Air Date: 10.30.15
To listen to the audio file click here.
Speaker 2: Let’s Talk Radio.
Connie: Hi and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Connie Going and I’m an adoption consultant with Adoption Associates. I want to tell you just a little bit about Adoption Associates and our show today. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990. They are a leader in domestic and international adoption for over 20 years. In that time they have placed well over 5,000 children for adoption with families.
They are located in Lansing, Farmington Hills, Jenison and Freeland. We are so excited to be able to present today. We have a wonderful woman with us. Her name is Lea and Lea, are you on the phone?
Lea: I am, Connie.
Connie: Oh, thank you so much for being here.
Lea: Oh, not a problem.
Connie: Lea, I have explained in some of our promotions that you are an adoptee and that you are Korean. You were adopted from Korea. Correct?
Connie: And that your mom is an adoption social worker, so you grew with adoption all around you.
Lea: Yes, I did. I’ve grown up with adoption as part of my whole life.
Connie: What an amazing, amazing experiences you must have had and so I kind of want to just jump in and have you tell us a little bit about your adoption story.
Lea: Sure. Well, I was adopted from South Korea when I was six months old by my mom and dad and also have an older brother and sister. My parents were always open with adoption. I remember talking to my parents and being told I was adopted from a very young age. It was always an open topic in my home. My parents always shared with me well before my mom even became a social worker in the adoption field about how much love it took for my birth parents to be able to put me up for adoption to give me a chance at such a wonderful life and such a loving family.
Then when my mom became a social worker in the adoption field, I grew up with it. I grew up with birth mothers and adoptive families and birth fathers and little beautiful babies and just watched my mom help make 5,000 families, so it’s been really amazing to just be a part of that.
Connie: Then because it is so much a part of your life, talking about it for you is something that you said you really enjoy doing.
Lea: Yes, absolutely. When I was growing up I would know a few kids that had been adopted, but not too many, but it’s been surprising in my adult life how many people I meet and talk to whether it’s through my career or meeting families of my children or in my community how many others are adopted and just listening to all the different kinds of stories and things like that.
Connie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, tell us a little bit about, now your family, your mom and dad, they’re not Korean.
Connie: What was it like? Did you notice? When did you realize that, I mean they told you you were adopted, but did you realize that you had a different culture that you were, a country that you were born in?
Lea: You know, I was one of those kids, my parents always gave me every opportunity to explore my Korean culture and my heritage and things like that. I remember going very young elementary school age to Korean camp and things like that to kind of learn about my ethnic and cultural background and things like that. But for me personally I wasn’t as interested in that type of stuff. I just wanted to be a normal kid like everyone else and didn’t really want to see myself any differently.
I remember probably about early elementary having kind of my first memories of or realizing that I didn’t, I looked different than my mom and dad and the rest of my family who has blue eyes or light brown hair and very light skin. I didn’t notice it personally until I began to have peers and things like that or when you’re in elementary school and you get asked to make your family tree and things like that. Then the adoption issues kind of came out a little bit differently. But for me I was given every opportunity to kinds of explore my different ethnicity, but was comfortable just being a regular old apple pie and mashed potato kind of kid.
Connie: Because you were loved so much that …
Lea: Yes. Yup.
Connie: … you grew up [inaudible 00:05:42].
Lea: I do, I have such a secure and happy place in my family and have just been blessed with the most incredible family and just having to have the chance to be a part of other adoptions and other families and things like that over the years has been truly amazing.
Connie: What would you say to a family that is adopting internationally or cross-culturally? What would be some of the advice that you would give them as a child that grew up as an adoptee?
Lea: My advice would be to definitely present the opportunities to learn more about their culture, their ethnic background, but not necessarily forcing it. The world has changed a lot even since I was young. Families have really changed. They’re very modern now, so when I was growing up I definitely was one of the few kids in my community that wasn’t Caucasian and that was adopted, but now I’ve moved back to the same community I grew up in now as a parent of two little boys who are biracial as well, and just even seeing my son’s classroom, how ethnically diverse it is.
So nowadays and kind of depending on the community I think it just depends, but my advice would just be to give your child every opportunity to explore their heritage, but let it be their choice.
Connie: Right. I would so agree with that, and I also agree with that when you look at our communities and you look at our schools now, and I have a son who is African American, I’m Caucasian, and looking at the blending of families and not being blind to the challenges, but seeing the difference than when I was younger and growing up and how separate things were. Do you remember any specific challenges that you had as a teen, as a young college student?
Lea: Oh sure. I did grow up in a small town where I was one of maybe I would say two or three in a graduating class of over 400 kids that wasn’t Caucasian. I remember having a little bit of a challenge in high school and stuff when I began dating and doing that type of stuff that I actually found that it wasn’t necessarily coming back on me, but my date to prom would be teased kind of by some of our friends and his friends and things like that for liking Asian girls or kind of that type of thing.
