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Posts Tagged ‘transracial adoption’

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Guest Blogger:  Adrienne Carwheel

Typically when a REALLY good TV show is on, social media tells the tale. Random running commentary complete with people screaming at the screen (via text) accompanies some of the best shows out there. 

I join in the revelry, identifying with characters, criticizing their decisions, relationships, and posting my frustration with fellow watchers-except when watching the bane of my existence, yet absolute private addiction:

This.Is.Us

I have to prepare myself and not just because it is really emotional screen time, but because as someone who identifies as an adult adoptee, I need a minute to process all of what I see and hear…alone.

Randall, oh sweet Randall. You move me. The way you have to face race, identity and adoption is just beautiful. The mark of a really good show is when you can picture yourself living through the characters, what they think, and how they feel. 

Randall, like me, as an adult adoptee, made a conscious decision to research his origin. Meeting William, his birth father, was an integral part of his journey, and the precious time they spent before his death was a gift that both of them were able to hide in their hearts.

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I reunited with my one section of my birth family in 1997 and the other in 2015. It was a painstaking, yet fulfilling quest of fact-finding. I saw my same nose, my same chin, my same mannerisms and idiosyncratic behaviors that no adoption could ever sever.

I believe that there are some lessons from Randall that we can learn in the area of adoptee “self-care” as it were. It was obvious that he dealt with extreme anxiety and although successful, and in a loving family, the weight of the world, at times, proved to be too much. 

1. Watch the show and process with people who get you.

If your people don’t understand why a TV show could have you weeping in a corner, those are not your people. Whether you are an adoptee reunited, in a closed adoption, or even a parent of an adoptee, being presented with complicated issues where art imitates life, takes some self care. 

I don’t envy my husband since he is married to an adoptee. Some of us see the world through such a different lens, holding on, thinking and feeling–longing. My husband represents what Beth is to Randall in the show.

2. Don’t be ashamed of your story

Television sometimes can portray the perfect nuclear family, however, shows that portray the messiness of life are the best. In life, our stories don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Adoption begins with loss, but even if reunion doesn’t occur, you still have a path and all is not lost.

3. It is part of who you are, but not all of who you are

I struggled for a long time with the loyalty that comes with longing for birth family, yet being implanted in a loving adoptive family. My birth family gave my life, but my adoptive family taught me how to live it.

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Adrienne Carwheel was adopted at birth is now an adoptive mom of two young girls. Adrienne and her husband are currently in open adoptions with the birth families of their children. She has also served in the following roles:

Connect a Kid Mentor

Guest speaker for Miriam’s Heart

Administrator for transracial adoption group
Book Club Leader for African American Adoptive Mothers
Adrienne is also a good friend, someone I have had the pleasure of working with in the past a few times.  She always brings a peacefulness and calm to everything we do together.    Adrienne, Dawn(the  birth mother from the last post),  and I share the stage together in what we call The TRIAD TALKS.  We are 3 adoptees that represent each branch of the triad.  It is a powerful 90 minutes of each of us sharing and helping others, as well as each other,  understand the different roles involved in adoption.  It is a healing 90 minutes.
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t or fThe messages that are intended aren’t always the messages that are received.  Below I have complied 5 myths followed by the truths and the messages these myths send.

1) MYTH:  Acknowledging race conflicts with the message we as a transracial family want to send to our transracial adoptee.  Race doesn’t matter to us.

TRUTH:  Acknowledging the obvious differences and talking about them helps prove that it doesn’t matter to you.  Ignoring the obvious difference makes the transracial adoptee  question just how much race matters.     To which  some will  conclude race matters too much because no one is willing to tackle it or explain it.  Therefore, race should only be seen and not  heard.  As a child of color, should I too only be seen and not heard?

2)  MYTH:  When our transracial adoptee is ready to talk about race and adoption HE/SHE will bring it up.

