The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

Losing the Joy in Being “Mom”

I always knew I wanted to be a mom—not because I harbored a need to prove myself to be better than my birth mom or because I needed a tiny human who would always love me. I wanted to be a mom because there was something inside me that yearned to be one. I have always had a love for children, and I wanted to be able to bring a little one into the world to love, care for, and guide—someone who would also teach me and help me grow to become a better person. I have always felt like my life began at two, and that I was never given the opportunity for a true beginning of my life—one that seems to bring so much joy and excitement to so many parents, and one that so many look back on as adults through pictures, baby books, and family memories. I felt in my heart that I would be a good mom—I truly did.

When my sons were younger, being a mom felt so easy and so natural. I delighted in all of the joys and amazement that new life brings and felt so much love and pride for my sweet little guys. I continue to be so in love with my sons and so incredibly proud of them and who they are. However, as the years have passed, I have gradually found myself losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom.

I first noticed the change when my oldest was diagnosed with special needs and learning difficulties. As I took him to appointments and attended teacher meetings and IEP meetings, I started to feel as though I had failed him—I felt like his special needs and learning difficulties were my fault. I didn’t know what I had passed onto him genetically and I started to question my abilities as a parent. Did I read to him enough? Did I really do enough when he was younger to help support his development? Was I really a good mom, or was I just in denial? I seemingly had found myself with a son who I felt like I didn’t know how to parent anymore. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t understand what he was going through and, because I didn’t have the struggles in school that he was having, I felt like I no longer knew how to help him or be the parent I had always hoped to be for him. I saw my dreams for him slowly fade away. While I still absolutely have great hopes for him, and truly feel he will achieve amazing things in life—it saddens me to know that the journey will be one with great struggles—those of which I have no doubt he will overcome.

A number of years ago, I wrote about my struggles with my youngest. I wrote about his rages and the hours I would endure of his kicking, punching, screaming, spitting, and throwing things at me—among other things. I wrote about attempting to get help for him and having him test in the clinical range for aggression and other behavioral issues, and then being told by the so-called “experts” that there was nothing they could do for him and that he would grow out of it. I still think back on that day with great disgust and anger. At that time, I was truly afraid of him and had, on numerous occasions, contemplated calling the police on him during his rages. I remember wondering if these “experts” had ever truly experienced what it felt like to fear their children or the sheer terror of watching your normally very sweet child go from the most loving little guy to someone completely unrecognizable and being pushed to the point where you are literally fearing for your life.

His rages are now very few and far between, but I often wonder if I will ever gain a handle on his behaviors. I often cringe at the thought of having to leave the house, because the simple process of getting ready for anything can have him escalating from zero to two hundred in minutes. I feel like I have tried everything, but it seemingly never changes. There are certainly some days when I, thankfully, don’t feel like I have run a half marathon after getting him ready, but those seem to be few and far between.

I am tired.

I am exhausted.

I feel like I am slowly losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom. I am sick of fighting. I am sick of yelling. I am sick of saying things I shouldn’t say and don’t mean because I no longer have the fight in me to even attempt to filter my comments anymore. I am sick of having horrible mornings and sitting at work absolutely consumed with guilt over what a horrible mom I have been. I am sick of lashing out at the people in my life who love me and try to support me because I don’t feel like I deserve to be loved or supported.

I am sure by now a number of you are thinking I am a horrible person and don’t deserve to be a mom. It’s so easy to judge when you haven’t been through it, and it’s so easy to believe that you would do things differently if you were in the same situation. I know I make mistakes, and there are certainly things that I could have done differently. This certainly was not the life as a mom that I had dreamed and hoped for. I love my kids more than life itself and I would do anything for them. Truly. But, it’s hard to find joy in being a mom when you are constantly being beaten down, told that you suck, that you’re hated, that you are the worst person in the world, that he wishes you were never even born, and then having glimpses of hope that are later dashed. How do you find joy in being a parent when you literally are brought to a place where you look at your child and think, “I love you so much, but I really don’t like you right now.” I know you are supposed to love being a parent and everything that comes with it, but I don’t love being made to feel like a piece of crap every day by someone you do everything for and would give your life for. How do you find joy in that?

I know that many people will think that I am wrong in sharing this struggle so publicly, but I know I am not alone in this. Some parents will never admit to losing their joy, and others talk about it openly and are told they are awful parents as a result. I try really hard to be a good mom to my sons and I work hard to make sure they don’t want for anything. I love my sons. I cuddle with them. I laugh with them. I cry with them. I teach and never stop learning from them. We have grown so much together.

Though some days certainly have driven me to the point of wondering what could have been, I won’t ever regret bringing them into this world. I will continue to fight the fight and I will continue to weather the storms with them. I will fight to hold onto the glimpses of joy, but I will also allow myself to say that parenting really sucks sometimes. I won’t ever be a perfect parent and I will continue to make mistakes and say things I shouldn’t say (though, I will try very hard not to). But, I will never stop loving my sons. I will never stop telling them and showing them that they are loved and that I am so incredibly proud of them. And, even though horrible mornings happen, I won’t ever stop taking the time to cuddle with my sons or talk things through with them at the end of the day or tuck them in every night with a hug and an “I love you.”

Though the joy sometimes slips away, I refuse to lose hope.

A Letter from an Adoptee to Her Sons

To My Sweet Little Guys,

I am writing this letter not really knowing what to say or whether it will be something you will ever have the opportunity to read. We have had conversations in the past about my having been adopted, but I have a feeling there will come a day when you will have questions and will want to learn more.

