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what adoptees wish adoptive parents knew

Adoptee Rebecca Cheek: A Simple Question with Many Answers

It’s Adoptee Month at In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, spend November reading a variety of adoptee voices here. All essayists have responded to this prompt: what I wish adoptive parents knew about parenting an adoptee.

what adoptees wish adoptive parents knew

Today’s voice belongs to Rebecca Cheek.

A Simple Question with Many Answers

adoptee rebecca cheek on adoption for adoptive parents

What do you wish adoptive parents knew about parenting an adoptee?

As I contemplate this question, I am surprised and excited because no one has ever asked me this seemingly simple question.

The answer is complex because as a transracial, transnational, transcultural, Korean-American adoptee born in 1985, I never want to speak for the two main groups in which I identify: Asian Americans (specifically Korean Americans) and adoptees. I am a part of a subset within a subset. It is an interesting place to be. I live in the gray, in-between space, having been raised by White parents in the American South, with a name and an accent that does not equate with my face.

However, I can give insights and answers as they relate to my lived experience thus far.

Circular, Not Linear

If the reason or motivation for adopting is due to infertility, adopting a child will never fill the void of what could have been. This leads to high expectations bestowed upon the adoptee, regardless of the conscious decision of the adoptive parents. Thinking back on my childhood, I had an innate fear of being rejected and abandoned (again) due to my relinquishment by my birth mother, so I went above and beyond to ensure my place within my adoptive family.

As the adoptee develops with each passing year, there could be an unexplainable sadness and/or anger in the adoptee’s life because their beginning story is rooted in trauma, relinquishment, abandonment, and loss. The adoptee may not have the vocabulary to articulate this and other feelings and emotions surrounding their adoption until they are in their 20s or older.

I believe adoption grief is circular, not linear. The adoptee’s understanding of adoption will unfold as they learn more about themselves and mature into the people they are meant to be, but they can also return to the matters they thought they had conquered and left behind.

Curiosity, Openness, Duality

Along with the adoption grief comes adoptee guilt. Some adoptees may have misgivings and shame about asking questions regarding their birth families, identity, or possible birth family searches. Adoptees are curious, imaginative beings; please foster their curiosity and be open to answering questions, even if the questions hurt.

As an adoptee, I feel the duality of my existence. I can be grateful for the life I have lived, but also brokenhearted that there are so many unknowns of my birth family history and losses such as my mother tongue, family recipes and pictures, and culture.

I hold the belief that adoptees are philosophers at heart. Adoptees crave a deeper understanding of the world and their place in it. I think this is in part due to the mystery that surrounds their stories as abandoned infants and children.

Being an adoptee can be a lonely, isolating existence. Among the adoptees I know, not all are in the same place in their adoption journeys. Some might not be in a brave, vulnerable place to share or exchange adoption stories. I respect that because I believe that bravery and vulnerability come with time, space, and curiosity.

Nature & Nurture: a Complicated Web

As the years have passed, every experience or choice of my life is not a reflection of my adoptive parents. They are details, but they are not the whole picture. I am a product of my environment, yes; but I am also a product of genetics and history that was passed down to me in utero. I cannot begin to untangle the complicated web of what is in my nature and what was nurtured within and around me as I was growing up. Also, I will never fully grasp what I am passing down to my children as they will deal with their own issues surrounding my adoption.

Oftentimes, the children of adoptees have the same issues as their adoptee parents. Adoption involves multiple aspects of generational trauma from both sides of the birth family and the adoptive family.


Adoptive parents likely love their adoptee child the best way they can. They use what tools they were given from their own parents and upbringings, as well as utilize what training and information they gain from their adoption agencies at the time of their child’s adoption. And all of that still might not be enough. That’s a sad reality in all parent/child relationships, where the parents do not have control of the outcome of their relationship with their (adult) child. However, there is a layer of complication with adoptive parents and adoptee relationships. At some point their adoptee child grows up and becomes aware, and they could decide to pause communication for a season or completely walk away from their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents choose their infants and children, but as adults, adoptees can choose a different path, a different type of relationship. As potentially heartbreaking as that is for all involved, it can be a necessary step on the journey of repairing for the adoptee.

As I finish answering this complex question, I still feel surprised and excited. I also feel free. Free in the knowledge that my answers could change over time, while I continue to evolve as an in-betweener, a Korean-American woman, an adoptee, and as a human being.

About Rebecca Cheek

Rebecca Cheek (she/her) is a Korean American adoptee living in South Carolina. She’s a peace seeker, striving to live life yogically. She is currently taking a pause in her professional career to raise her children and trying to figure out what she wants to do when she (really) grows up.

Adoptees on Adoption 2022

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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