Thursday, September 3, 2009

Every child is entitled to be accepted by extended family members.

Andrew's grandparents, Mom and Pop, came over for dinner last night, and it was quite a treat for us. Between the two of us A+A has but three living grandparents these days, and we feel so very lucky that Mom and Pop are so vibrant and healthy and close enough that we get to see them relatively often. We make it over to visit them on the peninsula every couple of months, but this is the first time they've come to our place since we moved in a couple years ago. Andrew was nervous and spent the whole day cleaning. His energy was contagious, so by the time they pulled up I was also feeling anxious about what they would think of our home. Was it clean enough? Did things match? Should we eat outside or inside? Did Andrew scrub the tub? Would Mom think my wifely abilities were up to snuff?

I shouldn't have worried. They brought us peaches and Pop was gamely determined to eat everything we put in front of him. (We had goat burgers and fresh corn from the farmer's market, garden salad, and homemade friendship bread and red tea for dessert.) They loved our place, exclaimed over how it is so much bigger than they were imagining, how nice it must be to have a little community within the building, how great it is that we're going to cloth diaper, etc.

Of course they did. They love us, they support us. We're family.

We do have a lifestyle that is a little different than most of our immediate and extended family. Many of our dear relatives struggle to understand how Andrew and I can love living in the city, without a yard and with so many people everywhere. But when we bought our condo my parents helped in any way they could. They were proud of us for becoming homeowners and they came up to visit and and beam with approval at our new digs. They may not understand why we'd invest our money in an little urban condo when we could have bought a three bedroom house in the suburbs or on the peninsula with it but they supported our choice.

I can't imagine how different life would be for us if they didn't. One of the greatest gifts I've been given through my family is support and acceptance, even when I make choices that are not the choices my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins might make. This is part of what it means to be family with people, in fact this quality is key to how I define family, and is part of why there are several beloved people in my life who are family to us without sharing a biological relationship to me or Andrew.

Every child is entitled to be accepted by extended family members.

On some levels this item on the TAC Bill of Rights might seem unfair. A lot of non-adopted people have contentious and complicated relationships with extended family. Heck, a lot of non-adopted people have contentious and complicated relationships with immediate family, i.e. parents and siblings. Why is it necessary that extended family be on board?

I think it's important because, for me, part of what adoption is about is expanding the definition of what makes human beings family to each other. Precisely because of what I noted above about my experience with biological family and with those few and dear friends who have become family to me over the years: they are the people who continue to accept, support, love and invest in me even if and when I make choices that differentiate me from them. This definition of family is not one that relies on biology and even more importantly it is not one that relies on power or dependence. A transracially adopted child whose extended adopted family cannot offer them this support and acceptance will received mixed messages about what makes family belong to each other, and mixed messages about whether or not she belongs to her adoptive family.

You see, to survive and develop a healthy and independent identity every child needs to differentiate from their family of origin. For an adopted child this process is a little more complex, as "family of origin" is a more complicated and diverse thing. I imagine this process can be even more confusing for a transracially adopted child, who needs to be able to develop a racial identity that is completely separate from his adoptive parents and extended family.

I'm going to need the support of all my "family," spiritual family, biological family, my family born of simple long life experience, in order to be the best parent possible for my little one. My child will also need their support, their unconditional love, and their willingness to go off the map, to support and trust us as sometimes we make decisions that differentiate us from them, try things that they wouldn't try, and define our family - our family including extended family - as an entity that is bound together by something more than biology, convenience, or fate. A family that is constantly being formed and re-made through choice, trust, support, and love.


  1. What part of the city are you in? We're just a few blocks north of the Space Needle. People have been asking us when we're moving to the suburbs since we got pregnant with Ethan and are baffled that we now have two kids in the city. It's just so strange to them. But we love it here, even if things are getting VERY crowded in our little condo :)

  2. We're in the Central District - but we go to church at St. Paul's, which is that A-Frame church with the labyrinth garden right by Metro Market..

    I love how you can just take your kids to the children's museum anytime. Families can totally do this in-the-city thing! ♥

  3. I agree, being in the city with a baby is great! We go to parks all the time, can walk to the store, and we go to the zoo at least twice a week. A few days ago we were down at a local park and an Ethiopian family was there having a birthday party for their son. The invited us to join them for dinner, so we did and it was fabulous! I love the small town I grew up in, but I sure never got to do any of that...

  4. Support from the family.... I thought I had that until we actually brought our daughter home. It's as if they all doubted we would ever do it. Like it was a dream that we would ever reach. My mom even once told me that it was wrong for us to have baby stuff out while we waiting. Good thing we did since we had 9 days notice that we were bringing home a little one.

    But thankfully her racial background hasn't been an issue for most of our family and friends. I've got a friend that I can call and tell her what someone said in reference to us, never to us, and she will rant for me so I don't have to do it. That's the support I appreciate.

    Glad you have a great support system around you.

  5. I totally agree with this TAC item. We're lucky that our family and friends are supportive of our plans to adopt. But even so, I don't think some of them really understand our decision. I don't think any of them are particularly "racist," but I've heard some comments involving stereotypes about adoption and race (more precisely, country of origin) that make me nervous. So...I hope as a transracial adoptive parent I can deliver on this item. But what if I can't? I don't have total control over what my extended family and friends think or say or do. Is it enough that I try to help them be sensitive to this stuff? That I seek out people to be surrogate family that are? I'm hoping these comments cease after the baby is placed with us, but maybe they can also be learning experiences for everyone. I imagine I'll be addressing these comments in the future from friends and strangers, um,like forever.

  6. I should note, I guess, that I don't expect my family will be perfect but - yes. Exactly what you said, Sarah, that we "seek out people to be surrogate family". I think it'll be important to include people from our child's race in our extended family, and people whose families look like ours, as well as our own biological families.

    I would also imagine that my family will be one safer place for me and my child to learn how to respond to the well-meaning but sometimes not appropriate comments of others.