A college friend, now a transracial adoptive parent, asked me this question:
“As someone who has learned to be reflective about the adoptee experience, what would you tell adoptive parents who want very, very much to be the best parents we can possibly be to our children?”
Since this question was posed to me, I’ve thought of 100 different answers; each of them important in their own right and no one comprehensive enough to thoroughly answer the question. The truth is that I don’t really have the answer. No single person does, but I do believe that those of us crazy enough to immerse ourselves in the adoption experience on a daily basis are working to find answers to this question and others like it. So, first, I ask that parents pay attention and be open to the ideas of adoptees who are talking about adoption, not just because the adoptees themselves have been adopted, but because they are adoptees who are examining adoption outside of their own personal experience and working to enlighten and improve the adoption experience for all those involved.
Something that repeatedly has come to mind in relation to the question posed is this: As a parent, you are the role model. You demonstrate to your children how to live and experience their lives. Recognizing and processing the emotions connected to the adoption experience is not intuitive. If parents don’t talk about loss or grief or birth families, how will their children ever know how to talk about these things? How will they ever feel like it is normal or okay to bring these subjects up with their parents?
Further, if you have children of color and want them to develop into confident adults of color, you have to show them the way. This is your responsibility. Too often, I see parents relying on their children to figure out the complicated world of race on their own. Not because the parents intend for their kids to struggle, but because they are afraid to or unaware of the commitments and sacrifices that must be made on behalf of their kids. Commitments like moving to or regularly traveling to diverse populations. A commitment to frequently step outside of their own comfort zones, so the parents are the “only” or “other” and not their children. Adopted children of color are often heralded as the bridges between cultures or races. I, personally, feel that is too big of a responsibility to place on young people. I see parents as the bridges for their children. Their parents are the ones to guide them to the people who can help them form healthy identities. How can a child feel comfortable reaching out to their racial or ethnic community if they do not see their parents doing the same? Sure, this may be awkward for parents at first and parent often speak of feeling like they disingenuously form relationships with people based solely on their race, but parents are adults. Adults have the faculties and resources to figure out how to navigate the complications of these situations. In turn, their kids learn to do the same.
It is clear to me that adoptive parenting isn’t easy. There is no one way to do things and things that work for one family may not work for another. Ask me this question again next and I’m sure I’ll have a completely different answer, but today my advice is for parents to be the people they want their children to become.