Archive for the 'Important Lessons for Adoptive Parents' Category


Blending Cultures: Too Much versus Too Little

I just read an article on that I thought was great so I had to share. It talks about ways of blending birth culture into your family and walking the line of too little versus going overboard. Here’s the link:

Certain readers who only know me online have accused our family of going overboard. But actually our lives very much resemble this article. Korean culture is a part of our daily lives. We know about and include modern Korean culture in our lives, as well as celebrate traditional Korean culture. We cook Korean food on a regular basis. J takes taekwondo and goes to Korean school. We’re all learning the language. He’s excited about visiting Korea in the near future. And he has mentors who can help him navigate what it means to be a Korean America as he grows.

But J’s life isn’t filled only with Korean culture. He’s very much American as well. He loves Chick-Fil-A, basketball, super heros, Disney movies, and spaghetti. Through homeschooling and vacations, he’s learning about other cultures as well and is currently fascinated with American Indians after a recent trip to New Mexico.

Our family has found a real balance that works for us. J loves his Koreanness and is proud of his heritage. He’s comfortable around people who look like him, as well as other people of color and Caucasians. I believe that these attitudes are a result of starting culture when he was very young. It’s always been a part of our family, and likely always will be. Of course, some things will change  and as J matures we’ll navigate the changes that come with age.

I encourage all adoptive families to make culture a part of their daily lives, and find a balance that works for them.


Be Part of the Solution

Today begins National Adoption Month (it’s November every year), and honestly my feelings about this celebration are conflicted. Yes, my family was built through adoption and I wouldn’t trade J for anything. But I’m wiser now.

For example, I just saw this on Facebook:

 There are 7 billion people in our world. Of these people, about 210 million are orphans. To put this into perspective, the population of the US is around 300 million. The 2011 US average price for a car is $30,000. The average cost of an international/domestic adoption is $30,000. November is National Adoption Month. Don’t just “think” about it. BE a part of the solution. Ask me about building or adding to your family through adoption.

Statements like this bother me because it’s my understanding that so many of those 210 million orphans (if that’s even a true statistic) don’t have to be classified as such. It’s not that many of these children don’t have parents; what they have are parents who for one reason or another can’t care for them. And since adopting I’ve learned that Americans often contribute to the circumstances that prevent these families from staying intact. Our consumerism spreads across the globe and changes lifestyles of those in other countries. (Note: The last chapter in Cheri Register’s book Are Those Kids Yours? talks about this fact, giving examples of how we help create these situations. The book maybe to 20 years old, but it’s still very relevant to the adoptive community.)

It’s not that I don’t think children deserve families–they definitely do. But I think first and foremost, children deserve to be with the families they were born into. Of course, not every birth family is equipped to parent children. I’m not saying that every child, regardless of circumstances, should be left with birth families.

What I’m saying is that I believe we, as Americans, should look first at what we can do to support keeping families together. That may sound like an American thinking they can dictate things to other countries, but that’s not how I feel either.

I believe that most parents want to keep their kids. And if there is something I can do to help that become a reality that is where I’ll put my time and money. Now I choose to “BE part of the solution” by supporting organizations that work to help these families who face hardships that might tear the family apart.

I’m not against adoption–there are definitely kids who need homes and those children should definitely have loving families. But a loving family doesn’t solve the problems. It doesn’t address the issues causing the break up of these families. Nor does it completely solve the issues for the child, since adoption is messy and comes with loss and trauma.

My prayer is that more families will become educated about the circumstances resulting in these “orphans.” And that instead of rushing in as savior, they instead begin looking to be part of the real solution–keeping families together.


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.


Homework and Tools

So, some of you already know that I participate in a couple of online forums/discussion board relating to transracial adoption. And sometimes my posts here come from something I’ve read on one of the other sites. That’s the case with this one.

A recent thread asked what do you wish you’d known before you adopted your child. My answer was that I wish I’d better understand that dealing with adoption issues would be a lifelong journey for our family, not something that required only an initial adjustment period. But it was a couple of other comments that spurred this post.

One member talked about having the right “tool” to help your child, and I love that idea. So many parents I interact with (both online and IRL) aren’t on an adoption continuing education program. They might have read a book or two before their child came home. Or maybe they feel like that raising an adopted child is in no way different from raising a biological one. Or I’ve also heard several times that “it didn’t matter how much I read because nothing prepared me for the reality anyway.”

