The other night, my husband and I watched a recent episode of Oprah's Lifeclass. The focus? Colorism.
This subject hits very close to our home for our family, because we are subjected to colorism often, as a whole family, and individually. Our children are a range of skin-tones. My oldest has medium-brown skin. My middle daughter is very dark, which prompts many strangers to inquire, "What country is she from?" (Um, the US...) My son, our youngest, is light-brown. (When Steve and I have been out with him without the girls, no one notices he's adopted because his skin is so light.) I think the range of shades is one reason we are asked, "Are they real siblings?" when we are out at the park, a store, or restaurant with all three kids.
The show was intriguing and moving, but above all, it was educational. I came away from the episode agreeing with a statement the hosts had made: everyone wants to be validated.
If you are part of the adoption triad, you are probably familiar with feeling marginalized. Comments (often assumptions), questions (based on more assumptions), stares, and choices: made about you, for you, with or without you.
Oftentimes, triad members are glamorized (this mostly falls on adoptive parents, the so-called "heroes" and "winners" in adoption) or stereotyped (which often falls on the adoptees and biological parents).
Dismissed. Ignored. Pushed aside. Shushed. These are all too common, especially for those who have been adopted and those who have placed children for adoption.
Hearing the truth of their experiences from those triad members is often difficult, messy, and downright uncomfortable.
But it doesn't mean we shouldn't hear it.
Steve and I had many conversations about race (ask him---4 straight months, every single night, for HOURS) prior to choosing to be open to a child of any race. We met with transracial families. We talked to people who had been adopted and who had placed children for adoption. We read books and blogs. We went over our own childhoods (in a small, diverse but segregated town), our interactions with people of other races, our resources (should we choose transracial adoption as an option), our places of employment, where we lived, where we might move to, our circle of friends---everything we could think of.
We wanted to be prepared.
Those talks were really, really awkward at times. Because we had to be truthful. We had to face fears. We had to think, "What would this mean for a child of color?" (Basically, are we qualified to be parents of a minority child? Are we worthy?)
Five years. Three times we were chosen to adopt Black children.
And like any parent, but especially like an adoptive parent in a transracial family, we felt and continue to feel a restlessness that mixes with peace and joy. We know we can't stop learning and growing. We are immensely honored to be our children's parents. And we are plenty scared, too.
We need to hear the voices of transracial adoptees who have "been there, done that" (or are still there, still doing that). Those who our children will grow up to be one day.
I appreciate the commenters on a prior blog entry, those who said they really want to hear from a transracial adoptee on the issue of transracial adoption. And I couldn't agree more.
Though I have chosen to have no room in my mind and spirit for those who want to bash and trash my family and my parenting (those who have never even met me or my family), I am recommitting to being "all ears" to adoptees.
I need it. Many of my readers, composed primarily of those who have adopted transracial or are waiting to adopt transracially, need it. And not just us, but the public---they need to hear it too.
I certainly do not feel that my experience is any more valid or important than that of another person's. Nor do I believe that those who are walking in the shoes my children will eventually be in should be marginalized. Nor do I wish to be part of the crowd who is doing the marginalizing.
I really want to get this transracial parenting thing right.
I look at my children---so innocent, so needy, so smart, so beautiful, so creative, so free. And I know what's coming. I know they won't always be so innocent. I know they will become more independent as time passes (less me, more of them). They will become smarter in many ways, one way being the way they understand that the world doesn't think they are as fabulous as we do...and some of those reasons might be because they are brown-skinned and because they are adopted. They will learn that the general standard of beauty is the White standard of beauty. They will possibly, at some point, have their creativity squandered by someone who passes them over for a job because they are a person of color.
The saddest part is that they won't always be free. There will be roadblocks, mountains, and traps: and those things have been in place for hundreds of years.
And (gulp), they are going to have to navigate those. And you know how many of us have learned to get through hard times? Based on what our parents raised us to do (or not do).
I have a big, big job.
I don't like to use the term "special" to describe adoption or adoptive parenting. But in all honesty I have felt, for the past five-ish years we've taken on the role as transracial adoptive parents, that we are always taking (and should take) extra steps, calculated steps, thought-out steps as we progress through our parenting journey, because we can't just "go with our hearts" and hope everything will be ok. We can't latch on to a new parenting trend because it's the cool thing to do. That's not how the world works, especially not for families like mine, for children like mine.
I can't do this alone. I shouldn't do it alone. I won't do it alone.
I'm very proud of my book and the articles I write. I've poured years into researching all-things-adoption. Parenting has been a great teacher. But I'm realizing more and more (since my kids are getting older), that I need to continue to reach out (with more determination than ever) and open up to transracial adoptees and hear their stories. Learn what I should be doing, not doing, what to do better, what to do less, what to do more.
So to the commenters, thanks for the reminder.
We all want to feel validated. And in order to feel validated, we have to be listened to.