An Adoptee’s Perspective: Is Adoption Worth It?

When I started working in the adoption world a little over five years ago, I was an absolute proponent of adoption. I don’t think there would have been anything anyone could have said or done to make me believe that adoption wasn’t anything but wonderful. Working in the adoption world can be difficult at times, especially for an adoptee. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say something negative about adoption or attempt to discourage prospective parents from adopting, my kids’ college fund would be all set. The negative sentiments towards adoption can be difficult to hear sometimes, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be where I am today had my parents not chosen to adopt me. Working in the adoption world has brought a lot of my adoption issues to the surface, and has forced me to address many issues I had kept buried for most of my life. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work in this field and learn about the good and the bad sides of adoption. It has also helped validate and normalize many of the feelings and experiences I have had throughout my adoption journey.

I believe in adoption. I believe that every child deserves a loving forever family. But, I am also well aware that adoption is not easy or perfect. Mistakes are made, and children and families sometimes pay the ultimate price for those mistakes. Working in the adoption world, I hear the stories—good and bad—and I see a system that works for some and has failed miserably for others. I also see children who age out of foster care or live their entire young lives in orphanages, and I am well aware of the statistics on the difficulties they will most likely face.

As much as I believe in adoption, I know that adoption isn’t for everyone. You need to be extremely dedicated, open-minded, always open to learning, and incredibly thick-skinned to be an adoptive parent. Adoption isn’t easy. It’s not a lifetime spent on cloud nine, nor is it always a dream fulfilled for people wanting to add to their families. Regardless of whether they were adopted domestically, internationally, or from foster care—all adoptees come with issues. No matter how old they were when adopted, it’s unrealistic to believe that it is possible for a child to experience the loss of one’s birth parent and come out on the other side completely unscathed.

The adoption journey doesn’t end when your adopted child is finally in your arms. The journey is one that never ends. It is a journey filled with joy and it is a journey filled with heartache. It’s the realization of one dream and the loss of another. It will sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride that never ends. It is also a journey in which you may need to learn when to love and when to let go.

I have heard some parents say that they don’t know whether or not they would adopt if they could go back and do it all over again. But, a majority of adoptive parents have whole-heartedly said that despite the tears, the sleepless nights, and the sacrifices they have had to make throughout their adoption journeys—they still believe that it was absolutely worth it. If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is the fact that part of being a parent is experiencing heartache and knowing that you would endure it a million times over because your child is worth it. That’s how I feel about adoption. The system isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect, and children aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop finding forever families for children and teens and it doesn’t mean that we should stop believing in the good things adoption has to offer.

My story as an adoptee hasn’t been picture perfect. I didn’t talk to my parents very much about being adopted or all of the teasing and bullying I endured growing up. I think it was my way of protecting them. As a teenager, I acted out and did things I am not proud of and put myself and my parents through hell and back. I went through a phase of not really caring about anything, much less myself. In doing so, I thoroughly tested my parents’ love and support for me. But, no matter what I put them through and no matter how much I pushed them away, my parents were always there. Looking back at that period in my life, I am so thankful that I had a place to call home and for parents who were there to pick me up when I hit rock bottom.

Even though adoption isn’t perfect and it’s not always a fairytale, as an adoptee, I can unequivocally say that adoption is worth it. I don’t know what I would do without my parents’ love and support. My parents and I talk pretty much every day. Some days I don’t feel like talking, and other days I am off in another world, but I always look forward to those daily phone calls. I find comfort in knowing that I can just pick up the phone when I’m having a rough day and know that I will always have someone to talk to. I am blessed to have a family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with. Without adoption, none of this would have been possible, and I would not be the person I am today.

The Beauty in Being Different

I read an article today about my hometown, and it wasn’t pretty. The article tells the story of a school district that secretly passed a policy requiring all school personnel to take a neutral stance on issues of homosexuality. It is essentially a form of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It also allows school personnel within that district to turn a blind eye to complaints from students who are being bullied due to their sexual orientation. This is a school district that recently saw nine of its students take their own lives within a two-year period.

