Our Voices Matter

Earlier this year, I decided to create this blog as a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences as an adoptee. Growing up, I always knew I was different, and I knew there were a lot of feelings related to my being adopted that I was unable to name, let alone understand. Working for an adoption organization has really brought a lot of these issues to the surface and has helped me understand myself as an adoptee in a way that no other experience has. I have always been a very introverted and soft-spoken person. When I was younger, I used to bottle all of my feelings and experiences inside, rather than talking about them and dealing with them. My family almost lost me because I refused to talk about the things that hurt, and when I became overwhelmed by it all, I chose to deal with it by attempting to end my life. I have come a long way since that dark period in my life, and my mom can attest to the fact that she can’t shut me up anymore! Through this blog, I have finally found my voice as an adoptee, and it absolutely amazes me that people are actually listening! I kept silent for a really long time, and I am finally realizing that my voice matters.

For the most part, sharing my story and the lessons learned along the way has been a very positive experience. This morning, a post about transracial adoption appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, and it affected me enough to where I felt the need to comment. The post was asking the members of a certain group how they handle situations in which complete strangers ask them about the race of their child and the race of their child’s birth parents. Though not necessarily wrong, many parents were sharing how they wittily answer questions like these and how rude it is to even be asked about their child’s race. This is the comment I posted:

My older sister and I were both adopted from Korea. I can’t tell you how many times my parents (who are both Caucasian) were asked if we were foreign exchange students. My parents would always smile and look straight at us and say, “Nope, they are all ours!” It can actually take a lot of courage to ask a person of color (or the parents of children of color) about their race–especially if the person asking is Caucasian. It is sometimes difficult to not take offense to some of the questions, but as a parent of a transracially adopted child, you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and do what is best for your child, even if it means fielding questions from people who need to be educated about race and adoption. As a mom of two biracial sons, I realize how annoying and intrusive it can be to answer the same questions over and over again. But, I [don’t have knowledge of] my culture and spent half of my teen years trying to pretend I was Caucasian because I didn’t fit in anywhere else. Even as an adult, I have been told that I’m not “Asian enough”. It is painful not being able to find a place to belong amongst people who look like me. I don’t want that for my children. My husband and I have made it a point to raise our children with cultural pride. They know they are Korean and Mexican, and they are proud of who they are. Part of raising our biracial children is answering those questions, even when we don’t want to. I know you mean well, but by not answering those questions you are sending a message to your children that there is something wrong with who they are. Your child’s race should be celebrated, not hidden. I understand the parents who are saying that they would rather not share because it’s their child’s story to tell, but I want you to know that your children are learning how to tell their story through you.

Well, I can say the replies to my comment have been less than positive. One parent even went as far as to accuse me of calling her a racist because she didn’t want to answer the race question. I was adopted at a time when training wasn’t a required part of the adoption process. Adoptive parents weren’t really taught how to raise their children with cultural pride. My parents were given a Korean flag, a Korean cookbook, and a list of Korean culture camps. Considering the lack of resources given to them when they adopted my sister and me, my parents did well in terms of raising my sister and me to be proud of our Korean heritage. My parents would have been absolutely overjoyed to have had a transracial adoptee share his or her story to help give them ideas and tools in parenting my sister and me with cultural pride. I am ashamed to say that the comments affectively silenced me, and I chose to leave the group, rather than deal with parents who weren’t ready to discuss their child’s race in a way that it truly needed to be discussed.

Well-meaning parents of transracially-adopted children sometimes have the belief that because they have read a few books and have befriended a few people who are of the same race as their child, that they fully understand issues of race and what their children are going through. I can honestly say that, until you have walked a mile in your child’s shoes, you will never be able to fully understand what it is like to be a person of color. You don’t know what it’s like to go to bed every night, praying to God for Him to make you blond-haired and blue-eyed like the other kids, so you don’t have to be different anymore. While racially-motivated actions and slurs can be sometimes directed towards a family as a whole, it’s often difficult for white parents of children of color to understand the feelings of wanting to walk a different route to school to avoid the racial taunts and bullying from other children. You will never know the pain of being told that you aren’t “Asian enough” or “Black enough” by people who look just like you. For an adoptee who is constantly searching for a place to belong, being rejected by members of his or her own race can be devastating.

As an adoptive parent, you are sometimes going to hear things that you don’t WANT to hear, but NEED to hear. By refusing to listen, no matter how painful or angering it may be, you are doing a disservice to your child, because you could be learning something that could help you and your child at some point during your adoption journey. Many adoptees choose to remain silent for fear of seeming ungrateful for having been adopted; others have to deal with the “angry” label. It takes a lot of courage for me to put myself out there when writing a blog entry or posting a comment (believe me, I sometimes find myself hyperventilating a little before clicking on the “publish” or “send” button). It’s not easy, but we are sharing our thoughts and experiences in hopes that they will be of help to adoptive parents in raising their adopted children.

Children do not come with instruction guides. Adopted children can sometimes be even more of a mystery due to full disclosure issues. It’s not easy being an adoptive parent, but it’s not easy being an adopted child, either. Opening your heart and your mind to what adoptees and other adoptive parents have to say may not be easy at times, but I can guarantee you that gems of knowledge will fall into your lap when you least expect them to. Be open and be willing to view things differently and try things differently. You may find that stepping outside of your comfort zone can sometimes be the best thing you can do for your child.

Remember that those sharing their stories and experiences are not out to get you. We seek to heal ourselves through sharing our stories, and we seek to educate parents and professionals about what went right in our adoption journeys and what could have been done differently. I may have cowardly chosen to leave that group, but I can assure you that my voice will not be silenced. It took me decades to realize it, but I now know that my voice matters. If I can assure at least one parent that what they are doing is right; if I can help one parent look at adoption in a different way; or if I can put words to feelings that at least one adoptee has been feeling but has never been able to convey, than all of this will be worth it.

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23 thoughts on “Our Voices Matter

  1. You bring such a unique point of view, so don’t ever hold it back in fear that someone might not like what you have to say. (But I don’t think you need to hear that from me to keep it up.) I followed your blog to hear your, ‘as much as possible’ uncensored thoughts, and I’m glad you put this out there. I was back in the U.S. for less than a day when someone asked me in a grocery store how much she cost. Hearing your thoughts helps what it might be like to hear that from my child’s point of view, and most importantly, how to respond with her best interests in mind.

    • Thanks so much for your support, Mark! I’m so sorry you and your daughter had to experience such a hurtful comment. The adoption journey isn’t easy, but your taking the time to listen to different perspectives in order to better understand what your daughter might be going through, will make a world of difference!

  2. Thank you for being brave enough to voice your honest experiences about being adopted. Like Mark, I too read your blog for guidance on how my adopted children may be feeling growing up with Caucasian parents. I definitely appreciate your insight!

  3. Kim Stevens says:

    I would love to know in what blog it was that you received such negative responses – as an adoptive parent of children from another race I am more than willing to challenge those self-protective responses. It is the shame and the heartbreak of transracial adoption that those who are the least vulnerable – white adoptive parents, read “adults” – are also those who are the most defensive. Keep using your voice; it’s a great one.

  4. lisa says:

    hi! i completely 100 percent agree with you, i have always felt until my child can or wants to speak for himself i will educate others and show our pride at our culture and our childs. every one is entitled to their opinion but i know for me because i am not an adopted child being raised with parents of another race, i respect and appreciate your imput and i feel grateful that you are willing to share it and educate us. so thank you!!

  5. Melissa says:

    I liked your answer. I am an adoptive mom of a biracial son, domestic adoption as well as a son who is caucasion (my race). I have had insensitive questions which I have been able to follow up positively (maybe the most positive answer would be not to punch the person in the nose, but I digress) because I want my son to have pride in who he is, and where he came from. He has asked questions on and off, and now that he is a preteen, the questions are becoming deeper. I love his questions. I love being able to give him more answers. One of the “problems” (not sure that is the right word) is that people think he is one race, and he doesn’t correct them with what his race really is. The last time this happened (last month), I told him that he should have corrected the friend, and take pride in what is part of his identity. I’m not sure why he is not identifying with the race combination that he is. I wonder how common that is.

