Archive for the 'review of book or movie' Category


The Whole Life Adoption Book

Are you considering adoption as a way of building your family? Are you just starting the process? How much do you really know about parenting an adopted child? Are you planning to adopt transracial; if so, are you prepared to educate your child about race and racism? If you are considering adoption, then I have just the book to recommend to you. It’s The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne E. Schooler.

I just recently found this book, the original version fo which was published in 1993. In 2008, a revised and updated was published. This review is based on the 1993, which I still feel is an excellent resource for adoptive families, especially those just thinking about adoption or early in the process. This book will lay the foundation of the unique parenting journey you are considering.

The book is divided into four parents. The chapters in Part One deal with the unique challenges adoptive parents face, give 10 critical factors for success in building a healthy adoptive family, and talk about how to parent your family and friends for this journey. Part Two deals with attachment and strategies you can use to ease the transition for your child. Part Three covers communicating about adoption, including critical questions and answers for both parents and children and talking with our children about adoption. Then Part Four delves into growing up adopted, including giving our children what they need, helping teens resolve painful issues, birth family searches, and the special challenges that transracial adoption brings.

My favorite part of the book is The Cultural Heritage Plan by Pamela Severs. This plan lays out racial or cultural root activities that families can do from infancy through the teen years. The plan includes establishing relationships with people who share your child’s racial and cultural background; providing culturally appropriate toys, books, and puzzles; introducing culturally appropriate magazines; learning the child’s language of origin; and so much more.

This is one resource I wish I’d had when we were in process. It covers so much of the very important topics that touch the lives of adoptive families. Even if you’re an experienced adoptive family, I think you can still learn from this book. While I’ve already learned many of the lessons in this book (some of them the hard way), it was still a great refresher for me. Not to mention our family can use the Cultural Heritage Plan for years to come.

I encourage you to check this one out, no matter where you are on your adoption journey. I found the 1993 version at our library, but you can buy the revised and updated version from In comparing the Table of Contents of the two editions, it appears that the chapter on transracial parenting is not included in the updated version. However, after reading one of the reviews it seems that there is extensive coverage of intercountry adoption in the new volume, but I can’t attest to that personally.


Culture Keeping

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that honoring our son’s Korean heritage is an important part of our family life. So for a while I’ve been wondering what Heather Jacobson found when she researched the culture keeping of Chinese and Russian adoptive families. She wrote about her findings in Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference. I found the results fascinating.

The book has six chapters covering how families choose a country when considering international adoption, the purpose behind culturing keeping, negotiating the differences within the family, handling being in the public eye, and her conclusion. I found chapter four, “Negotiating and Normalizing Difference,” to be the most fascinating since it really got the heart of feelings about race and culture.

Basically our family’s attitude about identity, race, and culture didn’t fit with either the Chinese group of adoptive families or the Russian ones.

What Jacobson found was that most families in the Chinese group practiced culture keeping but largely “did” culture through consumerism and group activities with other families that had adopted children from China. This group saw their children’s activities and identities as either American (sports, things that fit in with society) or Chinese (like Chinese school, learning Chinese dances, etc.); few saw their children as Chinese Americans. The families had little, if any, contact with the Chinese American community and when sought the mothers tended to prefer interacting with recent immigrants who they viewed as “more Chinese” but largely saw such interaction as resources, not friends. Jacobson found that the Chinese families didn’t live in diverse areas and their inner circles were very diverse. The mothers largely saw culture keeping as a way of building their children’s self-esteem as a person of color without having to discuss or deal with race.

The Russian group largely didn’t “do” culture. Those who did already celebrated the heritage of the family (such as Irish or Czech) and simply added Russian heritage to the mix. When culture was done, it was done at home as a family, not usually with groups of other Russian adoptive families. Race, of course, didn’t play a large part in the lives of the Russian families since the children mostly were able to blend and share in the privilege of being the majority race in America. Many of the Russian mothers went out of their way to avoid the mention of race. One even went so far as to mention “transcultural” adoption when talking about “transracial” adoption, not realizing that she was actually part of a “transcultural adoption” since her son was born in Russia.

