transracial adoption: how can we ever get it right?

This post is a little off-the-cuff today and started as a Twitter thread, so apologies for lack of editing!

I’m often asked if getting transracial adoption “right” is possible. My response is always, “This isn’t a science, but by reaching out and talking to transracial adoptees with diverse and uncomfortable experiences, you’re on the right path.”

I know speaking critically of a practice sometimes leaves little room for hope. With transracial adoption, hope means a parent’s ability to confront unfamiliar racial conversations and barriers remains at the forefront of their parenting journey. I relate my experience as extreme circumstances, although having an openly racist family isn’t as unusual as you’d think. Even still, much can be learned from extreme positive or negative experiences, since examining both will help land on a more favorable outcome.

I still don’t proclaim myself an expert on anything but my own life. Biases and emotional attachments trap me, too. But in order to help transracial adoptees and their open-minded parents–and ultimately, myself–I frequently question and confront my own potential prejudices and must remind myself to stay open-minded.

Doing transracial adoption “right” doesn’t require uncovering a super-secret checklist of things that definitely won’t f*ck up your child. I wish there was one I could offer, but like my mom said, “You figure it out as you go.”

Figuring it out in transracial adoption, though, does require more digging than what typical parenting might. First, there’s the obvious cultural and heritage loss. Second, your relationship ultimately began with traumatic separations chosen not by your child but strangers. Third, your child’s race will play a significant role in his identity and it can’t be hand-waved with camps, holiday celebrations, food, or even language classes.

I’m aware this leaves little room for a parent to succeed. Perhaps it’s not about success, since I view parenting as an ongoing duty, one in which I’m constantly forced to challenge my emotions and preexisting values. So, what’s a transracial parent to do, once they realize love is not enough?

One, acknowledging our racialized society before transracially adopting is crucial. This means understanding you are considered privileged and by adopting transracially, you’re in a privileged position to “take” or “obtain” a non-white child. This will be uncomfortable for some, while others will view this as an act of bravery. It’s more helpful to review white saviorism and, while you may not subscribe to that believe, transracial adoption stems from that mentality and should be understood.

If you’re feeling defensive right now, that’s fine. Sit with it and be mad, but think not of yourself as the accused but consider the society that grew these issues.

Next, start exposing yourself to POC’s books, music, movies, news outlets, etc. Get a Twitter and see what #BlackTwitter and #AsianTwitter, etc., are saying. Read their struggles and observe how you are feeling when you encounter them. Stay out of the adoptive parents’ groups for now and start following the transracial adoptees’ feeds, because they are POC, too.  Don’t filter out the stuff that speaks against white people or white parents; if it hurts, keep going.

Hopefully this makes you realize no matter how hard you try, the color gap between you and your transracially adopted child will never close. Families of color struggle with colorism within their own environments, so transracial adoptive families will undoubtedly experience conflicts.

Then, when you’re ready, ask questions. Not to other transracial adoptive parents right now; ask the adoptees. Many of you who are already doing that–and taking time to listen and consider our experiences/advice–are light years ahead of everyone else which is why I love you all. By getting uncomfortable, by questioning your parenting ability, by thinking about your situation–those are signs you ARE putting your child first.

Look, there won’t be any easy answers for getting transracial adoption right. There will always be holes, there will always be loss, there will always be inner and external barriers and anger. Instead of focusing on doing it perfectly (or thinking you already are…), focus on reaching out to the transracial adoptee community.

Set aside your judgments and fears so you can give your child the best possible future, even if adoption mucks things up a bit. That’s the nature of adoption; it’s a complex thing, and it’s why so many adoptees dislike the “adoption is beautiful” myth because it overlooks the many ways it isn’t. You are experiencing parenting hardship by stepping outside your comfort zone, but the adoptee will forever live with some level of confusion. As a community, we can help mitigate that loss and work together to build from it instead of make it worse.

PS–Adoptees get offended by the cutesy adoption videos and photos because when we see those, we can’t comprehend how one person’s excitement is based on another person’s loss. As a mother, I understand the excitement over a new family member, but please remember how adoptees began their lives.

