Five years ago my husband and I adopted three kids from Ethiopia and we became a transracial family. They make our family such fun. Our kids have been blessed with hilarious, dramatic, joke-telling, wisdom-beyond-their-years, dancing, sassy, athletic, storytelling, musical genes. They make life better and fuller.
In the five short years we’ve been a transracial family we have discovered many things. This list is not everything. It’s just a taste. If you are a transracial family, your list may look different, or you may add a few things. We would too… but for sake of an article, I listed the few that come to my mind.
1. People will stare.
In the first few months of being home we began adjustment to life as a family of five, with two languages being spoken and a little bit of chaos. Adding to that new-normal were the stares from a very captive audience as we walked through malls, in parks or enjoying a meal out as a family.
We discovered two different types of people who would stare:
Disapproving People – These folks do not approve that two cultures reside within one family. They strive to make direct eye contact with Dad, Mom and kids and shake their heads at the same time. They want to make sure you are fully aware of their disapproval. All I can say to that kind of bitterness: Bless your heart.
Curious People – We found that most people stare at our family simply out of curiosity about a white man, a white woman and three black kids. They want the back story. Are we a family? Are we babysitting? What’s our deal? At first it felt invasive. And some days, it still does. Boundaries are a good thing. We know as a family the questions we are willing to answer. We also know the ones that are off limits. I want to use these interactions with the Curious-Stare-ers as an opportunity to educate not humiliate. I don't want to make someone feel small for being curious. The education goes SO FAR in bringing understanding to families that look like ours. And when other families are educated, they will then educate their kids and that can result in clarity, understanding and unity. And better education of the next generation results in change.
2. If you don't know, ask for help.
As a white mom, I didn’t know there were so many things I didn’t know. (still don’t) My first week home with my kids I went to Target and stood in the hair product aisle and stared at hair products for my girls and had no clue what to purchase. I went two aisles over, found this lovely woman with amazing hair and looked at her and simply said “I need help.” She turned and looked at me, looked at my kids, grabbed my hand and said “Come with me.” She spent 30 minutes going through hair care, explanations, the what to do and what not to do. I cried thankful tears, she talked. It was glorious.
Ask questions. Seek Advice. Seek understanding of a new culture.
Grace and Kindness go a long way.
3. Diversity matters.
School - We made a decision as a family that it matters if our kids go to a diverse school. We want them to experience friendships with people of color as well as white people. We want them to be around children who look like they do. When a child feels like a majority and not a minority, it matters.
Church - It matters to us that we worship at a church that is diverse and has both white families and families of color worshipping. It matters that they see people in leadership that look like they do. This helps my kids believe they can grow to be leaders within the global Church. It teaches them that they belong.
Community - It matters that we create friendships with people of color and we experience authentic community within culture. This allows genuine dialogue to happen and it gives us the ability to widen the circle of influence around our children.
4. Racism exists. Talk about it.
We first began to talk with our kids about race in a very natural way when they came home from school talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other heroes of the civil rights movement. It is imperative to speak about race. The most recent events within our country have invited additional dialogue about race relations. It can be hard and awkward and frustrating. But that’s okay to sit inside the hard and talk it through. Being silent on the topic of racism is passive and wrong. If we don’t speak, this generation will never know how to respond. I don’t always give the right answers to my kids. That’s where my own education comes in and I must seek to learn from others in order to guide my children well in discussions about race-relations and racism.
5. Grace and Kindness go a long way.
At the end of the day, grace and kindness go a long way. Mama-exhaustion comes, disapproving glances burn, racism talks sting, and the 400th question of “What happened to their REAL parents?” is asked. Sometimes, instead of an explosion, perhaps a small sigh and some grace and kindness will go a long way. I'm not always great at this. Especially in moments of tiredness. Yet, I was taught in the scriptures that kindness leads to repentance. Not anger. Not revenge. But kindness. Anger produces anger. Revenge invites destruction. Yet kindness can prick the heart in a different way. It has the ability to soften the disapproval and produce peace.
Kindness mixed with education and authentic community gives us the ability to have hard conversations and sit in awkward moments. And this allows us to begin to understand families that are made of up many cultures and colors.
I encourage you, parents, find families that look different than your family and start conversations. Learn, Grow, Listen, Educate and Seek to Understand.