Both groups talked about being aware and leery of doing things that make their children feel different.

In fact one of the Russian adoptive moms was “baffled by the ‘extreme’ culture keeping of friends with children from Korea. She thought her friends were ‘obsessed’ with Korean culture keeping because ‘they’ve gone to the Korean church’ and ‘they went and learned Korean.’ She was ‘bewildered by the fact that her friends ‘completely’ changed decor of their house to a Korean-style theme. She thought a more appropriate approach would have been to limit the Korean decorations to the child’s room.”

As I read that, especially the last sentence, I was amazed. Wouldn’t singling out the adopted child by having only the adopted family member practice and learn about Korean culture do more to make the child feel different and separate from the family? That’s what we’ve always felt.

I found it fascinating how really most of culture keeping or lack thereof came down to race. The Chinese families felt it necessary because their adoptions were obvious and there are certain expectations to be met (knowing how to use chop sticks, speaking Chinese). Russian families felt it wasn’t as necessary because their children blend in.

In her conclusion, Jacobson writes:

“Whiteness and white privilege both give structure to race in the United States and are invisible to those who benefit. Whiteness became visible to the mothers in my study when they adopted across ethnicity and kinship. Through adopting internationally, these women because consciously ‘raced’–consciously white–even as their families lost biological white privilege. This increased visibility, however, created an anxiety centering on that lost privilege. This anxiety was displayed in a focus on finding a ‘correct’ balance between emphasizing birth culture and (adoptive) family, between ‘American-ness’ and ‘Chinese-ness’ or ‘Russian-ness,’ and between whiteness cast as normalcy and culture cast as difference.”

This last sentence defines the difference between our family and the families in the study (and possibly most of the transracial, transnational adoptive families out there). Our son’s birth culture is now part of our family; our son is Korean American in everything he does because that’s his whole identity; and the fact that I feel he views white as normal scares me and shows me the need for more diversity in our lives.

The fact that we don’t want our son growing up feeling “white is right” makes us want to form meaning, close relationships with people of the Korean American community and members of other ethnic groups as well. And I don’t feel that I can learn all I need to know about how to parent a child of color from my white fellow adoptive parents (which was how most of the Chinese adoptive moms felt).

In the past, I’ve envied Chinese adoptive families because they seem to have such a focus on culture that I don’t see in the Korean adoptive family community. While our family and we as parents are far from perfect, this book showed me that I’d rather stick with my views and try to achieve the life we feel us best for our family, even if it puts me outside the “norm” when it comes to views on cultural keeping.


Dreaming a World: Korean birth mothers tell their stories

I just finished reading Dreaming a World, edited by Sangsoon Han, which is a follow-up to I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. I read the first book while we were waiting for our son to come home, and it moved me to tears. Dreaming a World has just been published by Yeong & Yeong Book Co.

This book is equally good; in fact, I think I might have liked Dreaming a World a little better than the first book. Looking at the situation from an American prospective, it’s hard to understand the prejudice and discrimination that an unwed mother and her child face in Korea. This book brought to light those difficulties. Many of the stories are more recent, and each birth mother letter/story is followed by an update by the book’s editor, who is the director of Ae Ran Won (a home for unwed mothers in Seoul). Since after reading each story you feel like you know the woman, it was nice to read an update and see how they were progressing.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is that not all of the birth mothers whose stories were printed chose adoption, and a couple of the stories involved domestic adoption (within Korea). It was interesting to read the stories of the women who chose to parent and see an open adoption in Korea, which is rare.

One stories that really touch me was a young woman who went into labor but was refused delivery at two hospitals because she was alone (no husband or parents). Even when a friend and her mother came to serve as her guardian, one hospital refused to deliver the baby because the guardians must be relatives.

Another theme  I saw in many of the stories was that the birth mothers chose international adoption mainly to have a more open relationship with the adoptive families. Several of the birth mothers stated that since there is a prejudice against adoption in Korea, they felt that a domestic adoption would be close with little to no hope of receiving updates on the child or getting to meet the child in the future. International adoption, they felt, would afford them a chance to receive updates, photos, and meet at some point. The thought of meeting their children spurred the birth mothers on to better their lives, even in the face of hardships.

No matter which choice the mother made, each agonized over doing what would be best. Some felt parenting would be a selfish act since children without fathers have a difficult time in Korea. Others decided to face the hardships head on in hopes of someday being a part of changing attitudes in the country. Each woman loved her child and made the decision she felt was best for her and for her child.

Someday I’ll have my son read Dreaming a World and I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. Both books are great resources in helping Korean adoptees understand the role society’s attitudes play in adoption placement.


A Million and a Half Ways–A Lesson in Adoption Parenting

I recently saw this quote on a friend’s Facebook page, “The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” — Jill Churchill

Well, if there are 1 million ways to be a good parent to biological kids, I believe there must be 1.5 million ways to be a good adoptive parent. Parenting an adopted child, as I’ve said before, is just different. Honestly, bio children would probably be better off if their parents learned the things that adoptive parents are taught. So much of adoptive parenting is about being in-tune with your child and being honest and open with them. And what child couldn’t benefit from that type of parental relationship.

I’ve just finished reading Sherrie Eldridge’s newest book, 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed. It’s now on my “must read” list for adoptive parents. If you’ve done much reading on adoption, you’ll be familiar with most of the 20 things. But Eldridge’s book pulls so much information together–about grief, honesty, birth parents, hope, mixed feelings, and so much more.

Every chapter ends with a couple of sections that are the real jewels of this book, in my opinion. One of those sections titled “Listen to Your Child’s Heart” describes how your adopted children may feel about that chapter’s subject as a child, teen, and adult. Next comes the “Draw Closer–Action Steps for Parents and Kids” section. This section describes activities, books, and conversations that can help us foster intimacy with our children. And lastly, each chapter ends with a page of Support Group Discussion Questions, which make this an excellent choice for an adoption-related book club.

Many of the messages in Eldridge’s book are hard for adoptive parents to hear. But the book doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate for the journey. It leaves you feeling empowered, having given you tools and resources to assist in on your unique parenting journey.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that our son has been struggling off and on since last spring with his permanence in our family. As I’ve asked around, I’ve found that some of his questions may be age-related, as children around age 4 start trying to figure out how each member of the family fits (my mom is his grandmother, for example). But my gut has been telling me it’s something more.

My heart aches each time my son asks me to “protect” him, usually when he’s only going to the next room in the house. He’s definitely attached to me and my husband, but it seems to me that his connection is strained and he doesn’t feel as secure as could. After reading books like Eldridge’s and Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen, I understand better what types of situations may cause strain on J’s connection to us. Gaining independence is one such situation, which is exactly what 4-year-old yearn to do. I think for our son that yearning is causing mixed feelings–“I want to do it by myself but doing that means moving away from needing my parents, which I don’t want to do.”

But having a strained connection was something I had no understanding of when we were early in our adoption journey. Like many parents, I thought once we’d formed a bond with our son, we were good to go. Now I know that adoption parenting isn’t that easy and goes far beyond forming that initial bond.

It’s really about those 1.5 million things you can do to best parent your child. In general some of those things when parenting a transracial adoptee are understanding race and racism; being open about loss and trauma of adoption; being willing to put yourself in situations where you are the minority; helping your child form a connection with his birth country and language; and understanding that love is not enough.

It’s true that not every adoptee will need the same things. Effective adoptive parenting, I believe, comes when you’re educated enough to know how your child might feel in certain situations or about certain issues; when you can recognize a reaction for what it truly is, instead of passing it off as “too sensitive” or “ridiculous.”

