My husband and I adopted our son in 2009. He’s now 10 years old. We are Caucasian, born in New York and Pennsylvania, respectively. We live in Maryland, between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Our son is Asian, born in South Korea.

One of the ways we have kept our son’s birth country and culture alive in our lives over the years has been our involvement in our Korean Adoption Playgroup.

Over the past 10 years, we as a family have enjoyed a very special relationship with the 12 other families in this playgroup. They all live in our area, and all of them are also the parents of children adopted from South Korea.

In other words, these families look like we do. And that is so important for an adopted child whose parents are of a different race.

We’ve held playdates at our houses, met at parks, and dined out at Korean restaurants together. Some of our friends have taken their children on homeland tours to South Korea—several of these families even traveled there together, on the same tour with ASIA Families. Some have gone there more than once already. The bond among our families is precious, and we’ve nurtured it for all these years.

As a family, my husband and son and I feel so connected with many others from South Korea—and with families who love it as much as we do. We feel very much in touch with our son’s birth culture because of this relationship. We go out of our way to ensure that South Korea remains very much a part of our family and our life.

And to think . . . it all started with a playgroup.

What’s an Adoption Playgroup, and Why Join One?

An adoption playgroup is a cohort of families that agree to get together consistently (monthly, bimonthly, quarterly) to allow their children to play together and get to know one another. And in the process, even though the purpose is to get the kids together, the parents tend to become friends, as well. Often, adoption playgroups cater to families formed through international adoption and/or domestic transracial adoption—but not always.

During the past decade, adoption playgroups have really come into their own. They’ve existed for far longer than that, but the past 10 years have highlighted the awareness of adoption playgroups. Getting involved in a playgroup—especially if you are a transracial adoptive family—is highly recommended among adoption experts and adoptive families alike. It’s a practice that so many families have welcomed—and it offers a supportive environment for parents and children alike.

The reasons for joining an adoption playgroup are both obvious and not so obvious—so, let me start with the obvious one: Making your child see that other families look like yours.

I’m going to repeat that phrase because it’s THAT important—making your child see that other families look like yours. It’s also the first reason why you as an adoptive parent might want to consider joining or forming a playgroup of your own.

Reason #1: Making your child see that other families look like yours.

If you are a “conspicuous family” like us, becoming friendly with other transracial adoptive families with a similar demographic can be so helpful to your child and to you as you navigate not only parenting but also adoptive parenting—and still also (for some of you) raising a child of a different race.

We were all three of those things back in 2009 when we joined our playgroup: (1) new parents (clueless and terrified at times, like all new parents are); (2) new adoptive parents (a whole added layer of complexity), in awe that this adorable chubby-cheeked bundle of awesomeness from South Korea had been entrusted to our care—forever; and (3) new adoptive parents whose child looks different from us.

To reiterate: We weren’t just new parents. We weren’t just new adoptive parents. We were “new-adoptive-parents-whose-child-looked-different-from-us.” Quite the transition—and one that required us to seek out, and find, families that looked just like us. Because we didn’t want him to forget the beautiful country and culture where he came from.

We knew when we chose to adopt our son from South Korea that we didn’t want to only get together with a bunch of other white families with white birth children. That would be limiting our son’s world and putting a tremendous amount of pressure on him, just a child, to think that there is somehow something “wrong” with him because he doesn’t look like all those other white kids. Our friends who are white and who have birth children to this day remain great friends of ours. But they lack the experience—the regular day-to-day moments as a transracial family—that makes us unique and different from them. They will never know what it’s like to be a transracial family. The people in our playgroup? They know. It helps to have that shared experience. These playgroup experiences have shaped our identity as a simultaneously American, South Korean, Irish-American, and Slovak-American family.

We now see our world and live our experience through the lens of Korean adoption. We are a multicultural family and proud of it! So, families who look like us are a part of our life—but not the only part of our life. All those years ago, when we became a family, our son needed to know right from the beginning that just because he’s the only person who is South Korean in our family doesn’t make him somehow “less than” or “different in a bad way.” We wanted him to grow up knowing that his being from South Korea is something to be proud of. I want him to say confidently the name of the bustling port city of Busan, where he was born, and I want him to say and someday see the beautiful city of Seoul, where he lived with his foster parents before he joined our family. He deserves to know a world in which many of the people we hang out with actually look like him.