PS again–No, I don’t hate you and I don’t think you’re bad for adopting transracially, but yes there are pockets out there who might but not everyone does so please don’t let that discourage you.

PS YET AGAIN–always remember this:

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Please reach out any time to chat!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

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adoption’s other stolen motherhood

On Father’s Day weekend, my husband and son took a trip out to see some family, planning on staying overnight so they could attend a Sunday baseball game. I went out to the car to say goodbye to Liam and as I pulled away from his sticky preschool boy hug, he said

Mommy, please come!

For many mothers, this is a standard, heartwarming child’s plea: “Mommy,” our children urge, “don’t go!”

Another example: At Liam’s end of school year party, he refused to participate in his class’s end of year show. Once he sees Mommy, he breaks down completely. He’s always the group’s only child unable to join in when Mommy’s around, needing me instead of his friends. This is a habit formed since he was two years old.

For adoptees-turned-mothers, these events are harsh skips in our daily soundtrack, forcing us not into the quiet reverie of motherhood but into that complicated place called abandonment. What, I wonder, have I done to reveal my life’s secret anxiety?

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I consider all of this in context of not just my own personal history, but the history of the many adoptees who become parents. Is our heightened sense of loss, our prescient understanding that at some point our children will grow into adults who may or may not reflect our parental failings, so tightly wound into our interactions that we pass it on to our children?

I can’t speak for others, but to me, it’s a fascinatingly painful fear. My son’s innocent pleadings for a Mommy he never realizes could leave both confound me and, somewhat embarrasingly, generate a deep sense of envy toward my own son. Because of my simple decision to not give up on him, I’ve constructed for him a foundation unshakeable–unless, of course, I walk away.

Seeing its utter simplicity, seeing just how easy it could have been for my life to not be marred by adoption’s persistent complications, repulses me. I know for a birth mother, adoption isn’t easy.

Still, when I consider this notion of presence equaling simplicity, my memories rewind themselves like a tape playing backwards. School plays and insults and Christmases and harsh words and smiles become garbled together in frenzied reversal. As I begin with my birth–the only thing my son and I have in common is that we were born–I start my life over, trying to replace my son’s experience with my own. Eventually I give up, unable to write a story that never existed.

At that point, I wonder: Is being a “a good mother” one who merely sticks around? Does that mean I get a pass to be as mediocre or terrible as possible, simply because I know that no matter what, a child almost always wants nothing but his birth parents–regardless of skill?

Obviously, parenting takes far more effort than just described. As an adoptee, however, the innocence of motherhood–the innocence allowing moms to make mistakes and forgive ourselves–was taken from us when we ourselves were taken away.

Like other parents, we know how carefully children watch their parents. But unlike the unadopted, we have a full appreciation of the long-reaching impact our presence has on a child. Adoption ends the childhood innocence of believing our parents will never stop wanting us. It destroys the myth of family as safe haven. Adoptees, unfortunately, know how untrue that can be, how carefully we tread the line between good and bad parents. Despite it not being an easy choice to walk away (I wouldn’t–ever), I don’t think we can ever fully believe that, since it happened to us.

Because of adoption, the joy of motherhood–one I’m owed–has been destroyed.

As Liam grows older, articulating his desire for Mommy’s closeness is becoming stronger and more frequent. With his developing sense of self and familial bond–that of which I still struggle to experience–he unintentionally and continuously highlights a permanent space between us. I actively work on closing it while remaining aware of our life’s distinct path, a path chosen not by either of us but by those who swore to love us forever.

who owns an adoptee’s story? overshare versus pride in adoption

Do a search for adoption in the news (human adoption–NOT pet adoption; Google likes to lump those two together) and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of adoption “journey” stories told not by adoptees, but by adoptive parents.

Sandra Bullock, these random white parents of a transracial adoptee, and yet another white woman’s story of adopting a Chinese baby do make for compelling blog posts and articles. We’ve got the fuzzy-feels of saving a child, helping a child, and of course, lots of tears.

