An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

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I Choose Love

I have been thinking a lot about the current state of affairs in this country, and I find the hatred and unrest surrounding it all so upsetting. There are people I love and care about very much who remain on opposing sides of many issues. They have their opinions and beliefs and I have my own. However, I don’t love or respect them any less because we don’t see eye-to-eye. They have their reasons for their beliefs and I have my own.

The thing that really bothers me about all of this is the fact that some people only seem to care about being right. There have been so many arguments and debates over whose principles and beliefs reign supreme and why all members of the opposing sides are horrible and deserve to be made fools of or completely cut from one’s life. Yes, there are definitely instances in which the cutting of ties is absolutely the answer, but this is certainly not the case in every situation.

Call me naïve or a bleeding heart, but none of this is about being right for me. It’s about loving your neighbor—regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, etc. It’s about being kind and loving and opening your heart to others and accepting them and loving them for who they are.

You want to talk about God? I don’t know about yours, but my God is a loving and righteous God who walks with His sons and daughters and carries us through our struggles and supports us as we bear our burdens. He is a God who loves everyone, regardless of our perceived sins and shortcomings. He is a God who kneels and washes the feet of the poor and suffering, who takes His sons and daughters into His arms without question, and loves freely and openly and without the need to judge or discriminate.

My family has been perceived as different for as long as I can remember. When I registered my oldest son for school, the school system forced me to choose one of his races over the other—nonchalantly forcing his own mother to strip him of half of his racial identity without concern of the implications of doing so. I can’t remember a time when we have walked into a store and not felt the burning glares and distain for our mixed family from older Asian men and women who obviously feel I have somehow disgraced their culture because I married outside of my race and created tiny humans whose blood is not purely Asian. I have had numerous racial slurs flung at me throughout my life. These experiences could easily be perceived as reason enough to hate, but that is not who I am and that certainly was not the way I was raised.

The monumental ruling to allow all couples of legal age to marry in all 50 states matters to me as a straight ally, as a wife, and as a mom. It matters to me because I was allowed to marry the love of my life over 12 years ago and I cannot imagine a life without him as my partner, my other half, and father of my children—both in love and in law. As someone who was legally allowed to marry her partner, I cannot imagine the pain of loving someone so much and wanting to spend the rest of your life with them, and being legally banned from being able to do so.

I have so many dreams for my sons. I have no way of knowing who they will be when they grow up or who they will choose to love. I will love them regardless of whether or not they attend college or achieve their perceived successes in life. I will love them if they are gay and I will love them if they are straight. And, because of this monumental ruling, I will be able to dance with them at their weddings regardless of whom they choose as life partners and where they choose to live.

I will continue to remain unshaken in my belief that all people matter. No religion or law will dictate how I choose to treat others. I will never claim to easily or always love or embrace others or treat others with kindness. Doing so will always be both a struggle and a conscious choice. But, regardless of my spiritual or political beliefs, I will always try to choose love. I will always try to choose kindness. And, I will always try to choose what I feel in my heart is right.

Hate builds mountains. Love moves them. Choose love.

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!

A Dose of Racism to Go with Your Coffee

I travel a few times a year for work, and I would have to say that I could take it or leave it. I love being able to experience the different cities and provinces, and meet the people, but it definitely gets lonely sitting in an empty hotel room when you are used to the craziness that two young, vivacious boys can bring to one’s life. I’m a homebody. It’s my favorite place in the world to be, and I would rather be there with my family than anywhere else. It’s also my safe place.

Yesterday, I made the “journey” to Toronto for work. I am on a low-dose chemotherapy regimen that I take every week to help manage my lupus symptoms. The side effects aren’t fun, but I’d take those over the chronic pain any day. I had started the morning feeling okay, but after two turbulent flights, I was feeling tired and sick to my stomach. All I wanted was to get to my hotel room and rest.

I was waiting in a very long customs line for visitors, when the airport staff allowed a group of us to move to the much shorter customs line for Canadian residents. As I followed the flow of the line, I noticed the woman behind me getting closer and closer. As we made our way around a corner, I noticed that she was inching to get ahead of me. She was quite a bit taller than me, but I stood my ground and maintained my place in line. All of sudden, she looked down at me with complete disgust, and proceeded to accuse me of trying to cut in front of her in the line. If looks could kill, I would have been a goner in that moment. I may be small, but I can be feisty when needed. I politely, but firmly, told her that I had been ahead of her in line, and I was not cutting in front of her. I then turned around to face the front of the line to avoid further confrontation. It was obvious that her deluded sense of entitlement led her to believe that she could bully her way ahead in the line. Little did she know—she messed with the wrong Asian!

There were a large number of Asians in the line from which we had just moved. After I had put the woman in her place (yes, behind me in the line), the woman and her friend started complaining about how slowly the lines were moving. They then proceeded to blame the pace on the number of “Chinese” people who were in the line. They carried on with this conversation for the rest of our time in line, knowing full well that the person standing in front of them was Asian (or “Chinese” in their eyes).

This encounter made me mad. I was disgusted. Had I been anywhere but in a customs line at the airport, I would have said something to them. But, it was not the time or the place to engage, so I remained silent. When I finally made it to my hotel room, I replayed the encounter over and over in my head. My anger turned to sadness. I’m sure the look that woman gave me—the look that made me feel like I was an insect, there for her to squish under her entitled and white-privileged heel—was one she had given many people in her lifetime. How sad it must be to live your life believing that you are superior simply based on the color of your skin. How sad it must be to miss out on meeting so many wonderful people, simply because you were too close-minded and racist to see past the color of their skin.

I started thinking about my sons and wondered how the world would view them as adults. Will they encounter situations like these, or will they live in a world where diversity is respected and honored? We, as parents, are helping to shape the future through our children. We must ask ourselves—who are we raising our children to be? Are we raising our children with open hearts and open minds? Are we raising our children to respect others and celebrate our differences? I don’t know if our world will ever be a place free of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and all of the other -isms, but I am going to live with the belief and hope that we will one day be able to move past the oppression and hate that tarnishes our world today.

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.