TRUTH:   The transracial adoptee will not bring up race or adoption because your silence about these subjects doesn’t give them permission to talk about them.

3)  MYTH:  Talking about a child’s painful past will only cause the pain to grow and multiply.

TRUTH:  Pain operates the opposite of vegetation.   You can’t choke out pain by ignoring it  or starving it of attention.  Pain grows from lack of attention NOT vice versa.

4)  MYTH:  Love is divisible.  If we open up our family to birth parents it will divide our adoptive child’s love in half.

TRUTH:  Honoring, respecting, and loving birthparents teaches the adoptee how to honor, respect and love adoptive parents.  LOVE MULTIPLIES!

5) MYTH:  Learning, studying and researching how I am affected by adoption, as an adoptee, robs me of joy.

TRUTH:  Joy comes from understanding.

Be conscious of the messages you want to send and be proactive to make sure what you are intending is actually what your children are receiving.

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Sitting at the table in McDonalds enjoying the company of a new female friend, I looked out the window and saw my girlfriend’s car drive by.  Of all the McDonalds in Detroit she had to pick the one I chose to take my date.

The glare she gave me stopped me cold as she slowly rolled  by.  It felt like time was moving through a thick gel.  I froze and braced myself for the inevitable gun fire that was going to come screaming through the large widow I sat in front of.  Instead it was a cold emotionless stare that only made it feel  like I had been riddled with .30 caliber bullets.

I was a junior in high school and after I was spotted in the McDonalds, my relationship with my girlfriend was over.   This was my third strike and if she had the power to put me in jail for life or kill me she would have closed my cell door or pushed the toxic liquid through my veins herself. 

The next several months I spent begging and pleading to her delight–with no success at the expense of any humility I had.  Looking back on that time of dating in my teen-age years, it seemed like I spent a lot of time begging.  In all honesty,  this relationship and many others were the mirror images of Romeo and Juliet.  Our paths were not crossed in the heavens.

My craving for attention to combat my feelings of rejection manifested in some horrible relationship choices.  Often I chased the next woman who smiled in my direction and our compatibility never  crossed my mind.  If she was interested in me, I inhaled the attention she was giving.

My mother I’m sure was convinced I was unbalanced during those acne-filled years.  When I broke up with a girl it was as if the world stopped spinning.  The extent to which I mourned the loss of those relationships was four stories above over the top.  The rejection I felt from the failure of a teenage relationship just multiplied my need for attention.  Trying to cling to a broken relationship after it was burned to ash was what I did.  The great need to be accepted and not rejected kept me trying over and over to revive relationships that passed the morgue long ago.

One of the great luxuries of writing this blog is the ability to reflect back on the things I did long ago and try to decipher why I did the things I did.   It amazes me just how much the decisions I made  and  my reactions to things were so deeply rooted in being adopted.

One other remnant of being adopted is the feeling of unworthiness that I can’t shake.  This presents itself over and over in relationships as well.  My wife can attest to the fact that I tried over and over to dissemble our relationship.  Once I found a great thing,  I did what I could to cause it to implode.  Fortunately,  my wife calmly held on and wouldn’t let go.

The residuals that come with adoption are often ignored or dismissed.  In talking to birth parents and adoptees we all suffer from that split much more than we are told we should and relationships after relationship are often sacrificed as we wade through the waters of mistrust, self-destruction, and rejection.

If you then mix in transracial adoption another layer gets mixed in.  The potential then exists that a TRA becomes so starved for attention from others that look like them that we cling to the first person of color who shows us any kind of attention.   The need to be accepted, validated, and desired by someone with comparable melanin in their skin overrides everything in us that tells us this person should be our last choice.

I feel a collective panel of parents now screaming, “So what do we do to prevent this.”

My answer is simple.

