What is it like to be the parent of an adoptive child? For us, a transracial family, formed through international adoption, this is what has been like for us, five years in. Here is a list of 10 things you may want to consider before sending in that adoption application.
- We are conspicuous. Even though we live in Los Angeles, in a very diverse neighborhood, we stick out. People stare at us. People make comments, some nice, and some ridiculous. A trip to the grocery store can feel like a game of dodge ball, “Yes, I am their mother”, “Yep, they are real brother and sister”, “I’m sorry, that is a very personal question”, and refreshingly “Thank you, I think they are adorable too”
- Is it developmental or adoption related? I am constantly asking myself this question as issues come up. What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter. Problems that arise must be solved, it doesn’t matter if a behavior or conflict stems from an ‘adoption’ issue. All kids move through developmental stages. Sometimes it helps to look at things more simply, and not to over analyze.
- Birthdays may be a bummer. Normally a time of great celebration, anticipation and joy for most kids, imagine how a birthday feels to a child whose birth mother has died. For my kids, birthdays can be bittersweet. They like to celebrate, but there is an underlying sadness.
- About that underlying sadness: it’s a constant. Adoption starts with trauma and is based on loss. Our family’s foundation was built on enormous losses for our children: loss of a first family, loss of country and loss of culture. Five years later, there is still grief and it comes out at unexpected times.
- As a young woman just out of college, I went on a date with a beautiful actor. After dinner we stepped out of a restaurant and he said, “You’ll have to hail us a cab.” “What are you talking about?” I asked. He explained that as a black man he would be passed by, that no cabs would stop for him. I said, “That can’t be true.” He shrugged his shoulders, stepped off the curb and put his arm up to hail a taxi. No less than three cabs shot right passed him, their back seats wide open. I stepped next to him, raised my arm and got us a cab. I’ve always known that racism exists and I felt terrible for my dinner date, but it wasn’t until some twenty-years later that I started to realize just how very bad things are for a black person in America. I’ve seen my children excluded, ignored, and bullied because they are black. It infuriates me and breaks my heart. It also makes me feel tremendously guilty for not realizing sooner just how prevalent and systemic racism is.
- We will always live in a big city. Before we adopted our son and daughter from Ethiopia, my husband and I had a very rural, very beautiful piece of land picked out for our future home. It had an orchard and bordered a stream. There is no way we can ever live there now. My children would not see enough people who look like them. They would feel like outsiders even more than they do now. There are many places on your map that you’ll want to cross off, for living and for visiting, places that you liked to go to in the past. This summer I was in a coffee shop in a small town in the Midwest, when a man with a swastika tattooed on his neck lined up behind us. Sick to my stomach, full of fear, we left and I Googled “Hate Groups in the Midwest”. You might want to familiarize yourself with the Southern Poverty Center’s website, as I did. Prepare to be sickened by the plethora of groups of individuals who want your children of color to be expunged from the earth.
- It might take a while to find the right school for your kids. (Third time’s the charm in our case). Your kids may feel out of place at school. It might be hard to find a school where they fit in, where they see families that look like theirs and where differences are celebrated. We are extremely lucky in that we found our school, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have the dreaded “Baby picture” assignment coming up in 5th Like my daughter, your adopted kid may not have a baby picture. She may be the only one in her class who doesn’t.
- Your pediatrician may be clueless about black children and may have to refer you to her colleague who “Did his residency in Detroit”.
- Prepare to cry a lot, not just because of the difficult things listed above, but also because of the amazingly beautiful things that happen. I cry a lot. I cried when my daughter won a blue ribbon in her first horse show, when my normally desperately clingy preschooler kissed me goodbye on his twelfth day of kindergarten saying, “You can have another hug if you need one mom, but I’m good.” When your kids, who have suffered a lot, and who carry great trauma and sadness, rise above and succeed, it is a powerful, joyful experience.
- Khalil Gibran. You may become and remain obsessed with this quote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughter’s of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” You will have a greater openness about children all over the world. You will fall apart completely when Sandy Hook happens because those are ‘your’ kids too. You will gaze across your children’s classroom and see all children as your possible children. Knowing that as a number on an adoption agency’s waiting list, you could have been matched with someone else. For me, this is particularly poignant and profound when I spend time with my friend who was just above us on our agency’s sibling waiting list, and has two beautiful children of her own. Had one of us turned in paperwork earlier, or later, would we be parenting each other’s children?
For me, my children are dreams come true. These incredible little beings made me a mother. But it is hard for them. If you go forward, prepare:
Prepare to help them.
Prepare to rally against all things that make them feel ‘other-ed’ and less than.
Prepare to be uncomfortable.
Prepare to become an ally.
Prepare to not fit in.
Educate the people you love to also be advocates for your kids.
Know that there will be grief and sadness, but that there will also be joy.
Prepare to be forever changed.
The author and her family
Previously published on adoption.net.
First photo courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons.