Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child

Adoptive parent Jane Ballback discusses internationally adopted children’s need for perfectionism

As you read the title of this blog, you are probably thinking, what in the world is she going to talk about? Adoptive parents might be offended by this title, implying that somehow adoption was a “second-best” option. That is not what this blog is about, but it is a serious topic.

This title, “The Good Enough Child” is actually a book I read several years ago by Brad E. Sachs. It’s an outstanding book and I learned a great deal from it. The subtitle, How To Have An Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, says it all.

How did we get to the point in our culture and society where we needed to have a book like this? How did we get so obsessed with being perfect? There are a lot of answers to this question. Parents who are older, better educated and wealthier than ever before, are raising the bar on the whole issue of parenthood. Parents are generally more likely to have been taught that they have an enormous impact on their child’s future success. And while that’s true, as usual it’s how you go about it that is so important. Many parents feel like if their child does not go to the right school, play the right sport, or evidence some unusual talent or skill, then they will not have a successful life. When I first heard the term “competitive parenting”, I wanted to drop out of the race as fast as I could.

I am one of those parents who believe that I’ve had a huge impact on my children’s lives, but I did it in a way that kept us all sane and centered. The reason this is so important for adoptive parents is that most adoptive children feel an enormous need to be perfect without any encouragement from us. In Patty Cogen’s brilliant book, Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, she writes, “Internationally adopted children feel more strongly and dramatically than other children the pressure to be good and do what is right because deep down they still fear that they did something wrong that resulted in their relinquishment.” Because young children believe that adults cannot make a mistake, this leads them to believe they did something wrong, or they would not have been relinquished.

I saw perfectionism in all three of my children, but this story is about Stacee. Her perfectionism showed up first as she was playing board games as a small child. In the game of Sorry, she would often get to the game first and shuffle the cards so she would have the best ones first. I waited for that behavior to extinguish itself, and it did.

Her need for perfectionism then showed up every time she did something she had never done before. Prior to kindergarten she told me, in a very serious voice, “Mom, I need to learn how to read before I get to school.” No amount of me telling her that wasn’t so did any good. Her answer to that was to take a series of books called Bernstein Bears, and read every one of them until she had them completely understood. Along the way she did teach herself how to read, so she met her goal. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The “Real” Story

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


All young children have some trouble expressing their true emotions. I think this is particularly true of adopted children who feel the need to hide more of what they are feeling in an effort to fit in and not rock anybody’s boat. Sometimes they will act out their emotions and sometimes if they are willing to talk, they tell you something that really isn’t the issue.

Stacee came home from school very sad and crying one day when she was seven. I had a special place in my bedroom — a chair — where I often invited the children to sit and talk to me when I sensed that they needed to tell me about something or express some emotion. When we were sitting in my chair I asked Stacee what was wrong. She said in a tearful voice that she was sad because she was the only girl in her class who did not have blonde hair.

I knew this wasn’t true because I had visited her class many times and her best friend was Japanese. I listened for a couple of minutes, let her cry, and then I said “Sweetheart, I think that’s not actually what’s going on. There are certainly a lot of blonde girls in your class, but there are girls with brown hair like yours and even some girls with black hair like your best friend. So why don’t you tell me what this crying is really all about.” She started crying harder while we sat there for a few minutes longer, and then she said in the saddest, softest little voice, “I have a hole in my heart.” I said, “You do? Why do you have a hole in your heart?” She said, “I have a hole in my heart where my birth mom belongs.”

I sat there for a moment and let her cry and thought very hard and quickly about how I might respond to her. I hadn’t told Stacee very much about my own birth mother who died the same year I adopted my twin boys. I hadn’t told her very much because there wasn’t a great deal of “positive” to tell. But Stacee was so intuitive at her young age, I thought I could now say something about the situation without giving a lot of details. I said to Stacee very softly, “Well Stacee, you know Mama had a birth mother too. You know you haven’t met her because she died before you were born. But I need to tell you something Stacee…despite the fact that I had a birth mother, I have a hole in my heart too. My birth mother was very difficult to live with and very hard to get along with. I think maybe one of the reasons you and I are together is because we fill each other’s hearts.” Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The “Real” Story”

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.” Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Having Brown Eyes in a Blue-eyed world”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: An Adoptee’s View

As children grow into late adolescence and early adulthood, I think all parents are probably curious about how their children have felt about their own childhood.  Often children don’t think about it or don’t have a way to express their experiences.