This article made me think of a heart-wrenching episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which a lesbian character’s father brings her family’s priest to the hospital in an effort to “pray away the gay.” In that same episode, the character’s girlfriend has a conversation with the father in which she tells him about the day she came out to her own father. She had never been interested in boys while growing up, and her parents knew, but yet she still worried that her father would kick her out upon hearing the news. Instead, when she told her father, his response to her was, “Are you still who I raised you to be?”

I believe that homosexuality is not a choice, but something which is innate. I have friends and family members who are gay and bisexual, and they are amazing and wonderful people. I believe they are who their parents raised them to be, regardless of the life partners they have chosen. People of color are not required to hide the color of their skin from the world, so people who identify as LGBTQ should not be shamed into keeping their sexual orientation a secret. They are people, and I believe the very thing that makes them “different,” is one of the many things that makes them beautiful.

As the episode of Grey’s Anatomy states, I strongly believe that you can’t “pray away the gay,” just as you can’t pray away the color of your skin. Believe me, I’ve tried. As a child, I spent many nights secretly praying to God, asking Him to make me blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and Caucasian, because I didn’t want to be different anymore. Twenty-plus years later, and I am still as Asian as they come.

I endured a fair amount of bullying growing up, and have even experienced it as an adult. Kids were mean when I was younger, but they can be downright vicious now. In an age where people can disguise themselves behind a computer screen or a phone, the attacks on others have escalated to unimaginable heights. I have heard and seen teenagers using racial and anti-gay slurs like they are every day words. These words should NEVER be a part of anyone’s vocabulary, PERIOD. Words can cut like a knife, and they can absolutely be the catalyst that can change a person’s life forever.

It is NOT okay that nine teenagers in one school district were made to feel so badly about themselves—so ashamed—that they would take their own lives. I have been there. I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom. I know what it feels like to get to a point where you think you are worthless and the world would be a better place without you. It’s a horrible place to be, and I cannot even begin to imagine what these teenagers must have gone through to get them to this place.

Kids don’t come with manuals, but parents should be equipped with open minds and open hearts. Parents should never use racial or anti-gay slurs around their children, or anywhere, for that matter. Children are incredibly perceptive, and pick up on a lot of things you would never imagine they would. They put an incredible amount of weight on the words and actions of their parents. If you, as a parent, don’t like the color of someone’s skin, or their sexual orientation, that’s your problem, but don’t make it your child’s problem. Children should be taught that everyone is different, and that those differences are part of what makes them beautiful. People should be accepted and admired for their differences—never bullied or belittled. Complete acceptance of differences is ideal, but at the very least, it is important that parents attempt to maintain open minds when teaching their children about the world and helping them to form their beliefs. The world will be a much better place when people learn to see the beauty in being different. And this message needs to begin at home.

** Please note that this post is not meant to offend anyone. I feel strongly about this issue, and felt the need to address this article. **

Parenting the “Other” Race Child

As a parent, your world revolves around your children. As much as it’s the greatest job in the world, it’s also one of the most difficult.

Parents make many decisions on a daily basis that affect their children. Recently, a couple from Canada revealed their child’s gender after concealing it for five years. They raised him in a gender-neutral environment with hopes that in doing so, it would allow him to develop his own personality and be who he wants to be, regardless of societal expectations. They revealed their son’s gender because they felt it would be too difficult to conceal now that he is starting school.

Some of the decisions we make for our children have the potential to be life-changing, so we make our decisions carefully and with their best interests in mind, and hope for the best. My family lives in a large and very diverse city. My sons are Mexican and Korean. They are too young to fully understand what it means to be biracial, but my husband and I are doing our best to ensure that our sons know who they are and where they came from.

