colorful parenting

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We’re in the market for an additional church. I know that sounds strange, but if I say ‘new’ church then it sounds like we’re leaving our current congregation.  We have no desire to leave our current church family. Therefore, I have to use the word additional.

It’s not like we need another place to worship. It’s just that we don’t know any better place to make new friends. And boy, do we need some new friends. Not because there’s something wrong with our current friends. Well, except for the fact that nearly all of our friends look just like us. We need friends who look like our daughter. She needs us to have friends that look like her.

Want to be in an awkward position? Try to figure out how to make friends of another race when you live in a community where there are very, very few adults of that particular race. Making new friends? It’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. Do I just go up to people in the grocery store? In the library? You don’t typically approach someone asking to be their friend based on their skin color. That’s the position we find ourselves in right now, however. So…we’re in the market for an additional church.

There are a lot of moments where I feel so lost when it comes to navigating this transracial adoption thing. On the one hand, race and ethnicity are irrelevant when it comes to being part of a loving family. On the other hand, we don’t just live as part of a loving family. We also live as students, as friends, as community members, as citizens, as people who are part of a global community. In those places, race and ethnicity are far from irrelevant.

I wish that love was enough, because that part is easy. Parenting of any kind is about far more than love however. It requires thought and work and hard decisions. If you want to parent well, you have to often put your children’s well-being above your own desires, convenience, and comfort. Transracial parenting just compounds all that. How do I parent my daughter well? How do I give her a healthy identity and self-image? That’s not going to be automatic. While she’s with our family, she’s safe. Secure. Skin color is just one more way that we all look different from one another. But when she leaves our home, she’ll be a black woman. Truthfully, she’s biracial, but the color that your skin appears is the race that you are judged to be. She has dark skin. That’s how she’ll be viewed. She won’t be a biracial child raised by white parents. She’ll just be herself, alone. She needs to know who she is. She needs to know what it means to have dark skin in this country. She needs to be secure in herself.

So how do I build her identity? How do I prepare her for what she’ll face when she leaves the safety of our family unit? How do I teach her about her heritage? How do I address racism? And above all else, how do I find people who look like her to be friends with? She needs role models. She needs mentors. She needs them to have the same skin color so they can speak into her life about what she will face and experience. She needs to know how to navigate a different culture from the one that we’re familiar with in our family.

We’ve gotten a lot of advice and frankly, a surprisingly amount of negative, patronizing, and scoffing comments. ‘You’re taking this too seriously.’ ‘That’s silly.’ ‘The best advice is just not to worry about it.’ The thing is, these comments have come entirely from people who have no experience in this area. The people we really want to take advice from are people who have walked this road. Adults of color. Adults who have raised children of color. Adults who were raised as transracial adoptees. The stuff that they are telling us is the opposite of what we’re hearing from the people around us. Every single one of them says that this stuff IS important. That we should be thinking about it. It shouldn’t rule our lives, but we can’t take it too lightly. The one thing that we hear above all else is to surround ourselves with people who look like our daughter. With families that look like ours. To build relationships into our lives so that all of it is natural and easy and if we or our daughter needs something, that we have an outlet to find it.

We’re not just a white family raising a black child. That’s what people want to see us as, but it’s not truth. I hate that characterization intensely. Our daughter is not the ‘other’. She isn’t the outsider because her skin color is darker. She is fully part of our family.

We are a white family, but now, we are also a black family.
We are one family.
Trying to find a place where we can make some new friends.

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