Balancing Families

In my previous blog from a former life, I explained how my birth family reunion came to be and how my adoptive parents played such a big part in my decision to pursue birth family search. I would not have had it any other way, because I think it was really important for them to see how the whole thing unfolded. It would have been a tough phone call home to say, “Guess what? I found my birth family!” if they had no idea of how the process worked or any knowledge of my search.

Whitney's parents visit her in Korea, 2010
Whitney’s parents visit her in Korea, 2010

As most adoptees are, I was very careful with how I proceeded through the BFS (birth family search) because I never wanted my family stateside to feel that I was ungrateful or unhappy. It really breaks my heart to hear stories of adoptees who either wait too long (after parents have passed) to pursue BFS or of families who misunderstand the adoptees’ heart in “why” they are in curious to know the details of their origin. I do believe it is the adoptee’s right to have this information if they so desire, but I certainly understand the adoptee’s tough position in trying to walk the tightrope without stepping on anyone’s toes. Adoption can be messy, and no time is this more obvious than during BFS.

Adoption can be messy, and no time is this more obvious than during birth family search.

For the first 23 years of my life, my adoptive parents were pretty persistent in trying to pique my interest, at least, in Korean things, if not my Korean birth family. I was dead-set against it. Once the BFS process began and we were waiting to hear from the agency, they felt the whole range of emotions that I felt. Anticipation, fear of the unknown, excitement at the prospects. Once I called to say, “They’ve been found,” nobody was more delighted than my adoptive parents. I was (and still am) so blessed to have their unwavering support. They couldn’t wait to hear all about our first visit and subsequent weekend together.

With 엄마 Omma and 아빠 Appa during weekend of first meeting
With 엄마 and 아빠 during weekend of first meeting

After that first weekend, I called home to give all the details. I was excited. I had lived through a really momentous occasion. I had a whole other family that had been waiting for me in Korea. I told my parents everything. They were excited for me and they soaked up all the information. Once we hung up though, I had a nagging feeling. Had I said something wrong? They were smiling and happy but I could tell something was bothering them. Of course, we were all feeling a wide range of emotions, but was there something else I was missing? Hadn’t they been the ones encouraging me to do this search all along?

It didn’t take long to figure it out. In our next conversation, Mom laid it out. “We are so happy for you and so excited you have met your birth family. But…” Oh goodness. But what? I held my breath. “We have been talking and it is very difficult for us to hear you call them Mom and Dad. We are your Mom and Dad.”

“It is very difficult for us to hear you call them Mom and Dad.”

Ohhh…of course! It made perfect sense, didn’t it? She was right. They were my Mom and Dad. My only Mom and Dad. It had always been that way and my birth family reunion didn’t change that. But, getting down to semantics, how could I refer to my birth parents?

We worked together to figure out the solution. My birth parents would always be omma and appa. It was respectful to everyone. It helped distinguish who was who and gave each person their own, proper title.

I was so glad my parents approached me about this. I never wanted to hurt them, but in my excitement with all that was happening, I had been unable to see the situation from their perspective. Rather than let the issue fester and become a big problem, they addressed it and we figured it out.

Whitney translating between parents via Skype
Whitney translating between parents via Skype

Our situation is unique and it requires a lot of give and take from all parties. I am 딸 ddal to 엄마 Omma and 아빠 Appa and daughter to Mom and Dad. But as long as we keep the dialogue open and work to create a healthy environment, it is possible for me to happily coexist in both families – as a Casey and a Jeon.


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© We the Lees, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing Families

  1. Once I began searching for my birth mother I realized that the chance of hurting my adopted family was one of the biggest factors in my decision not to search in the past. Even now, with their full support, I still wonder if behind their support is a twinge of hurt. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have searched if my adopted family had been against it. I appreciate your viewpoint. It helps to have the reassurance that they may truly be happy about a possible reunion with my birth mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s tough, isn’t it? We have heard of APs adamantly against (and very vocal about it) their adoptee’s BFS and it takes such a toll. We are always so sad to hear those stories. Wishing you the best of luck…It’s really important to keep open communication! The process is complicated but doesn’t have to be disastrous 🙂

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