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But that’s not all! Countless books have been written on what it’s like to adopt, from the financial hardships, the invasive home studies, the marriage strain, and the pseudo-enwokening of transracial adoptive parents. Most conclude with a happy tale of a family formed, love gained, and a child destined for greatness.

Why is this a problem?

For adoptees, these parent-centric narratives have several unintended consequences:

  • Parents’ voice overrides the child’s before the child can articulate their side
  • By the time the child can speak up, the community’s already defined the kid’s  life, so any adoptee-generated criticism is automatically discounted
  • Weird photos and personal details of a kid’s life are shared without the child’s permission
  • The kid will be a CHILD FOREVER, based on their early portrayal
  • Traps kid in state of forced gratitude forever

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By selling or sharing these stories–undoubtedly coming from a place of parental pride–I wonder if this borders on exploitation.

As a mother, I’m hesitant to share my son’s um, birth journey. I guess the biological kid equivalent would be his story starting from conception to the push out the womb and all the details in between.

First of all, sharing that would be awkward. Second, he’s going to grow up one day and probably direct teenage angst at me for a zillion reasons and my oversharing of his trip from being the sperm that won to a disgruntled teenager doesn’t need to be complicated by my inability to keep my mouth shut.

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This goes for ANY relationship. You know if you’re guilty, so don’t get mad.

Why is that any different for adoptees?

Being adopted, I get the process of obtaining me was fraught with complications, paperwork, stress, and probably heartache. Sharing that over several decades ago, however, was limited to conversations over wall-mounted corded phones and maybe a Christmas card. Today, I get that instant Facebook likes and blog post shares offer a validation more addicting than those provided by an adoptive-parent support group.

However.

We get you love your adopted child.

We understand the process was difficult.

And we acknowledge infertility sucks.

But please remember your child will inevitably become an adult.  An adult who, upon reflection, will want freedom of expression without being chained to their parents’ pre-existing portrayal and public back-pats.

There’s one other less obvious side effect of these stories and that’s the continuation of adoption as a practice without consideration of an adoptee’s experience.  The sunshine-and-roses narrative–while realistic for some adoptive families–means prospective adoptive parents will use these articles as mirrors for their own experiences, leading to potential horror and disillusion when their child grows up and doesn’t fulfill these pre-existing stereotypes.

To borrow a slightly cliched and Biblical saying, pride comes before a fall. In this case, I ask adoptive parents to restrain themselves a bit for their child’s sake, remembering their kid grows up and deserves to tell their adoption story themselves. Adoptees own their adoptions story. You don’t need the validation of thousands of strangers to justify your decision to adopt your child.

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I’m always hesitant to share so-called unsourced proverbs, but this is totally appropriate here.

 

#ThursdayThoughts: Stop Rehoming Humans

Each Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to rehoming posts. In addition to the in-depth work I’m doing on this issue, I want to keep this fresh in everyone’s mind.

Feel free to share and post as needed!

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“If you’re bad, I’m sending you back to the womb!” –said no parent ever

So why is rehoming “troublesome” adopted children okay?

#StopRehomingHumans–follow me on Twitter

adoptive mom returns children; i respond

In case you missed it, I wrote an article in response to a white woman who kept her adopted children for four months–and then returned them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Every Adoptive Parent Who Thinks This Is Okay,

You promised to love your adopted children like your own, thinking adoption was the solution to whatever inability you had to bear your own biological children.

You underwent the process to obtain someone’s children, tiny human beings with souls already marked by uncertainty and insecurity. Children who, from birth, were subject to separations no being should ever consider humane.

For a short moment in these children’s lives, you provided hope and excitement. Even at young ages, children learn vulnerability is a liability and don’t offer it easily. But with their adoption, they believed they’d found a home.

But after only four months, for whatever reason — but my guess is that it was the side effects of their trauma and unstable upbringings — they were actually given back.

Read the rest.