A few years ago, we found a great elementary school for our oldest son, and we were so excited for him to start this new chapter in his life. I completed the enrollment application and met with a staff person at the student placement center. She took my son and me to a room where we introduced ourselves and she looked over our application. She told me everything looked good, but I needed to change my answer to the race question, where I had checked the Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic boxes. She slid the application across the table towards me, and proceeded to nonchalantly tell me that I was allowed to only check one race for my son. I told her that he was an equal percentage of both races, and asked her how I was expected to choose one for him. She then proceeded to tell me, “If you don’t choose one, I’ll make the decision for you.” I must have had a completely panicked—or absolutely livid—look on my face, because she told me I could take some time to decide, and then took my son to a different room for school readiness testing.

I remember sitting at the tiny round table with the tiny human chairs—my mind racing about a mile a minute. My husband and I had spent 5 years raising a proud, biracial son, and with one flick of my pen, I was expected to change my son’s racial identity in the eyes of the school system. In doing so, it felt like I was telling my son that half of his identity didn’t matter. Not wanting to allow a complete stranger to make such an important decision for my son, I checked the “Asian” box. My oldest son looks very Asian, and my youngest son looks more Latino. So, I decided that I would check the box for each of my sons that corresponded with their outer appearances. When my youngest son started school, I checked the “Hispanic” box for him.

It’s incredibly difficult being a parent of biracial children and raising them to be proud of their uniqueness, when society refuses to acknowledge who they are as a whole. Because they don’t fit neatly into that box, they will always have to choose one, or check “Other”, when answering the race question. I worry about the implications of this, as they grow and shape their own understandings of their racial identity. Sadly, my sons know more about their Mexican culture than they ever will of their Korean culture.

Being biracial will also most likely affect the interactions my sons have with other Asians. We live in an area that is heavily populated with single-race Asian families. When we are out in public, which is fairly often, my family endures angry stares and whispers from other Asians. I am a disgrace—an outcast—to the Asian community because I married outside of my race. I don’t know my language or culture of origin, which further drives the wedge between my family and the Asian community. We have experienced some of this with the Latino community, but they have been a lot more accepting of our biracial family.

Right now, my sons are completely oblivious to the stares and the whispers, but I know there will come a time when they will begin to realize what is happening. We won’t always be able to protect them from any potential backlash, but we will work hard to arm them with the tools to cope with being different in the eyes of people who look just like them.

Race does matter. My sons have a right to be proud of both of their races, but society and their school system tell them otherwise. The very institution that teaches my sons about race, culture, and diversity is the same institution that tells my biracial sons that they are only allowed to honor one of their races. Imagine a hospital telling a new mother of twins that she can only choose one to bring home with her. Imagine that hospital worker telling her that if she can’t decide, the decision will be made for her. I realize this is an extreme example, but the feeling of heartbreak you feel when imagining such a situation is the very feeling a parent of a biracial child feels when they are told their child is only allowed to identify as one race. It’s hurtful and potentially very damaging, and it needs to change.

We, as a society, have come a long way in terms of racial and cultural competence, but we have so much more to learn.

Transracial Adoption: It’s Not Easy Being Green, But You Can Make It Easier for Your Child

I am a Korean adoptee who was adopted at the age of 2. My dad is a 2nd generation Italian and my mom is German. My older sister is Korean, and my younger brother is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect combination of my parents. I cannot tell you how many times my parents were asked if my sister and I were foreign exchange students!

I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, and attended school where I was one of a handful of minority students. My sister was beautiful, outgoing, intelligent, and popular. I, on the other hand, was incredibly awkward and introverted as a child, and I was teased a lot for being different.

My parents were proud of us, and they taught us to be proud of who we were and where we came from. It was no secret that my sister and I were adopted, and my parents did as well as they could with the resources they had at the time to make sure we didn’t lose a sense of our culture. When we were adopted, my parents gave us American first names, and used our Korean surnames as our middle names. They sent us to Korean culture camp and they cooked Korean meals for us.