Pre-adoption education is great, but it’s just the beginning. Once your child is home your education MUST continue. Read books about adoption, especially those that are hardest to read. Read blogs by adult adoptees. Learn all you can about how what adoptees are thinking.

That’s how you’ll find the 1.5 million ways you can be a good parent to your child or children.


Fugitive Visions

I love that adult adoptees are speaking out as never before. They’re finding their voices, relating their experiences, and becoming a vital part of the conservation on international adoption. And I’m thankful because good experiences or bad, I can learn from them. At this point, I have no idea how my son will feel about adoption when he’s older. But these adoptees give a glimpse into their feelings so I have a better understanding of the emotions and thoughts that many adoptees have.

That’s why I was so interested to read, Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea by Jane Jeong Trenka. A couple of years ago, I’d read Trenka’s first book, Language of Blood. But that memoir ended before she had returned to live in Korea. Trenka has been outspoken in her criticism of international adoption and currently works with TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoptive Community in Korea) to advocate for adoptee rights. This is one author some adoptive parents want to avoid. But honestly I find I learn the most from listening to the stories that are hardest to hear.

And Trenka’s story is, in many ways, hard to hear. As an adoptive parent you don’t want to imagine a future in which your child is no longer speaking to you. (Trenka hasn’t seen or spoken to her American parents in years).

As an adoptive parent, you don’t want to hear how Trenka feels as if she fits nowhere. In culture and attitude she’s American. Yet as an Asian American she’s never felt fully accepted in the US. In biology she’s Korean. Yet unlike Koreans who have grown up in Korean families, she doesn’t speak the same language or know the cultural nuisances of Korea.

We don’t want to imagine a future in which our children struggle. All parents want life to be easy for their children, yet there’s little about adoption and growing up in a multiracial family that is easy.

Fugitive Visions chronicles Trenka’s return to Korea to live. While the first book was about growing up in a predominately white town in Minnesota, this book touches on that as well. It includes Trenka’s reconnection with her older sister (the two were adopted together into the same American family). It discusses her relationships with her biological family and with other adoptees who are living in Korea. Here are some things from this memoir that stood out to me.

After struggling with her relationship with her mother, as an adult Trenka wanted to make peace with her mom. “I told her how it was growing up in that town, how profoundly painful and lonely it was in all that whiteness, and I asked her why she didn’t stand up for me and she said, ‘So what, all kids are mean, everyone gets teased, if they didn’t tease you for being Korean they would have teased you for something else like being fat, so why do you expect special treatment.’ At that moment I knew that my white mother doesn’t see me…doesn’t see how other people see me…chooses to see me without my body…because she can make that choice…she can choose to live in her imagination where I am white too…because I am her daughter…and she does not see that during those eighteen years I lived in her house I was not human… .”

In first-grade, Jane had a book bag that said, “Don’t Bug Me,” which she used to cover her face on the school bus as a defense against bullying. When her mother wanted to get a new bag for second grade, Jane couldn’t explain why she wanted the same bag. Her family had never discussed racial issues or bullying.

“You can’t talk about what you don’t have vocabulary for. That includes not just racial hatred but also racial friendship.” Jane went on to explain how her closest friends in high school were refugees or children of mixed marriages. They connected because their experiences growing up were similar.

And at one point Trenka talks about how she often chastised by Koreans for butchering the language. Yet white adoptive parents who are in Korea to pick up their children are praised for any Korean use speak, no matter how poorly it’s spoken. Trenka’s upbringing more closely resembles those of the American parents, yet the expectations of the Koreans have of her are totally different.

This touched me deeply because I was praised in Korea for what little Korean I could speak. I hate the fact that someday those same people might have a very different reaction to my Korean-born son attempting to speak what should have been his native language.

In many ways, Trenka has had a rough life and the scars of that life run deep. Yet she says many times how much she loves her American parents. It seems she longs to connect with them, but without her parents being able to honestly see her for who she is and what’s she’s experienced, she’s unable to make the connection.