I remember the first time Papa and I discussed adoption with you. I remember the silence that followed our telling you that I was born to someone other than Grandma and Grandpa. You asked me about my “real” parents and why I didn’t grow up with them. I remember explaining to you that Grandma and Grandpa are my real parents (as were my birth parents) and that my birth parents weren’t able to take care of me so Grandma and Grandpa became my parents. I remember you asking if my birth parents loved me, and my answering that I wasn’t sure, but I knew they loved me enough to bring me into this world.

While I seldom speak negatively about my birth parents to you—we rarely discuss them at all—the truth is that my feelings towards them change often. There are days when I don’t feel like I will ever be at peace with the way I feel about them. Other days are filled with a deep longing to know who they were and what fueled their decision to no longer parent me. I don’t know that I have ever had the desire to have a relationship with them—nor would it ever be a possibility—but I have always wished I had known something about them. They made life-changing decisions that have affected me and will affect you and your children as well. I will always feel guilty for not knowing my family’s medical history or what I have passed onto you and what you may pass onto your children because of me. I wish with every fiber of my being that I could fill those voids and answer those unanswerable questions, but the reality is that those are things I will never be able to do for you.

I want you both to know that by making that decision to adopt me three decades ago, Grandma and Grandpa truly changed my life. In a matter of a year, I went from being an orphan to becoming someone’s daughter. It is because of them that I have a forever family and a place to call home. They have given me a life filled with unconditional love, support, and amazing opportunities. They were the ones who were at my high school and college graduations and they were the ones who walked me down the aisle the day I married your papa. They will always be your grandparents and, God-willing, they will one day be great-grandparents to your children as well.

As you already know, I will never be a perfect mom. There have and will be things I say and do that I will regret immensely. However, I want you both to know that I will never regret bringing you into this world and being there to watch you grow and one day become the men and fathers I have always dreamed you will become. I will never forget the days you both were born and the overwhelming feelings that washed over me when I held you both for the first time. I will never forget the instant love I had for you both and the promises I made to do my best to be a good mom and work hard to make sure you don’t want for anything. Your lights shine so brightly in this world and becoming your mom has been my life’s greatest achievement. Your existence gives me so much purpose and I love you both with every fiber of my being.

It is an absolute honor and blessing to be your mom. Rocking you to sleep and singing to you and kissing your little fingers and toes when you were babies brought so much joy and love to my life. It may seem strange at times, but things like your birth stats and baby pictures and outfits will always mean so much to me, as I will never have those memories and mementoes from that period of my life to share with you. Papa and I love sharing stories with you of when you were babies and watching as your sweet faces light up with excitement and hearing your laughter as you try to imagine yourself at that age. We have so enjoyed watching you grow and experiencing with you the ups and downs of life. It has been a pleasure to share with you our values, beliefs, and traditions and watch as you take those little life lessons and use them in your interactions with others. Your kind hearts, your sense of humor, your zest for life, and your strength and resiliency are inspiring. We are learning so much from you and we are in awe of the young men you have already become.

I may have been one of the unwanteds, but I assure you that Papa and I wanted you from the minute we knew of your existence. We started forming our hopes and dreams for you the moment we heard your little hearts beating for the first time. Though we sometimes may do and say things we don’t mean, please don’t ever doubt our love for you. Regardless of the paths you travel or the choices you make in life, we will always love you and do our best to support you both through it all.

There may come a point in your lives when you may feel the effects of the missing pieces in my life. I promise to do my best to provide you with the answers I have to share with you and do what I can to help you fill in those empty spaces. I may not have a clear beginning to my life, but it gives me great pride in knowing that you will be the continuations of my life and my journey. Papa and I are so incredibly proud of you both and look forward to watching where your journeys lead as you continue to grow and form your own identities and strive for your own perceived successes in life. We love you for always and we thank you for making our lives and our family so complete.

Love,

Mom

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 15 Things Transracially Adoptive Parents Need to Know

1. Race and culture matter. My race and culture of origin are integral to my identity and will always be a part of me. Regardless of how much society claims to be colorblind, I will always be characterized and labeled by the color of my skin. Because I do not look like you, it is important for you to show me—through your words and actions—that being different is okay.

2. As a transracial family, our lives will change in ways we could never imagine. Be prepared that the perception of our family will completely change…as will our views of the world.

3. Honoring my race and culture of origin should not just be something that our family does on special occasions. It should be an integral part of our everyday lives as well. A few ways in which you can honor my race and culture on a daily basis are displaying photos or pieces of artwork that reflect my culture and ethnicity in our home, cooking ethnic meals, incorporating words from my native language into our everyday conversations, and reading cultural bedtime stories. Normalizing our efforts to honor my race and culture will make me feel a little less different and will help foster pride in who I am.

4. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your relationships with friends, family members, and others may drastically change due to prejudices you (and they!) never knew they had. You may need to examine who the people are in our lives and whether or not having them around will be more beneficial or detrimental to our family.

5. I should not be used as the bridge into my racial or cultural communities of origin—it is your responsibility to be that bridge for me. As a transracially adoptive parent, it is imperative that you provide opportunities for me to learn about and grow my connections with my racial and cultural communities of origin.

6. Nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent, and you absolutely cannot do it alone. It truly takes a village to raise a child who has been adopted transracially. It is important to accept the things you do not know about my race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing that lack of knowledge as a shortcoming or failure, try to view it as an opportunity to learn with me. Use every opportunity possible to involve our entire family when learning about my race and culture of origin. In doing so, you will be forming a stronger bond with me and helping me feel like an important part of our family.

7. Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to provide me with the opportunities I need to learn about my race and culture. Spending time in places where YOU are the minority should be an integral part of being a transracially adoptive parent. Interacting with and forming relationships with people who look like ME, but don’t look or act the way YOU do, is an absolute must. Remember that my journey takes me outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I need for you to be willing to take a walk in my shoes and weather those storms with me.

8. If we do not live in a diverse area, and are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to an area that is more ethnically and culturally diverse, or an area that reflects my racial and cultural identity. If we are unable to relocate, or if we have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which we currently live—it may be necessary to drive an hour or two (or more!) to provide me with the opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like me. It is imperative that you make every effort possible to provide me with these experiences.

9. Though on vastly differing levels, privilege exists within every racial and cultural community. Transracial adoption can be unique in the sense that it can provide people with differing levels of privilege within their racial and cultural communities the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of someone with racial and cultural experiences very different than their own. As a result of this privilege, a certain level of racism and prejudice exists in all communities. One important thing to keep in mind is that your level of privilege changes within your racial and cultural community when you are not with me. I, however, do not have that luxury, as your community will always view me as different, and my level of privilege within that community will always be different than yours.

10. Even though it is the PC thing to say, we do not live in a colorblind world—we live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It is inevitable that I will experience racism at some point in my life, and it is important that I know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching me that racism isn’t about me—it is about the ignorance of others who do not understand.

11. Remember that I am learning how to tell my story from you. I am learning how to deal with racism and prejudice from you. While you absolutely need to do what you can to protect me from potentially racist situations, it is also important to occasionally answer the questions about my race—if you feel it is safe to do so. These situations can sometimes become opportunities for others to help instill in me a great sense of racial and cultural pride.

12. Know that my racial and/or cultural identity may change at some point in my life. There may be times in which I will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It is important for you to lay the groundwork for me, but also allow me to explore and develop my racial identity in my own way. There are so many things that are out of my control when it comes to adoption. One thing I can—and should be allowed to claim ownership of—is my racial identity.

13. The greatest amount of scrutiny I will experience will most likely be from members of my own racial and cultural communities. Being rejected by members of my racial and cultural communities is one of the most painful forms of rejection one could ever experience. There is a great likelihood that I will be told that I am not “Black enough” or “Asian enough” at some point in my life. I should not have to prove that I belong or feel that I am less than by members of my racial and cultural communities. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of my racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

14. It is important to take great care in not losing yourself in the process when honoring my race and culture. While you won’t necessarily be able to teach me about my culture, you can and should teach me about yours. As a multicultural child, I will have so much more to offer the world.

15. Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising me with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor my racial and cultural identity will make a difference in my life, and you will be surprised with how much you will learn about yourself and others along the way!

Exploring the Great Divide in Adoption: Why You’re Not That Different

When I started working in the adoption world, it quickly became evident that there was a division between parents who have adopted internationally, domestically, and from foster care, as well as between the agencies and organizations providing support to them. This observation was further evidenced by one of the evaluations I received from the conference I co-presented at this past summer.

I presented a session that explored loss in adoption and its effect on relationships with one of my good friends and colleagues who adopted from foster care. The adoptive parent who wrote the evaluation stated that he would have preferred to hear the material from someone who was adopted from foster care. Considering the fact that I work for an organization whose main focus is on finding forever families for children in care, it wasn’t a huge surprise to encounter someone with this mindset. This comment really stuck with me, not in a negative way, but because I have had difficulties understanding why there must be such a dramatic division between adoptive parents, regardless of where their adopted child is from. I want to explore this division by just skimming the surface and attempting to make the argument that adoptive parents aren’t as different from each other as they have come to believe.

International (or Intercountry) Adoption

Historically, international adoption has been somewhat glamorized in the sense that there has been a long-standing belief that families spend tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to adopt “perfect” or “exotic” children from overseas. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have even made international adoption somewhat fashionable. There is also a belief that parents who adopt internationally have a “pie-in-the-sky” view of adoption and are naïve in thinking that their children will be perfect because of the money they spent to adopt them.

Those involved with domestic and foster care adoption sometimes harbor animosity towards those who adopt internationally because of the hundreds of thousands of kids who need forever families here in the U.S. The fact of the matter is that there are kids all over the world who need families. When I was adopted, Koreans simply did not adopt outside of their bloodline, and it was something that was frowned upon. Being that I was a girl and not a baby, my chances of finding a family domestically were slim-to-none. I spent a year in foster care prior to my adoption, and my belief is that, had I not been adopted internationally, I most likely would have aged out of care.

Most of the internationally adoptive parents I have encountered adopt from other countries because 1) they want to add to their family, and 2) because they are aware that there are children everywhere—not just in the U.S.—who need families.  I have also spoken with a number of parents who choose to adopt internationally because of the overwhelming fear of the birth parents wanting their children back. While there are absolutely some very naïve internationally adoptive parents out there (as with any population of parent), a majority of my interactions have been with parents who are actually quite savvy and have a greater understanding of the issues than they are given credit for.

Most internationally adoptive parents are actually at a disadvantage due to full disclosure issues. A number of children available for adoption overseas either have little or no accompanying information (familial, medical, etc.), or the information they do have has been falsified or doctored. And some countries allow outgoing adoptions of only children with special needs.

An issue that a number of internationally adoptive parents encounter is the lack of post-adoption services. While there are many resources and support groups in the U.S. for adoptive parents, a number of them do not provide services to parents who have adopted internationally. The main reason behind the lack of services is that a number of the organizations and support groups available are funded through county, state, and federal grants that prohibit them from providing services to parents who have not adopted domestically.

