Two years ago my friend Gabriel (not her real name so as to protect her privacy) reached out to me, wanting to talk about adoption. Gabriel is an accomplished, single woman in her early 40s who, like many girls and young women, always thought she’d one day marry and have a family of her own. Except it didn’t quite happen the way she was led to believe it would. An accomplished entrepreneur who I know from my days working in the agricultural trade industry, Gabriel has grown into the woman many parents want their daughters to become: educated, poised, independent, intelligent, attractive, friendly, and accomplished. She owns her own home, drives and maintains her own tractor, runs her own business and has the brains to do pretty much whatever it is she wishes to accomplish. However, there are some things, she has learned, that are out of one’s control: marriage and child-bearing being two of them.
Being the confident woman that she is, she came to accept the fact that the cards just didn’t fall the way she expected they would and while in her early 40s and still single, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She knew she wanted to be a mother and was determined to make it happen, married or not. She had a career that would allow her to successfully work and raise a child on her own, and she had a support network to help her succeed.
And so she embarked on an expensive, stressful journey to try and become a mother. She tried IVF and IUI using donor sperm, but without success, and before long, she began looking into adoption. She did everything one would want a prospective adoptive parent to do: she took classes, registered to be a foster parent, spoke to other adoptive parents about their experiences, read books from the perspective of an adoptee and collected glowing recommendations to use as part of her adoptive parent process. Speaking with me, an adult adoptee, was just one of many things she did to adequately prepare herself for this new journey.
I thought it was very thoughtful of her to reach out and ask about the perspective of an adoptee, but I found I didn’t have a lot of advice to share. I had to admit to her that from my perspective, my parents just kind of winged it with this whole adoption thing. It was the late ’70s and international adoption was such a new thing in the United States back then. People did not have nearly the same amount of resources as they do now, nor the extensive network now available to would-be adoptive parents. And yet, things turned out OK for me and them.
“Don’t worry about trying to do everything right,” I remember telling her. “My parents and their generation didn’t know half as much as you know going into this whole adoptive parent thing, but they tried their best and things turned out alright. I can only say that from an adoptee’s perspective, honesty is the best approach when dealing with an adoptive child and his/her questions about their past, identity, and birth family. And it’s okay if you don’t know all the answers to their questions. Just admit you don’t know instead of pretending that you do, and if it is really important to your child, try and find out what you can, realizing there are simply things you will not be able to find out. And that’s OK.
“Growing up, I knew (even before I really understood what it meant), that I was adopted and from Korea, but that didn’t really change anything in terms of how my parents and brother (who was not adopted) viewed me. I knew there was a lot unknown about the first part of my life, and I had to work through some of those issues growing up, but at the end of the day, I came to accept things for what they were, and things were still OK.”
I could sense Gabriel was a little disappointed in the fact that I didn’t have any concrete advice to give her besides that, so I went a little further.
“If you are adopting a child outside of your own race, ethnicity or culture, don’t try to be someone you are not. For example, nothing makes me cringe more than to see Caucasian adoptive parents dressed up in traditional Korean clothes as they attend culture camp with their adopted children. God, I would have killed my parents had they tried something like that,” I told her. We shared a laugh over that. She got it, and I knew she would. But I could still sense that she was looking to me for help on the possible nightmares that might result from adopting a child. The adolescent years, which if you ask me, are going to be tough no matter where your child is coming from, but I have heard of cases where the issue of adoption only escalated difficulties in what is already a sensitive life stage to begin with. Sensing her need to hear something more from me, I brushed away this focus on adoption and concentrated on what I have appreciated most from my own parents.
“At the end of the day, Gabriel, you’re going to be OK. You’re a good person. You’ll be a wonderful mother. You’re going to make mistakes just like any new parent does, but it’s all going to work out. You’re coming into this situation as prepared as you can be, with the right mindset, the right intentions, a heart full of love, a lifestyle able to comfortably provide for a child, and a support network that wants you to succeed. At the end of the day, that’s all a child needs to grow into a healthy, thriving individual. And you’ll just deal with the tricky stuff as it arises.”
Surprisingly, that last piece of advice that I gave was what set her most at ease. She came to me looking for some magical advice on how to be a proper adoptive parent, when all she really needed was affirmation that she could be a good parent. Period. Adoptive or not, at the end of the day a parent is a parent, and there are good parents and terrible parents, and there has never been any doubt in my mind that Garbiel was of the good stock.
I am happy to say that two years later, Gabriel is now a new mother. She adopted a child domestically a little over a month ago and could not be happier. It was a long and emotionally challenging process, but like she has been able to do throughout the years I have known her, she made it happen. There will be ups, there will be downs, there will be challenges unique to being an adoptive, racially blended family, but she and her son will get through it all, I have no doubt.
And as an adoptee also from a racially blended family, my advice to first-time future adoptive parents remains the same: I have no real advice. Just concentrate on being a good parent—period. Follow your instincts when things get tricky, and use your network to help you through the hard times. Your child/children will grow to appreciate that, trust me.