September 29, 2006

Open Mike: The Effect of Adoption on Family Members

There's been a lot of discussion recently on the blogs I read about how adoption impacts extended family and friends. Some might think adoption would only impact the ones living it directly - first mothers and fathers, adoptees, and adoptive parents. But what about siblings? Grandparents, aunts, and uncles?

And what about impacts that may have come to us from those who went before us, or may continue on to affect others in the future? This is no stand-alone experience, to be sure. The affects are far-reaching - in time and in relationships.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this, so today's Open Mike question is:

How does adoption affect extended family members and friends?

Asian American Stereotypes and Mental Health

Asian American women between 15 and 24 had the highest number of suicides among all U.S. women in that age group in 2003, with about 3.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2005. And Asian American females had the second highest rate of suicide in every other age group.

Read in the article below, from which this quote was taken, how cultural stereotypes intertwine dangerously with mental health practices, putting the health of Asian American women at serious risk.

Asian Women Face "Model Minority" Pressures

The article addresses the mental health outcomes of the intense pressure to excel placed on Asian American women, which include one of the highest suicide rates in the country in certain age groups. And although this would not apply to transracial adoptive families in which the parents are white, it is nonetheless important for a-parents to recognize it as a serious issue in our children's communities.

September 23, 2006

Race, Culture and Adoptive Families

The first Open Mike question was How do parents in multicultural and multiracial families teach their children about race and ethnicity? and many of you posted your thoughts in response. Now it's my turn.

To levelset: I'll be talking here about the challenges that face adoptive parents who do not share their children's ethnic heritage. Although multicultural families share many of the same challenges, being able to support their children's heritage through their families is a major difference, one that I'm sure brings additional challenges that adoptive families don't face, but a difference all the same.

Respecting and nurturing my kids' Korean race and heritage is something I take seriously. It's my responsibility as an adoptive parent, something I have no right to ignore or dismiss based on my personal views on race or culture. Parental belief in a color-blind society or a single human race is no good reason to deny children contact with their culture and community, nor is the fact that they may, from time to time, exhibit little interest themselves.

So presuming you agree, how do you go about doing it?

I think the first place to start is to think about the purpose of your efforts. Is it to make your children experts in their folk culture? Or is it to empower them to take their places in their racial and ethnic communities here in the US?

Although learning about folk culture may certainly be one of many steps along the way, I believe it's the latter. And if you don't share your child's race or ethnicity, you won't be able to do this on your own. You're going to need a lot of help.

So where do you get that help? Lots and lots of places. If you're like my family, you may start by "tourist parenting" - doing all you can to absorb your child's culture from any available source. I think this is an important phase in any adoptive family's cultural training, but it shouldn't be the only or last phase. In our case it was a way to get our cultural "bearings," so to speak, but it was only the beginning.

When children start school, and their racial awareness increases (and with it, the possibility of racially-motivated teasing from others), the focus has to change from folk culture to community. And this is something you can't learn from books or movies - this is something that takes contact with the people who share your child's racial and ethnic background.

My family is fortunate to live in the DC area, which has a Korean American population close to 100,000. This has given us access to people, organizations, activities, and events that would otherwise be unavailable to us. It has also allowed us and our children to make friends who have in some cases become our children's mentors - our daughter's taekwondo coach, for example.

We've been able to connect with the Korean American community in many ways. For example, through a Korean adoption support organization I'm active with, Korean Focus, my family has made connections with the Korean American Coalition chapter in DC, and with the Korean American Youth Association, another community service organization. These organizations have welcomed adoptive families into their activities, and have given us opportunities to volunteer - to roll up our sleeves and work alongside them, not just to attend their events as guests. But if organizations aren't for you, you can certainly still find ways to make individual connections and friendships - through parents you meet at your children's school, through churches, and through your activities.

Adoptive parents struggle sometimes with the decision to attend culture school, culture camp, and other cultural activities. There has been some dialog, even debate, over the years as to the importance of these. My opinion is that the debate is unnecessary - there's always room for more culture, and culture school may be your best source for Korean language lessons. However, I don't think that attending camp or school can be where your efforts stop.

