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.

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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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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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