Transracial adoption: Is God’s leading enough?

Orphan CareIn a post two days ago, Dorothy Bode wrote in answer to those who ask the question, “Am I making a terrible mistake by adopting transracially?”:

The main thing I help them question is their motivations. “Is God building your family or are you trying to do it in spite of Him and in your own strength and wisdom” Outside of God, I think there are mistakes made in adoption plans. With him, I trust there are not.

The same basic question can be changed to cover many different adoption situations — it can apply to children who are older, disabled, in foster care, abused or neglected. If our answer to the question is “Yes, we are following God’s lead and planning in this,” then we can rest in Him because he makes no mistakes.

Although I typically concur with Dorothy’s insights with a hearty yea-and-amen, in this case I felt like saying, “Yes, but…” Continue reading

“Am I making a terrible mistake by adopting transracially?”

This is one of the hardest questions that adoptive parents ask me. It is layers deep and generations long. It goes into the big issues of acceptance and love, guilt and anger, and the ever-present fear of being wrong that plagues so many people. The best answer I have for these parents is to ask more questions and lead them into their own answers. The main thing I help them question is their motivations. “Is God building your family or are you trying to do it in spite of Him and in your own strength and wisdom?” Outside of God, I think there are mistakes made in adoption plans. With him, I trust there are not.

The same basic question can be changed to cover many different adoption situations — it can apply to children who are older, disabled, in foster care, abused or neglected. If our answer to the question is “Yes, we are following God’s lead and planning in this,” then we can rest in Him because he makes no mistakes.

Teaching my children about their racial identities

“How do you teach your children about their racial identity?” Can you hear my teeth grinding? As an adoptive mom to Black and Native American children I know that it is a legitimate question (and I am faced with it all the time), but it is too huge to be managed with a simple one-minute statement; so I get a little frustrated when I am expected to.

That said, people still need some sort of answer, and a 30-minute lecture on race in America really isn’t what they are asking for. So here is a summary: In our family we acknowledge and affirm our children’s racial diversity on a daily basis with open, God-honoring and sometimes painful honesty and actions which reflect our commitment to their individuality.

For us that 32-word answer covers the reality of what we are faced with as a multi-racial family. At the root of the answer, it’s not about having Black friends or living in the inner-city — it’s about having a relationship with our kids that teaches them to acknowledge and respect each facet of how God made them. They can’t change the color of their skin, the arrangements of their DNA or the facts of their birth, but they can learn to be a whole person who is created in the image of the God and loves them.

Transracial adoption didn’t have to change my life.

bodesAdopting Black children changed my life dramatically. I know now that it didn’t have to. The reality was that I could have continued my comfortable urban life and expected the children to adapt to where I was. I also know that if I had set those expectations up in my heart, it would have been much harder to experience the growth I needed in order to mother my Black kids well.

When I talk with adoptive families about parenting children of another race or culture, I often have the analogy of my parents in mind. My mother was an American citizen and my father was British. Our home was filled with the best of both worlds and they embraced each other’s cultures as a central part of their life. My father has passed on now, but my mother is still strongly connected to his British relations and the ‘flavor’ of the culture that she married into. From tea time to horse brasses, her home is filled with the beauty of both worlds. One of my strongest memories as a teen is hanging the American flag alongside the British one on our front porch – we were a family with two cultures and both were important to our identity.

But it didn’t have to be that way. My mother could have followed the 1970’s fashions in decorating rather than filling our home with English antiques, she could have stuck to the Betty Crocker Cookbook and I would never have developed a taste for roasted Brussels sprouts, and she might have looked down on my father for not immediately becoming an American citizen. She could have done all these things to force him into her comfort zone, but she chose the harder thing and embraced all the parts of him. I think their marriage was stronger for it and I know that my parenting is absolutely better because I am willing to go into my children’s birth-cultures and experience life with them. Rather than bending my adopted children to fit into my small vision of how life should look, I now have a broader undertanding of how our family culture is supposed to reflect the great God who created it.

Dorothy Bode’s NPR interview on transracial adoption

NPR interviewed one of our blog’s writers, Dorothy Bode, about transracial adoption. You can listen to part one of this interview (7 min 44 sec) here. Dorothy did an excellent job! Have you listened to it yet? If not, you should. It’s only about 7 minutes long.

The interview (on NPR’s Day to Day news program) was prompted by the just-released Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute report titled “Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race & Law in Adoption from Foster Care.” In the report, the Institute discusses continuing obstacles to the adoption of African American children in the U.S. foster care system.

In the interview, Dorothy Bode discusses her own experiences as the (white) adoptive mother of six black and bi-racial children — and three biological children.

Dorothy is humorous, articulate, and endearing. She talks about the decisions she and her husband have made to keep their children connected to African American culture (for example, moving from the suburbs into the inner-city and attending a church with three black or bi-racial pastors). She also talks about how her family discusses race in a frank way that works for everyone in the family (vanilla and chocolate).

Hearing the interview made me proud to be associated with Dorothy through the blog. She was a great representative of adoptive parents and of her faith.

‘Do Black kids sunburn?’ and other crazy questions I had no one to ask in my adoption journey

Yesterday I had the opportunity of participating in the webinar that Carolina Hope’s director Laura Beauvais-Godwin did for families who are considering transracial/transcultural adoption. It was a good experience for me, and I hope that those who participated gained a little insight into the world of parenting children who don’t look like us. Personally, I wish that opportunities like this had been available nine years ago when we started adopting, and I hope that many families will choose to participate in web-based seminars like this one. It’s not just fluff — it is a good way to get questions answered in a safe environment, so that families can start going deeper into their own ideas of how God is directing their specific adoption journey.