When I was younger, I actually found it easier to be proud of my Korean culture. At times, I kind of liked being different than my peers and I was proud to have a story that was different than everyone else’s. As I grew older, and struggled more and more to fit in, I found myself wanting to look like everyone else. In high school, I often received invitations to join the multicultural club, and I always ignored them. At that point, I actually considered myself to be Caucasian. Kermit the Frog hit the nail on the head when he sang, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. I knew what it felt like to be considered as different, and I wanted no part of it.

In college, I started to make an effort to get involved with Asian groups, but quickly found that because I didn’t know my language of origin, I was never going to be accepted by them. Apparently, I wasn’t Asian enough to belong. When I met and married my husband, who is Mexican, and had two children with him, I inadvertently drove a bigger wedge between myself and the Asian community by marrying outside of my race.

As a parent of two biracial children, I find it so incredibly important to attempt to create and cultivate ties between my children and their cultural communities. Due to my own experiences, we have been very lax in getting our children involved with the Asian community, but they are very involved with the Latino community. My husband is fluent in Spanish, and I can speak enough to get by, so we both speak some Spanish with the boys at home. We make Mexican food, and we take the boys to posadas, quinceañeras, and Cinco de Mayo celebrations

Food is a big part of our lives, so we use it as a vehicle to introduce our children to different cultures. In their short lives, they have experienced food from countries like India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, Korea, Mexico, and Italy!

As a transracial adoptee, and now as a transracial parent, I cannot stress enough the importance of instilling a sense of pride in your child’s culture not only within your child, but also within your family. When possible, reach out to families who share your child’s race and culture. If they speak a different language, ask them to teach you different words and phrases. Learn how to cook dishes from your child’s culture and introduce them to your family. Learning things about your child’s culture of origin along with your child is an incredibly powerful experience. As a transracial parent, it is important to constantly be open to learning new things about your child’s race and culture of origin. Arming your child with the knowledge of who he is and where he comes from will be an invaluable tool for him as he grows and shapes his identity.

Things

I wrote this piece a while ago, but thought it would make a great first blog post.

My husband and I are currently in the process of swapping rooms around in our house. Of course, with moving things around, comes the process of going through and throwing things away. My husband is very much a “thrower” and I am very much a “saver”. I am also an adoptee.

As I was watching my husband toss handfuls of things into the garbage without blinking an eye, I could literally feel my heart breaking. When he was finished, I quietly went through the bags and boxes piece by piece and rescued the items that meant something to me. My husband understood and left me to do what I needed to do to get through this process.

After I had gone through everything, we had a conversation about it. He told me that he wasn’t a sentimental person and never had the same attachment to things that I always have. I told him that adoptees view “things” differently than those who haven’t had that experience.

I was left abandoned in a subway station in Korea when I was one. I was left with absolutely no identifying information–no name, no birthdate…nothing. I was adopted at age two, and all I have of my life in Korea are “things”. I have no memories of the life I lived before I came to America.

I told my husband that I have a greater attachment to “things” because of those earlier losses I experienced in life. These things include baby items, some papers, pictures, and other items that have memories attached to them. I reminded him that his mom has his things from when he was a baby. I have nothing from when I was a baby. I hold very dear the “things” from when my sons were babies. They may never mean much to them, but they are incredibly important to me and they will always be here should my sons ever want to keep them or pass them along to their own children someday.

I was mulling over the events from this weekend, and I realized how important it might be to share this experience with foster, adoptive and kinship parents.

When you are getting ready to move or when you are tired of the clutter and are in the mood to throw things away, please be sure to give your adopted or foster child time to process the change and go through their belongings. It might take longer than you’d like for this to happen. If it means putting things into boxes and storing them in the garage or attic until your son or daughter is ready to go through them, then make this accommodation for them. Never spring something like this on your child and expect him or her to get over it and make it happen within a day or an hour. Getting rid of things can be a painful process for anyone, and even moreso for a foster or adopted child.

Please remember that the items you view as just “things” might mean the world to your child.