Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who know that being in a family doesn't depend on "matching."

Our alarm started beeping at 5:45am this morning. This is considered An Ungodly Hour in the A+A household, and being anywhere but dreamland is usually unacceptable. But this morning was different, because we needed to be on the phone by 6am to talk with the adoption agency that we are newly listed with in Florida. This was our orientation phone call, a chance for them to get to know us a little bit and for us to ask any questions we have. They do this for all the WACAP families whose profiles they get, because most of us are too far away for an in-person meeting. Of course, in Florida, it was a much more reasonable 9am.

So we dutifully trundled out to the car (no cell reception in our condo, long story) and I sent a little puff of gratitude upwards for the sunshine and relatively warm temperature. We might not be alert but at least we weren't going to be cold. I dialed the number as Andrew slumped in the driver's seat and resumed what appeared to be deep sleep. According to his mother he's always been a good sleeper.

Most of our 30 minute phone call was fairly routine - we spoke with N., the coordinator there, about their process: how they find birth mothers, what they do to counsel them, how far along they are before they are shown profiles, the different sorts of assistance they offer to them and the way they deal with birth father issues. She loved our profile. We didn't have a lot of questions, and the early hour may have had something to do with that.

"So tell me," N. said finally. "What is your greatest fear about adoption?"

Ah! I thought, finally a chance to give a good answer to something. I started scanning through my options for the best answer. Meanwhile Andrew woke up.

"I don't know," he answered. "I don't think there's anything about the adoption process that scares me, nothing unique to adoption. Just, you know, the usual fears about fatherhood in general."

Oooh good answer, I thought. Way to come through, baby. Wait, what fears about fatherhood "in general"?!?

"What about you, Alissa?" N. asked. Focus..

"I'm not sure," I replied. "But I do think alot about what it will mean to parent transracially. I'm trying to be as prepared as possible for that, but I know there are parts of it that I don't understand fully, that I'll probably screw up."

Mornings make me honest.

Then N. told me a story, about her best friend. Her friend M. has adopted three black boys - she and her husband are white. The boys are almost grown now, the oldest is 18, and N. spends a lot of time with them. The other day she was shopping with the oldest and they were in the checkout line together waiting to pay. He edged in front of her in the line and the checker immediately reacted, saying "excuse me, but she was in line first, she's in front of you."

"I was offended," N. said, "and immediately corrected her and said 'no, you don't understand, he's with me. We're in line together.' But the boy turned to me and said, 'don't worry, N. It's no big deal this happens all the time. People just don't understand how we could be connected to each other.'"

I'll admit it, this is one of my fears. And it's a story I've heard from many white parents, biological and adoptive, whose children have darker skin. I have probably been guilty of making that assumption myself, of looking immediately for familial resemblance between a child and the adult whose hand she is holding, or a baby and the parent who is carrying him.

But I know that being a family doesn't depend on matching. This part of the TAC bill of rights isn't really about changing others' reactions to my family or even developing strategies for dealing with those interesting and inevitable times when strangers assume we don't belong together because we don't look like we "should." (although that is probably a good idea.) It's about knowing it, in a deep and lived way, within my family unit itself.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because I don't always "match" my own family. Sure, I look like them. But my personality, politics, and many of the choices I've made don't match much of my family. We still belong to each other, even if we have differing opinions on health care reform and social policy.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because I've been family with people who I couldn't even talk to, completely dependent on my Russian host family for everything and loved by them as if I had always been in their home.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because there friends who have become family to me with no blood relation at all.

It's a very optimistic thing to know - it can be the matching that lets us know we belong, and race is an important thing. Life can be confusing when race doesn't match. But I think it's also freeing - I don't need to try to make my child over into an image of myself. He will be free to explore who he is, and the similarity of that identity to my own will not be the decider for whether or not we love each other or belong to each other, it won't be what defines us as family.


  1. Great post- You are going to be such a good mom, it's great that you're spending so much time thinking these things through now!

  2. I love these posts! Appearance is just one of many ways that we can "match". People in my life that I've felt most matched with have looked nothing like me.

  3. Very well said.
    That's one of my worries too. When we are out in public and she gets ahead of us, or whatever, of people not looking for us as her parents. Or worse when she's screaming as we drag her away during a tantrum (not like that would ever happen with my child!!) and people look and wonder why this white lady is carrying this black child screaming out of some place.

    But you are right. It is kind of freeing to not expect her to fit in physically with us. The knowledge that we're family no matter the color of our skin is a blessing.
    And now that you're in the process and more likely once you have your child home when you see those families that don't match you won't look for the similarities you'll try to decide if it's okay to ask if they adopted. At least that's how I feel.

  4. This is a great post. I'm reminded of a time about a year ago when I saw a young white mother at the Mall....all trendy girl with cute shoes, etc. She was pushing a stroller with the most adorable little black newborn in it. She also had a little blond headed boy around three years old. I naturally assumed the baby belonged to her. There was nobody else around. She was near me and I said, "Your baby is adorable. How old is he?" She had the most shocked and apauled look on her face and she said, "This is NOT my child!" I was taken back by it completely and said, "Well, he's still cute!" Everything inside me wanted to say something sassy but I didn't. People will just think what they think. What it boils down to is what you feel in your heart you think you are being drawn to do. I look forward to seeing the rest of your story unfold.