the songs he hears, but really we feel that he’s gaining so much from this interest. He’s seeing five Korean young men who are successful, talented, and seen as attractive. And he’s hearing Korean for at least an hour every day, and is learning new words and phrases while listening (why the monitoring of lyrics is important).

Plus, we feel that we’re just letting our son be who he is. Even as a baby in Korea, he loved Korean popular music. Big Bang isn’t something we pushed on him. We showed him one video during the World Cup, and he took it from there. He asked to see that video again and again, then asked if they sang anything else.

That was June. Now eight months later, J’s love of Big Bang is probably stronger than ever. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.


Some of the Best Words Ever

Yesterday I opened my e-mail to find these words: “Dear _______ family, attached is a letter and photos from J’s birth family.” In my book those are some of the best words ever!

This is the second letter and set of photos we’ve received from the family, coming just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the first letter we received. This letter included more personal information, which was wonderful.

After almost a year, we’d begun to wonder if we’d receive another letter. But based on this letter, it seems the relationship is going to continue. Since J is young he doesn’t really understand the significance of this. But I know someday he will treasure the information and photos he’s receiving.

We didn’t start out thinking that we’d have a semi-open adoption. In the beginning it was really intimidating to think about. It was hard to talk about another family and another mother; it was awkward and not natural. But we began talking with J about his Korean family from the first week home. By the time he was old enough to be to really understand these conversations, they were totally natural to us.

Now that J’s beginning to process adoption and what it means, I’m so thankful we followed the approach we did. He’s completely comfortable telling me he misses his Korean mom and wondering aloud if someday he’ll live in Korea. And those statements don’t faze me or make me question his love for us. I roll with it and encourage him to tell us whatever he’s thinking.

We hope that someday in the next couple of years we’ll be able to meet J’s Korean family. We want these connections to be there because who knows what the future holds. Then as J grows he can decide what to do with the connections.


Raible’s “Letter to a Lucky Adoptee”

There are many blogs that I frequent, some done by adoptees and others by adoptive parents. One of my favorites is John Raible Online. Many of my thoughts have been challenged by this blog, and I’ve learned so much from him over the years. His latest post is one of the best. It’s titled “Letter to a Lucky Adoptee” and is addressed to the Transracial Adoptee of the 21st Century.

While I highly recommend you read the post for yourself, I want to summarize it here. The letter begins talking about how hard Raible and other transracial adoptees of his generation had it. How they were mostly raised in all-white communities, rarely knew other transracial adoptees or people of color, and struggled to find where they fit as they grew into adulthood. It goes on to say how much better adoptees of this generation have it since their parents are taught about race, culture, diversity, and identity development, and embrace those messages. Basically how since today’s adoptive parents are being so proactive in parenting their transracial adoptees that some of the sting is taken out of adoption.

I don’t know if Raible intended for this post to be dripping with sarcasm but that’s how I read it based on my own experience. As I sit here, I’m wondering if there is any way to get a good-size group of adoptive Korean families in my area involved in some cultural opportunities that have presented themselves to us. There is a good-size number of families, but only a handful are interested in culture.

Honestly for the last four-plus years, I’ve thought that most adoptive families would do culture if it were made easy for them. I happen to love research and I have a naturally curious nature. I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. But I realize that not everyone is like that.

Still I thought that even if most adoptive parents aren’t like me, that they at least understood the importance of diversity, understanding birth culture, learning the language, and interacting with the local ethnic community that their child is a part of. I thought they would give weight to what adult adoptees are saying; to what therapist who work in the adoptive community are saying; and that they would provide those things even if it’s not easy. I think I was wrong.

Of course, there are probably more adoptive families than ever embracing the messages they are hearing. And that’s so wonderful! I run across families online all the time who are being proactive in their adoption parenting. But from my overall experience, it doesn’t seem the message has hit its mark across the board. When I hear APs completely discount the “experts” in the adoption field (adoptees, social workers, therapists) because “who knows, in another 20 years they could be telling parents their children should just assimilate again,” I feel that the understanding of these messages just isn’t getting through to enough parents to really make a difference for this generation of adoptees.

Yes, it’s true that “expert” recommendations come and go. Eggs are bad for you; no, eggs are really good for you. I get that. But I don’t believe the message that adoption experts are sending to today’s adoptive parents are going to slide backward. I think it’s more like child safety laws. Can anyone picture us returning to the mindset that safety seats aren’t needed in cars and that kids shouldn’t wear protective gear when riding bikes? Of course not, because instead of loosening these guidelines, they are becoming more stringent with time. Now kids shouldn’t just be in car seats but they should be in them longer and even rear facing longer if possible. That’s because the more we learn about the impact these safety devices have on our kids, the more important they become.

In just my five years in the adoption community, I’ve seen the same thing happening with the messages from the experts. Instead of loosening back up and leaning toward assimilation and “love is enough” again, they are becoming more focused on diversity and the importance of it. When we started our journey, we were encouraged to embrace our son’s birth culture and to understand what it would be like to be the only Korean in the family.

Now when I read books, blogs, and magazine articles written by these experts, APs are being encouraged to move to more diverse communities, to attend churches and schools in which their children are reflected, and to become a part of the ethnic community their children are a part of. The message isn’t becoming more lenient.

And, yes, I do understand that proactive adoption parenting is hard work. It’s work for me too. There are days I wish I could ignore the messages I’m receiving and not deal with culture, race, adoption issues, and diversity. It would be so much easier to not worry about my son being the only child of color in any given situation and to tell myself that it won’t be an issue for him. But I can’t do that because I believe it does matter.

This type of parenting doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. You, the parent, have to make culture, language, diversity, and dealing with adoption issues head-on a priority for your family. It the midst of school, sports, other extracurricular activities, and everything else you have going on, you have to put culture, language, diversity, etc., at the top of your priority list.

My hope, my prayer, for adoptive families is that more parents begin to understand and embrace the messages they are receiving. That the next generation of adoptees can have it better than past generations because their parents were willing to do the work. After all, it was the parents who knowingly signed up for the adoptive parenting journey, not the child.


Adoption Shouldn’t Be a Ministry

I’m not really sure how to start this post, but it’s something that’s been weighing on my mind. And I know that many people will not agree with what I have to say. But I don’t believe adoption should be a ministry.

Many churches and religious organizations are encouraging and promoting adoption as a Christian ministry. And while it’s true that the Bible calls us to care for the widows and orphans, I don’t think adoption is always the best way to go about doing that.

Why, you ask? Because today’s orphan is often caught up in extremely complicated social, political, and economic situations. Very few of the much touted “147 million” orphans in the world are “true” orphans. Most have a living parent or even both parents living. But for reasons possibly beyond their control, these  biological parents can’t parent their children.

After reading Cheri Register’s book Are Those Kids Yours? I gained a better understanding of role that our country–our consumer-driven society–often plays in creating these economic, political, and social situations even in other countries that leave parents unable to raise their children. Then, of course, there’s the almost obscene amount of money that changes hands in the adoption process, leaving it hard for me to say that adoption isn’t a big business.

That fact is when I see adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents wearing shirts that say “147 million -1” or “Adoption Rocks” I cringe. When parents compare the adoption that Christians have into God’s family with an earthly adoption, I wonder if the parents truly understand what earthly adoption means to the child.

Adoption cannot exist without loss. An international adoptee loses not only a family, but a culture, a language, and possibly the chance to grow up in a culture where their ethnicity wouldn’t become an issue. Almost all adoptees lose access to their medical histories. While adoption is a wonderful gain for the adoptive parents, it’s a mixed bag for our kids.

I’ve read the stories of many adult adoptees who say they hated that their parents thought they were “saving” an orphan. These adoptees didn’t want to be “ministries;” they didn’t want to be reminded that they were saved. That meant that they needed to be thankful and should never question the “whys” of their adoption.

I realize that not all biological parents are ready or able to actually parent the children they bring into this world. I realize that adoption has a place in our world. But I also believe that if we worked harder at helping to fix economic, political, and social situations in the world, many of these 147 million “orphans” could stay with the families they are born into. Families that love them.

Adoption has so many layers. Am I thankful for my son? Absolutely. But to me adoption doesn’t rock. He’s not a ministry and I didn’t save him from anything. I have no way of knowing what his life would have been like in Korea. He’s my son, but only because another mother had to make a terrible choice.

My hope, my prayer, is that in my lifetime that number–147 million–will be A LOT less. But not because these “orphans” found homes through adoption. No, my prayer is that by caring about humanity in general, including those who live outside our country’s borders, we can help more children stay with the families they were born to be a part of.