So I loved the idea of having the right tool for your child. But to have the right tool, you must have a toolbox. And for adoptive parents that toolbox is education and knowledge.

Yes, every adopted child is unique and each one may need different tools and approaches. But the fact is that human nature is human nature, meaning that we all have many commonalities among us too. So even though our children are unique, we can learn ways to help them by reading books and blogs, attending seminars and classes, and listening to the stories of those who have gone before us. Then we file it all away so it’s accessible when issues do arise. Having that information tucked away means you’re more likely to recognize an issue for what it is (adoption-related) instead of passing it off as age or phases. Then you know where to go to get the right tool for the job.

Another mother said she felt prospective parents should be asked to do “homework” before their child comes home. In doing this homework they would be asked to locate resources in their area and online that will be helpful as they raise their child (ethnic community resources like cultural schools/camps, restaurants, markets;  therapists in the area that work with attachment; online resources about adoption and cultural information; and adoption support groups). Then once the child is home, the legwork has been done and the parents know where to turn for help. That’s an awesome idea!

It’s true that book learning isn’t going to completely prepare you for the real-life experience of adoption parenting. But in my opinion without book learning, you’ll be completely lost as an adoptive parent. Yes, I’m only four years into my adoption parent journey. But one thing I’ve learned is that without education, most of it coming since our child came home, I really have  no hope on becoming an expert on my own child. If I don’t understand the role that adoption, trauma, loss, and race play in his life, I can never truly understand him and what he’s going through. Without true understanding, I can’t really help him as he processes his experiences.

It’s only through continuing education that I understand some of the ideas and thoughts my son has about our current, very unsettled existence. Only because I’ve made a concerted effort to gain knowledge and understanding can I approach the job of parenting my son with the right tools.


Why Wait?

The process of international adoption seems to just get longer. And during the process, the wait is excruciating. But you know, the wait provides some wonderful opportunities too–opportunities to begin learning about and embracing your child’s birth culture.

While you have to wait until you’re matched with your child to begin lifebooks and nursery decorating, birth culture education can start as soon as you’ve identified the country that you’ll be adopting from. And the sooner the better, I think.

Our birth culture education began about three weeks into our process. An emphasis was put on embracing and honoring our child’s birth culture during our parents-in-process class, and we took the message to heart. Within a couple of weeks, we’d located and eaten at a Korean restaurant and started calling around looking for Korean language classes in our area. About a month after our class ended, we’d found someone to begin teaching us Korean.

And while we didn’t waste any time learning about Korea and it’s language, I still wish we’d done more. realistically I tell myself that we probably did just about all we could during our embarassingly-short wait (six months from seeing our son’s photo and starting our homestudy to bringing him home). But I wish I’d known more Korean–songs and phrases that might have been comforting to our son. I wish I’d know about jook, the porridge-like soup that babies eat in Korea. I wish we’d made more connections with our local Korean community.

Many families today have two- to five-year processes to adopt internationally. It seems like the perfect time to begin learning about the birth culture; just think of how much a person can learn in that time period. During the wait you want something to occupy your time. Not to mention once you have an adjusting baby or toddler at home, your time to learn new things will be limited for a while.  

But if you’re diligent about embracing the birth culture from the start, the birth culture can already be a part of your family by the time the child comes home. Cooking food from that culture could be second nature; just a regular part of your family’s menu. Family members could be regularly using words and phrases from the birth culture’s language. You could be well-versed in the birth culture’s etiquette, history, and pop culture (if the country is more modern), giving your family and especially the child you’re bringing home a wonderful foundation in the birth culture. And you already have friends and connections within the ethnic community that your child will be a part of.

So with the majority of the adoptive parenting advice these days noting the importance of embracing the birth culture, why aren’t more families taking advantage of the time they have before their child comes home to delve in? My thought is that most families don’t because they still see the birth culture as something for the adopted child to embrace, but not something that should be of interest to the whole family.

Adoption parenting is complex (yes, I know all parenting is complex, but adoption parenting has extra layers), and embracing the birth culture is an important part of that complexity. When we bring an international adoptee into our families, the family unit becomes multicultural and transracial. I think showing that we love our children’s birth cultures (even if it means working to learn to the love it) and making those cultures part of our everyday family life helps give our children a much-needed foundation that they’ll be able to build on as they grow.

