Hold it! I’m going to do something VERY CONTROVERSIAL right now! Below is my conversation with Margie Perscheid, an adoptive parent who lives in Alexandria, VA and not Alexandria, MN! What..??!!
Dramatics aside, my response to those of you who will say that it’s a bit odd to see an AP featured, especially someone who doesn’t even live in Minnesota, is this: Margie “gets it” and, as you’ll see, all of us would benefit from reaching out to adoptive parents like her.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve been involved in the adoption community for a long time. Would you mind talking about some of your favorite memories?
Margie: Memories of my children and family stand out the most. They include typical family memories of birthday and holidays, family vacations, school, sports and activities, or if they made a connection to adoption, like our family trip to Korea with a group of close friends in 2001. It would be impossible to pick just one or two, so I’ll put them aside for a bit and focus on memories of being a member of the Korean adoption community, and of working within it, initially as a volunteer for our adoption agency and later with other organizations, like DC’s Korean Focus, KAAN and several culture camps.
The experiences that stand out in my memory are those with individual’s stories at their core. Here are a few of them:
- Listening to Korean mothers tell their stories – It is impossible to think about adoption in purely positive terms after you have heard a woman speak of how much she had wanted to parent her child, but simply couldn’t withstand the rejection by her baby’s father, their families and her community. One story in particular stands out, that of a young woman who married after she surrendered her baby, married and raised a family. She visited Ae Ran Won every time a homeland tour came to visit in the hope of finding her child, who would have been a teenager at the time I heard her speak when I visited Ae Ran Won in 2001.
- Meeting our children’s foster mothers in Korea and witnessing how deeply our son’s foster mother in particular had been attached to him.
- At Eastern Social Welfare Society on one visit, watching a foster mother say good-bye to the baby whom she had cared for as he departed for the U.S. This woman had wanted to adopt the baby, but her husband opposed her. It was a lesson in how difficult it will be to change these attitudes to promote single parenting and domestic adoption in Korea.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve been a vocal proponent of adoptees and have been known to (politely) disagree with other adoptive parents when it comes to certain adoptee issues. What thoughts and opinions expressed by other adoptive parents have surprised you the most?
Margie: Away from the internet, I have found most of the adoptive parents in my community to be people genuinely interested in understanding how adoption will impact their children, and what they can do to support them throughout their lives. When I speak with adoptive and prospective adoptive parents locally, I seldom encounter adoptive parents who disagree with the importance of supporting their children’s genetic, racial, cultural and community connections. It’s hard to tell how many actually change their parenting in response, but I do believe they take the information to heart and make an effort. The online world is a different ball game, however. It’s pretty easy to find the “I change the diapers so I’m the real parent” point of view, which always pulls me up short. I don’t understand why adoptive parents feel the need to argue their supremacy.
I’m also surprised when an adoptive parent says something along the line of, “My kids aren’t interested in their Korean heritage, so I’m leaving it up to them whether or not they want to learn about it or experience it.” I personally don’t believe this decision can be made by a school-aged child. We adoptive parents need to keep our children’s racial and ethnic cultures and communities alive in their lives every way we can, even when the kids resist.
Additionally, I’m a little surprised at how unwilling some adoptive parents are to criticize their adoption agencies, even when that criticism would improve future services and support for children. The relationship between adoptive parents and adoption agencies strikes me as a “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” kind of relationship: prospective adoptive parents come to the agency wishing for a child, the agency grants or denies it. If the wish is granted, the adoptive parents feel gratitude and loyalty. I get that. But it’s a shame that it prevents some from criticizing the even obvious failures of adoption policies and the adoption process. I have seen changes in this over the years, and know that some adoption agencies open their doors to critique from adoptees, adoptive parents and first parents. I hope there’s more of this in the future.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Do you think it’s truly possible for adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption agencies to work together?
Margie: It depends on the issue and objective, and also on whether or not adoptive parents are the right people to fight a particular battle. Adoption is complicated, and adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents may not agree on the ultimate objective: Is it to end intercountry adoption altogether in every situation? To focus on preserving families by destigmatizing unmarried parenthood and providing support for families in need? Promoting domestic adoption in Korea? Something else altogether?
I see opportunities for adoptive parents to work on specific issues with adoptees, but am not sure that a partnership across all issues is possible or even desirable. The recent change in Korea’s intercountry adoption law is an example of how effectively adoptees can work in Korea with women’s and first mothers’ organizations, academics and legislators on important issues. Adoptees live with the fallout of bad adoption practices, and although I find it sad that they are forced to do this work, I also believe that they are able to deliver the hard messages that need to be heard with authority.
I also don’t believe there’s anything like a “triad” in adoption. Yes, there are different ways that those directly involved with adoption live it: as parents who have lost children to it, as those children and as adoptive parents. There is no balance of power in the current model, which has focuses on the transfer of children from one family to another rather than the lifelong relationships, actual and imagined, that result. First parents have very little power when they come to adoption (if any) and adoptees have none at all. Although some adoptive parents feel victimized by the process because it requires them to be studied, to wait and to pay, we’re not victims at all. Our desires are met by adoption, and the system poses very few restrictions on how we parent, which many of us do to meet our own needs rather than those of our children. Because of this imbalance in power, I think it’s right for adoptive parents to be out of the discussion on many adoption issues, including the relationship between Korean adoptees and Korea and its laws and traditions.
One issue I believe we work on together is better post-adoption support, professional and grassroots, for transracial and transcultural adoptees and families. Regardless of one’s end goal for intercountry adoption – none, less or more – once a child has been adopted, I think we can agree that he or she needs the support of everyone in his or her community. Please understand, though, I do not believe that adoptees have any responsibility at all to give their time to the adoption community. But if and when they choose, I think this is one area in which adoptees and adoptive parents can work together effectively to bring more and better post-adoption services to adoptees and families.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Thanks, Margie.
And to you, dear reader, if you like Margie’s comments, you’re in for a treat. You can follow Margie here and here. Additionally, Margie will be speaking at the KAAN Conference this year in Atlanta, GA. Seek her out if you’re planning on attending.