    My family is a family of adoptees, from my husband to my two sons. My friends growing up: my three closest girlfriends were racially diverse adoptees (none related, and three different families). I love having the experience of growing up with them, and the added experience of my husband…. I think it will help my sons as they grow and want learn more about their histories too.

    • Thanks so much for sharing about your family, Melissa! I wouldn’t be too worried about your son not claiming his biracial identity. I went through a period of completely rejecting my Asian identity and essentially identifying as Caucasian (which, clearly, I am not). For me, it was part of the process of creating my own racial and cultural identity. It sounds like you have done a wonderful job of instilling racial and cultural pride in your son. Continue to encourage him to claim all aspects of his racial identity, but let this play out (be patient, as it may take time). You more than likely will come out of this with a very empowered son who is proud of his biracial identity!

  6. Wondeful post, so good that you are sharing your perspective, it is so important for us all and good for you too to be expressing it.

    I just read Jackie Kay’s wonderful memoir Red Dust Road about growing up with Scottish parents as an adopted child of Scottish and Nigerian birth parents and it was full of wonderful insights. She was fortunate to have outspoken, caring and open minded parents, which helped mitigate racial slurs and probably helped her learn to stand up for herself too. But maintaining an understanding of cultural heritage I think is something seriously lacking, particularly for those born in the earlier years before awareness of the benefits was really understood – like a hangover from colonial attitudes of old.

  7. SO THANKFUL I just found your blog!!! As an adoptive parent I NEED to hear your perspective as there is SO MUCH I can learn from you!!! Thank you so much for being willing to share your heart and thoughts here!!! Truly this is priceless to this mom…PLEASE don’t stop writing!

  8. amy says:

    I agree with Andrea!!! SO THANKFUL I just found your blog as well!!! I am an adoptive parent of a son and twin girls — hearing what other adoptees is key for me!!!! I helps me learn what I am doing wrong what I can do better and what my children need from me– I always need constant reminders!!! THANK YOU for opening your heart to help educate us all for better tomorrows!!! Your amazing!!!!! I cannot wait to learn more!!!!!!

  9. Thank you for your posts. I hope you keep writing. I am a second-generation adoptee (my mother, aunts, myself, and my siblings are all adopted) and have an adoption pending. Our sweet little girl will be coming home from China this fall. Even with all my adoption experience, I know that our daughter’s experience is full of variables. She is adopted, but so is mom, and cousin Zachy, and grandma, and aunts, and uncles… She is Asian, yes, and we will do our darndest to make sure that Chinese culture is a presence in our home.
    I had to chuckle at your comment about “blonde hair and blue eyes”, because on top of everything else, my daughter has albinism, complete with white hair and blue eyes (and low vision, etc.). She actually blends in remarkably well in our “viking” family – only slightly fairer than her siblings.
    I cannot control what other people will say or think about her relative to her being adopted, or Chinese, or legally blind, or extremely fair. I cannot predict what she will WANT to identify herself with. I happen to be the ONLY member of my family who is completely comfortable with being adopted. My little one’s own response is something I cannot control, only influence.
    Again, thank you. I appreciate hearing the perspectives of adults who were adopted internationally. It gives me a valuable insight into what my daughter may experience.

    • Thank you for sharing, Erin! Congratulations on your upcoming adoption! Yours and your family’s experiences and knowledge of adoption and the issues will be so valuable for your daughter. Best wishes and blessings to you and your family in your adoption journey!

    • If you don’t have a blog already, I really think you should start one, Joy! You seem like you have so much to share with the world. Having this blog has been a very cathartic experience for me, and I would hope having a safe place for you to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences would help in your healing process as well. Sending you hugs!

  10. I wanted to show you my appreciation for your candidness. I am the mother of an almost 8 year old girl that we adopted from China a few days after she turned one. I so appreciate hearing your perspective as an adult Asian adoptee. What I have read that you’ve written has been both encouraging and challenging. It is so important to me to parent my daughter in a way that will result in her being a happy and well adjusted adult…as I’m certain is any parent’s desire. I treasure being able to read your blog and gain understanding about what I can change about how I’m parenting. It is equally important to read of the things that I’m doing right! Personally, I’m so glad that you have found your voice, and very happy that I’ve found it, too! Thank you for all you share. I appreciate you more than you will ever know.
    Robin

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