Archive for May, 2011


The Adoptive Parenting Puzzle

During my five years in the adoption community, there are a couple of things that I’ve heard over and over. One is “If my child shows an interest in (culture/language/birth family/etc.), we’ll certainly help him/her explore that.” Second is “There’s no right or wrong way to parent; not every kid needs the same things.” I believe I’ve posted my arguments against both of these statements before so no need to go into too much depth on those again. But the recent experiences we’ve had with our son have gotten me thinking about these statements again.

I’ve started to see parenting our son like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When our son came home, we began putting together the edge pieces of the puzzle starting with the corners: language, culture/customs, food, and adoption/race/birth family. We knew a few words and phrases in Korean and used them with our son from the day he came home, plus we listened to CDs and watched Korean kids’ shows. We celebrated our first Korean holiday together when our son had been home three weeks and observed certain customs and had Korean food as part of our celebration. And talking about J’s birth family started in the first days home too. As we’ve learned more Korean, tried new recipes, and explored the culture, we’ve added more edge pieces to our puzzle.

I feel like now the edge of the puzzle is pretty much in place; the foundation is there and now it’s time to build on it. At 5-and-a-half years old, J is helping us put more pieces of the puzzle into place. Based on the foundation provided by those edge pieces, he’s let us know that he needs more, which led us to taekwondo and Korean school.

Parenting an adopted child is an ongoing journey in experimentation, but I truly believe it all should start with those four corners of the puzzle: language, culture/customs, food, and birth family. Having the family participate in and embrace these “corners” is a way of embracing and accepting all of who the adoptee is. It acknowledges the child’s roots without separating the child from the rest of the family, provided that the whole family participates.

But not every child needs the same thing, some adoptive parents insist. That’s true, but that’s what makes these corners of the puzzle are even more important. Not every child will need the same thing, but I think every child needs to have exposure to these things so they can make informed decisions about what they do need. If you begin your puzzle with these corners (and whole family participation), you might find that what you’re doing is just right for your child. Or you might find that your child doesn’t even need as much as you’re doing. Or you might have a child like ours who has let us know that even with all we’ve been doing, it’s not enough for him. But no matter what message your child sends you, if you started early putting down these pieces of the puzzle, you’ll know that he is speaking with some knowledge about his needs.

I think a lot of parents don’t feel that their involvement in culture or language is very important. But I feel it’s vitally important, because I believe that parenting is 75 percent what you do and 25 percent what you say. There are so many facets to this for me. I believe that parents make things “normal” by talking about it and/or participating in it. In my life, leadership by example has always gotten the most results. I’ve never felt that I should ask more of my child than I ask of myself. If learning Korean is important for him, then it should be important for me too.

Sometimes I wonder where J would be if we’d parented him differently. If we’d waited for his to “be interested” in Korea, would he be where he is today–proud of his Koreanness and filled with love for his birth family? Would he be so open with us about his thoughts on adoption, his Korean family, or fitting in? We’ll never now the answers to that but I’m pretty happy with where he is right now so I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Those four foundational corners of our parenting have brought our family together in wonderful ways. Now I’m looking forward to seeing how we, with J’s guidance, fill in the rest of the puzzle pieces to reveal the picture of who J was created to be.


Revisiting “And So It Begins…”

In April I wrote a post about our son wishing he’d never left Korea. He said it a couple of times and once put it this way, “If you wanted me to be happy all the time, you would have left me in Korea.” These comments are never easy to hear as an adoptive parent, even if you know where they are coming from. But over the last six weeks or so lots of things have changed and, as I’ve had more time to reflect more on his comments, I’ve come to some interesting conclusions.

First, those comments pushed us to make more contact with the local Korean American community, which is something we’ve known we needed to do but it’s hard and we hadn’t put in the effort we should have. So now J is taking taekwondo from a Korean American master and is getting to see other Korean Americans on a daily basis. J also attended the last four weeks of our local Korean American school’s spring semester as a trial to see if he’d like to attend full-time in the fall. We’ve had friends whose adopted children have had less-than-positive experiences at the school, but our son loved it and is excited to go full-time in the fall. The school is a mixture of full Korean American families, biracial families, and adoptive families. It’s great that J is getting to see the variety of Korean American families that are out there.

And since making these new connections, we haven’t had any more comments about wishing he’d never left Korea, although J’s continued to say he wants to visit Korea. The month before those comments had been a stressful one with the death of my father-in-law and an unplanned visit to Arkansas for the funeral. While the circumstances of that trip were stressful, I think being round the extended family also just emphasized to J how he’s different, which lead to comments that he needed to be where he “fit.”

Even if I “get” where the comments were coming from, I’m thankful that I believe now he’s feeling more like he belongs here–both in America and in our family. But I’ve also started to look at the comments he made from a different perspective. As I reflected on them one day, I realized that most transracially-adopted kids make similar comments at this age, only they often come from a little different perspective. Most, it seems, say things like, “I wish I looked like  you” or “I wish I had hair like you, Mom” or “I wish I’d grown in your tummy.” They aren’t saying they wished they’d never left their birth countries, but they are still commenting on the desire to fit in.

