People say the only way to appreciate your mother is to become one, and unfortunately, I became a mother one week after losing mine. My mom passed away a week to the day that I met my son. It was a profound week; I went from spoon feeding my mother to spoon feeding my new son without having time to catch my breath. In the weeks and months that followed, I gained insight into who my mother was and appreciation for how she had cared for me.
Two years later, I stopped comparing my experience to my mother’s as I began to understand more about adoption and in particular, transracial adoption. I hadn’t gone into adoption lightly, but when my practical experience starting bumping up against what I had read, I realized defaulting to how my mother had parented me was not enough for me and my child. One glaring difference is that I am an older white mother of an African American boy.
Adoptees who write about their experience inevitably speak about the journey of adoption and the desire to stitch together their stories – from the one that begins inside the belly of their birthmother to all the stories that accumulate along the continuum of growing up in an adoptive family. A transracially-adopted child casts a wider net as they attempt to yoke together heritage and the social construct of race within the narrative of a family that does not match them.
The adopted child is not the only family member on a journey. My son came into my life to deconstruct me. The honor of parenting a child who does not match my skin color sent me searching for clues to my own identity as I think about how to guide him with his, to privileges I have taken for granted, to history lessons rich with heroes and events that have been purposefully silenced by society, and to a larger awareness of how we as a family are a rebuttal to what is considered normal.
Before my son had turned three years old, he had pointed to another boy and referred to him as “the black boy over there,” while rejecting that he himself is Black and now that he is almost five years old, he has learned to tune out other children’s intrusive questions into his life’s story, the least of which is, “Is she your real mother?” I read with heartache about children who were adopted a decade or more ago, when parents were not as aware as they are now, but I also realize there are some adoptive parents today who believe love is enough and race doesn’t matter.
This ignorance is an insult to a child who is transracially adopted. While race is not a biological or scientific construct, it is a social one and it matters to our children. And it matters not just to adopted children of color; it matters to all children. This fact has turned the course of my life into a conversation about race and parenting with my child and through my writing.
In a few weeks, my family will be celebrating my son’s homecoming anniversary with cake, balloons and a present. However, I celebrate his homecoming every day. I tell him every day how proud I am that he is my son, and I also mention how grateful I am to his birthmother and birthfather who brought his light into the world. During Adoption Awareness Month, I’d like people to know that the impact of adoption on people and families cannot be underestimated; as a family, we want only to be recognized as such by others we meet. We are, after all, a real family; we just happen to have extraordinary lives.
Rachel Dangermond is a writer, speaker and facilitator on the subject of race and parenting. For a decade, Dangermond has blogged using primary observations, secondary research, social reality and community to speak to an audience about self-actualization. As a white and proud parent, after adopting her African American son in 2009, Dangermond created Transracial Parenting a provocative discussion about race and parenting, as an online resource for parents to bring mindfulness to the powerful role we play in our children’s lives and to offer tools so we could be the change we hope to see in their world. The website has grown to include social media, workshops and a book project.