Which brings me to Korean language. As someone whose educational background is in foreign languages and applied linguistics, who taught German and ESL for eight years in the public schools and another two or three more in community and private adult ed programs, I can speak with some authority on this subject. And I recommend putting the effort into learning the language if you possibly can. However, I know from my non-Korean-speaking Korean American friends that learning Korean can be as challenging to them as it is to adoptive families. But it's one thing I would have tried to do differently if I had it to over again, because I have learned from many adoptees how frustrating it is to go to their birth country without the language. Don't forget that there may be sources for Korean language lessons in your community even if you don't have a culture school - adult education classes through your public school system, for example (which is where I'm taking lessons this semester), or even online and computer-aided courses (like Rosetta Stone - my son is learning Japanese with Rosetta Stone, and hopefully in a few months I can offer some feedback on how Level I went. Anyone have any experience with the Korean version?)

A word about keeping up with Korean and Korean American issues: do. In the internet age, this is easy. Korea.net, the Korea Herald, and the Korea Times are online (as are many other Korean and Asian periodicals), and some offer news updates to your mailbox. There are any number of magazines you can subscribe to - we get KoreAm, Korean Quarterly, and Audrey, but there are many more. And don't forget that Korean movies, TV and music are one of the best ways to learn about popular culture.

And go to Korea!!!

I could go on and on, but you get the point. I think, though, that's it's more important for adoptive parents to hear from adoptees on this subject, so I recommend that you listen to the September 18th edition of Addicted to Race, in which Ji-in of Twice the Rice and Jae-ran of Harlow's Monkey discuss race and the importance of acknowledging it. They discuss the concept of cultural appropriation, one that is particularly important to TRAs and adoptive families. Download an MP3 of the program here.

September 22, 2006

On Giving Them Back

My last post, really the conversation with a first mom that I had that triggered it, is one that I know I'll be pondering for a long time, and I'll also be writing more about the things Robin said.

But I feel the need to add a few thoughts right now, to clarify my own perspective on one of the points, one held by some first parents that is deeply troubling to many adoptive parents - that we should give our children back and legally restore our children's first families.

First, to make sure it's clear - no, I couldn't do this, nor am I suggesting that any adoptive parent could. It is something, however, that deserves our deep thought.

It's obvious that I struggle with my role in adoption and in perpetuating practices that ignore mother's rights. My choice to adopt 18 years ago was based in a desire to have a family. And I believed that I was helping two young Korean women whose culture gave them no other options. It's what I've learned since then that has turned my thoughts around.

Whether we talk about a first mother's surrender of her child to adoptive parents, or adoptive parents' surrender of a child back to their first family, the loss and pain is the same. I couldn't do it, simply could not. Yet society seems to be OK with expecting first parents to do just this - to simply hand their children over.

I could take the position that because my children were already legally in the care of the Korean agency that placed them with us that we were really only helping to save them from institutional lives. But that's not where their history begins. It begins with two women and men who created and bore them, and with the circumstances that pushed those men and women to place them in adoption. Those circumstances - financial need, lack of societal support to raise them, my availability as a solution, and more - need to be addressed.

So from my perspective, a first mother's relinquishment of her child and an adoptive parent's return of their child to the first family would both be accomponied by pain. Yet society accepts the first as sad but necessary, but rejects the second as dissolution of a family.

It's the inherent injustice of this and recognition of the losses my children's mothers live with that make these issues important for me to think about, talk about, get into the open.

September 21, 2006

Adoption Enlightenment

I recently had a comment conversation with Robin Westbrook, whose blog Motherhood Deleted is one I have been reading more and more recently. Robin pulls no punches - she and her family have been hurt badly by adoption, and she works toward nothing short of its end.

I struggle finding the words to introduce Robin's comments, because they cut so completely to my core. Seeing them here, right after my thoughts about my son's first mother, make the feelings I express there look, well, shallow. Heartfelt from my perspective, but far from the reality of his first mom's experience.

If our family's circumstances - the fact that we haven't been able to reunite - allowed it, I would be doing many of these. But there is one thing I could never do, and that is return my children to their families if that meant disavowing our family and our ties. I have rationalized why this shouldn't apply to my family - our children are teens, so any decision on this should be theirs, not mine; it would be legally impossible; they would be lost in Korean culture without knowing the Korean language. There's truth in these, but that's not the point. The point is whether or not I could relinquish my ties to my children and hand them to another, just like that.

