Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When an adoptee decides to search: After all these years, why now?

I would like to address a "phenomena," which really is not a phenomena at all. But I use such a word simply because it characterizes the way that I think the general bystander tends to view the process that I am about to discuss.

Over time, as I interact and correspond with more and more adult Korean adoptees, I have noticed a common reaction to Korean adoptees by their friends and families when they begin to demonstrate an interest in their ethnic heritage, which can often extend to initiating a search for one's biological family.

Family and friends often express a somewhat agitated, distrustful surprise at the seemingly "sudden" interest of a Korean adoptee in his or her ethnic and familial origins.

Often, friends and family are thinking to themselves (or they just say it), "After all these years, why now?"

After all these years, why are you now deciding to seek out your origins?

It's a fair enough question. But it's also a question that demonstrates, once again, the general ignorance and lack of awareness regarding the issues that adopted persons encounter.

And it's a question that is often asked by those who take for granted that they know from whom and where they came, and why they are who they are.

The desire of adoptees to want to know where they came from is no different and no more a phenomena than a non-adopted person's desire to know his or her own family history and ancestry.

But it is different in the sense that most (not all, of course) non-adopted persons have such knowledge easily available to them. Physically and temperamentally, non-adopted persons can look in the mirror and know why they look a certain way, or they can watch a parent and know where they got that quick temper or that sharp wit. Non-adopted persons can pick up the phone or send an email and ask a family member, Hey, does heart disease run in our family? They can look in the mirror and know where those freckles came from or how they got that thick full head of hair.

Yet, family often wonders why in the world an adoptee is wanting to know more now, especially if the adoptee has generally seemed to display healthy social and psychological adjustment.

Well, wonder no more. An adoptee's desire to want to know more is not odd or all of a sudden, despite the way it may appear.

The desire to know one's origins is quite natural and in the case of an adoptee, may simply have been dormant awaiting the necessary emotional tools and maturity to facilitate its emergence.

Why now?

Maybe it's because of a recent marriage or the prospect or actual event of having a child. Or maybe it's simply because becoming an adult has forced an adopted person to face the issues of identity more directly and frequently.

The deep and complex issues of one's identity are not normally a part of a ten-year old child's daily thought. And even in high school although the process of developing one's identity begins, it carries on into adulthood and really for the remainder of a person's lifetime.

It would make sense then, that certain facets of the adoptee's experience and identity development would not necessarily come to the forefront until certain stages in life have been surpassed or reached.

* * *

Hence, it is deceiving to think that once an adopted person has reached adulthood that he or she has completed the adoption journey.

If the adopted person has made it through high school, graduated college and gone on to join the workforce, it's easy to think that he or she has arrived at the end of the adoption journey.

But often it is only beginning.

As human beings, developmentally, most of us are aware of the fact that we have not arrived or reached the peak of our lives in our early twenties--rather we are in many ways, just beginning. Furthermore, our identities tend to shift and metamorphose throughout life.

Although a foundation is laid during childhood and adolescence, our identities are by no means complete once we turn twenty-one.

I am a very different person in my mid-thirties than I was in my mid-twenties. I also imagine I'll be different in my mid-forties from who I am now in my mid-thirties.

I am addressing the lifetime nature of an adopted person's journey simply because I have encountered adoptive parents who seem to hold the perspective that if their adopted child demonstrates generally healthy adjustment during childhood and adolescence that this indicates that the adopted person will therefore transition smoothly into adulthood with little to no concerns or issues with being adopted.

I have also encountered adoptive parents who also seem somewhat perplexed when their once "happy little child" grows up to become an adult who demonstrates conflict or turmoil over his or her adoption.

A lot happens developmentally between childhood and adulthood. As we transition into adulthood, our ability to process complex information increases and deepens. It should be no surprise then that an adopted child who seemed very well-adjusted matures into an adult who may eventually display more overtly an increasing curiosity and interest regarding his or her adoption.

It's not that something mysteriously surfaced and overcame the adopted person in adulthood, but rather that what was there all along has finally found its way out due to the ability to now not only process but identify and express the thoughts and emotions that accompany the adoptee's experience.

In addition, as I mentioned above, certainly marriage and the prospect of children can often thrust an adoptee into a flurry of thoughts and emotions that otherwise have remained dormant or suppressed.

The important point to keep in mind always is that adoption is a lifetime process. It begins the second the adopted person is relinquished by his or her original family and, despite seeming periods of dormancy or latency, the process never ceases from that point on...

1 comment:

Mia_h_n said...

"It's not that something mysteriously surfaced and overcame the adopted person in adulthood, but rather that what was there all along has finally found its way out due to the ability to now not only process but identify and express the thoughts and emotions that accompany the adoptee's experience."

To me, it was kinda out of the blue and I was as surprised as the people you describe. A couple of years down the line I now know that it's was like you say "there all along".
I never doubted though, that the timing was due to mental surplus and as par of my growing up and into me.