Because I’m the Parent, and I…

said so! How many of us hated this response from our parents? I sure did. I wanted reasons, and I try to not use this response and instead provide reasons why things should be done. But the fact remains that I am the parent, and most of the time I do know best, at this point in our son’s life.

Several times everyday I require my son to do things he doesn’t really want to do. I make him try new foods. Get dressed instead of staying his PJs all day. Play independently. Pick up his toys. Brush his teeth. Be respectful in how he speaks and treats others. And the list goes on, as I’m sure it does for most parents. And why do we require these things of our children? Because we’re trying to help them become well-rounded, responsible, considerate, and content adults who understand who they are and what place they hold in the world.

So why do so many adoptive parents think differently about their child’s birth culture? I hear so many parents talk about how their child doesn’t want to do this or that when it comes to birth culture so they just let it go, and let the child’s interest guide them. Not at our house.

I guess I’m a bit of a “tiger mom;” some things aren’t negotiable in our house. (And no, I don’t condone the whole “tiger mom” persona, like calling your child names.) Learning Korean isn’t negotiable in our house. Our son will learn the language of his birth culture, as will the rest of the family. How we learn and when we study, those are negotiable. Learning about Korean history, geography, and culture aren’t negotiable for our family. Again how we do this is negotiable.

Do some adoptive parents feel that they CAN’T require these things of their kids because it’s not their culture? Or do they just not feel comfortable teaching something they didn’t grow up with? Or are they just not interested in learning it themselves so they can teach their kids?

I don’t know the answer. But, just as I don’t think most children would make good nutritional choices if left to make their own decisions, I don’t think young children can know what their needs are when it comes to knowing and understand their birth culture.

That’s why we as parents must embrace the birth cultures and languages of our children. I truly believe that parenting is 75 percent example, and 25 percent instruction (words). If we set the example, if we show an interest and a passion, I believe our kids will too. After all those cultures and languages are part of who are children are; where they come from is part of them. By embracing it, we’re embracing and accepting our children on a whole new level.

Will they fight it at times? Probably. Our son at 5 is already saying some days that he doesn’t want to study Korean. But we do it anyway. And someday, I believe, he’ll be thankful we did.


Therapy Is Good

After almost two years of struggling with moderate issues, last week we visited an attachment therapist. Of course doing all of the reading we do, we knew going in that J didn’t have major problems. But for the last two years, seemingly slight changes have caused disruptions for our son. Things like Santa Claus. 

We tried to do the Santa thing, thinking it would be fun. But this year, thinking someone could come in our house through the chimney proved to be more scary than fun. When things didn’t get better for J after Christmas, we told him the truth about Santa. And it did get better.

Then my husband, who’s been unemployed for eight months, started a new job. And the insecurities came back again.

So we felt we finally needed to talk with someone about it. And I’m so glad we did. Here are few things I learned in our first session.

* All adopted children have attachment issues to some degree. For some kids, attachment parenting in those first months (or years) home may be enough. Others have severe problems and are diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. Many are like our son and struggle during times of change and independence.

* While our son’s issues aren’t critical now, left undealt with the therapist said they could set our son up for dependent relationships later in life. That means that he could be dependent on others  to define who he is–be it a girlfriend or a gang.

* What we’re striving for isn’t independence but autonomy. The person who is autonomous is self-sufficient and emotionally stable. This person understands that whether or not he is physically close to those he loves, he’s still connected to them through the love they share.

And he gave us some wonderfully simple techniques to help strength the connection we already have. These techniques (we’re calling them games with our son) are things like having our son listen to our heartbeats (since that’s where connection begins in the womb) and making eye contact. He also suggested things like playing board games and hide and seek and having J draw pictures about his fears.

One thing that amazes me is how so many of the things the therapist suggested were things that our son loves to do already. He loves to play board games and hide and seek. He spends at least an hour every day drawing pictures, sometimes of the things that scare him as well as the things he loves. It made me wonder if, in his interests, J was showing his craving for deeper connections.

In the last week I’ve seen improvements, especially on the days that we follow the therapist’s advice to the letter. Even though it was a little intimidating at first, I’m so glad we made the appointment. It showed me that even though I’ve educated myself about attachment and adoptions issues, there may be times when we need help. And it’s OK to ask for that help; our family will be better for it in the long run.

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