I understand that no parent is perfect, yet every parental generation longs to do better in one area or another than the previous generation. This book made me long to do better; it made me more committed to parent differently than previous generations of adoptive parents. To be open with my son about the loss and sadness of adoption. To try to understand and be emphatic to him if or when he struggles. To become part of the Korean American community, to have diversity surrounding us and have a life that reflects my son. To have him learn the language of his birth and speak it fluently as not having the ability to communicate is one of the biggest barriers adoptees face when returning to their birth countries.

Do I believe that doing that will mean my son won’t struggle? No, I don’t. I understand that even with a different parenting style my son might struggle with his adoption and identity. My goal is to be educated and ready so I can support him if or when that happens.


Adopted: The Movie

A few months back I’d heard the buzz about this movie, but until we got Netflix recently, I didn’t have a way to watch it.  This past weekend it arrived in the mail and my husband and I settled in to watch it. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but this film exceeded my expectations in a gut-wrenching way.

For those who haven’t seen it, the documentary film follows two families: the Fero family, including 32-year-old Jennifer who was adopted from Korea as an infant, and the Trainer family, who are in the process of adopting from China. It chronicles Jennifer’s search for identity, sparked by learning that her mother has terminal cancer, and the Trainer’s journey to their daughter.

And the similarities are striking. While Jennifer’s adoption took place in 1975 when adoptive parents received little to no training in adoptive parenting, the education received by the Trainers (adopting in 2006) doesn’t seem to be much better or at least hasn’t been taken to heart. Jacqui Trainer admits to owning three attachment books, two of which she skimmed and one that she said she’d read most of. They were depressing, she said, so she decided that she would set them aside, and if she needed them later, she would know where to look for the information.

The Trainers acknowledge that there may be tough times ahead once their daughter comes home–that they will be “turning her world upside down” and that “she’ll be grieving.” But they  feel that they have enough love to cover the hard issues they might face.

In contrast Jennifer’s story is saying that love isn’t enough. She’s conflicted because her parents loved and nurtured her, and she loves her family, yet she says she’s felt empty. “I want my whole identity; my whole life,” Jennifer says. “It’s not rejection of my family; it’s just wanting to be authentic and real.”

Jennifer talks several times about how adoptees are always the ones adapting–from a very early age and possibly over and over. “Families adopt; adoptees adapt. Adoptees are chameleons because they don’t want to be abandoned again,” she said. “So you make sure every thing appears perfect.”

Once the Trainers have their daughter, Roma, home, they say things have been much easier than they’d expected. Roma rarely cries, they say, and she was “fully attached” to her adoptive father on day three of them being a family and warmed up to her adoptive mother by day nine to 10. “I’m sorry, yes, we have the perfect child,” Jacqui says. John adds, “She seems well-rounded. If she has an underlying issue, she’s not made it known.”

Jennifer’s struggles are heart wrenching. She longs for her parents to acknowledge her for who she really is, yet her parents don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about her adoption and race. At one point her father says, “I think she should be thankful she’s here. And I think there’s an overemphasis on the fact that she’s Korean.”

Jennifer’s mother once wonders why Jennifer didn’t share her racial issues with the family as they were happening during her school years. Jennifer says she was too embarrassed by racial taunting in school to talk about it with her family and instead rage began to grow inside her. “I remember being around 12 or 13 and coming out of my room just to yell at my mom. I had so much rage toward her. Because of all the people, a mother should get the angst that I was going through being Asian in a white family and a white community.”

Often in the adoption community, adoptees like Jennifer who are processing what adoption really means for them and who are speaking out about the hard issues that come from adoption are labeled as “angry and bitter.” Yet I don’t see bitterness or anger in Jennifer. I see a wounded little girl who was never allowed to fully grasp what had happened to her.