It is the same advice that should have been given to the Captain of the Titanic.  If there is a potential for something to be lurking underneath the surface, strain you eyes to watch for it.  You become hyper-vigilant and you man the bow looking for the potential hazards that may come with relationships.  While you’re standing on the bow you fed the child with words and actions that build them up in an attempt to counteract the blast that can be left in the wake of the separation between mother and child.

Photo credit

 

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Through out high school and college I dated often.  The attention I got from women helped to fill my adoptee-need for acceptance.  When I was dating a girl I thought was respectable, I would often bring them to meet my parents.  It was important to me to get my parent’s approval(another one of my adoptee side effecs) so the girls that were better than average got to meet Mom and Dad.

There were some I dated that Mom and Dad never knew about.  Those were the ones that were really jagged, more than rough, around the edges.  I don’t think that was unique to me being an adoptee.  There are girls who are worthy of bringing home to meet the parents and there are girls who are not.  Mom and Dad never even heard about those who were not worthy.

I made a point to let those who I dated know about my unusual family.  Usually, very early on in the dating process I would say something like, “You know, I’m a minority in my own family….”  This would usually start the conversation about the house I lived in.  I was never ashamed of my family and as I have mentioned the attention I got from being from an atypical family fed my strong desire for attention.  I also learned over time this was a great pick-up line; not many women were approached with this type of opening.

It never occurred to me that some of the woman I dated wouldn’t approve of my family or have a hard time with the melting pot contained in the four walls of my home.  I never questioned those that I dated if they were alright with it because I was alright with it. As I review those interactions and rewind the tapes of my memory, I think because I presented it the way I did very few of the woman I dated had issues with it.  I presented it as a package deal.  The white people come with me.  If you accept me, you have to accept them.My assumptions replaced important conversations. 

As I inspect those tapes a little closer, I can tell you there were a few that were uncomfortable with my family arrangement.  One girlfriend in particular was, at best, uneasy with it.  She stopped talking around my parents and showed very little interest in getting to know them or spending time with them.  Outside of the work world she had very little interaction with white people and now I can easily see she was uncomfortable around those with less melanin in their skin.

When I met my wife-to-be,  immediately I sensed she was worthy to met the parents, and shortly after we began dating I made an excuse to go visit my parents.  I arranged to go to my parents to change my oil in their garage because I didn’t have a garage or a dry place to change my oil.  My wife-to-be agreed to go with me and sat inside with my parents while I changed the oil in the garage.

This was an unfair thing to do to her as I review the circumstances, and I was assuming a lot and asking even more from her.   She sat and held her own with the strange Caucasians, who were my parents, as I emptied out my oil pan in the garage.

It was fortunate for me that she was secure enough to be in that position and the integration of my girlfriend, who would become my fiancé, and then my wife, into my transracial family was seamless but it wasn’t because of anything I did.

I never considered my black world wouldn’t accept my white world.  I assumed that as a black person you have to know how to move in this white world, so any black woman I dated would know how to do this and be comfortable with it; that was assuming A LOT.

Because of what I know now I can say there were probably more girlfriends than I knew that weren’t comfortable around my family.  The racial tension that defines the world we live in makes racial differences and beliefs hard to ignore.  Just as there are some households that teach their white children not to trust blacks, there are black households that teach their children not to trust whites.  I’m sure many of girls I dated were raised in this environment.  So how did they see me and/or my family?   To bring those two races together in one family without exploring the potential powder keg that is there was very naive on my part.  Fortunately,  I choose the right woman, who came from the right family, and there were not issues for us to sort out.

If I were to rewind the present into the past, I would have done a better job of vetting those that I was dating and would have replace assumptions with conversation.

During those dating years, it was like I was walking through an ammunition depot with gasoline soaked underwear;  any small spark could have ignited a world of hurt for me.   My fear is that those who read this will say, “Well, it worked out alright for him, so we can ignore these potential problems too.”  Don’t ignore the mistakes we made.  Be aware of what could be waiting for you and address it.