So it came out a little bit in the whole dating and stuff like that, but once I got to college and once you hit college it’s so diverse anyways, that wasn’t really an issue any longer just because there were so many other kids of different backgrounds and cultures as well.
Connie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). How did your parents help you through that? Were you able to talk to them about what you were experiencing? Because as teens we really don’t talk sometimes to our parents.
Lea: Right. I’ve always had a very, very close relationship with both my mom and dad equally. Both of my parents were, I was always comfortable talking to either of them about anything, including friends and boys or bullies at school and things like that. It was hard for me. I would cry when I was little because I used to want blue eyes like my sister and long pretty blond hair or skin like my mom’s that I just thought was so beautiful because it was ivory colored.
My mom and dad and family always told me that one day I was going to see how beautiful I was and it was okay to be different and that I would embrace that one day. As a teenager you kind of roll your eyes and you’re like, “Yeah, whatever Mom and Dad,” and it doesn’t mean much, but definitely as an adult I’ve grown into kind of my own skin and my own comfort. It was definitely nice in high school because being dark complected and Korean I didn’t have to go tanning like the other girls before prom. So there were some perks of being Asian for sure.
Connie: It sounds like you were very positive. I mean finding the positive in everything.
Lea: Yes. Yes. God blesses us all with our features and individuality and just like any kid it takes some time to grow into that, but being Korean isn’t necessarily who I am, but it is definitely a part of me.
Connie: What pieces as a mom do you with your two boys, what do you in raising them do you … I’m sure they’re probably little how old are they?
Lea: I’ve got a nine-year-old and a three-year-old.
Connie: Oh wow. How do they embrace that? They’re made up of so many different things, but how do they embrace the Korean part of their culture?
Lea: My nine-year-old is just now to the point where I wouldn’t say, he’s a third grader now, I would say about first grade was the first time he realized that his mom and dad appeared slightly different than other people’s mom and dad or that we didn’t necessarily look alike or that we weren’t both Caucasian. My older son realized this when I came to pick him up one day in class and a couple of his friends asked, “Are you Landon’s mom? You’re Chinese too,” and things like that. I kind of smile and …
My son would get very defensive and say, “That is my mom. She’s not Chinese. She’s Korean.” He would get very angry about that, so I had a conversation with him, why does that make you angry and he’s like, “Well Mom, you’re not Chinese, you’re Korean. That’s different.” So even though he couldn’t actually articulate anything between being Korean and Chinese, he just knew that there was a difference and he wanted his friends to get it right.
Connie: I think that’s awesome.
Lea: But I really, my children both know that Mommy’s different and adopted and from Korea and things like that, but just because I’ve never had a very strong interest in really adapting any type of ethnic or Korean culture into my own lifestyle, my kids haven’t been as exposed to it. We have books and things like that from Nana about Korea and things like that, but they’re into cartoons and TV shows and video games and everything else that other nine-year-olds and three-year-olds are interested in.
Connie: Right. I think that the lesson that I hear from many families is your children really guide you in that if you leave the door open they will lead you through it the way that they’re comfortable leading you through it. So the fact that your mom gave you the ability to explore that piece of who you are, you took it at your pace and nothing was forced on you. In working with a lot of new adoptive families, they’re like, “We’re going to do this and we’re going to do this and they’re going to know,” but really your child leads you.
Connie: If you open those doors, if it’s already a part of your life then that’s wonderful, but when you cross cultures and blend them into your family, we think as parents well, this is what we need to do, but really my son, although he is, and he’s 17, I adopted him at 17, is connected to his African American culture and his heritage, he is very much about, he’s much more comfortable in the white community. That’s where he grew up and so we do it at his pace, you know? I think as parents we have to listen to those messages and be open to doing what’s best for our children.
Lea: Right. I remember my mom and dad telling me even though I don’t necessarily remember doing this, but when I was younger I would actually shy away from other Asians. If I had an Asian doctor I wouldn’t be as talkative or I wouldn’t actively seek out the other few Asian kids in my community and things like that. I definitely more felt comfortable with a Caucasian group of friends and that just because I think part of it, that was my family and that’s what I’ve always been comfortable with. It was a lot of fun. I would say around fifth grade or early middle school there were a few summers that my family had a Korean exchange student that was about my age. We had two different ones come over.
My best friend happened to live right next door and her family had one as well, so there was a group of two of us and two Korean exchange students about our age for two summers that we just had an absolute blast with. These girls did not speak a lick of English. Not a word. They spent a couple weeks with my family and I’ll tell you, I remember staying up late with having sleepovers with them and giggling about boys and looking at magazines and really communicating and having a sleepover with two people that were just like you know, regular girlfriends that didn’t even speak English.
