For the past two years, we have joined 70+ families at a camp for families who have adopted kids from India and Nepal. It’s a pretty special time when families get together that have been formed in similar ways and look pretty similar.
Kids get in groups by age and do fun activities related to culture and adoption. Parents get to attend workshops and do a lot of talking. Camp food is mediocre, but it’s enhanced by some amazing Nepali and Indian meals. This year, there was even a renowned Indian American chef making samosas and biryani. Yum.
This year, I attended a workshop on white privilege. Before the workshop, we were joking around because it sounded so much like white power. We were quickly stunned into silence. Workshop leaders were two women who had been adopted as children–one of them twice because of an abusive situation in the first adoption. They ran an organization, had processed a lot of feelings, but told us they were going to tell it to us like it was. And they did.
I spent the entire workshop wide-eyed and teary. They talked of when they first realized really that their skin mattered. For one, it was the realization she couldn’t ever be the blonde, popular girl in class. For the other woman, it was the realization of why her best friend left her for the blonde, popular one.
My daughter is growing up in a completely different world than I did. It’s not only technology and everything else that is changing. It’s related to race. I haven’t had to constantly share a narrative burden. I haven’t had racist subtleties built up in me to a boiling point. I haven’t been looked at strangely in a job interview when someone sees my name expecting one thing and suddenly realizes I’m not the color they were expecting.
I didn’t look that different than my parents. In fact, still today, everyone says quickly how much I look like my mom. My sister and I looked like twins when we were younger.
My daughter has a different story, and I’ve brought her into it. As the workshop presenters said…we’re in it together, so we better get it straight. They shared their stories and what their parents did well. Here’s what they said:
- When our kids talk, listen and empathize. Don’t sympathize. We so quickly want to share our experiences and how we understand how hard it is growing up, getting zits, whatever it is…but I am not my daughter. Listen, listen.
- When my daughter is yelling and coming at me, don’t internalize. She’s going to be angry sometimes. Really angry. But it’s not at me. There’s just a hell of a lot to process.
- Make sure that when she does come at me yelling, that I tell her I love her. Their words: ” I’m sorry you feel that way. I love you. I’m so glad you’re my daughter.” With any adoption, or as the presenters said, any time there was a loss of love at some point in a child’s life, they need reassurance.
- And to follow on that, sit with them while they’re angry. Walking away can feel like abandonment. Persevere.
- Being brown is our issue–it’s not just theirs. We chose this family. We need to support it always. Unconditional love.
- Be an advocate for your child. They’re going to need the tools as they get older. If there is something going on in school, the community, with friends related to racism, call it what it is and do something about it. Show them the tools to deal with insults, ideas that are hurtful.
- Support your child’s birth culture. Give them roll models–people, magazines, books, movies. Get kids into language lessons from their birth culture. Keep up adoption groups.
When I write everything out, it looks so simple. Hearing it from these strong women, though, was moving. On of the women said she was angry a good part of her growing up–processing abuse from her first family. She did a lot of horrible things, and her mother stuck up for her always. Her mother said at one point that she adopted her, not expecting to be loved. Wow. The women apologized on behalf of all adopted kids for the yelling and the tantrums.
I was left thinking about how tough it’s going to be for my daughter and us, but also with a sense of understanding. It’s like anything, when you realize it’s out there, and there’s a name for it, it’s easier to accept. Parenting the way I was parented isn’t going to necessarily work.
I’m trying, I’m trying, but man, this parenting thing now seems even harder.