I have also witnessed the “you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it” mentality projected towards parents who have adopted internationally. In the foster care adoption world, there can be a stigma attached to spending tens of thousands of dollars on adopting children from overseas. The belief is that if parents can spend that much on adopting a child, then they must also have the resources to fund the services to meet their child’s needs. The truth is, most internationally adoptive parents are middle class and a number of them have been able to adopt through grants and with the generous support of their friends, family, and community.

Domestic Adoption

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often those seeking infants to adopt. Historically, private domestic adoption was often done in secret, as there was a great stigma attached to the inability to bear one’s own children. You will often hear of adoptees who were adopted a number of years ago and found out about it very late in life, or they always knew and were not allowed to talk about it.

Private domestic adopters are parents who are more likely than the internationally or foster care adoptive parents to experience the potential heartbreak of being matched with a child whose birth mother changes her mind and decides to keep the child. The laws vary by state, but most states allow a period of time before an adoption can be finalized (it could be a number of days or months) in which an expectant parent can revoke their consent to adopt. State laws also acknowledge the birth father, in that he is allowed to seek custody of the child even after the adoption has been finalized if, for some reason, he never knowingly consented to the termination of his parental rights.

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often viewed in a similar light as parents who adopt internationally. One of the noticeable differences is that they don’t have the added stigma of not having adopted a child from the U.S.

Foster Care Adoption

Due to the nature of the organization I work for, a majority of the interactions I have are with parents who have adopted from foster care and the agencies and organizations that support them. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., and over 100,000 are available for adoption, meaning the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. Many of the children and teens available for adoption have spent a considerable amount of time in foster care and have experienced multiple placements. A number of these children and teens have special needs. When a child or teen is labeled “special needs”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have behavioral or physical limitations. Special needs can also refer to a child who is older, a child of color, or a child who is part of a sibling group who wants to be adopted together.

Parents who adopt from foster care do so in an effort to grow their family (as with any adoptive parent) and because they see the overwhelming need to find forever families for the children and teens in the U.S. While there are some initial costs involved with adopting from foster care, they are not nearly as great as those involved with adopting internationally or through private domestic adoption. The resources and supports are more readily available in the U.S. for parents who have adopted from foster care and for their children. Parents of children with considerable behavioral, physical, and medical special needs will often receive a monthly adoption subsidy to help offset some of the costs involved with meeting their child’s needs. These adoption assistance payments are generally very minimal and, while they are helpful to those who receive them, they often cover only a small fraction of the ongoing expenses involved with meeting the needs of these children.

Why You’re Not That Different

There are many reasons why adoptive parents are not that different, but a few of the main reasons are listed below:

  1. Loss. At the core of all adoption is loss. Every adopted child has experienced loss, regardless of where they were adopted from. The loss of one child is not necessarily greater or more relevant simply because they were adopted from foster care as opposed to internationally. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. The same goes for adoptive parents. All parents have their unique reasons for forming their family through adoption. All adoptive parents experience the loss of not having given birth to their child—it affects some more than others—but the loss is there. There are moments of pain and moments of happiness in all forms of adoption. The journey may have started differently, but every journey has its trials and tribulations. It is important for adoptive parents to understand that, while the adoption journeys are different, similar issues are prevalent in all forms of adoption.
  1. Core issues in adoption. There are 7 core issues in adoption—Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy & Relationships, and Control/Gains (Silverstein, D. & Roszia, S, 1982.) Parenting a child is not easy, and parenting an adopted child can be even more difficult! Most adoptive parents will experience at least some of these core issues at some point during their adoption journey. Some of these issues can be overwhelming, and the need for support in coping with these issues is critical.
  1. The need for resources and support. All adoptive parents need resources and support to help them along their journey. Questions arise at various points throughout a parent’s adoption journey. All adoptive parents need support from people who have been there—from people who understand.
  1. Identity. Adoption changes families, and it can change the way society views your family, especially those who adopt transracially and transculturally. Your traditions will most likely change to embrace your child’s race and culture. The people with whom you associate may change. These changes have the potential to be overwhelming, and the need for support and education will be great.

The pain of one adoptive parent should not be viewed as more significant or relevant than another. Rather than focusing only on the things that set you apart from other adoptive parents, focus on the similarities that can be used in supporting each other. I have seen the power of parent-to-parent support. I have seen the difference it can make when an adoptive parent who previously felt isolated and alone realizes that there are other parents who understand and are going through similar situations. Remember to rally around each other and celebrate the differences, but celebrate the things that unify you as well. You’ll find that you will feel much less isolated, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn from adoptive parents you may not have previously turned to for support!

What My Parents Did Right

I was co-presenting at a conference in July when I was asked a simple, yet really great question by an adoptive parent. She asked me, “What do you feel your parents did right?”

Working in the adoption world, I hear a lot of the bad things, and not enough of the good. As I work through my own adoption issues, I have noticed how easy it can be to focus on the negative. I can only imagine what it must be like for an adoptive parent to always hear about the negative things in adoption, or even the fairytale adoption stories that seem somewhat out of reach. While I believe it’s important to educate adoptive parents on the issues that may arise in adoption and prepare them as much as possible, I also believe that it’s important for them to hear messages of hope and to hear about what went right, as well.