And I could not. Yet, as another commenter to this dialog pointed out, it's exactly what I expected my children's mothers to do all along.

For me, these questions are a kind of litmus test of adoption enlightenment. I will fail every time, because I could and would never return my children to their first families. This, I think, is the chasm that separates me from really understanding a first mother's experience.

These are the points Robin made - food for much thought. I'll be posting more on these, I'm sure.

Adopters will be unenlightened until

  • we get to the point where there are adopters and foster care providers who can say that the first and most important priority is to unite the original family
  • those who have adopted release their "parental" claims on the children they have taken "as their own
  • adopters realize the difference between a want and a need, an attachment and a true bond
  • adopters, who know that the awakened mother, who surrenders while affected by her seeming "crisis" and the rampant hormones of pregnancy, wants to reclaim her child, freely return that child to the mother with no media hoopla or court battles
  • people don't jump in to tell me how different THEIR case and how that makes adoption so "right" for them
  • adopters realize and ADMIT that they did something wrong by seeking that adoption and doing all in their power to restore the original family

If there is reunion, there may be a desire on the part of the adopted person for true reunification.

  • Will the children you adopted not be able to fully relate to their original family out of fear of hurting your feelings?
  • Can you dissuade them of the misdirected fears and loyaties to which they are prone?
  • Can you stand back and allow the never-disappearing bond to be re-strengthened?
  • Can you refrain from fighting over the adopted person's presence on holidays, etc?
  • Would you deny the Mother the right to a place of honor at her child's wedding?
  • Can you encourage any children born to the adopted persons to call the original Mother "grandma?"

September 18, 2006

Don't Misses 9-18-06

Activism Page Update

Please consider signing a petition for equality under immigration law to allow intercountry adoptees to sponsor their first families through lawful family-based immigration. Jane Jeong Trenka discusses how the petition was started on her blog, where you can find additional links to information about this initiative. (Thank you, Heather, for posting this, which is where I saw it first.)

Other Good Stuff

Don't miss Sheri's posts on ethical adoption - they're a work-in-progress, so check back to her site for next installments:

Adoption: Is there a way to make it human? Pt:1 A look at who profits

Making adoption more human: Pt2 When and how should adoption take place

Many thanks to Carrie for sending me the link to this article - a view of the changes in Korean adoption from the Australian point of view:

Adoption Heartache for Hundreds

I've also added several new blogs to the blogroll - if you have suggestions to add, feel free to send them to me.

September 15, 2006

Open Mike: Teaching Race in Multicultural Families

OK, let's give this a shot - the first Open Mike (which will henceforth be posted on Fridays) has begun.

Many thanks to everyone that posted a comment or sent an email for with topics. We have enough to address a different one every week for three months. Not too shabby!

The groundrules are simple: Just comment on the topic. If you're uncomfortable commenting as yourself, comment anonymously. The point is to share what you think, so please do. And don't worry about comment length.

And so - the topic of the first Open Mike is:

How do parents in multicultural and multiracial families teach their children about race and and ethnicity?

September 14, 2006

Letting Go

I've had six blog-free days, six PC-free days actually, three for a family wedding and three for a business conference with enforced single-tasking.

And during the three days of my business trip, I had lots of time to think.

I thought mostly about our children, about what the future will be like as they grow up, move on to college, and ultimately leave home. Like most parents, the thought of our home without the kids is one I find hard to accept. But the time is getting closer and closer - our son is a senior this year, our daughter a sophomore. Really, in a blink of an eye they'll be off on their own.

And for me this means the time has come to consider my involvement in reunion with our children's families. I need to step away and let our children make the decisions about if and when they reunite.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I were talking about her first family, and she commented that, although she wanted to know them one day, she wouldn't want it to be now. I gently asked if she could say why, and she honestly responded that she didn't feel she could handle the emotions at this point in her life. She seems to recognize that her teen years are turbulent enough.