After all, even as Americans, our children’s ethnicity and birth culture will continue to be part of who they are.  So we, as parents, should be leading by example and making it OK for our kids to embrace that part of themselves. And in the process, we can have a lot of fun learning about a new culture.


Crash Course in Transracial Parenting

Earlier this week John Raible had a great post over at his site. It was titled “Crash Course in Transracial Parenting.” In the introduction to the course, John writes:

While transracial adoption may be all the rage, most agencies still don’t provide a parenting manual for every white adopter of children of color. No matter how Rich or Famous the parent might happen to be!But you’re in luck. Here, free of charge, is a Crash Course for transracial adoptive parents. Think of it as your guide to getting the education that you will absolutely need in order to effectively and ethically raise an adopted child of color in the United States (and possibly in comparable white settler nations, such as Canada and Australia).

The post goes on to list resources (books, blogs, and movies) that John believes all parents of transracial adoptees should be using. And the source of most, if not all, of the resources on the list are adult adoptees. Yep, while many parents bristle when it comes to adult adoptees, the fact is that those who have been-there-done-that are the most qualified to help us on our journey.

During the last four years, I’ve seen a transformation in myself as an adoptive parent. And much of that transformation can be attributed to listening to adult adoptees (both IRL and those I keep up with through the Web). I think I’ll include more about my transformation in a separate post. But I found it interesting that I’d followed the path John suggests, even before the Crash Course was posted.

So if you’re parenting a transracially adopted child, I’d recommend reading over and going through the Crash Course. You’ll find it here:

Note that there are more resources listed in the comments of the post, including links or where to find some of the resources that John includes in his list. If you’d like company as you go through the Crash Course, some parents have started a blog that will serve as a discussion board for those going through the course. You’ll find that blog at:


A Window of Opportunity?

Today we had our first Korean class for adoptive families in our city. It’s a class run by Korean American teens as a way for adoptive families to make connections with each other and Korean American families, as well as provide role models for our kids. And it was AWESOME!

I’ve been looking forward to the class for two weeks now and sometimes when you build something up, you’re disappointed. But not so today; it lived up to every expectation. I love seeing my son in the midst of others who look like him–he thrives in those situations and today was no exception.

But lately I’ve heard from a few other families who’s kids are early to mid-elementary school age that their kids are resistant to culture and talk about adoption. And it’s made we wonder if we as adoptive parents have a window of opportunity in which to bring culture and adoption talk into our families so it’s just normal.

These families admit that their children have had limited exposure to their birth culture, language, and other Korean Americans. And that, while adoption talks have happened in their families, they didn’t start early. Now, as the parents are feeling more like these things should be a regular part of their family’s life, the children seem to have no interest, or are even hostile toward the subjects.

Counter that with a couple of other families I know who have, from the beginning, placed an emphasis on the family (all members, not just adoptees) learning the language, celebrating and observing birth culture, talking about adoption, and being around other Korean Americans. The 10-year-olds and 7-year-olds in these houses enjoy learning Korean and doing Korean things. They’re comfortable around other Korean Americans and seem comfortable talking about their adoption and birth families.

Is it personality? Or is it how the parents have approached these subjects? Nature? Nurture? A little of both?

It’s probably a little of both. But I do believe that the earlier you make birth culture, diversity, talks about adoption and race, part of your family, the more comfortable everyone will be with the subjects. I’ve heard many parents say, “If/when my child shows an interested in Korean things, language, etc., I’ll be happy to provide with them the opportunities they need. I’ll just wait for them to take the lead.”

But it seems to me that by the time they might be asking (7, 8, 9 years old) the door may be closing. They may feel that it’s not acceptable to talk about these subjects because their parents have never shown an interested. Or they may feel that to show an interest will only make them stand out from their family.

I believe another key is for everyone in the family to participate–singling out the adoptee to participate in events or learn the language just further separates him and shows again that he’s different from his other family members. Growing up I always hated it when adults seemed to expect more of me than they did of themselves. And I’ve tried to remember that in parenting.

So often you hear that you really parent by example–you can say something all day but if you’re not doing it, the words have little impact. I think the same logic applies to adoption issues, birth culture, and language. You need to set the example by doing those things yourself; by showing they are important to you.

It will be interesting to see what our son is like in three or four years. We’ve taken a very proactive approach to our parenting but only time will tell if the example we’re trying to set for our son will make a difference in how he feels as he grows.

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.

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

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