When I think about what my parents did right, my thoughts go directly to a conversation I had with my dad years ago. I was nearing the end of my college years, and I was heavily into the notion of “saving the world”. My dad and I had just finished running an errand, and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ garage, finishing our conversation. The subject somehow switched to adoption, and my naïve, younger self told him that my husband and I wanted to adopt someday so we could give a child a chance at a better life. I had always assumed that was my parents’ reason for adopting, and I was shocked, at the time, by his response. He told me that he and my mom adopted my sister and me for “purely selfish reasons”. He went on to tell me that they adopted us solely because they wanted to add to their family and chose to do so through adoption. My “save the world” self didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I now look back on that conversation and could not be more proud of my parents. They went into adoption for all the right reasons. For them, it was never about “saving” a child—it was always about forming their family.

My family never really talked that much about adoption when my sister and I were growing up, but it was never a secret that we were adopted. When my parents chose names for us, they ensured that we would always have a part of our Korean heritage by using our Korean surnames as our middle names. They raised us to be proud of our Korean heritage by sending us to culture camp, reading us stories in which the characters were Korean, giving us Korean hanboks, and making Korean meals. My parents never received training on how to be transracially-adoptive parents, but they honored and embraced our Korean culture in many wonderful ways.

My mom made scrapbooks for my sister, my brother, and me. The concept of a lifebook was not well-known when my sister and I were adopted. While our scrapbooks weren’t lifebooks, there were some similarities. I have looked through mine so many times throughout the years, that I memorized many of the pages. Since I didn’t have anything from my first year of life, my scrapbook begins with cards from family and friends congratulating my parents on my adoption. The beginning of my scrapbook also includes my adoption records, including information on when, where, and how I was found. They include my very minimal medical history while in Korea. They also include a report from my foster mother and information on my physical and emotional development. My scrapbook contains my passport, my referral pictures (the closest thing to baby pictures that I’ll ever have), and my naturalization papers. My scrapbook also includes things like my baptismal certificate, report cards, school performance programs, artwork, certificates of achievement, etc. Our scrapbooks have always been in a place where we could look through them whenever we wanted. I probably looked through mine more than anyone, as it very much was the story of my life, and I wanted to know as much as I could about who I was. It contained the good things and the bad, and I could read about things I never knew about myself and the early years of my life. In creating these scrapbooks for us, my mom didn’t hide the details about our adoption, and allowed us to learn, in our own time, about our life in Korea and how we came to be adopted.

My sister, my brother, and I had similar upbringings in the sense that my sister and I weren’t treated differently because we were adopted, and my brother wasn’t treated differently because he was my parents’ biological son. My parents encouraged us to do well academically and supported our extracurricular endeavors. They raised us in their faith and taught us the importance of volunteerism from a very young age. We were loved, we were supported, and we didn’t want for anything.

I think the most important thing my parents did right was supporting us through the good and the bad. While I definitely had my moments during grade school, I was a pretty good kid and did well in school. For the most part, it was smooth sailing until I reached high school. I really put myself and my parents through the ringer during high school and part of college. I was pretty much an awful teenager and I did a number of things I am not proud of. I was not very loveable and I did a lot of things to isolate myself from my parents and the people I loved and cared about. I can’t imagine how difficult that period of my life must have been for my parents, but they weathered the storm with me. I fought hard to push them away, and they fought hard to show me they weren’t going anywhere.

My parents did a wonderful job raising my sister, my brother, and me. I don’t fault them at all for my adoption issues, as they are my issues and stem from losses that occurred before I joined my family. The only thing I wish we had done differently was talk more about adoption, though I understand that, while my sister and I were both adopted, it’s not the only thing that makes us who we are. My parents supported me in forming my own identity and provided me with opportunities to pursue my ever-changing interests and aspirations that are part of who I am today. Though I harbored many insecurities (and still do), there was never any doubt that my parents loved me. They celebrated my successes, and they weathered the storm with me. They sought help when they didn’t have the answers, and they truly moved mountains to get me to where I am today. I am so incredibly proud to be their daughter.

Parenting as an Adoptee: When Attachment Doesn’t Come Naturally

My sister and I never talked about being adopted when we were younger. The first time we had a discussion about adoption was just a year ago, when she was 31 and I was 29. A couple of weeks ago, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I spent the weekend in Indiana for an adoption conference. I had been invited to speak, and they made the drive to join me for the weekend, which was absolutely amazing. We spent a good part of the weekend talking about adoption and our own experiences. My sister shared things with me about when I first joined my family in Minnesota—things I had never heard before. I’m not ready to share everything she told me, but one of the things she mentioned really put something into perspective for me.

My sister told me how easy it was for her to adjust to her life with our family. She mentioned that she was out playing with the neighborhood kids on the second day she was here. It definitely didn’t come as a surprise to me, as my sister has always been very outgoing, friendly, and just very easy to love. My sister told me that I just wanted to be alone and often looked really sad when I first came to be with my family. This really clicked with me, and made me think about my own attachment issues.

My desire for alone time has always been a part of me, ever since I can remember. I think people would say that I am a kind and caring person, but I often find myself putting up a wall between myself and others—even the people I love. My fear of being hurt or abandoned—a fear I have harbored since I was little—developed into a need to always keep my guard up. The wall I put up between myself and others is my go-to coping mechanism.

My children are my life, and I would do anything for them. They know how much I love them. As much as it pains me to admit this, I would be lying if I said that my attachment with them comes easily for me. Most parents don’t think about attachment with their children because it comes naturally to them—it’s a non-issue. My love for my children has always been there and has never been in question. But, I often question my ability to fully attach with them. I believe that, due to my experiences early in life, I never learned how to fully attach correctly. I have relationships I cherish and very much value the people I have in my life. I have found that attachment has always been a balancing act for me, as I have often vacillated between becoming overly attached and pushing people away.