“we family”: a message on adoption trauma, from my son

monica-gozalo-138999-unsplashPeople who don’t believe in adoption trauma didn’t see my three-and-a-half year old’s son reaction when I angrily told him

I’m leaving.

I’m ashamed, I am. It was an unusually difficult day, with him home from school sick with the sort of illness that spontaneously resolves an hour after drop-off. I’d hopefully began my day, intending to write and do the other invisible things mothers do while children are busy growing.

By evening and before my writing workshop, I’d had it with L’s* “failure to listen.” He, along with the dog, ran sprints around my first floor, screaming and barking in a way that made it difficult to determine which noise was coming from what temporary monstrosity. My husband was almost home and I was putting on my coat so I could escape.

L lunged down the narrow hallway, screaming a preschooler’s typical gibberish. I screamroared

Mommy’s leaving you because you never listen.

L stopped.

The dog stopped.

The air in the house, previously made of shaking atoms and vibrating sound waves, became a paralytic poison.

L’s face held none of the smiling glee from the seconds before I swiped at his confidence. He looked at me with a primal vulnerability. He considered my threat and said

You can’t leave. We family.

And in that moment I realized exactly what I said and what adoption trauma did to me. It transformed mothering into an option, a threat, a weapon. A powerful tool to wield at misbehaving children because I believed myself unwanted. A five-second declaration laid bare my fractured attitude toward family.

I share this shameful moment as proof of a child’s awareness of a mother’s presence. And that a threat to leave—not just to leave to run errands but to leave, forever—is understood in a child’s abstract way. My voice, a tool used for sharing my own adoption trauma, issued forth the same threat adoptees received from their relinquishments.

I hope readers struggling to accept the reality of adoption trauma read my words and finally believe. Believe babies and children are equipped with survival instincts so heightened that those intuitions remain at the forefront of their innocent defense; and, believe, for once, this trauma manifests itself throughout an adoptee’s lifetime.

I am not proud of my behavior. I am working conscientiously to correct my words and understand my actions. I have since apologized to my sweet son, but I want my example to ring forth as a warning:

Adoption trauma exists. Overcoming trauma takes years of dedicated work. Adults possess a power over children that deserves mindful awareness. Please remember: Children are listening.

*Name abbreviated to protect the (literal) innocent. And to prevent him from, years from now, yelling “MOOOMMM!” when he finds my writings.

what getting a dog taught me about adoption

I am not a dog person. I am a “I like my dog” and a “I like about two other well-trained, non-odorous dogs” kind of person and I’m comfortable with my assessment. I’ve had 33 years to work out my preferences and I accept it.

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But in the throes of one of my worst depressions (a topic I rarely speak about online), I was faced with a choice: Continue down the dangerous path I was going and find myself somewhere terrible (again), or find a way to work through the detachment I felt to everyone around me.

As an adoptee-turned-mother, momming is a harrowing experience. I’m expected to return to my son a love I never knew, accepting his vulnerability and allowing him space to express it. But when an infant is abandoned, vulnerability becomes a death sentence–if you let your guard down, someone might never come back.

So in a fit of cautious desperation, I proclaimed that we should Get A Dog. And not just any dog: We’d get a Labrador Retriever, the kind famous for being service animals and police dogs and–most importantly–highly trainable.

The expectation was this: Mindy (the Dog) would be a safe place for me to explore my adoption-related attachment issues, rather than allowing them to impact the relationship between me and my family.  Less than a month later, we had Mindy.

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circa February-March 2017

Dog ownership continues to have unexpected consequences, some good and some slightly confusing. However, the best part is Mindy gives me a chance to explore my attachment issues without judgment or deadlines.

Here’s what we discovered after Mindy arrived.