To my complete surprise, our daughter Stacee wrote about herself and our family in her college essay (she is now a junior at UC, Santa Cruz).

Please enjoy her essay and also enjoy getting to know Stacee a little bit better.  When she’s done with her finals this quarter, I’m going to ask her to start blogging with me. –Jane Ballback, guest blogger

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Introducing Jane’s daughter, Stacee

by Stacee Ballback

Looking at my family portrait, you might notice a lack of consistency. My brothers, Jaik and Brandon, are Korean like myself.  My Aunt Bea Bea is Mexican.  My other aunt Pranita is Indian.  And the rest of my family is Caucasian. This generates a lot of questions and a lot of stares from people. Sure, we’re all very different, but one thing we all share is a strong bond of love, mutual respect and support for each other.

I was born named Mec Sun Kim. Five months later, I was adopted and my name changed to Stacee Ballback. I can’t tell you much about the experience because I can’t remember it, but I know 1 started out a sad baby. I think being taken from my mother at birth instead of being held by her and feeling her love created an emptiness in my heart that remained until I became a Ballback. At five months old, I was given a new home and a new life. My mom and dad, along with my brothers, quickly filled the emptiness in my heart with the family I had been missing and needing.

After I settled into my new life, I became much happier because I knew I had a loving family behind me no matter what. The most influential people in my life are my mom and dad. My mom is the strongest, most independent woman I know. She presides over our family and we refer to her as “Alpha Dog” because she makes every final decision. My dad is much more passive than my mom and has a childlike tendency about him that makes him spacey and forgetful. My mom is organized. When we have dinner, she often ends up pulling out a typed paper with topics and lists of things she wants to discuss concerning vacations, holidays, household chores, etc. Needless to say, you can often walk out of one of her dinners feeling like you just got out of an extremely productive business meeting. However, all neurotic tendencies aside, my mom has taught me valuable lessons as I’ve grown older. She taught me to be independent and never to be a follower, but a leader. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: An Adoptee’s View”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Too Good to be True

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children

by Jane Ballback

I mentioned in my last blog that all three of my children had very different reactions to their relinquishment and adoption. In this blog I want to talk specifically about my son Jaik who has never shown or expressed an interest in — or any curiosity about — his adoption, nor does he seem particularly interested in anything related to it.

When I started teaching the classes for Holt he was in his late adolescence. Now that I’m doing this blog, I sat down one more time to talk to him about my participation in the blog and how I was telling his stories. He listened very politely to the whole thing and when I got finished he said (in Jaik’s very clear way), “I know you are very interested in all this, Mom, I simply am not.”

I actually do think that he does care about his relinquishment and his adoption but for his own reasons he just is not, in any way, ready to deal with it.

I recently read a very interesting book on this subject. The book is called, Being Adopted, the Lifelong Search for Self, by David Brodzinsky, Marshall D. Schechter, and Robin M. Harris. This book along with several other good books, are listed under the links “Post Adoption Services/Recommended Books on Holt’s website”.

This is the first book I’ve found that mentions in the introduction of the book that there really are vast differences in the way that children react to their relinquishment and adoption. There are some children that are so happy, so relieved, so pleased to be within a family that they don’t have a great deal of reaction to their early life.

What’s also interesting about this book is that it follows adoptees all through their life cycle. I’m busy reading the book because my boys are now 23 and my daughter Stacee is 20; and I’m very interested in now knowing how their adoption issues could play out in their young adult and middle adult years. It’s a fascinating book.

