Journey of a Thousand Miles

While riding on a bus in Korea, my friend Mark bent his face close to mine and said, “Adopting children transracially is a journey of a thousand miles.” My friend Mark was adopted from Korea, he is a father, and he is one of the most endearing and wisest people I know. It took me about ten minutes to realize that he was talking about “my journey” and not the one my daughters and my son are walking. Just being a parent is enough to send anyone on a journey searching for answers. Add the dynamic of transracial adoption braided in, coupled with the dynamics adoption brings. But those are things I have plentiful hands-on experience and much book-read knowledge of. Except these things came to me packaged with an emphasis on how I can produce a well-balanced child. But not on how I could become well balanced and how my identity as an adoptive parent would grow and change over the years as my children grew into adulthood.
The more I learned about being an adoptive parent the more I discovered the need to let myself feel vulnerable, ambivalent, and admit that sometimes my behaviors in the area of adoptive motherhood were thwarted and of self-interest. And sometimes I just plain didn't know how to move in those areas where the line between being mom to a son and daughter adopted from Korea, and being mom to a daughter who is not adopted, became blurry.
I thought I’d learned all of this when my kids reached adulthood, and I was willing to listen, and really hear what their peer group of adopted adults had to say about the throng of us who are known as adoptive parents.

It's occurred to me we must renew our vows and pay attention, for the times they are a changing—as the song goes. Our children must own the rights to their adoption information and story. This is not a new concept. It’s a line of thinking that has held fast for years. But sometimes parents are slow at catching on, delayed in understanding the harm we bragging adoptive parents unintentionally cause.

Now I know plenty of parents who claim their young children have given them permission to tell or write their story. I made this mistake when my kids were young. And when they reached adulthood, when the time came to publish my memoir, Pushing up the Sky, we sat nose-to-nose agreeing on which version of the book manuscript to place in the public domain. Some of the things they had given me permission to publish when they were ten, eleven and twelve were no longer up for grabs.

We need to remember that children are still children, and they do not yet have the maturity to give up custody of their history and grant us permission to become their voice. Therefore as responsible parents we hold our children’s adoption story in trust. That’s when the real work began, when I had to stop hiding behind my kids and find my own voice, and meet the side of myself that is separate from my children.          

Since my daughters are adults now and live on their own, and my fifteen year-old son died from cancer and joined his ancestors in Heaven in 1999, I’m alone more often, and I continue to meet myself each day in surprising situations that force me to do more growing up and confront my changing adoptive parent identity. 

Something else I stumbled across on the bus ride through Korea is that some of us (myself included) spend a great deal of time thinking adoptive parent thoughts. Those words—adoptive parent. It has a joyous ring to some of us, though not to everyone.

Maybe its something about the term adoptive parent that keeps some of us stuck. After all, we worked hard to become parents and we want it to sick. Still the word parent is an identifier best describing those who are still parenting children under the age of 18 or 19.  Or 20 and 21, for those of us who are late bloomers and slow at letting go. Who ARE we when we aren’t busy being an adoptive parent?

Parental, fatherly, father like; maternal, motherly, mother like. Thankfully we will always be a father or a mother. But if we will always be viewed within the adoption triad only as adoptive parents, even when our sons and daughters reach adulthood and are living independent lives, will it allow us to stretch, to climb beyond the boundary and further grow as people? Is there a point where we can perhaps graduate to alumni adoptive parent, and move eventually to retired adoptive parent status?

If we took a step back would it be easer for our sons and daughters to feel the clout to move into adulthood without feeling a need to fight for the right to grow up? Or maybe growing up is hard to do no matter what. I’m plenty old and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. 

Meanwhile, while I’m falling back into an active adoptive parent thinking mode, and momentarily voicing the opinion of others—something else I became aware of in Korea after walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is that all of the adopted adults I know find it difficult to be seen as a charity case. It wore on their spirit while growing up, and it is time we adoptive parents tossed the rescue model. Parenting is a selfish act. We didn’t become parents because we wanted to save an orphan we become parents because we desperately want a child. It’s unhealthy to allow any kid to live with the pressure of believing their parents saved them. Much the same as it’s not necessary or helpful to tell a child with a cancer he is lucky to be alive.

My mind raced as the bus rolled along in Korea, across the motherland of my children, and it continued to race until I reached Colorado, the land of my ancestors, and the land where my grandfather’s 94-year-old twin sister still lives, I could feel something settling inside me.

Truth to tell, early in our friendship I made the comment to my friend Mark that I was old enough to be his mother. I’m not of course, and he nailed me on it. Few eight year olds give birth and eight year olds don’t adopt children. Yet being a parent is how I’ve learned recognize myself. My parenthood status stands sacred and cherished above all else. When a needy child who is not my own cries, I want to help and I’ve caught myself saying, “once a parent always a parent.”

Now I realize there is another way I can enrich my life as a mother, and that is to step out of my parenting mode whenever I’m in the presence of anyone over the age of 18 and meet them women to women, friend to friend, colleague to colleague, instead of parent to child. 

I can even offer to help; yet I’ll have to ditch the adoptive parental thing of being all-knowing with a take-charge attitude. Because it was the thing that drove me batty on our 14-day trip throughout Korea; all those parents, parenting day after day. They even parented each other, and they parented me, when their kid/teen/adult sons and daughters were off doing kid/teen/adult things.

And I’m not sure how, but I figured out the best way to become a better mother is to give myself the gift of sometimes not looking at the world through my parenting lenses, and I made this discovery while walking the good Colorado land my grandfather calls home.

First published in Adoption Today. 
© 2007 Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.
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