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.

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!

Guest Blogger Series: Dawn Hayden ~ Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption

When Dawn contacted me earlier this year in response to my call for guest bloggers, I was excited about the opportunity to work with her on her story. I have to say that I am a huge fan of her humor and sarcasm! Dawn is an amazing person who is so full of life and love for her husband and children, and it is an absolute pleasure to share her story with you!

~ Christina

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“Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption”

I never wanted children growing up—mainly due to all of the babysitting jobs I had. I sometimes think I cursed myself into making my body unable to reproduce. The doctors told me I would never be able to have children of my own, but I’m sure he never had a patient like me!

By the time I turned 30, I was overwhelmed with the urge to become a mother. Miraculously, I became pregnant! The baby’s father and I were so excited and quickly started planning for our baby. We picked out names, colors for our baby’s room, etc. The excitement diminished as quickly as it started when, at my second appointment, the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and I was told that I would inevitably miscarry. A part of me died inside that day. Unless you’ve been through it, one can never imagine the pain and heartache that consumes a mother when she loses a baby she was never able to meet.

My relationship was not able to survive the loss, but I would soon discover that it was a blessing in disguise. When I met the man I call my best friend, I learned to live again, and life was really good. We married in 2001 and began the process of trying to conceive. We endured eight IUI treatments and two years of longing for a child that slipped further from our reality with each failed IUI treatment. One day, our fertility specialist recommended that we try IVF. It sounded wonderful, but the fact that it costs $12,000 for one cycle (with no guarantees), we knew that it wasn’t for us.

At this point, we decided to look into adoption. Determined to become a mother, I knew immediately that we were meant to grow our family this way. My husband, on the other hand, took some convincing! After countless discussions and a lot of tears, we started on the road to adopting a child from China.

We found a small agency in our state and completed seemingly endless amounts of paperwork. The day we had to go to our local police station to be fingerprinted was a really difficult day for me. Up to this point, we had people writing letters about our character, we had every cupboard in our house inspected, and had to endure strangers making decisions and judgments about whether or not we should be allowed to be parents to a child who needed a family. We had been through so much, but the experience of having to walk into the police station, amidst pictures of criminals and missing persons posters really upset me. Having to get police clearance to become a parent when women all over the world were giving birth to children every day without ever seeing the inside of a police station was humiliating and heartbreaking. It made me feel like I wasn’t a whole person—like I was a failure as a woman because I couldn’t bring a baby into this world.

We went through the process and created a dossier that was sent to China. My husband and I are both Caucasian, but we were really drawn to China as the country from which we wanted to adopt. We knew our limitations of what we felt we could handle as parents, and felt we had made the right decision. When we received our referral in June of 2004, we were given two weeks to get ready and make arrangements to welcome our child into our home. I was going to be a mommy for the first time in my life!

We traveled to China with a wonderful group of people—5 other families in all. We quickly bonded with the other soon-to-be parents, as we were all embarking on the journey to meet our children. The 24-hour flight was arduous at best, but knowing that we were hours from meeting our daughter kept me going. Our daughter was almost ours!

After four hours of rest following our flight, we boarded a small, incredibly hot bus and drove ten miles to the Nanchang Civil Affairs offices. It was now July and unbearably hot in China.

Knowing our daughter was in the building, my feet couldn’t move fast enough! I could hear babies crying, and felt the tears running down my face. We were told to listen for our child’s Chinese name—a name I had memorized a million times over and imprinted on my heart. The moment we heard our daughter’s name—Xing Quanying—time stood still. Her nanny placed her in my arms. She was crying due to the heat, the long bus ride to the Civil Affairs Office, and from fear of not knowing who we were.

The moment my little Chloe was placed in my arms, the part of me that died all those years ago awakened and I felt more alive than ever before. I thanked God for finally giving us our daughter. She was everything I imagined and so much more. I thanked God for my infertility, as those struggles led us to our daughter—a daughter who was always meant to be ours.

I pray for my daughter’s birth mother often—this woman living halfway around the world who gave me back my soul with her incredible sacrifice. I will always have empathy for her, and will think of her often. I pray that she is at peace with the decision she made that has forever changed our lives. My daughter will always be a part of her, and she will always be a part of our lives and in our hearts.

Hayden Pictures

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Dawn and her husband, Michael, adopted their two beautiful daughters, Chloe (9) and Mahri (6) from China in 2003 and 2006. Chloe and Mahri attend Chinese Immersion School and are both at the top of their class! Dawn is thankful for the infertility struggles that brought Chloe and Mahri into her life!

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.

*****

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!!

Do You Want to Go Back?

Do you want to go back?

It’s a question I have been asked numerous times throughout my life. No matter how many times I have heard it, I have to admit that I am always a little taken aback when people ask me that question. In a way, it’s a reminder that, while I am an American citizen, I won’t ever fully belong here. And, because I was born there, I am also a Korean citizen, but I will never belong there, either. I realize people mean well when they ask, but for me, it’s a really difficult question to answer.

When I was found abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, I was crying and had bruises around my eyes. The back of my head was abnormally flat, presumably from not having been held enough. I was left without any identifying information, so I was given a birthdate of July 20, 1982, and I was given the name, Soon Duk Kim, which means kindness and virtue. I spent about a year in a foster home in Korea prior to my adoption. I have a photo of my foster mother holding me. I don’t think I will ever forget the gentle face—wrinkled, yet kind and serene—staring back at me from that photograph. It’s the closest thing to a baby photo I will ever have.

When I think about the way in which I was found, and when I feel the back of my head, I have a very difficult time believing that I came from a place of love. I look at my sons, both of whom have perfectly shaped heads, and I think about how I couldn’t hold them enough when they were babies. It saddens me to think about my first year of life. I know a majority of birth parents give their children an opportunity for a better life out of love. However, when I think about my birth parents, I have a hard time believing that they ever loved me. Many adoptees try to imagine what their birth parents must have looked like. Whenever I try to picture what my birth parents looked like, I don’t see faces. In fact, I have never seen anything but shadowy outlines of figures standing over me, but I have never been able to visualize a face.

For many years growing up, I actually feared going back to Korea to visit. My fear was that, if I went back to visit, I would not be allowed to leave the country. I know now that my fears were completely unrealistic, but those fears were very much a part of me for a very long time.

I used to wonder all the time. I used to imagine having another family in Korea. I used to imagine what it would be like to someday meet them and for them to tell me that they were searching for me and they loved me. Now, more than anything, I fear going back and looking at the crowds of people who look just like me and wondering. I don’t want to think that I might have a sibling or a relative living in Korea. I stopped wondering a long time ago because, now, I don’t want to know.

I have found comfort in the belief that there is nothing in Korea for me. I am well aware of the fact that because I don’t have knowledge of my birth name or my birth date, it would be nearly impossible for me to ever find any information about my birth family. I don’t read many stories about adoptees making their homeland journeys. It’s painful to read about the adoptees who found their birth families, and it’s heart-wrenching to read about those who were never able to find any information.

By leaving me without identifying information, I believe my birth parents were sending me a message that they don’t ever want to be found, and I’m okay with that. For me, it’s easier not knowing than feeling the pain of rejection again. It’s a pain that I don’t think I would ever be able to bear.

When my sons are older, I’m sure my family and I will make the homeland journey together. The purpose of the journey won’t be about trying to find my birth family, though. It will be an opportunity for my family to learn about the Korean culture together. For me, that will be a much more valuable experience than trying to find pieces of a puzzle that I was never meant to complete.