I feel like I am really putting myself out there, but there are times, as a parent, when I feel like I do things for my children because I’m supposed to, not because of an innate feeling of wanting to do it for them. There are times when I feel the walls go up between my children and me, and it takes everything I have to break through them. My husband and I provide my children with the things they need, and they don’t want for anything. They are happy, loving and caring little guys.

There are times when I feel extreme guilt because, as much as I love them, I sometimes look at them and can literally feel the wall between us. It scares me to feel this way, and I know that this is because of my attachment issues, but it makes me feel like I am an awful person. I feel absolutely horrible that, even though I feel like I am a good mom to my sons, I’m not a complete mom. I believe the fact that my children both have special needs is one thing that has somewhat exacerbated these feelings of not having fully attached. Every parent has dreams for their children, and most parents want to protect their children from anything that could possibly hurt them. When your child has special needs, you learn to adjust your life to fit their needs. These adjustments include letting go of some of the dreams you have for your child. It’s also difficult to know that you can’t protect your child from his or her special needs. Some parents are able to adjust easily to their child’s special needs, and are able to view the situation from the glass half-full perspective. Other parents greatly feel the loss of their dreams for their child and the guilt they carry for not being able to protect their child from something completely out of their control. I tend to fall in the latter category. My children’s special needs are seen as a source of pain, so the desire to block out that pain sometimes translates into my putting up a wall between myself and my children.

My attachment issues have been a source of frustration and extreme guilt for me. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am not a bad person, and I am a good mom. I also have to remind myself that my attachment issues are there because of something that was beyond my control. I love my children more than life itself, and I have developed a strong bond with them—it’s just not something that comes as naturally for me as it should. I have heard some parents say that their child “got over” their attachment issues. For children who never learned how to attach correctly, the ability to develop healthy attachments will most likely not come naturally and will be something they will have to work on throughout their lives. We’re not freaks or sociopaths or bad people—we’re simply wired differently than others and we have to work harder in our relationships. Rest assured, I love the people in my life and hold them all very close to my heart. I love, I genuinely care for others, I feel pain, and I feel empathy. Every person has a burden to bear—mine is just one of the many reasons why I hold my sons a little tighter and tell them I love them, and tell them again…

Transracial Adoption: The Importance of Honoring Your Child’s Racial and Cultural Identity

My parents are both Caucasian, and I have an older sister who was also adopted from Korea, and a younger brother who is my parents’ biological son. We lived in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood and attended a school where there were a total of five students of color. My sister and I were adopted at a time when there was very little awareness about transracial adoption and the importance of honoring your child’s race and culture of origin. My parents never received training on how to be transracially adoptive parents. They were given a Korean flag, a Korean cookbook, and essentially told to bring us home and love us and everything would be okay.

Considering the lack of resources my parents had, they did well with raising my sister and me to be proud of our Korean heritage. When choosing names for us, they chose to make our Korean surnames our middle names, so we would always be able to keep a part of our Korean heritage with us. My parents sent us to Korean culture camp and drove us an hour each way to provide us with that opportunity. Through the Korean culture camps, we were able to spend a week with kids who looked just like us, and learn with them about the language and different aspects of the culture. My parents bought us books in which the characters were Korean. I remember my favorite was the Korean version of Cinderella. My parents also learned how to make a couple of Korean dishes, and my mom’s bulgogi is actually one of our family’s favorite and most requested meals when we get together for special occasions. It’s something my parents have also served to guests in their home, so it’s really neat to see them share that part of our family’s culture with others, as well.

I remember being really openly proud of being Korean in grade school. When kids were bringing things like stuffed animals and toys for show-and-tell, I brought my Korean flag. I remember even wearing my hanbok to school for a project and being so proud and feeling so special to be able to share that part of me with my classmates.

On the flip side, I was teased a lot when I was in grade school. Even though there were four other Korean students at my school, I think I was the easy target because I was quiet and shy and really sensitive. My family never talked about racism, so I knew what was happening was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t usually tell my parents when I was teased or bullied at school. In a way, I felt like I was protecting them from it, and I also thought there was something wrong with me, and I didn’t want my parents to know. As proud as I was to be Korean, there were nights where I laid in bed crying and praying to God, asking Him to make me white and pretty like the other girls because I was tired of being different.

When I was in high school, I stopped identifying myself as Asian because I didn’t want to be known as different anymore. I attended a large high school, so it was easier for me to blend in. I remember receiving the occasional invites from the school’s multicultural club, and being so embarrassed by them. Blending in worked well for me, as I experienced very few incidents of racism and bullying in high school. At the time, it felt really good to finally feel like I fit in and feel like I belonged, even if it meant denying a part of who I was.

When I started college, I was really excited because the school I was attending was in the city and offered a diverse student population, including a fairly large Asian population. I quickly learned that because I didn’t know my language of origin and very little about my culture, I was seen as an outcast in the Asian community. I looked Asian on the outside, and I identified as Asian, but I wasn’t Asian enough to belong. It was one thing to be rejected by people who looked different from me, but it was extremely painful to experience that rejection from people within my own racial community. When I met and married my husband, who is Mexican, I unknowingly further drove a wedge between myself and the Asian community by marrying outside of my race.