So, when our caseworker approached us and said, “Hey, I know of a group of parents in your area who started a Korean Adoption Playgroup. I can introduce you to some of the parents via email, and maybe your family can join them,” we didn’t hesitate to say, “Yes.”

Thanks to Korean Adoption Playgroup, our son has known since the age of 9.5 months that many other families look like ours. And, when we gather as a group, the topics of our shared experiences are socially accepted and allowed to be broached; they are not seen as taboo but are encouraged, welcomed, and shared openly. Together, we’ve vented about the long wait we all had to endure before our kids joined our families. We’ve brainstormed about how to handle inappropriate comments about adoption. We’ve discussed the realities of being a transracial family. We’ve shared our experiences of bias or bullying related to race and/or adoption, South Korea, and the Asian culture in general. We’ve had lingering conversations about the difficult personal situations that led many of us as couples to pursue international adoption. And we’ve shared our joy and gratitude that adoption made us a family—and brought us these friends!

And mostly, if not most importantly, we’ve had fun doing it. Which leads me to Reason #2.

Reason #2: Having fun.

These days, in our society of weekends filled with children’s activities and one soccer game or karate tournament or travel baseball game after another, free play with no fixed agenda is underrated—and rarely done. So, another reason for joining or forming an adoption playgroup is, quite simply, to have some good, old-fashioned fun. The kids play together and tire themselves out (read: a good night’s sleep for parents later), and the adults get to know each other and expand their circle of friends.

Win-win.

Reason #3: Regularly exposing your child to their birth culture.

The third reason for joining an adoption playgroup is something we’ve already touched on in Reason #1 (but, honestly, all four of these reasons are pretty intersectional): connecting your child to their birth country and birth culture. There is nothing more important than proactively building up your child’s confidence, securing their sense of self, and preserving their identity by making sure that—even as they adjust to the culture of their newly adopted country and family—they still maintain a connection with the cultural traditions, foods, and identity of their birth country.

For example, even though sushi is my son’s all-time favorite food and his method of Karate is Japanese not Korean (short story: that karate studio was closer than the Korean one), he LOVES himself some bulgogi at our favorite Korean restaurant. Another favorite of his is what he calls “the pancakes” (buchimgae, pajeon). He also loves what, as a toddler, he called “the pierogies” (mandu, which are essentially dumplings; deeee-licious dumplings).

One of the first times we took him out for Korean food was with our adoption playgroup. We gathered at a local favorite Korean restaurant in nearby Ellicott City (a town that has a large population of Asian Americans, and specifically, South Koreans) and pretty much took over their back room. There must have been 20 of us. Young families, lots of toddlers, kids everywhere, adults chatting, frazzled waitstaff, and delectable food. Afterward, we walked to a nearby Korean bakery where we had the most delicious sweet Korean treats. This normalized, for our son, the idea of eating out at a Korean restaurant and hanging out with other kids who look like him. Considering we, his parents, grew up in areas where the demographics are distinctly not heavily Asian (nor are they heavily anything except white), we could have kept his world pretty small by feeding him only American food and giving him only distinctly American experiences. But we wanted him to know and love the many aspects of his birth culture: in this case, the incredible FOOD that South Korea is known for! Also, we are lucky enough to live in an area where Korean restaurants abound—and we do take advantage of that fact.

Joining or forming an adoption playgroup in order to immerse your child in the experience of their birth culture—and to learn about the country and the culture yourself—is a very, very good thing, and I can’t emphasize it enough. Connecting your child with their birth culture ensures that they thrive as they grow and develop. After all, it’s not just your child who has a newly adopted culture: you and your spouse do too! It’s so important to your child’s development and sense of self-identity as they mature that you help them maintain a cultural connection to their birth country—and that you as their parents proactively learn about it, as well. An adoption playgroup is a great way to do that—in a delightfully informal, low-pressure way.

Reason #4: Facing the realities of being a transracial family.

Another reason for joining a playgroup is to show your child and the world that you are willing to be open and transparent about the fact that you’re a transracial family. By not directly addressing the obvious, by hanging out only with families who don’t look like you do, by pretending that everyone in your family is the same race, you are denying your child the chance to explore their identity and to become, quite literally, comfortable in their own skin.