So that was a nice eye opener too. I got a chance to hear about some other cultures and see some different things, but at the front of it it was just another teenage girl just like myself who was playing with colored Chapstick and mascara and looking at pictures of cute boys in magazines. So it was a pretty fun experience too.
Connie: That’s a great memory too. That is a great memory. Are you still in touch with any of them?
Lea: I haven’t been. We did stay in touch for the first couple years after we had the exchange students, but kind of fell out of touch once I had later high school and then moved on to college.
Connie: But what a great experience.
Lea: But I still have the pictures and the memories and the letter and one of the exchange students I had played piano, which I did as well, so she would send me over beautiful piano music and stuff from Korea as well, which was pretty cool.
Connie: That is. That’s amazing. Tell me a little bit about, Lea, about what it was like, I know that when your mom became an adoption social worker I guess when you’re in adoption, you’re a social worker, you kind of live what you do. I know she had some birth mother meetings at your house. Tell me what that was like.
Lea: Oh yes. That was amazing. I remember birth moms being around my mom and my home and my family from very, very early on. My mom had what was called birth mother support group meetings at our home that she always allowed me to be a part of. I had the privilege of bringing out the iced tea and the chips and the dip and the boxes of Kleenex. But being raised around these incredibly strong and brave and just loving and selfless women was truly amazing. I do feel that impacted who I am as a woman today and my views about adoption and family and birth mothers.
I never knew a lot about my birth family. From being adopted at such a very young age and internationally as well we didn’t have quite as much information, so I always had this picture in my mind of this loving birth mother who couldn’t take care of me but loved me enough and wanted me to have an opportunity at a wonderful life. Growing up with these amazing women over the years as birth mothers have really reconfirmed that. That these birth mothers are the most selfless and bravest and most loving people that I think I’ve ever met. I can say personally I could never be that brave or that selfless, so I’m growing up with these groups of women has just been truly amazing. They are so special.
Connie: I agree with you. I think that once you get to experience whether you’re an adoptive parent or social worker or the child that’s been adopted, I think you look at birth mothers totally different because what you realize is that … Then you have your own children, you realize how hard that truly had to be …
Lea: Oh yeah.
Connie: … and how selfless they truly are. You never forget the experiences of listening to them talk and …
Lea: No, never.
Connie: I just, I feel like as a social worker, what an honor to be in their lives and to be able to help them through a time that has to be so difficult.
Lea: Mm-hmm (affirmative). They’re giving up a part of their heart and soul blindly. To put that kind of trust in another human being or another family to take a part of you and give them everything that you hope they have in life is truly amazing. The pain that these women go through to come to this decision is just absolutely amazing of how brave they can be and truly how selfless. It’s just an amazing quality that I don’t think everybody has. So that’s what makes birth moms truly so special because not everybody could do what they do.
Connie: That’s very, very true. That is very true. What would you like to as we go ahead and come to a conclusion, is there anything you’d like to share because this is live, but it will also be recorded and long after we have this interview people will be able to listen and learn. What would you kind of like to leave as a message out there?
Lea: That adoption is truly something amazing. That there are families out there who pray for the privilege of being called Mom and Dad and that there’s so many loving families out there for children who deserve a wonderful and beautiful life and that once you become a part of the adoption family or the adoption circle, whether it’s an adoptive couple of a birth mother or an adoptee it becomes a permanent fixture in your life. You become an advocate in helping to educate others about what adoption is and what it takes to be a birth mother and what this all means.
So learning more about what adoption is and spreading the word and educating everyone that has a question or that is curious because there’s a lot of old misperceptions about adoption, some old views. They only put the terrible stories in the media. But there’s other ways to make families and to give blessings of happy babies and the opportunity to be called Mom or Dad because there’s nothing like it.
Connie: I so appreciate everything that you’ve said, and I think that it’s the perfect message to end with. I just want to thank you so much for being part of this interview today and just have a wonderful, wonderful day.
Lea: Well, thank you so much, Connie for having me and it’s just been a pleasure. I will be an adoption advocate until my last day and I really owe it to my loving family and having an amazing and awesome mom who spent her life and her career in making families. I’m just so proud of what she does and to even have a chance to be a part of it.
Connie: Well, I feel the same way about your mom and I think she’s incredible and I think Adoption Associates …
Lea: Yes, she is.
Connie: … is an amazing organization. For those of you who don’t know, Adoption Associates, pull up their website. It’s www.AdoptionAssociates.net or give them a call at 1-800-677-2367. Lea, thank you again. You just take care and have a blessed day.
Lea: All right. Thank you, Connie. Bye bye.
Connie: Bye bye.