My husband and I are the parents of two biracial sons, and we have made raising them with racial and cultural pride a priority. They are well-connected with the Latino community. My husband speaks fluent Spanish, and I like to think I know enough Spanglish to get by. We don’t use Spanish as our first language in our home, but we do use Spanish phrases and terms of endearment, so our sons have been exposed to and have a basic knowledge of the language. We make authentic Mexican food at home and we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and participate in other cultural events and celebrations. We live in a diverse neighborhood and my sons attend diverse schools. I am actually really excited because my older son has an Asian teacher this year. It’s something I never had growing up, so I’m really happy that he is able to have that opportunity.

Because of the rejection I have experienced by the Asian community, we have been somewhat lax in providing our sons with opportunities to learn about their Korean culture. I do make some Korean dishes for them, and we are fortunate enough to live in an area with Korean restaurants and markets so we are able to expose them to the culture in that way. When my kids were younger, I learned about training chopsticks (http://edisonchopsticks.com.au/) through one of my Korean friends. They are available for both right-handed and left-handed children—which is great because I have one of each—and you can purchase chopsticks for the different stages of your child’s development. My boys absolutely love being able to use them at home and when we go to Asian restaurants.

It definitely takes a lot of effort to teach your children about their race. When talking with our 9-year-old, he’ll proudly say that he is Korean and Mexican. When we talk with our 6-year-old, he usually gives us his best “mad-at-the-world” face and says, “I’m not Mexican or Korean! I’m Caiden!” So, as you can see, it’s definitely a work in progress!

When you become a transracial family, your life completely changes. Be prepared that the perception of your family will change. There will be people in your life with whom you have always been close, who won’t understand it. There will be times in which you will need to examine who the people are in your life and whether or not having them around will be beneficial or detrimental to your child. I feel that transracial adoption is unique in the sense that it affords people with white privilege the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of a person of color. You may actually experience racism for the first time in your life while with your child. One important thing to keep in mind is the fact that when you are not with your child, the world will go back to seeing you as a person with white privilege. Your child, however, does not have that luxury, as the world will always see your child as a person of color.

One of my friends and former coworkers, who is a transracially-adoptive parent, wrote an article a few years ago that I absolutely love and feel every transracially adoptive parent should read. I have learned so much from her, including the concept of externalizing racism, which I feel is an incredibly important tool for your child to have. Even though it’s the PC thing to say, we don’t live in a color blind world. We live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It’s inevitable that your child will experience racism at some point in his or her life, and it’s important for your child to be aware and know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching your child that racism isn’t about them—it’s about the ignorance of others who don’t understand. This is important because the last thing you want is for your child to feel like they are less than or that there is something wrong with them because of the color of their skin.

If you haven’t experienced it already, there is a good chance that you will be approached by complete strangers who will ask questions—some of which may be completely inappropriate. I think it’s really important to trust your instincts in these situations. If you feel that something is not quite right about the person who is asking, or if the question is really inappropriate, it is absolutely your right to say something like, “Why do you ask?” without answering their question, or simply ignoring their question and removing yourself and your child from the situation. Please remember to keep in mind that your child is learning from you and the way you handle these situations.

Growing up, my family would often vacation in Arizona. On a few occasions, my parents were approached in the airport and asked if my sister and I were foreign exchange students. They were always calm in these situations and never got upset. They would just look at us, smile, and proudly say, “No, they are all ours!” It’s important to know when to engage and when not to engage in racist situations. More often than not, it’s best to just walk away and remove your child and yourself from the situation rather than engage. People who have ignorant views on race are not going to suddenly be changed or have an epiphany because you fought back or berated them for their racist behaviors. Sometimes, you just can’t fix stupid, and while it would be amazing if we could wipe all racism off the face of this planet, I think it’s unrealistic to think that a world without racism could ever be our reality.

I have heard some parents say that they don’t like answering questions about their child’s race because it’s their child’s story to tell. But, it’s important to remember that your child is learning how to tell their story from you. So, while it is important to protect your child from racist situations, it’s also important to occasionally answer the questions about your child’s race in situations—most likely with friends, family or strangers from whom you get a good and safe vibe—in which you feel it is safe to do so. I, personally, like to use these situations as opportunities to allow others to help instill racial pride in my sons. The responses we usually get in these situations involve the other person telling our sons how handsome they are, or telling us how proud we must be of our sons, etc. It is one thing to hear these things from your parent, but it’s another for your children to hear positive comments about themselves coming from complete strangers.

It is absolutely imperative that you talk to your child about race. Talk about the incidents of racism, but talk about the good experiences involving their race, as well. Don’t minimize their feelings if they tell you that someone made them feel uncomfortable or badly about the color of their skin. It’s important for your child to know that they can talk to you about the good things and the bad things and trust that you will honor their experiences. Know that your child’s racial identity will most likely change at some point in their lives. There may be times in which your child will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It’s important for you to lay the groundwork for your child, but you need to also allow your child to explore and develop their racial identity in their own way. There are so many things that are out of your child’s control when it comes to adoption. One thing they can, and should be allowed to claim ownership of, is their racial identity.

Know that nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent. I wholly believe that it takes a village to raise a child who has been transracially adopted. It’s important that you reach out to members of your child’s racial and cultural communities and give your child opportunities to learn from and be among people who look just like them. I constantly struggle with the knowledge that I won’t be the one to teach my children about the Korean culture, because as their parent, I want to be the one to teach them about who they are. As a transracially adoptive parent, it’s important to accept the things you don’t know about your child’s race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing it as a shortcoming or failure, look at it as an opportunity to learn with your child. Use every opportunity possible to involve your entire family when learning about your child’s race and culture of origin. In doing so, you are forming a stronger bond with your child and making your child feel like an important part of your family.

Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to afford your child the opportunities they need to learn about their race and culture. If you don’t live in a diverse area, and you are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to a more diverse area. If you are unable to move, or if you have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which you currently live, it’s important to be accepting of the fact that you may need to drive an hour or two to give your child opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like them. It’s imperative that you make every effort possible to afford your child these experiences.

I, personally, believe that it’s important to give a little in order to provide your child with these experiences. I’m not talking about giving a little in a monetary sense. Do things like take time to learn how to make an ethnic dish or a dish that is important to your child’s culture and share it with those who are helping teach your child. Take time to learn your child’s language of origin. Nobody is expecting you to become fluent in your child’s language, but a few phrases go a long way. I remember when I first met my father-in-law’s mom. I asked her if she would like something to drink in Spanish, and I seriously think she almost had a heart attack, as the last thing she expected to hear was this Asian person speaking to her in her native language! But, I remember her being really appreciative of the effort.

I personally believe that the greatest amount of scrutiny your child will experience will most likely be from members of his or her own racial and cultural communities. I can tell you firsthand that being rejected by people from your racial and cultural community is one of the most painful forms of rejection your child could ever experience. When I was told that I wasn’t “Asian enough”, it was a blow to everything I believed about myself. Your child should never have to prove that they belong or feel that they are “less than” by members of their racial and cultural community. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of your child’s racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

The last point I want to make is the importance of not losing yourself in the process when honoring your child’s race and culture. My dad is Italian and the Italian culture has always been very much a part of our family. My sister and I will always identify in part as Italian, and I have to say that we can make a pretty mean meatball! So, while you won’t necessarily be able to teach your child about their culture, you can and should teach your child about yours. A multicultural child will have so much more to offer the world than one with no sense of their culture at all.

Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising your child with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor your child’s racial and cultural identity will make a difference in his or her life, and you’ll be surprised with how much you’ll learn about yourself and others along the way!

Note: This blog entry contains excerpts and elaborations from my presentation at the Crossroads of America Adoption Conference hosted by MLJ Adoptions.

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.

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Adoptive Parents Should Know

1. Adoption is not possible without loss. Losing one’s birth parents is the most traumatic form of loss a child can experience. That loss will always be a part of me. It will shape who I am and will have an effect on my relationships—especially my relationship with you.

2. Love isn’t enough in adoption, but it certainly makes a difference. Tell me every day that I am loved—especially on the days when I am not particularly lovable.

3. Show me—through your words and your actions—that you are willing to weather any storm with me. I have a difficult time trusting people, due to the losses I have experienced in my life. Show me that I can trust you. Keep your word. I need to know that you are a safe person in my life, and that you will be there when I need you and when I don’t need you.

4. I will always worry that you will abandon me, no matter how often you tell me or show me otherwise. The mindset that “people who love me will leave me” has been instilled in me and will forever be a part of me. I may push you away to protect myself from the pain of loss. No matter what I say or do to push you away, I need you to fight like crazy to show me that you aren’t going anywhere and will never give up on me.

5. Even though society says it is PC to be color-blind, I need you to know that race matters. My race will always be a part of me, and society will always see me by the color of my skin (no matter how hard they try to convince me otherwise). I need you to help me learn about my race and culture of origin, because it’s important to me. Members of my race and culture of origin may reject me because I’m not “black enough” or “Asian enough”, but if you help arm me with pride in who I am and the tools to cope, it will be okay. I don’t look like you, but you are my parent and I need you to tell me—through your words and your actions—that it’s okay to be different. I have experienced many losses in my life. Please don’t allow the losses of my race and culture of origin to be among them.

6. I need you to be my advocate. There will be people in our family, our school, our church, our community, our medical clinic, etc. who don’t understand adoption and my special needs. I need you to help educate them about adoption and special needs, and I need to know that you have my back. Ask me questions in front of them to show them that my voice matters.

7. At some point during our adoption journey, I may ask about or want to search for my birth family. You may tell me that being blood related doesn’t matter, but not having that kind of connection to someone has left a void in my life. You will always be my family and you will always be my parent. If I ask about or search for my birth family, it doesn’t mean I love you any less. I need you to know that living my life without knowledge of my birth family has been like working on a puzzle with missing pieces. Knowing about my birth family may help me feel more complete.

8. Please don’t expect me to be grateful for having been adopted. I endured a tremendous loss before becoming a part of your family. I don’t want to live with the message that “you saved me and I should be grateful” hanging over my head. Adoption is about forming forever families—it shouldn’t be about “saving” children.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I may need help in coping with the losses I have experienced and other issues related to adoption. It’s okay and completely normal. If the adoption journey becomes overwhelming for you, it’s important for you to seek help, as well. Join support groups and meet other families who have adopted. This may require you to go out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it. Make the time and effort to search for and be in the company of parents and children/youth who understand adoption and understand the issues. These opportunities will help normalize and validate what we are going through.

10. Adoption is different for everyone. Please don’t compare me to other adoptees. Rather, listen to their experiences and develop ways in which you can better support me and my needs. Please respect me as an individual and honor my adoption journey as my own. I need you to always keep an open mind and an open heart with regard to adoption. Our adoption journey will never end, and no matter how bumpy the road may be and regardless of where it may lead, the fact that we traveled this road together, will make all the difference.

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If you are interested in sharing this blog post and would like an electronic version, please contact me at ckcasale2romo@gmail.com. Thank you so much for reading!!