Despite Jaik’s reluctance to talk about his adoption, Jaik had some “adopted behaviors.” Let me describe an incident that taught me a great deal. Jaik is pretty much the perfect kid. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Too Good to be True”

A New Beginning…A Powerful Connection


A message from Steve Kalb, camp director

As another Adoptee Camp season is placed in the books, the dust begins to settle from the frantic pace of my summer camp adventures.  Back in my Eugene office, I close my eyes and take a deep breath, inhaling a sense of relative calm before I begin my article.  As I exhale slowly, my eyes open and begin to focus on the blinking cursor and blank page before me.  The calm quickly fades to a light panic.

“How?” I ask myself.

How can I possibly describe everything the campers have taught me?  How can I convey to readers the beauty and value of the Adoptee community?  How can the strength and urgency of their voice be turned into a newsletter?  I fumble through several iterations; reading, re-reading, deleting, shaking my head as I struggle to get it “just right”.  In spite of my desperate efforts to capture their voice, I sense the soul and poignancy of their wisdom evaporating with each keystroke.  Frustrated, I decide to move on to another project.  As I close the document, it hits me; “Just let them tell their stories!”……..

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Thirteen-year old Allison discusses her life-changing experiences at Holt adoptee camp and encourages others to join her on next summer’s adventures

by Allison Fuchs

My name is Allison Fuchs. This summer was my fifth year attending Oregon Holt camp. When I was younger, I had a lot of unanswered questions in my mind; some were more important than others. This year, I finally realized that many of my questions should be asked.

I think Holt camp is very important for adoptees. It teaches us that there are other people our age who have faced the same problems we have. It’s a great way to share a special bond with another adoptee.

The most rewarding part of camp is seeing how dedicated the staff is. Making sure the the campers have fun and learn who they are, is the staff’s number one goal. To top it off, they don’t get paid for any of it! I truly admire the level of commitment they give.

Adoptee camp helped me so much in everyday life. It helps me make new friends every year and has helped me realize that it wasn’t my fault I was adopted. This was always something I wondered until I asked it at camp. I finally understood that it is never the adoptee’s fault. Never.

I want to tell adoptees that they are special to me. Even if I don’t know them, I still feel very passionate about them. I think of all adoptees as my extended family. It’s a terrific feeling and I hope they feel the same way. Continue reading “A New Beginning…A Powerful Connection”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Responding to Relinquishment

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children

by Jane Ballback

I thought in my first blog entry, I should introduce you to my children. My three young adult children are all working and finishing their educations. Jaik and Brandon are twins and they both work in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Jaik wants to manage hotels and restaurants and Brandon is attending culinary school. Their sister, Stacee, is studying psychology.

All three of them are from Korea, and they all arrived when they were five months old. My greatest accomplishment isn’t that they are all on track towards satisfying and rewarding careers, but the fact that they are well-loved by everyone that knows them, and that they remain good friends with each other, and are very connected to my husband and myself and our extended family. This, in my opinion, is every parent’s dream — but accomplishing this dream is a different task for adoptive parents than it is for birth parents. There is nothing “normal” about being relinquished by your birth mother (no matter what the reason was), and being an adoptive parent is not for the faint-hearted.

I was fortunate to have three adopted children because I got to witness three very different responses to being adopted. Jaik has yet to have a conversation with me about his adoption. Stacee didn’t talk a great deal about it, but was a master thief and world-class liar at six years old. Brandon gave “voice” to every bit of fear and grief that often engulf adopted children and was so overwhelmed as an adolescent, he told me, “Mom, I don’t want to live anymore”.

As I blog I will be telling you their stories, some of which are “normal”, everyday child-rearing stories, and some that you will find hilarious, and some that will make you shed a tear. I will be the “voice” of the blog, but you will hear all of their voices as well. I asked all three of them if it was all right with them for me to share their stories. Jaik and Stacee readily agreed, and Brandon was, of course, the most hesitant. When I assured him that his story would be read by people who love adoption stories and adopted children, he found that reassuring. After much discussion, he asked if our stories would help adoptive parents and their children. I told him that was the goal of the blog, and he said, in his generous and kind way, “then, that’s what we should do.”

