Monday, May 24, 2010

Transracial Adoption & the Imperfect Parent

Interesting post from Jana Wolff, author of Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, and a white adoptive parent of a son who is African-American and Latino, on how their attempts to incorporate culture failed to protect their son from racism :
When we adopted our son in 1991 — he is African American and Latino; we are white — there weren’t many images floating around (either in my mind or in the media) of transracial families. Neither were there many books on the subject of parenting a child of another race nor many agencies educating adoptive parents on the right way to go about it. (Little did we know, there isn’t a right way.)

In not knowing quite what to do, we did a lot: sought out friends of color; talked openly about race and racism; went with our son to culture camp; got books and artwork depicting different ethnicities; wrote letters to accomplished men of color for advice; read about racial identity and history; celebrated Kwanzaa; visited a Baptist church; even traded homes one summer with a family from a Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Oakland, CA.

There’s plenty we didn’t do, too: We didn’t move to a community that was racially mixed in the way our son is; our closest family friends were still white; our gung-ho efforts to pursue ethnic friends and experiences petered off as our son got older; and we chose to send him to a better school than the one that had more kids of color.

Our second-hand attempts to boost our son’s racial pride over the years have been outweighed and outnumbered by his first-hand experiences with prejudice. Big-impact opportunities he’s had — like meeting a group of Tuskegee Airmen and spending a day with Quincy Jones — are no armor for the small, daily daggers he’s encountered — like being stopped in ninth grade by a security guard at his own high school or being watched like a hawk at 7-Eleven.
For an eye-opening look at the teen-age years, check out her article, the Trouble With Troubled Teens.


Bobbi Jo said...

Wowza. Such a hard topic, makes me wish that my kids came with an operation manual...Chapter 6 "Exactly what to do so your teens don't tell you to "f" off." Wish it were that easy!

Anonymous said...

I went to High School with more than a dozen kids doing the listed behaviors in the troubled teens article. NONE of them were adopted! I myself "acted out" in some of the ways listed. I think it's quite a stretch to use adoption as a reason for bad choices. What child felt they fit in in High School?

All adolescents go through identity crises some more than others. I believe being adopted certainly may make a child vulnerable but...... I'd like to see the research study that allowed the writer to give percentages of affected adoptees. Anyway parenting a teenager ANY teenager is a crap shoot.

Ann BF said...

A timely one for me, as we are just having our first encounters with race baced teasing, and I am struggling to balance my response. I have decided on a strong one -- talking to the teacher, principal and the other parents whose kids I know. Although I have been waiting for it to happen eventually and even saying -- "let me know if this ever happens", it still took her months to tell me and I am still overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness. While the author may be an imperfect parent, she gets bonus points for being willing to admit it and examine it, vs. pretending that racism and the transracial adoption experience has no role to play in adolescent angst -- a view which I find distressingly naive.

LisaLew said...

I feel for her, but it sounds like she is"tunnel vision focused" on adoption as the sole cause of her son's difficult experiences. You can't "definitively" blame adoption or racial teasing on all teenage outcries.

I read this not having a teenager yet, and all parents fear the worst of acting out. I have to say (no offense to the writer) that the anger seethes from every typed stroke. There are obvious messages / stereotypical statements that can be detrimental psychologically to any adoptee: genetic links to ADHD, infertility, accusations of extreme psychological dysfunction related to being adopted.

Having ranted on the wording, I will say that her point of assuring our children are schooled with children of color is well taken.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I don't know... I think there is something to be said for this. Yes, ALL teenagers spend time exploring their personal identities and independence, but adoptees deal with extra layers during this time. Adolescence is also a time where those "little" attachment signs can no longer be ignored, if - in fact - the family ignored them.

Do I think that adoption is the source of ALL teen angst? Absolutely not. But I DO think that the adoptee deals with more "stuff" than the average teen, during a time where they tend to look to peers rather than parents for advice and support.

That's why I think it's so important for us to provide opportunities for our children to connect with other adoptees.