Thursday, April 21, 2011

Discussion on Race and Adoption

What follows is a slightly edited version of a fb discussion I had last night with a couple of women I love love love. All names have been changed.

Ya'll - We had our Trans-Racial discussion night tonight with a speaker who was adopted internationally in 1980. SOOOOO amazing. I learned so much. He's also a social worker and works with adoptive families so he knows what he's talking about. AH-MAH-ZING.

SHARE SHARE SHARE please. Or was it recorded?

Okay, this will be random from my notes. (Not recorded - small group in a circle, sharing - so cool.) Excuse the randomness. Randomosity.

*If you don't give your child the language of adoption to connect to their feelings about it, they will not be able to process their feelings, and it will come out negatively - anger, aggression, etc.

* For PreK you can google "Identity games" and find games to play to help your child figure out his/her identity (haven't tried this yet).

*When discussing adoption w kids or being black in a white family, put it on yourself. "That man sure had a lot of questions about our family. I felt {insert feeling} about him asking so much."

*Always recognize that the WHOLE FAMILY's identity changed when you became a trans-racial family. It's not that you are still white with a black child, you are a part of a trans-racial family. The identity is the family idenity - "our" identity. (Obv. that only applies to parents - you want the child to learn his/her own identity within that family.)

* One easy way to show parent's connection to the culture is to discuss current events about the country of birth. Show that you are interested. And not just about poverty/helping, but just about the people, the country.

*The speaker said one of the most important things you can do is surround yourself with other adoptive families. And, he felt that it would be most beneficial to have a parent's support group that meets to discuss issues on a regular basis. So that you are using the language and bringing up the issues with other APs and then can do the same with your child after working through it yourself.

*This is a big one - Never refer to your children in the possessive when discussing adoption. (Obv saying, "My sweet baby," is fine....) Gotcha day - no. When people ask where you "got" him, take the focus off him and say, "We adopted from Ethiopia." So it's about the whole family and not singling him out. And not, "We got him from..." These are the only notes I took, but we also discussed racism, being uber-conspicuous as a family, how our kids may stick out in their school and have to deal with that. (Give them the language to discuss it - he kept saying this - the language and consistency.) I wish ya'll could have been there.

I like your random notes that aren't random when you think about it. I wish I lived closer, we have nothing like that down here.


Oh, I wish I could have heard this too. I've always disliked "gotcha day" and people asking where we "got" our son. I love the suggestion about knowing what's going on in the country, and not just "helping." Giving the language to talk is so important. I think all the time now about the school issue since our daughter is going to be going to an UBER white school this fall. I'm sort of dreading this. We are looking at houses in more diverse areas of town already too. Ugh.

I was mostly surprised with how the speaker said it was important to talk to your kids about everything. Don't shy away from the fact that some people don't like people with brown skin. Talk about it. Talk about the fact that you all look different. Point out the differences (something I was so hesitant to do) so that the child will know how to talk about them when it comes up for him.

How early should you start talking about everything though? I don't want our son to know yet that there is a history of people who don't like dark-skinned people. I've tried to point out the differences between us, but he has resisted talking about it. It's weird. A couple of weeks ago at bedtime, he and I got into a long, intense, funny, and endearing conversation about adoption and his sister and his birth mother. I came downstairs and immediately wrote it all down so I wouldn't forget. So much to work through.


The speaker said to just talk about it - even if they resist. Because at some point, they'll draw from those discussions. I told the story about how I lost it (crying) trying to explain MLK day to our son because I didn't want to tell him that people didn't like brown skinned people. But we read an MLK book and it had a part with a playground that was "Whites Only." I explained that MLK couldn't go to that playground bc people back then were stupid (choose your own word there ;) and thought that skin color meant you were different.

I went on to say how we passed a playground a week later and he asked if that playground was for him or not. And I thought this was a major fail. The speaker said it was a success. Our son *asked* about it. He is thinking about it and he felt comfortable and had the language to ask. He will sooner or later start to understand that it isn't like that anymore (for playgrounds) and he'll ask more.

And apparently it's never too early. It just sucks a bit for us parents to have to explain the ugliness of racism. SUCKS

I can see how talking about how you look different could be beneficial. Our daughter has two racially mixed cousins. One was raised where it wasn't discussed, Jean. The other cousin, Ben, it was discussed. Right now, Jean is 15 and she's very confused about her identity. It doesn't help that she has no contact with her paternal family (not her choice, they've never had anything to do with her. It's sad. ) plus, her mom is now remarried (white guy) and she and her husband just had a little girl a couple years ago. So you can just imagine how out of place Jean might be feeling. Her school is all white, so that doesn't help. She's told her grandma (my aunt) she feels out of place and uncomfortable and like she cant talk to anyone Its sad.

Now Ben is different. It's a complete 180. Both his parents are remarried to others, his mom is black, Charles, his dad is white. His mom Carissa just had a baby with new husband (both black) and Charles and his wife (white) have a little girl. But what Charles and Carissa and his grandparents have done is work together and told Ben from a very early age, yes, you look different than your dad and your dads family, but that's ok, we can talk about it anytime you need to. They've also got him in a school that is diverse. And that's a big help. It's night and day different between them.

Racism is hard to talk about, maybe only because it hasn't been eradicated and it is still out there. It would be nice to be able to tell our kids "there used to be a time where some people were stupid but not anymore". It would be nice to talk about it being in the past, that they don't have to worry about it anymore. But that's sort of like unicorns existing. You want it to be real so bad, but it's just an illusion of reality.

OH! I also asked about this tonight: How do you tell if it's an "adoption issue" or a "kid issue," and the speaker explained it so well. It's both. Adoption will ALWAYS play a role in our kids' lives, so they can never really be separated. I loved that. They are layers instead of two separate entities.

Okay, that's it. Thoughts?

A friend sent me this photo yesterday of a little boy pirate who grew up to become president.

Another little boy pirate, dressed this morning for "pajama day" at school.


annieglan said...

I tried googling the identity games, and could find anything. Does anyone have a link? I wish the speaker traveled. I would love to have gone to it.

Claudia said...

oh wow, what a great discussion!

I just finished reading 'talking with young children about adoption' and it brings up some similar issues.

I especially like the tip here to talk about our OWN feelings when discussing stranger interactions. That's really helpful. Thanks for posting!

ps like the new look!

Anonymous said...

I am trying to write something profound and useful - but I got NOTHING.
Thank you for sharing this. Lots of good ideas here that I need to remember.

Shasta said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Lori! What a great discussion -- so many points to think about and implement in our own family.

Heidi said...

This is really helpful. We have been talking a lot about differences lately and it's sometimes hard to know how far to go. Thanks for sharing this discussion.

And I can't wait to show that picture of Obama to my own little boy pirates! Amazing!

Meg said...

What a great conversation! Thank you for sharing this, I learned a lot! LOVE that pic of Obama; I'll definitely be showing that to our kids someday!

Stacie said...

@annieglan - I did find this link which looks promising? Or at least it could lead to other games.

Cindy said...

Thanks for writing down all this great info. I appreciated not talking possessively. Great topic. I am always looking for ways to incorporate my bio boys into the discussion of being a transracial family. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

We are trying to set up childcare and I am using an online service. So I have been communicating with a variety of potential "babysitters" by email and phone. I've been thinking about this post and trying hard to use more appropriate language. Thanks.