To all of the parents out there thinking about adoption or in the midst of raising a child, this is for you.
More than 30 years ago, my parents decided to adopt after several unsuccessful attempts to have a third child. I use the loose term “adoptive” parents in that my parents adopted me, but they are just my parents – my real parents, the only ones I have ever known.
I want to share what my parents did right with my adoption, as well as with navigating the waters of parenthood in general.
Here’s to you, Mum and Dad, who, lovingly, I must say:
1. Taught me when to laugh it off
Yes, I look different from others, and others look different from me. There will always be “where are you from?” comments, and I’ve learned when to laugh it off. Growing up, my brothers peeled off “Made in China” stickers from their toys to place on the back of my shirt. I laughed, even though I am Korean. As a family, we all learned when to laugh.
2. Taught me when NOT to laugh – and that the best comeback is an informed one
Childhood teasing and bullying are inevitable, no matter your background, size or appearance. As a child, my parents prepared me for questions and teasing scenarios that eventually happened, and I was equipped with ready-made comebacks.
“Joe, I don’t look different just because I don’t look like you.” Or, “I don’t look like my parents because I am adopted. I’m proud to be Korean.”
Yes, there were times when I came home in tears because a kid told me that I had Chinese eyes. But, what dried them? A hug and a gentle reminder that I have Korean eyes, and that I should be proud of them. After all, my parents were.
3. Celebrated my “Gotcha Day”
Every Feb. 26, my parents celebrated my “Gotcha Day” and replayed a shaky home video of them receiving me. As a child, I understood that moment was when they brought me from Seoul to Maryland. As an adult, I now understand that my “Gotcha Day” didn’t actually mark the day I first joined the family. I was already loved when my parents laid eyes on my first photograph, taken two days after I was born.
4. Explored cultural experiences, but let me lead the way
My parents never forced me to take classes or to learn Korean (I do not speak the language to this day), but they made opportunities available. I grew up attending Korean festivals. I played with an Asian Barbie doll as well as with the traditional blonde one. I went to various workshops and so did my parents. Ultimately, I grew up as an Asian-American or American-Asian, what have you, and never as one or the other.