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>Seek First to Understand

March 27, 2011

>I have already shared two research studies illuminating the subject of alcohol consumption in Korea and am working on two more. The point is not to blame Koreans or Korean culture. In fact, the research strongly shows that alcohol consumption, particularly among women, has grown as Korea has become westernized. Ironic, isn’t it? The substance use and abuse issues Korea is experiencing are the same ones we wrestle with here in the U.S.

My main point is to help us understand that. It is easy to have rosy ideas about a culture and a people half a globe away. In fact, many of us who chose International adoption did so in part because we considered the reasons kids are placed for domestic adoption in the U.S. and didn’t feel sure we were up to the challenges. But the truth is, world over, children are orphaned for the same handful of basic reasons: poverty, social stigma, relational dysfunction. Korean kids are no different.

As I have begun to blog and to speak privately of the challenges arising from Hope’s prenatal alcohol exposure, other moms of Korean kids have begun coming forward to say, “You’re describing my family. Hope is very much like my child.” I knew we were not alone; if the exposure statistics are accurate there are many more families than ours struggling with this.

Other families anecdotally confirm some of the research I will excerpt here in coming days: that there is not necessarily a strong relationship between the amount of alcohol the birth mother reported and the severity of the child’s behavior. Hope’s exposure, for example, was characterized as “mild” which we wrongly understood fell below an imaginary threshold for causing permanent brain damage.  Parents of Korean kids report similar behavioral challenges with children who have varying levels of exposure.

That means that there is a strata of adoptive parents like my husband and me who are rather late to understand that our child’s challenges are related to their prenatal exposure. Unlike families who enter an adoption knowing their child is at significant risk for a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, many of us are scrambling to catch up with our reality.

Fourth, I am keenly aware of the hurdles that prevented me from facing that reality. So, rightly or wrongly, I’m proceeding under the assumption that the education that helped me might help you. Some of those hurdles were:

  • not understanding the normalcy of social drinking in Korea
  • not understanding where Hope’s birth mother fit into that picture
  • not understanding that Hope’s birth mother was not at fault
  • not understanding that Hope is not at fault for acting the way she does

Because our kids come from so many different backgrounds in Korea, I’ll be building a case for normative drinking patterns across socio-economic lines. You won’t be able to guess where Hope’s first mother falls and I am completely intentional in that effect. Her story doesn’t matter. That Hope was exposed matters. That’s why many of you are reading: you know your child is at risk.

Seeking to understand now may help you avoid a major stumbling block later: anger. Anger at the person/people/society who harmed your child. Anger that you were not fully informed of the risk. Anger at your own inadequacies to cope. Anger at those who blame your parenting. Anger at your child’s obstinate, impulsive, provocative behavior.

Understanding is a powerful antidote.

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