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.