Dating for TRAs can be an ammunition depot, be aware of that, and go into it with eyes open and underware gasoline-free.

Photo Credit

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Be sure to click on the webinar link to the right at the top to see about a 90 minute training session I’m doing online.  This is a great way to hear how to get this thing called Transracial adoption right and ask questions from someone who has been through it.

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The Clark Doll Experiment (1939) was an experiment done by Dr Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie where they asked black children to choose between a black doll and a white doll. The dolls were the same except for their skin color but most thought the white doll was nicer.

In 1954 in Brown v Board of Education the experiment helped to persuade the American Supreme Court that “separate but equal” schools for blacks and whites were anything but equal in practice and therefore against the law. It was the beginning of the end of Jim Crow.

In the experiment Clark showed black children between the ages of six and nine two dolls, one white and one black, and then asked these questions in this order:

  • “Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”
  • “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”
  • “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”
  • “Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”
  • “Give me the doll that looks like a colored child,”
  • “Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”
  • “Give me the doll that looks like you.”

“Negro” and “colored” were both common words for blacks before the 1960s.

The last question was the worst since by that point most black children had picked the black doll as the bad one. In 1950 44% said the white doll looked like them! In past tests, however, many children would refuse to pick either doll or just start crying and run away.

In one study Clark gave the test to 300 children in different parts of the country. He found that black children who went to segregated schools, those separated by race, were more likely to pick the white doll as the nice one.

In the test that he did that became part of Brown v Board he asked 16 black children in 1950 in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Of these 63% said the white doll was the nice one, the one they wanted to play with.

Clark also asked children to color a picture of themselves. Most chose a shade of brown markedly lighter than themselves.

In 2005 Kiri Davis repeated the experiment in Harlem as part of her short but excellent film, “A Girl Like Me”. She asked 21 children and 71% told her that the white doll was the nice one. Not a huge sample size, true, but it was still shocking to see how easily many chose the white doll.1

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I read this article and through tears I strain to focus on my computer screen.  So many thoughts flood to the front of my brain.  Whole thoughts and fragments of thoughts rush  through my brain.  I try to grab on to one thought but it quickly  rushes by me.

Colorblind

Racially conscious

Racially unconscious

“We don’t see color.”

But the world sees color and they will define it for our children if we don’t.  As parents we have to combat the tsunami waves that bombard our children and tell them what is beautiful, what is nice, what is good and what is bad.

This experiment makes it very obvious we need to talk about race with our children.

But how do we?

When do we?

The studies show that children notice racial differences by age 2 or 3.  Just as they notice a child with red hair, or a child who is taller, or thinner, they notice differences in skin color.  Here is where we need to start.

It is as simple as pointing out the differences in skin color.  In a transracial family this is easy to do.  As you point out the differences your   now must begin to combat the images of the world.  As you point out the differences in skin color, you let them know who beautiful, special, kind, intelligent, and wonderful they are . Here at this ripe age you begin to plant the seeds of their racial identity.  You begin to instill in them pride about their race.  You define what their race means before the world tells them.

Recently, I sat in on a webinar held by Dr. Leslie of the University of Maryland entitled, Building Self Esteem and Racial Identity in Transracial Adoptees, and she suggested that we first teach about racial identity and give the child time to absorb that before we present them with the idea of racism.  This prevents the victim/oppressor scenario that can occur.  I agree with her 100%.  We must take them time to build up the child so they are comfortable with who they are as a child of color before we introduce racism.

Be mindful that the world will eventually introduce racism to your child with or without you.  If you introduce it, you control the definitions and how it is received.  I have read by age 7 most children of color have had a “racial incident.”  This could be accelerated or slowed depending on how diverse you community is.

In the end, it is a race.  We as parents much actively contribute to our children’s racial identity/self esteem bucket at a rate quicker than the world steals from it.  The earlier we start, the better our chances that the bucket never gets emptied out.

1. http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/the-clark-doll-experim

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