Our son’s comments about desiring to fit in just took a different direction. And I’ve decided I prefer his direction.  Not because I want him to think he doesn’t belong, but because I believe his take on it says that he’s comfortable being of Korean descent. He didn’t desire to look like my husband or I to fit in; no, he desired to go where he knew he’d look like everyone else as his solution to fitting in. And I think in some ways that has to be healthy. To me it says that he’s got a healthy self-esteem in being Korean, which if you read here much you know he’s really into.

Once he leaves the nest society at-large will see him first as Korean (Asian) American so we’ve always thought it’s important that he knows what that means and is comfortable with it. I’ve never wanted him to think he’s white or wish he were. And as I thought on it more, I think his comments said that thus far we’ve helped him build that foundation of positive self-esteem in his Koreaness, as much as they said that he felt he didn’t really fit in.

That’s not to say that we could just sit back and not address his feelings in some way. I think it said to us that we’ve done OK so far, but that now it’s time to take it to the next step. That we’ve laid a foundation but now we NEED others–those who are Korean American–to help us as Jcontinues to build his view of self.

Which is why I’m so, so thankful for the opportunities God has brought into our lives in the last few weeks at just the time we needed them. I know this job of parenting a transracial adoptee isn’t something my husband and I can do alone. And I’m so thankful to be making connections that will allow us, as a family, to become a part of our son’s ethnic community, and ultimately help him on his journey.


Just Get Over It

I try not to rant very often these days, but a recent discussion on a forum I read has me thinking and I just have to get it out.

The discussion centers around the blog post found here: I recommend reading it but the gist of the post is that the adoptee never felt that she fit in with her family, which included biological children of her adoptive parents. After her experience, and the experience of other adoptees that she knows, this adult adoptee has concluded that it’s not in the adopted child’s best interest to mix adopted children with biological children in a family. Many adult adoptees left comments on this post expressing similar experiences and concerns.

But many of the comments on the adoptive parents’ discussion board went the way of “she should just get over it” or “I know an adoptee who doesn’t feel this way at all” or “everybody gets picked on for something so why should she whine about it.”

Honestly, these comments are why the adult adoptee community often doesn’t want to interact with APs. Instead of listening and keeping our mouths shut, and preparing for what our future might hold, we have to defend ourselves and the decisions we’ve made. We have to make it about us, which was one of the things that this blogger notes in the first few paragraphs and ironically was one of the comments that  most riled the adoptive parents. Here’s the statement the blogger makes to adoptive parents:

Be calm, this isn’t about what is in your best interest, this post is about what is in the best interests of the child and while I understand that is on the very bottom of the list of what adoptive parents care about, I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. Too often I hear about what is supposed to be in the best interest of the child but if you look deep, it is almost always about the adoptive parents pursuing their dreams. There seems to be much more concern about if the child will fit into the family than if that family is the best one for a particular child but that is its own post.

“What?” APs said. “Us not have our child’s best interest at heart? Well, of course, we do; having a family is what’s in the child’s best interest.” I summarized that quote, but essentially that’s what many of the parents said.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know that’s not what I believe. While, yes, having a family is in a child’s best interest, I don’t believe that adoption is always in the child’s best interest and I believe that at heart adopting often comes from selfish motives on the part of the parents. I struggle with the part adoptive parents play in creating a “demand” for children to be placed and with the less-than-ethically dealings that this “demand” can lead to (everything from manipulation to human trafficking).

My reaction to blog posts such as the one linked to is to pretend  it is my son saying these things. What would I say to him? Would I tell him to “just get over it?” Would I tell him that “Johnny” is adopted and doesn’t feel this way so why should he? Would I go into all of the injustices I’ve experienced in my life to show him that he’s not hurting any more than anyone else has?

No, that’s not what I would do, and I don’t believe it’s what most parents would do in dealing with their own children. But they so quick to say those very things to other people’s children because it’s easier to discount these feelings that adult adoptees have than it is to listen, take note, file it away, and be prepared if their child says something similar someday. It’s easier to ignore the feelings of other people’s children, put blinders on, and believe in the mantra “not my child/not my family.”

Given that attitude, it’s hard for me to believe that some APs do have their child’s interests at heart. Parenting is hard; parenting an adopted child adds another layer of hard to the parenting equation. But for me it’s better to prepared for those issues, if they come up, than it is to be blindsided. In today’s adoption community, there’s not excuse for being blindsided; there simply too much information out there in every form imaginable. If in five or 10 years some of these parents are blindsided by adoption issues, it will be because they chose to stick their heads in the sand and ignore all of the information that could have left them prepared.

And how sad it is that more adoptees will have to struggle with parents who are defensive, uneducated about adoption issues, and who generally are not allies for their children on this journey that is life as an adoptee. If not us, maybe the next generation of adoptive parents. Or better yet, maybe in the future there will be so little need for adoption, including international adoption, that none of this will be an issue.

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