Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Having Brown Eyes in a Blue-eyed world

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted childrenRead more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback

Since my children are Korean and look different from my husband and myself, I’m often asked whether or not there were any huge issues with that as they were growing up.

The short answer is that we are so fortunate to live in Southern California, a melting pot of every conceivable ethnic and racial identity. People were, for the most part, endlessly curious, but kind.

As the children got older and were in high school, we actually experienced some of what I call “reverse discrimination.” All three of my children struggled some with math in high school. I hired tutors for all three of them because I wasn’t able to do the work, and my husband was too tired to do it at night. While they mastered all the concepts they needed to master, it was difficult for all of them. Each of them came to me at different times and asked me to write a note to their teacher saying they really were trying, and despite the fact that they were Asian, they simply were not math geniuses! By the time that it had happened with my third child, Stacee, I just couldn’t stop laughing!

Jaik did struggle with looking different than other people around him. Despite the fact that we live in a very ethnically diverse environment, we live on the small island where, for the most part, the population is Caucasian — a lot of them are blonde and blue eyed. So, until Jaik got to high school he did look different than most of his friends and classmates. Jaik’s reaction was to change his name when he was nine.

I know a lot of adoptive parents choose to keep their adopted children’s names. My husband and I also made a decision to keep the children’s Korean names as their middle names instead of their first names. My decision was born out of trying to limit the things my children were going to have to explain in their lives about why they were different or why they looked different from me and my husband.

• Jaik is named Jaik Joon Hwan,

• Brandon is Brandon In Hwan, and

• Stacee is Stacee Mee Sun.

We used their first and middle names together many times so that they got used to hearing that we were very comfortable with using both their American and their Korean names. I also decided to give Jaik’s name a different spelling. I had read in a book that in India the name Jay is spell “Jai’ — so I spelled his name as “Jai” and put a “k” on the end for “Jaik.”

When he was nine years old, his teacher called me and said Jaik had changed the spelling of his first name and changed his middle name to Michael. Later that evening when I was putting him to bed I said, “Your teacher called and I understand that you changed your name.” He said, “Yes, it is now Jake Michael.” I said to him, “You know Jaik; you can do that if you want to and I’m certainly not going to stop you, but I want to give you something to think about. Your name is, in fact, the only thing you arrived with when you were five months old. I don’t know who named you but you were definitely named Joon Hwan and I think it’s a good idea for you to keep that name. Would you think about that?” At that point I simply let the topic go.

Several months later his teacher called me again and said that Jake was back to Jaik Joon Hwan. So again I went in at his bed time, sat down on his bed and said, “Your teacher called and said you are back to being called Jaik Joon Hwan. Why did you decide to change back?” He looked at me with all seriousness and said, “It just wasn’t very satisfying.”

Jaik was always very silent and I was never sure what was going on in his head. I think he engaged in some wishful thinking and thought maybe…if he changed his name he might look different as well, and in his mind, would fit in better. He fit in perfectly (remember Jaik is my little perfectionist) and looking different and having a different name (at least for awhile) was for him distressing.

I believe we adoptive parents have more parenting surprises than parents of birth children (although I’m sure they have many surprises as well.) And because we often have no way of knowing what our children are thinking and feeling about being adopted, we need to be more prepared than birth parents for these surprises.

It’s important that we don’t under react or over react. It’s also important for us to give them permission to tell us what they’re thinking or feeling. Or in Jaik’s case — to show us by taking the action of actually changing his name. Then for the most part by letting them “talk out’ or “play out” whatever is troubling them, they often learn to manage and resolve their feelings about the issues themselves. After this, they usually can go on and view whatever situation they’re in, in a more positive way.

Would you like your child to connect with other adoptees?  Every summer, Holt hosts six  camps designed to be relevant for adoptees ages 9 to 16.  Find a camp near you. Click here to read a camp testimonial.

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