On a practical note, I would love to see another webinar that could be an open question and answer period about the realities of adopting transracially. Many adoptive families have questions like: Do Black kids sunburn? and How can you tell before they blister? How about hair care and cracked toes? And what are these strange bruises on my newborn baby’s back?! (FYI – Those are Mongolian spots — not bruises from burping them too hard. I was terrified when my first adopted baby started showing them, and I thought I had somehow hurt him.) These are all real questions that plague us along the journey into transracial parenthood, and this might just be a great format for getting some of them answered.

[Note from admin: please feel free to add your own ideas for future webinars as comments on this post.]

Transracial Adoption: Talking about our extended families’ response.

When we began adopting transracially, our families were very alarmed, and they didn’t hesitate to tell us. They were concerned about us being naive and unrealistic. About our ‘perfect’ one-boy-one-girl family being rocked so hard that it would be destroyed. They pointed out that with college expenses rising we couldn’t educate more than two — and most of all they stressed the fact that we were not black and therefore couldn’t parent kids who were!]
Not everyone was actually against us adopting, but there were sure a lot of concerns being voiced and it made me sad and unsure for a season.

DorthyBodewithherchildrenThat was 8 years, 6 adoptions and one pregnancy ago. Now when we talk about adopting again they shake their heads and say “I don’t understand you,” or “aren’t there other families waiting?” Or the one that makes my teeth grate “You know, you are exasperating the problem by adopting them.” Really? So not adopting will solve the situation? (Notice the amazing restraint I am showing here by not going into a personal tirade even as I type those last few words.)

My husband and I have been hinting for the past few months that we are looking forward to updating our homestudy soon. This provides another opportunity for the negative comments to flare up, as well as a chance for the positive to surface. I am the mom of kids from three different ethnic heritages, and I want to encourage you who are getting the negative from the world: I want to tell you that the positive from God is stronger. My children are beautiful; from lightest to darkest they are exactly who and what and where God has planned them to be. For those of you who are being harmed by negative words today, may you be blessed with a thick skin against the comments based on others’ fears — and a thin and tender skin to receive the blessings and encouragements that will also come. Welcome to the journey!

Transracial Adoption: Windows and doors.

There are many countries and adoption programs that are closed to our family due to our income, age, family size and ethnicity. It is probably good that they are closed, as I have been accused of a tendency toward ‘adoption addiction’ — and it just makes it easier to find the specific paths that God has laid out before our family when the options are not so wide.

As a general rule, we don’t allow a program’s being ‘closed’ to signify the end of our care and concern for the orphans involved. It just doesn’t look the same as an adoption — it’s like having a window that we can offer help through rather than a doorway to physically enter in. But what does that look like? For us it’s all about being open and intentional. We seek out and encourage families who are able to adopt in those countries, we support orphanages with donations, and we work on their behalf here in the United States. I have visited facilities out of the U.S. and helped with maintenance, child care and tangible gifts, and we are always watching for and praying over families who are prepared to adopt specific children that we never would be allowed to call our own. And most of all we TALK about the needs so that other families may be led to get involved also.

This month I get to add another way we are involved — I have the amazing opportunity to travel with a friend and help bring home her soon-to-be daughter from Korea — a country whose door has always been closed to us due to our financial resources. Even though that door has never been an option to me as an adoptive mom, the window is wide open to aunties, and I am reaching through!

Praise God for giving us windows as well as doors that we might reach out into the world and proclaim the good news of Adoption.

Transracial Adoptive Parenting: Even ‘The Talk’ is affected

It’s been a long week, with more than the usual adoption issues to deal with and more than the expected number of stares and comments from strangers. I sat down on Tuesday to have the ‘Where Babies Come From,’ discussion with my three oldest kids and realized that even there I have to think through and pray over what I teach. We have always discussed the fact that some of our babies were carried in my body and some were placed into my arms after they were born. No problem, everyone in the family gets that one. Just like they understand the basic ideas of genetics and why we have so many different skin tones in the family.

This week we started in on the conception part of the discussion and I found myself stalled at the reality of what my teaching about abstinence might emotionally mean to my adopted children who were all conceived out of marriage. I actually had to stop the lesson because I realized that I needed to speak intentionally so that I didn’t give the wrong messages to my children about their births being a ‘mistake’ or a ‘problem’ while at the same time not endorsing premarital intimacy. When we adopted I never thought about how these basic things would affect our daily lives. Who thinks about pre-teen abstinence talks when adopting a baby or child? Not me! Thank you, God, for revealing these things to me slowly so I can catch up and have plenty of time to pray over them!

Very special adoptions: When race is only a small part of the equation.

Severely disabled, non-responsive, and unknown life expectancy. These are some of the technical words that define children many of my friends have adopted. These are the hard cold facts that fill the endless pages of their medical histories and that would have condemned them to limited lives in hospitals and other such institutions, except that God raised up families to claim them as a precious treasure. In these adoptions race is so far down the list of concerns that the social workers and adoptive parents almost become color blind. I won’t argue that this is right or wrong from a human perspective, but I will say “Thank You God!” for every severely disabled child He brings into a strong, loving, and faith-filled family.

Yesterday, there was a funeral celebrating one of these fragile treasures. He lived a full life, though he was blind and limited in almost every way. For two years he was the treasured youngest child in my friend’s home, and he bound us closer to each other and brought us more often to God in prayer. I am sobered as an adoptive mom who gets tired of the daily grind created by my small children when I spend time loving these treasures that my friends have received. What if I knew that there was no healing after the 24/7 crisis care a sick child requires? What if I knew that I had to pour myself out beyond anything I could imagine because this may be the last day I have to hold this child? And what do I need to change in my own life and heart to have that savoring of every hour, every minute and every breath my children draw? Lord – I long to live like that, I long to live so present in this moment that no hour is ever lost to unnecessary things and no person is overlooked.