So, join the playgroup. Get to know families who look like you or who, perhaps, are even more diverse than your family is! Allow yourself to feel what your child might feel in those many moments when they are the only (fill in the blank: Asian, Indian, black, brown) face swimming in a sea of white. As your child’s parent, imagine what that feels like for them. And then, do something to decrease its frequency. Even if it makes you uncomfortable.

In this helpful article on what you should know about transracial adoption, adoptive mom and author Jennifer S. Jones explains the complicated nature of being a transracial family. “It forces you to rethink your way of parenting and to reexamine your own racial biases and preconceived notions.” Jones is the mother of two children—one adopted from China, the other from India. But, she says, you have to put your own discomfort aside and think about what life in your family and your community is like for your child. Jones explains that their family is “conspicuous” wherever they go. It’s their reality. She cites a recent adoption survey “in which 54% of adult adoptees said they received stares while out in public with their family. That’s a lot for any child [to handle].” Jones goes on to talk about the importance of interacting with families who look like yours. She speaks of their family’s first experience celebrating Chinese New Year and how “utterly out of place” she felt—and looking at her son and seeing that he was “utterly on cloud nine.”

I remember the time that we took our son to a Korean symphony orchestra performance—and, for once, we were the ones whose faces stood out from the crowd; we were the ones who “looked different” than everybody else. It was a humbling feeling, but we wanted to do it in order to see things from our son’s perspective—to feel what, perhaps, he is feeling during these situations. And we also wanted to do it because we like classical music and going out to shows.

More Than “a Nice Thing to Do”

Joining a playgroup is not just a “nice thing to do”: Adoption experts and adoptive parents pretty much agree that it’s vital. “I must do it,” Jones says. “Even when it would be so much easier to stay in my comfortable social circle and not expand my horizon, I must. We go to different churches, temples, and mosques. We celebrate both Holi and Chinese New Year. We rethink our preconceptions of race and ethnicity, because our children are not like us. They never will be. And that’s the most important thing to understand about transracial adoption. Your children will never have the experience you did growing up. It’s impossible. But that knowledge can be power. Because the sooner we are able to accept cultural diversity, the sooner we will be able to help our children navigate their way to a successful future. And that is a beautiful thing .”

I will never forget our very first adoption playgroup get-together. It was late 2008, or maybe early 2009. We were still waiting for Matthew to come into our family: As I recall, we hadn’t even gotten his referral yet. We were one of only two families who hadn’t yet brought home their child. It was weird, going to a playdate without a kid. I remember my husband and I laughing about that. Everyone else had a child, sometimes more than one. One family had a mix of adoptive and birth children—all South Korean or part South Korean (their mom is Korean American, their dad is white). When we got there, it was pouring rain. The playgroup was being held at a house in my town, by people I had never met. I knew only one couple who was going to be there. The rest were strangers. I got out of the car and ran so fast into the house, bursting through the door into these strangers’ home to get out of the rain, shaking hands with Sara and Chris as I introduced myself, apologizing as my raincoat dripped water all over the rug in their foyer. Everyone was so nice and could relate to the long wait that we were currently experiencing. They told us to just hang in there, and in the meantime, please come to our monthly playdates! They took our name and contact information and, boom, we were in. On that first day, we had a blast, and we all kept getting together for years afterward. Our kids would run around in the backyard of whoever’s house it was at, and we the adults would sit and talk about this and that—sometimes about the latest movie or book, sometimes about the local sports teams, and sometimes even about the personal losses that predated our deciding to adopt. Those conversations were sometimes pain-filled, but more often than not, they provided some very necessary compassion, empathy, and healing. We started a Korean Adoption Playgroup page on Facebook and used it as a major way of staying in touch about upcoming playdates and outings to Korean restaurants.

That was in 2009. Now, it’s 2019—a full decade later. Sometimes, I can’t believe how fast those years have gone by. Our son is the second youngest in the group: Many of the older children are now in middle school and high school, and there’s simply less time for get-togethers, with a group that large and kids that busy. But another shift has now happened: The moms still get together, on our own, sans children and spouses. We started a Korean Adoption Book Club! The rule is, the book has to be about Korea, about adoption, about Korean adoption, or about a combination thereof. (See the very end of this article for a list of the books we’ve read, as well as the next one on our list.)

We’re on our fourth book, and there’s no stopping us now as we continue to bond and learn more about the Land of the Morning Calm—South Korea, the birth country of our babies, a place that we will never stop learning about, and a culture that we will continue infusing into our children’s sense of identity and self. I hope that my son always remains proud of where he came from and keeps the culture of South Korea close to him always.