A part of me wanted to encourage her otherwise, to pass on the urgent hope for reunion that I've held in my heart since she and our son arrived. Yet as she voiced her hesitation, I saw clearly that the time has come for me to let go - not to abandon hope or withdraw support, but to simply hand over the reins. This decision has to be hers and our son's.

Our children's families will always be a part of ours. The hope that we meet someday will always be in my heart. But it's time for the search and reunion to belong to them alone.

September 10, 2006

In Memory of Stanley L. Temple

Here is what I know of you:
Stanley L. Temple
77
New York, NY
United States
World Trade Center
In all the memorial sites and the newspaper articles, there are no memorials to you. No family members and friends write of your life, no obituaries mark your birth and passing, your work, or those you left behind. Where the click of other names leads to smiling photographs and poignant tributes, broken links follow your name, or the simple words of school children and respectful condolences of strangers.
Like this, from Sindy:
I seen that no one has wrote u and it made me feel so bad. I hope that u are in a better place now. And I hope that ur family are recovering as best as they can. May God bless u and ur family.
Or this, from Kasy Jo:
iam so sorry you were a victim hope your family doing well. iam sureyou werea great person. and iam sorrythat happend to you and your family.

god be with you always
Or this, from Kaitlyn:
Dear family of Stanley L. Temple, At my church today we prayed for your family and read your husband/dad's name to each other and thought about every person that lost their life's on this very terrifing day. With much love, kaitlyn:)
Nothing more. You are a mystery.

But there are some things I think I can know just from your name and age. You were born in the twenties, a child of the Great Depression, one of the Greatest Generation. It is likely you served your country in World War II or Korea, as you would have been a teenager at the start of the first war, a young man at the finish of the second. Perhaps you loved a wife and raised a family in New York when the wars were over, and watched your children grow to adulthood through the turbulence of the 60s and 70s. Having lived to 77, you certainly worked, perhaps at your heart's vocation, perhaps just to pay the bills. And you had dreams. I know you had dreams.

As I write this I like to think that your last day was spent in the tower viewing the city from the observation deck, enjoying the peace of retirement in a favorite place. I like to think that somewhere in New York your family and friends think of you now, sad that you are gone, but filled with memories of a long life well lived.

I remember you. Our country remembers you. And although the details of your life are a mystery, we mourn your loss as deeply as if you were our father, or brother, or son.

2996 Project tributes to the lives lost on September 11, 2001

On 9/13/2006 I received the following anonymous comment. Many thanks to whomever added it. I am so glad to know that Stanley does indeed have a family who undoubtedly miss him. I offer them my deepest sympathy, and hope they know that by writing my tribute I feel I know him myself.
I did not know Stanley personally, but worked as an employee of the City of New York to assist his family in obtaining a death certificate in the wake of the Trade Center disaster. Stanley worked shining shoes for the employees of Cantor Fitzgerald. He was not on their payroll, but his presence and employment was verified by enough surviving employees of Cantor Fitzgerald that his family was, after some wait, able to obtain a death certificate without the three-year wait usually required in case of a missing person. I don't know if his sister will see this tribute, but it's lovely to know it's out there. Thank you.

September 6, 2006

Adoption Language Quagmire

Thank you to the mom who emailed me late last night and clued me into the various issues at play in the recent adoption language debates. That information, plus reading and re-reading the original post and comments, and also an excellent discussion of the issue on Soul of Adoption, has clarified this complicated situation for me.

Within each adoption experience - first mother or father, adopted person, adoptive parent - are ranges of experiences and varied points of view. These bring each individual to a different place on adoption issues, personally and politically. And for those of us coming from another experience, the undercurrents may be invisible.

I realize that the specific issue at hand is beyond me - it's not mind to comment on or to judge. And I come back to my starting point about adoption language - it's all about respect for the individual.

In light of the fact that there are so many opinions within each experience, this may be easier said than done. But I'll keep trying.

September 5, 2006

Wise Women Speak

KimKim wrote this post a week ago and I totally forgot to add it to the last don't misses (it's there now). This is important - a-parents especially please read what Kim has to say. She makes it crystal clear that mothers who place their children in adoption love them. I'm not sure how anyone comes to believe otherwise, and this post will put that idea to rest once and for all.

