We often get questions from adoptive parents who are anxious to have input from adult adoptees on how to parent their adopted child(ren). It can be a little awkward. We are quick to note that we are not adoption experts and honestly, we don’t believe there is such a thing as one. Adoption is such a personal experience that varies so broadly on a case-by-case basis. To be a true expert, you’d have to be involved in each and every case with the mix of that situation’s personalities, environments, and emotions. It’s impossible for one person!
Anyways, when asked for advice, we normally make some vague statements about just loving your child and try to quickly change the subject. Our honest advice would probably offend them. But since we get this question so often, here, once and for all, is what we would like to offer to adoptive parents as our advice. It does not apply to all or even most APs. But we have occasionally met some of these types of parents and they make us want to pull our hair out.
Disclaimer: You will probably be offended. Please do not proceed if you don’t want to hear what we have to say.
- Do not adopt a child if you’re trying to “fill some void” you feel inside. This is just setting the situation up for failure from the get-go. Just as it’s unrealistic to expect a spouse to make you feel “whole,” you cannot expect this from your child. It is not fair to them. They will never be able to live up to this expectation, no matter hard they try. And try they will, even if you are not conscious of this unattainable goal that you’re setting up for them.
- Along with #1 about expectations, don’t adopt because you always wanted “a son, daughter, Asian baby, black baby…” Figure out your own stuff before you drag a poor kid through all of your mess.
- Save the hero complex. It is very frustrating for adoptees to hear, “Thank goodness your adoptive family saved you from….(poverty, orphanage, fill-in-the-blank).” Most of us think, “Maybe I didn’t want to be saved.” Just play the role of parent – we aren’t looking for superheroes or Mother Teresas.
- Ease up on the “you’re special because we chose you” sentiments. Sometimes we don’t want to feel special. Sometimes we just want to fit in with the crowd and not be the only different ones. This especially goes for the awkward middle school years!
- Don’t worry too much about providing “cultural” experiences for your child. Every child is different and if they want to know about their birth country, eat their food, learn their language, etc., they will let you know! Don’t force them into culture camps or make them eat the food if they don’t want to. This goes along with #4 – sometimes we just want to fit in, and we don’t see our best friend from school eating stinky kimchi or learning how to bow to elders.
- Experiencing an identity crisis is normal for everyone…adoptees notwithstanding! Many Korean adoptees express feelings of visiting Korea, then realizing they are not Korean enough, and coming home and realizing they are not American (Canadian, Swiss, etc.) enough. Whitney experienced this big-time after living in Korea for a year and reuniting with her birth family. It’s fine! She went through serious counseling and got her head straight and life moved on. Parents, don’t freak out about this. Your child will be fine! Give them a little space to work through the hard stuff and be there to listen when they’re ready to talk. But don’t suffocate them.
- We can appreciate APs who have a genuine interest in the adoptive country/culture, but please know where the line is. We have met parents who try to morph into a Korean, Chinese (or whatever applies) version of themselves and it is just weird and sort of creepy – not to mention embarrassing to your child! Do not try to take on your child’s plight as your own. Appreciate it but know how much is too much.
- Respect your child’s loss. And don’t take the mourning process personally.
- Your child’s adoption narrative is just that — their own. Don’t make them over-share with strangers just because you are excited to have them in your family. Their own, personal story is theirs to share with whomever they choose (or don’t choose).
- Just relax! We find that most adoptive parents are so anxious about doing everything right or planning for every contingency, they are just missing the moments happening now. We want to say, “Forget reading that extra article by that so-called ‘adoption expert’ and just go play Legos with your kid.” Parenting should be a little fun, too, not all anxiety about eternally screwing up your kid.
We will probably lose some readers over this and that’s OK – we won’t be offended. But just remember….we are only offering this advice because you were so persistent in asking for it!
Lee + Whitney
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