I frequently get questions from adoptive parents about what it was like growing up as a Chinese adoptee. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions:
Q1: When did you know or learn that you were adopted? How did being adopted affect the parent-child bond that you had?
A1: Two separate, but related questions. My only memory of parents is with my adoptive parents, as I was a baby when I was adopted. Being adopted was never a secret for two reasons; first, I didn’t look like my adoptive parents, and second, my parents took care to integrate our Chinese culture in our lives very early on. As a baby, I connected with my parents very quickly, recognizing them as Mom and Dad within the first week of my adoption. (This, I know, can be different for children who are adopted when they are older). My parent’s love and discipline alike were just the same as what I saw in my friend’s families. I never felt as if my parents weren’t my “real” parents, not in the biological sense but with regard to the time, effort, and unconditional love that all parents give.
Q2: What did your parents do to preserve your language?
A2: While I had no speech abilities when I was adopted at 9 months old, my parents did enroll me in a Saturday school for Chinese language and culture education when I was 5 years old. I was surrounded by other Chinese children, both adopted and biological, many second-generation children. We learned reading and writing in the classroom as well as song and dance as an after school activity. My one criticism of the program is that more interaction with the already proficient Chinese-speaking students may have boosted the language abilities of students who had no home exposure, like myself.
When I reached high school, I took lessons there. Though I’ve forgotten some of my Chinese language, as it is hard to learn a language when you are not immersed in it, the early expose predisposed me to furthering my education now and in the future.
A recommendation for parents who would like to preserve their child’s language is to regularly expose them to native or fluent speakers. Another suggestion is to find an immersion camp, if your child is willing and interested in attending.
Q3: How can parents respect and celebrate their child’s culture?
A3: My parents learned a bit about Chinese culture and taught us as they went. They bought educational Chinese books and movies, which they read or watched with us. They celebrated Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival. We had Chinese dresses and every Mulan product that my mother could find. However, the biggest impact in my (embracing, ownership) of the Chinese culture was the time that my parents spent teaching and learning with me. Later, my parents encouraged and supported my trips back to China to experience China for myself.
The effort that they put into giving that gift to translated into unconditional love. Learn with your child and talk with them about their thoughts and feeling regarding their culture and the country that they came from. Try to celebrate some holidays, read books, watch movies and tv shows, etc. Every child is different so some may respond with more interest and some with less. Regardless, your effort will translate l-o-v-e to them. I post some cultural pieces on my blog about travel, cooking, holidays, language, etc. I have to interactive pieces that you can do with kids!
Q4: Did you ever deal with any racism or bullying because you were Chinese or because of the way you looked?
A4: I was actually bullied intensely in school on a few occasions; once when I was younger (in 5th grade) and again in high school. In 5th grade, I sat at an all boy’s table in Art class. One particularly troubled boy liked to talk about my skin and hair color and mistook me for being African American. He relentlessly made inappropriate comments and jokes to the other boys about me. In high school, another teenage boy liked to use very hurtful racial slurs when talking to me and about me to other people. This went on for far too long. Finally, a friend helped me to work up the courage to approach my guidance counselor about the issue. The boy was suspended for a few days, and returned to school. However, the fall out of social exile by our mutual friends (who took his side) and spreading rumors about the situation were very difficult in the weeks to come. As a caution to parents; if your child is ever bullied (and I hope they are not), there may be follow-up counseling and/or intervention needed.
In the 5th grade, I did not tell my parents because I was afraid that they would approach my principal or guidance counselor. In retrospect, I wish that I had told them. I learned from the experience and told my parents the second time. If your child is being bullied, they may be hesitant to tell you. A piece of advice is to talk with your children about bullying and tell them that they don’t have to be afraid to tell you if they are being bullied for any reason.
Q5: Do you have siblings, adopted or biological and did they change the way you saw yourself as an adoptee?
A5: I have one sister who was also adopted from China, though not biological to me. She is my best friend and one of the greatest gift that my parents could have given to me. (Even though at the time when they brought her home, I was not happy for having been “dethroned”.) It was helpful to have someone who looked more like I did and also comforting to know that my sister may have had the same feelings and questions about being adopted as I did. I learned that biology means so much less than the nurture and love of family who loves you unconditionally.
Q6: What can adoptive parents do to let them know that it is okay to approach them with feelings about their biological family?
A6: My parents talked with me ever since I was a little girl about my birth parents, specifically my birth mother because we had small insights about her. They encouraged me to pray for them. Additionally, when I was older, they shared with me that they would not be hurt or upset if I had thoughts and feelings about my birth parents or even if I hoped to find them one day.
Q7: Did you ever resent your adoptive parents for any reason?
A7: I don’t know if I would use the word resentment. We argued over the years just like biological parents and children do, I’m sure. In our anger though, they were very careful never to say things that they didn’t mean such as, “We wish we had never adopted you.” As an angst-filled teenager, it’s possible that I may have said, “I wish I were never adopted.” But I certainly didn’t mean it. I know that hearing those words would be extremely painful for an adoptive parent.
Q8: When did your parents share stories of abandonment and loss with you?
A8: My parents told me accounts of how my birth mother loved me enough to give me up in the hope that I would have a better life when I was young even, maybe 6 or 7. They revealed the fuller story when I was a teenager and was able to understand the situations in China that may cause a child’s abandonment.