Yesterday, I spoke on a transracial adoption panel with four couples in Raleigh. For 2.5 hours, we shared our adoption stories, talked about what it's like to raise children who are a different race than ourselves and answered questions from the audience. I remember vividly sitting in this same audience three years ago wondering if I had what it takes to be a mother of child from a different race. I worried that I would make some major, cultural mistake and harm my child in some way.
It's wonderful being in a room of people who have experienced or about to experience the exact thing you have gone through when it comes to adoption. They understand the awkward moments, the second and third glances from strangers and inappropriate questions from others. They also understand how completely you can fall in love with a little baby just holding him/her in your arms for the first time. When that little person looks into your eyes and you feel your brain re-wiring itself and your heart changing its rhythm, the last thing you are thinking about is race.
So, I told my adoption story (it's in this blog if you want to read it) and shared some of my thoughts. Most questions were easy to answer but one in particular was hard. It was asked early in the panel. I can't remember the exact wording but the person questioned how we plan to raise our children and prepare them for racism and prejudice with our white priviledge backgrounds. Without thinking about it, I went last to answer that one. Everyone on the panel was white and I think everyone did a good job answering the question, but it was obvious that it was an awkward question for most of us.
When it came to that question, I agreed with my fellow panelists. Most days, we don't think about race with it comes to our children. Our children are in kindergarten or younger. We visit the same places and see the same people so the issue of race is not something we consider daily. For me as a single parent, I think more about my son not having a strong male figure in his daily life than the fact that our races don't match. I have a strong, diverse, vocal village of people around me to provide suggestions and insight that I value. I will make mistakes like all parents. I will miss something culturally that I realize later that I should have known, but it's OK.
Adoptive parents are just like biological parents. We feel a strong connection to our children. Oftentimes, we put their needs before our own. Unlike biological parents, our journey to become parents required us to endure a strange twist in the road involving legal hoops, specific training and a lifetime of awkward questions from strangers. My son being a different race than me means that I must always be on the lookout for diversity in future opportunities like school and hobbies. I will need to rely on my non-white friends to guide me on racial situations and challenges. My son will experience racism and prejudice that I have never known. Before this happens, I must surround him with great models of all races to help him learn how to handle these situations with honesty and grace.
Three years after attending my first transracial adoption panel, I no longer worry about harming my child with some misunderstanding of a cultural experience that is new to me. Instead, I worry about classic toddler things - will he get away from me and run into the street or will he put something in his mouth that will become a choking hazard.
I know now that I have what it takes to be a mother of a child of a different race because I am completely and madly in love with my son.