“This isn’t about what my parents did wrong; I mean look at all the things they did right. It’s about that 9-year-old girl who didn’t have the language. I’m her voice. You can overcompensate and sugar-coat the adoption story … but you’re only getting her because she was abandoned. And she knows that at a younger age than you can image.”

I know that not all international adoptees feel the way Jennifer does, but books and blogs and list-serves have shown me that many have experienced issues similar to those Jennifer details. And while watching Jennifer’s journey made my heart ache for her, I had to wonder how Roma Trainer will feel when she’s older. Will she experience the same emotions? Will she feel that her parents really didn’t understand the journey they embarked on when they brought her home from China? If so, how sad will that be? After all, they have the resources–including adoptees like Jennifer Fero–to help them understand the adoptee’s journey, if only they will listen.

“I don’t have any resentment toward my parents. I feel they did the best they could; they loved me and nurtured me,” Jennifer says. “If people adopt today, I expect them to do better.”

And that’s the question really. Is this current generation of adoptive parents doing it better? Have we learned from adoptees who have been through the struggle? Are we changing the way we parent so it encompasses all of who are children are?

My hope is that we are; my fear is that not enough are hearing the message. I’m thankful for Jennifer and other adoptees who are speaking out, sharing the most intimate of journeys to help me better parent my son. And I hope I am doing “better.”


A Must Read for Adoptive Parents

I’ve just finished what I consider to be the best adoptive parenting book out there. It’s Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the the Teen Years by Patty Cogen. I have so much good to say about this book, I almost don’t know where to begin. So I’ll start by explaining a little about how the book is set up.

The book is broken down into three parts, with the last part divided into sections by age and detailing some of the issues that adopted kids are likely to experience at these ages. The majority of examples in the book are gleaned by following five different adopted children and following the different ways each of them copes with their adoption. One is an infant adopted from Korea, another is an infant adopted from Guatemala, the third is a toddler adopted from Russia, and the last two are preschoolers adopted from China.

I love this approach because before this book, I didn’t feel that any of the books really addressed my child’s situation–having on only prior placement to a foster home where he was well cared for and received lots of attention. Most of the adoption books I’ve read deal mostly with extreme cases of attachment disorder, PSTD, or sensory issues.

While I know that my son’s situation didn’t preclude him from having any of those issues, once he was home and we were watching him, he didn’t seem to have servere problems. But he did have attachment strain and few books seemed to help me understand what he was thinking.

This book does that! It helps you see things from your child’s prespective and she gives you tips and advice on things you can do to nurture a deeper trusting relationship with your child. In fact, her advice worked for us just days after I finished reading the book.

We had a relative visiting and staying with us. My husband and I had noticed that our son’s sleeping issues have seemed to esclate when others stay with us, which didn’t make a lot of sense to us. His routine is the same, he’s in the same house with us here, so what’s the problem? Cogen helped me to see that this situation might remind him of another time when he meet and spent time with new people (who were white and had blue and green eyes)–the day we meet him. And two days later we took him away from everything he’d ever know. So after two nights of our son waking up crying and scared, I talked with him and told him that when his uncle leaves, he’ll still be here with us. That he won’t be going with his uncle but will still live in our house with Mommy and Daddy. That night and each night since, he’s back to his normal issues (more about those in another post). Maybe it’s a concidence but I don’t think so.

Another idea from the book that I put into immediate use is Cogen’s Three-Picture Story idea. The idea is to put the earliest photo of your child that you have, a photo of you picking up your child, and a current family photo on the same 8 x 11 page together. Then use it to talk with your child in basic terms about the Big Change that’s happened in the child’s life.

She includes ideas about talking with your adopted child about birth (another thing I’d been wondering about how to do), dealing with sleep issues, language issues, developing a cultural identity, and much more. The part listing age-related issues means that this book will be a resource for your family for years to come.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about this book. I’m so thankful it’s been published and can guide families to better understand and help their children. I first checked it out from our local library, and has it in both paperback and hardcover.

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