Saturday, July 30, 2011

Where's the Handbook? Manual of Directions? Guidelines?

There isn't one! There aren't guidelines for learning how to instill pride in a child who has been adopted transracially.

When my husband, Mat, and I first looked into adoption, we were laser focused on how to adopt a baby rather than how to parent a child who would create our transracial family. We read everything we could find about successfully adopting, and spoke to anyone we could on the subject.  We had dear friends who had adopted transracially, and were aware of some of the challenges that would arise, but less aware on how to tackle them.

When we became the proud adoptive parents of our sweet Meg, we dove right back into studying once again; trying to learn all we could from our favorite experts: Beth Hall, Amy Ford, Rhonda Roorda and Rita Simon, as well as the good old experts -  Dr. Spock;, T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach, etc.

This year, Meg turned 10.  TEN!  And now our focus has shifted again - this time to a something that's a bit harder to master through the books. As white parents of a black daughter, we are now rushing to stay ahead of our Meg's growing sense of identity, her sense of self as a unique individual.  I find myself proactively looking for answers to questions she may ask, while at the same time trying to give her a solid sense of who she is even before she even asks.

When we experienced our first adoption 10+ years ago,  the amazing resources available today did not exist. Sometimes I'm grateful it didn't - I wonder if so much knowledge at the very beginning of the process would have scared us too much to proceed with a transracial adoption. Still, I am very grateful for the education now; at least we know what's ahead and how to proceed.  With our last adoption three years ago, I feel we were much more prepared and educated.  With a transracially adopted child, we have a responsibility to educate these children every day and help them feel secure, grounded, and proud of their race and place in this society, family, and world.

To fulfill that responsibility, some experts recommend:
o interacting with people of your child's race
o living in diverse neighborhoods
o finding same race mentors and role models for your child
o advocating for unbiased learning materials in the commnity - the library, school, etc.
o confronting racism openly and proactively 
o understanding and providing special maintenance to hair and skin
o celebrating all cultures
o creating a positive cultural environment at home

Unfortunately, there is no formula to assure that a child will grow up feeling proud of his or her ethnic heritage. We are the kind of people who like making lists and checking things off - especially my husband.  I like to see that plan and follow it through; Mat, like most men, just want to "fix" everything. We have many friends who have adopted transracially, joined diversity groups, read books and gone to workshops, attended cultural festivals as a family. In fact - most parents involved in transracial adoptions make similar efforts. The majority of we who adopt are deliberate parents; we want to do right by our kids - especially because we have worked so hard and waited so long to get them.

Facing Challenges

Ultimately, we have had to come to terms with an inescapable reality: we cannot master transracial parenting. No matter how many things on the list we do, no matter how exemplary we ourselves might be as role models, no matter how much we love our sons and daughters, we cannot be our child's color and part of his or her cultural heritage.  No matter how much I'd like to "be brown" (as Meg says) for a day - or a week, month, or year - it just isn't going to happen.

It's taken years  - YEARS - for me to accept that I'm never going to parent our children perfectly.  However, this news that could be quite discouraging,  was actually quite liberating for me - us. Once we acknowledged the challenges facing us, we could break things down into manageable tasks. Then we did what all parents do: try hard, do our best every single day,  and hope for the best.  HOPE.  It's a great word and a great emotion.

Acknowledging that transracial parenting is not a perfect science, we've learned some valuable lessons along the way...

Diversity is not enough. Diversity is good, but it's just not enough.

We live in a pretty diverse community, with neighbors from Japan, Samoa, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Korea, but our daughter does not find herself reflected in any one of them. Being with "not white" is not enough; transracially adopted kids need people like themselves in their lives. Choosing a certain babysitter, Cub Scout troop, or even hairdresser can influence a child's sense of self.


Surprises!

Years ago, in our blind enthusiam to meet people of Meg's race, we acted as though economic circumstances did not matter, and inadvertently accentuated differences more than similarities. Our family talked a lot about friends who had gone to Africa on service missions.  Yes, it was amazing to hear of the service provided to these people who live a completely different life than us. Their villages were a far cry from our middle class neighborhood at home. It was a wonderful experience, but we learned that we have to seek out more than just race as a common ground.

Trans-racial parenting has been both harder than we imagined, and not so hard at all. While these additional efforts might seem to make things harder, none is really a hardship.Transracial parenting requires different deliberate efforts than same race parenting, but it is so rewarding and so worthwhile. Interestingly enough, what feels difficult about transracial parenting is building a feeling of "ordinariness" into extraordinary days; making experiences into more than just a series of field trips and meeting people, but  creating for our daughters a secure and unified life.

The range of transracial parenting experiences has forced our family out of our comfort zone, and developed an extra measure of  unity and courage in us all. Being part of a mixed race family has challenged us at times, but mostly enlightened us and altered our individual personalities by bringing out great qualities and characteristics we may have never realized. We've had to become more boldly public as a transracial family. We look to proud and successful women of various races for clues on how to raise our daughter. Asking strangers to help in this way can be scary, and we've been rejected before,  but we've also been amazed at openness at time and the value of these discussions. The more we have reached out to people unlike ourselves, the easier it's been building a good rapport with strangers. We've realized that people aren't so different after all. Beyond all its other benefits, transracial parenting inevitably boosted our  family's unity.

We also realized that Meg and Halle might not care as much as we do about all this. Parents are sometimes more motivated to learn about their children's 'culture' than the children are. After we went to great lengths to find and attend a family night with other transracial families, all Meg seems to remember is the  swimming pool and the cotton candy we had at the barbeque.

Transracially adopted children aren't necessarily motivated to learn all they can about their birth cultures, any more than same race children are, but we still feel it's important for our family to be educated. This continuous effort at making ourselves more racially sensitive and aware, however, pushed us toward extremes at times. Once my racial radar goes on, I seem to notice racism everywhere. In our enthusiasm to "do the right things" with Meg, we moved a bit too close to the zealot zone; overdoing our quest for racial enlightenment. In our quest to educate ourselves about Meg's ethnicities, we lost sight of the main goal of enhancing her pride, not ours, in her heritage - while maintaining her secutiry in our family.

Sometimes when I think about the challenges ahead of us, navigating the parental waters with Meg and guiding her from a little girl to a teenager and then to a woman, I get completely exhausted. Fortunately, parenting brings so many rewards to make the journey amazing and worthwhile, and parenting Meg and Halle does seem extra measure special. I do try to remember what Meg's birthmom's parting words to me were: "I am black. You are white. You raise her to be a strong, black woman."   

Our hope is that one day Meg and Halle will make this quest to know whatever they want to know about their heritage. We hope that if that time of searching comes, Meg's early experiences will resonate with a deep feeling of secutiry and confidence. We also want our children - all of them - to know how much we care about who they are, as unique individuals.

We do have fun; serious issues don't have to be somber. We get a  kick out of the interesting reactions our mixed family elicits in some people. We laugh - a lot - at the ignorance we encounter. But we are a more united family for being on this journey together. Transracial families usually feel that they see the world more clearly than others, because we've experienced it from so many different angles than our plain vanilla counterparts.

When all is said and done, I suspect that it's more difficult to be a transracial family; harder for parents and harder for children. Like most things in life, though, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. For us, the challenge of raising a child with a strong and uplifting sense of self has been frustrating and demanding, as well as enriching and enlightening.

And our journey has barely begun. We find joy in our journey...bring it on! 

No comments:

Post a Comment