  1. The cats weren’t happy – I can’t make this list without mentioning them and I’m pretty sure they can read and exact timed vomitus maximus revenge all over my floor. So there.
  2. I’m a great dog trainer – I’m cheating a bit–Labs are eager students. But training her has given me a level of control (and a willing party) over my life, something I’ve always strived for and now find deeply satisfying. As an adoptee, our lives were determined by strangers. Now, I get to impact someone else’s life positively and see almost instant results, depending on the treat I’m holding.
  3. Vulnerability terrifies me – This is a side effect of my home life and adoption, one that many of you may experience. In weak moments, I see her eyes looking right through me, with a trust so blind and willingly offered it sparks a visceral reaction. It helped me uncover my own issues with adoption: If you were weak, you might be abandoned.  This placed me one step closer to understanding why I feel distant from my son.
  4. Neediness = Rejection – Along with #3, she needs me. L (my son) needs me. I never felt needed in any of my personal relationships, preferring instead to consider myself disposable. But to these beings, I’m someone. I’m important. And that’s horrifying. It’s easier to reject those seeking my love because adoption left voids where self-worth should have developed.
  5. I’m still not a social person – What is it about dogs that make people think you want to  chat?

Obviously I love Mindy but what I’ve uncovered are the walls I’ve built to keep myself safe. The beauty of her company is not just her role as a playmate to my son, but exposing where I’m holding back.  Until I’m able to address these issues–and I will–I’m unable to fully love those I care about the most.

Adoption, then, has taken something from me that requires extensive work to re-obtain. For many of us, adoption has taken our ability to form bonds and find safety even the homes we build after we’ve left our adoptive families.

But later, I found a poetic kind of parellel between us. She was readily left her mother and was taken from her 11 siblings without a whimper or a whine, entering my car and unquestioningly started a new life. I thought about her situation and realized how similar we were, with both of us brought into new homes and expected to just go with it.

Somehow, she fared better. She left her mother and siblings and will likely never see them again, yet accepted her situation and was already leading me home after our walks only a few days after her arrival. I, however, am left puzzled by her willingness to concede to her separation, choosing me as her Person and wanting nothing more than my company. Where I fight every attempt at inclusion, she willingly embraces it despite her losses.

I don’t understand her love and maybe I never will. But sometimes I wonder: Is it necessary?

It’s been an enlightening experience and seeing our future together and her impact on my life as I work through adoption issues is exciting. Thanks for letting me share this with you. I would love to know how pets are helping you through your adoption healing. Please share below :).

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adopting motherhood

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Adoptees talk about birth moms and adoptive moms and make up clever names like “first moms.” Some of the angry ones call them worst moms.

But we don’t talk about what happens when adoptees become moms. What do we call them?

Our children call us Mommy or Momma or Mom, but I just call myself Lost.

I relate the following as my example of an adoptee’s complex relationship with motherhood, an already challenging position. I encourage adoptees to share their stories so others realize how our inauspicious beginnings follow us to parenthood.


My mother died when I was twenty-five. She endured three anxious years of surgeries and blood tests while I watched the only mother I’d ever known slowly leave me.

Wait–that’s not right. I knew another mother, but only for two-and-a-half months. And then we parted ways. When I sought her out, I discovered she died less than ten years post-me.

So I’m again mom-less, raising a son with only memories for guidance. Like any mother, I’m doing the best I can. But there’s a difference:

I envy my son.

I envy my son because at three years old he knows something I don’t–the privilege of having a consistent caregiver, one who never questioned his existence. He carelessly plays his days away, taking for granted a woman who spirits pretzels and juice and raisins to his side, knowing no different.

Apologies, but the piece I adapted this section for HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR PUBLICATION! I will link to this story once it goes live, but the overall message here will stay 🙂

For adoptees, parenting is a declaration: We survived.  We carry traumas from our abandonments, yet we’re using them to make us stronger parents.  Simply being present means we’ve done more for ourselves and our children than was ever done for us.

Adoptees are rewriting adoption’s definition.  The literature rarely looks at adoptees as parents, making our insights invaluable to the practice. Let’s start sharing now and give  them something to talk about.


Be a part of the future! If you’re interested in sharing your adoptee-turned-parent story, feel free to contact me.  I’ll use our stories to weave together a long-form article on adoptee parents. Thanks!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!