Be prepared to be enlightened and entertained by these three children, and to fall in love with them as well. I know I will fall in love with your children and their stories; so please share this with your family and friends and send me your comments, questions, and stories.

Click here to read more blog entries from Jane. And watch for next week’s entry!


Click here for post-adoption services information.

*Plans have commenced for the 2011 heritage tours to China, Korea and Thailand! We hope you will consider joining us on one of these adventures. Holt pioneered in the development of heritage tours for international adoptees and their families. With many adult adoptees on our staff and board, and expertise in overseas travel, Holt is uniquely qualified to provide a special homeland experience for you and your children. For more information about travel dates and costs, visit www.holtinternational.org/tours.

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Introducing Jane

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children

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For the past three years, Holt adoptive parent Jane Ballback has shared her adoption stories with families waiting to bring their children home. An adoptive parent for 24 years, Jane speaks at parent training classes led by Holt Social Worker Mike Guinn. Mike offers the formal training. Jane presents the personal experiences relating to the issues being discussed.

“I provide the stories that bring the theories alive and help new parents figure out what they are about to face,” says Jane. “Everyone loves a good story, and mine are real, relatable and memorable. Adoption concepts are rather abstract and hard to explain until you understand how the theories play out in real life.”

Starting today, Jane will share her thoughts and stories on Holt’s blog once a week. The theories and issues discussed will be relevant to new adoptive families as well as families who have had their children home for some time. Our hope is that Jane’s blogs will serve as an educational tool for adoptive parents and also as a catalyst for candid, meaningful discussion.

Feel free to comment on Jane’s blog entries with your own suggestions, questions and personal stories as they relate to the topic being discussed.

Jane’s daughter, Stacee, will also occasionally be joining her mother as a guest blogger.

The following is a message from Jane:

Hello, my name is Jane and I am one of the luckiest women in the world. I have been married forty years to the “boy” I met in high school, I’ve had a fascinating and rewarding career as a Human Resource Consultant and Career Coach, and now that I’m retired I get to do volunteer work for non-profits whose missions are near and dear to my heart.

The best part of this story, though, is that along the way my husband and I adopted three children from Korea, who are now young adults. Being a parent was the hardest job I’ve ever done, and watching them grow and develop has been the experience of a lifetime.

I’ve always been an intensively curious woman and learning to be an adoptive parent was one of my greatest endeavors. Determined to be the best parent I could, I talked to adoption experts, read everything I could find about parenting adoptive children, and when I was “in over my head”, I worked with a gifted child psychologist, who is herself, adopted.

I was, by no means a “perfect” parent. Along the way I stumbled, survived, learned and laughed. The idea for this blog came out of the volunteer work I do for Holt International. For three years now I’ve been working with the Southern California social worker, helping to train parents who are waiting for their new arrival. He does the formal training and introduces the adoption theories and ideas – I provide the stories that bring the theories alive, and help new parents figure out what they are about to face. Everyone loves a good story, and mine are real, relatable and memorable.

I thought my first story would be about my daughter, Stacee who is now twenty years old and a junior in college. I want to introduce Stacee to you because she will periodically be blogging with me. I have often been asked how it is possible to love a child that is not your own. I understand the question — it’s just difficult to answer, so I often tell this story.

I actually did forget once, that I was not my daughter’s “real” mother. When Stacee was three she had a persistent fever and was turning bright red. After a few days of trying to figure this out, my pediatrician told me to drive directly to the Children’s Hospital and get her admitted. He suspected, rightfully so, that she had Kawasoki’s Disease. This is an unusual disease, common among Asians with just these symptoms. It’s a very treatable disease, but time was of the essence and the result of not treating it was the possibility of permanent damage to Stacee’s heart.

As I sat in the admitting department, with this hot, bright red child on my lap, I was distraught to say the least. The nurse began getting a history from me, Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Introducing Jane”