And Suz added this comment to my last post - it is the clearest explanation of why the phrase "first mother" is so appropriate. I would add one more thing - that the ones who are living the experience have the right to choose their own title.
I am personal fan of first mom.

However, my belief is rooted in a more Hellinger approach. Adoption messes with the natural order of a family and importantly a mother-child relationship. This disruption in the family constellation has far reaching affects on all members of that first family.

First mom is nothing more than giving respect to the chronological order of things. As such, yeah, the adoptive moms are indeed the second moms. Any attempt to deny that is well, just denial and probably an amom who is pretty clueless about many adoption related things. Any mom who is so consumed with her own insecurity and her own "ranking" in the childs life is doing things in the best interest of herself and not in the best interst of a child, IMO.

Anyone who gets upset with first mom (and presumably makes a connection to "second mom") should be reminded that parenting or adoptive parenting is not a "race" to see who comes out on top and in "first" place.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I spent a little time at lunch today browsing a couple of blogs I don't read too often. The topic under discussion was the use of the term "first mother," and I wasn't surprised that several a-parents made strong points against the use of this term.

"Politically correct" adoption language, like all language, is fluid, dynamic. What may at one time have been considered appropriate may not be so today. Although not every first mother may agree, many today dislike "birth mother" because it reduces them and their role in their children's lives to no more than "breeders." I can see that connection, and it would certainly hurt me.

So I'm reading today and wondering, "Why would any a-parent want to hurt the mothers of their children by calling them something we know causes pain?" We have the children, we parent the children. What do we gain by refusing to give to our children's mothers this simple respect?

It makes no sense to me, and apparently makes no sense to my son, either. When he was about five, he came up to me one day excitedly and said, "I'm going to tell you about all of my mommies! There's my first mommy in Korea, then my second mommy (his foster mom, our dear Mrs. Cho), and then there's you - you're my third mommy!"

Out of the mouths of babes.

September 3, 2006

Don't Misses 9-3-06

Two don't misses this time

Activism Page Update

Dawn of This Woman's Work has started a project, including a website and forum, for - and called - Open Adoption Support:

Our goal for this site is to help people find each other for the purpose of getting support around living in open adoptions. If your family (extended family included) is part of an open adoption, chances are that you have been unable to find pro-openness support around the common and uncommon challenges of your family's unique configuration. We hope that by networking with other adoptees, adoptive parents and first parents in our communities we can help each other in building healthy, respectful families.
It's a great idea, one whose time has come. Thank you, Dawn, for spearheading this project.

Also - a great post by KimKim. This is important - a-parents especially please read what Kim has to say. She makes it crystal clear that mothers who place their children in adoption love them - no question

September 2, 2006

Open Mike

Questions, topics and comments wanted - from YOU!

I like comments. Selfishly, I like knowing that someone has taken the time to surf in, read what I've written, and add their thoughts. I like comments from people I know, from people I'm getting to know, and from people who prefer to add their thoughts anonymously. For me, comments are the best thing about blogging because they're a lot like conversation, and I certainly like that.

But as much as I like comments about things I've written, I like comments about specific issues better. This, I think, is the real beauty of internet communication - it allows people from all over the world to come together and talk about whatever interests them. I've seen first hand, too, how this kind of communication leads to face-to-face communication and change.

So I got this idea: to open up a post every so often titled "Open Mike" focusing on an adoption or race/culture issue, and then hear back in the comments from as many people as possible. I'll use this post as home base for the list of issues and the links back to their open mike posts.

I'd love to hear from first family members, adopted people, adoptive family members, those involved professionally with adoption, multiracial or multicultural families and individuals - anyone for whom these issues are important. They might be ideas for positive change, or questions about things you don't understand, or perhaps requests for comment on things you find challenging - relationships between adoptees and first parents, for example; or the challenges of parenting multicultural kids.

Let's give it a try. But first we need some issues - and for that I need your help. Add a comment here (anonymously is perfectly fine) with anything you'd like to talk and hear about, or email me if you prefer. We'll go from there.

And please feel free to spread the word.

Topics You've Submitted (linked to their Open Mike posts) - click here for all the Open Mikes to date.