Do Korean adoptions ever fail?

This was in the search phrase list today. This comes on the heels of a post over at The Adopted Ones, as well as our own item on search phrases. Add to this the list of so-called “disrupted adoptions”, and their celebration (yes, celebration) in the mainstream media.

I want to expand on this, and get the opinion of adoptees here. What does this question reveal, especially in terms of it never being asked/stated about biological children (“Oh, him? He’s a failed biological child.”)? Why should we not be able to ask the question in reverse: “They are failures as adoptive parents”?

What does it mean that the idea of our “failure” is built-in to the adoption process itself? How does this thought process transfer through to the relationship of adopted child to adoptive family?

Expand/tangent as you see fit….

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4 thoughts on “Do Korean adoptions ever fail?

  1. What an interesting question, for several reasons…

    First: Why Korean? Why not Chinese? Ethiopian? Indian? Etc.? It seems, to me, to be asking, “Does the reality match the hype?” or, “We hear of so many problems in international adoption these days from all countries, but we never hear about Korea. Are they the exception?”

    Korea has long been known as the “Cadillac” of countries to adopt from. It’s the oldest established international adoption program in the world, and therefore the most polished. Scandals have been isolated events, easily dismissed or explained away. But the interesting thing to me is that Korea was the model for adoption in many of these countries where the adoption process is so publicly failing. I think Korea appears seemingly blemish free because mistakes or abuses in processing children occurred largely prior to the awareness or scrutiny applied to adoptions in recent times.

    Being one of those mistakes, I can tell you that lack of documentation not only hides mistakes but also makes discovery almost impossible. Adoptee narratives and birth family search are only now, many decades later, revealing just how miserably the Korean adoptions process has failed. The over misclassification of relinquished adoptees as “abandoned.” Qualifying children as “orphans” when they were not relinquished directly by their biological parents. Obscuring facts, fabricating social histories, etc., etc. I’d say the Korean adoption process was a big failure. And even today it is greatly flawed, as women are still coerced into signing away their parental rights without being given viable options or fully understanding the ramifications.

    Second. IF the question is referring to failure of the adoption relationship, and not the adoption process, then I have to wonder, “At what point is that assessment being made?” “What constitutes failure?” “What is success?” and “From who’s perspective?”

    At three years of age, my adoption was a hugely popular event – I appeared well-adjusted and therefore it was viewed as a success. At seven years of age, my adoption was an accepted success by everyone but my siblings. At seventeen years of age, the success of my adoption was being questioned by my family. At twenty, my adoption was being thought of as a failure by everyone. At forty, my adoption was being thought of as an absolute debacle by me. At forty-eight, I feel my adoption was both problem-filled and yet also (personally) successful. My family probably continues to think of it as a total failure. It is a relationship that is continually being analyzed by all in vicinity. Yet, there is no “pencils down” point where it’s time to start grading the success or failure of an adoption: It is a process and a moving target as we mature and determine what we want to accept or reject from that relationship.

    Third. The way you framed looking at the question was in terms of blaming the adoptee. In disrupted adoptions, I believe that: those adopting often prefer to blame the adoption agencies or the children, and rarely blame themselves; adult adoptees tend to blame the adopting parents and the general public don’t know who to blame, but tend to believe there is something wrong with the child, that the adoption agency passed off damaged goods, and that the adopting parents are probably horrible parents yet worthy of some sympathy having to deal with damaged goods. But I would agree that this filter of what is acceptable or untenable is not generally applied to biological children.

    Whoever is to blame, the onus of adjustment is on us. The onus of assimilation is on us. The ability to hide grief, be strong, and control our feelings is on us. Those of us in touch with our feelings enough to express them early on are sometimes labeled with Reactive Attachment Disorder and therefore a failure. Those of us who cause no displays of acting out by suppressing their feelings are labeled well-adjusted and therefore a success.

    For awhile.

    In either extreme, it’s hardly fair to the child.

    “Do Korean adoptions ever fail?”

    Of course they do. In different ways on different levels to different degrees. Sometimes it works okay; sometimes it doesn’t. It’s complicated. It’s a big freaking tangled confusing complicated international intercultural interracial ethical moral emotional ego-based, issue-filled mess.

  2. You said it all. I would only add that the other hidden implication here is one of competition among adoptive parents; I want to have that perfect life with that perfect child and s/he better not mess it up. I am always horrified by the outpouring of support for adoptive parents who relinquish or re-abandon the children in their care, or who “disrupt” their adoption and then publicize it. In this can be seen the true view toward us and our “foreign” cultures, with the understated message being that we have reverted to form, meanwhile they “did their best” by us.

    In my orphanage was a separate file drawer for those children who were “returned”, due to sickness or God knows what reason. Most of these dossiers are stamped: “Child deceased soon thereafter”.

    I believe the true cause of these deaths was double abandonment.

  3. I don’t think there’s such a shortage of labeling kids “failed biological children”; in one respect, we TRAs have it “easier” insofar as no one has to resort to the DSM-IV to come with with an excuse for getting rid of us–just the retail department, “Did not suit my needs” is enough, and the Returns Department never asks questions, this being a financial transaction and all.

    But of course, what seems most salient here is precisely that one can, albeit with a lot of rigmarole, “pull the plug” on an adoption; one can’t pull the plug on biological kids–except by murdering them, committing them, forcing themselves into institutions of some sort, or running away.

    What I like about the Catholic prohibition on divorce is how it really makes couples have to stare each other in the face and work something out; what I don’t like about it is the inequality of gendered power and (therefore) the often extremely twisted emotional lives that people “work out” in order to remain together. This analogy applies exactly to adoption as I see it–biological parenting features a prohibition on divorce 9save by murder, etc) and all of the sick twistedness that results, particularly for the kid who is in culturally disempowered position as a minor. The analogy breaks down at this point (even without recalling the file folders from Daniel’s orphangage) because there its not two adults working out their differences, but an adult (o adults) and a child, where whatever is worked out or not, the disempowered status persists.

    I bummed myself out. My cheering counterthought: I love the idea of kids divorcing their parents.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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