And to think—it all started with a playgroup.

That’s pretty powerful.

How to Connect With or Start Your Own Playgroup

 - Start with your backyard, your neighborhood, your school.
Do you know people in your community who created their family through adoption? Don’t be afraid to just ask them, “Hey, do you want to get together sometime?” If not, do you know of a family with birth children in which all the members of that family are of the same race as your child? For example, we have befriended several families whose children go to my son’s public school. Adoption is not a part of their family experience, but being South Korean is. And that allows me to connect my son with other kids and families who look not like me but like him. And who have the cultural knowledge of South Korea that we as a family seek. Also, it’s culturally healthy for a parent who is Caucasian to experience what it feels like to be a minority in a roomful of people who are of a different race or skin color. It’s very humbling, and it helps you to get into your child’s perspective and see the world through HIS lens.

 - Reach out to your adoption caseworker or social worker for assistance.

Remember, your relationship with your caseworker and agency doesn’t have to be over the minute your child’s post-adoption home studies are complete. These social workers and agencies are still available to you: Just reach out and ask for help! Our social worker and agency still send us occasional emails telling us of various events going on in the Korean Adoption Community and offering us ways to stay involved in adoption. The caseworker will know who to contact or maybe even have names in her pocket of people who you can get in touch with. Maybe another family or two has asked her that same question, and she can connect the families so that they can create a group of their own—from scratch!  In our case, our social worker put us in touch with an already-established playgroup of about 12 other families who also lived in our area and who also had adopted their children from South Korea. Most of the parents are white; all of the children are South Korean by birth. We remain friends to this day.

 - Contact an organization that specializes in post-adoption support; ask them if they can connect you with other families to join or establish a playgroup.

One such example is the D.C./Baltimore-based Center for Adoption Support and Education, which “offers mental health services and educational resources for all members of the adoption and foster community. We are committed to nurturing, inspiring, and empowering children, teens, their families, and the professionals who support them.”

Another excellent resource (this one for families whose children were born in Asia) is called ASIA Families, which “supports adopted persons from Korea—children, teens, and adults—in developing their identities through enriching educational programs in the U.S. and Korea.” ASIA Families runs an annual Korean Culture School for both adults and children (all family members participate), coordinates an annual homeland tour of South Korea, and runs the popular Camp Rice, a summer camp program in the Baltimore area for families (not just for kids; the whole family goes). Camp Rice consistently fills up every year within just weeks of registration being announced. These are all great ways to not only get together with other families like yours but also to start knowing people whose family looks and lives like yours—and then you can feel comfortable enough to ask them, “Hey, let’s start a Korean Adoption Playgroup.”

 - Use social media to get your message out.

What’s that saying, “Ask and ye shall receive?” Don’t be afraid to ask. Another parent may be wanting to do this same thing and just hasn’t asked. Search on Facebook groups using keywords such as “playgroup for Korean adoption” or “adoption playgroups in the {insert city/town} area.” You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find. For example, I just did a quick search now on Facebook and found this Facebook page for Korean Adoption Families! And I joined it.

 - Look no further than the adoption.com community online.

If you go to this website and do a search on “playgroups,” you’ll get no fewer than 30 results. Examples of what came up for me include “adoptive moms playgroup in Indiana,” “transracial adoption families in Maryland,” and “playgroup for Dallas–Fort Worth area transracial adoption.” If you go to https://adoption.com/community and click on “Forums,” there are forums on so many topics—even ultra-specific ones that you’d think wouldn’t garner very much interest. I went to the Forums page and searched on the keyword “playgroups”: Here are the results.

 - Network with others in your state.

An easy way to do this is to, once again, go to the community on Adoption.com and do a search. That’s how I found this site, for example: Networking with others in your state. One user writes, “State groups are a terrific way to find more parents who live near you, to discuss USCIS woes, pediatrician advice, readoption issues, state law regarding adoption, form playgroups, etc.” The user goes on to explain that there are state-based Yahoo groups for all 50 states and for the District of Columbia; although some are relatively new, most have been in existence for many years.

 

Books We’ve Read in Our Korean Adoption Book Club

 - All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung

 - White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

 - Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

 - The Choke Artist, Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever, by David Yoo

 - If You Leave Me, by Crystal Hana Kim

 - The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

 

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