The Realities of Race and Adoption

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How do you talk about race with your child? How early do children start to recognize that not everyone has the same skin color? Is race one of those topics you should discuss openly and honestly with your child like how to safely cross the street, or why you shouldn’t talk to strangers, or the dreaded “Birds and the Bees talk”?

I’d like to think that as a person of color I have some extraordinary insight about how to talk about race, but the truth is, I don’t. Talking about race is simply uncomfortable. Is it because if you’re white it conjures up a great deal of emotions like uneasiness, defensiveness, and possibly even anger? And if you are the person of color, undoubtedly, there are feelings of shame, hurt, and at times isolation.

I understand and accept the fact that by adopting my son and bringing him to live in America, he will be judged by his skin color. There will be school playground incidents where kids will make fun of him because of his physical differences-his eyes, his nose. More than likely I will have to explain to him the hurtful name calling and navigate the tricky questions he will ask about not being white. Others will try to pigeonhole him because he is conspicuous and he will feel vulnerable living in a mostly white world.

Maybe the platitude, “Love is all you need” doesn’t apply in this situation. I can’t love away my son’s pain and grief, but what I can do is help prepare him for the messy complicated reality. As his parent, I do need to be honest about the hurt he will experience when kids ridicule him for the first time because of his eyes and skin color. I do need to be candid and tell him that his race does matter. But mostly, I need to be empathetic about how he feels because when that inevitable day arrives where he realizes for the first time that he’s not white, then my only choice is to quietly listen.

I Love You 사랑해

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As the months and weeks move closer to the travel date when I finally get to meet my son and begin parenting, the self doubt and worry seem to be looming now more than ever. My thoughts have begun to take on new worries like, “What if my son’s not ready?” “What if he doesn’t like me?” “What if he later resents me because I adopted him?” I understand that these are natural fears and doubts for any parent who’s adopting. Nonetheless, these fears feel incredibly big and too real.

There is a considerable amount of adoptive parenting research about how to ease the transition from when my son leaves his foster home and begins his transition with me. One recommended strategy is to “cocoon” which is a critical time for my son and I because during this period we will begin to learn everything we can about each other in order to bond and create healthy attachments. Likewise, my son will also be experiencing a great deal of loss and grief. He will more than likely be inconsolable as he grieves for his foster mother. Will he even accept my attempts to comfort him during his time of grief? I’m not sure. Everything that is familiar and comfortable will no longer be a part of his world. I am reminded that my son didn’t choose adoption. Adoption happened to him.

As I prepare to transition into parenthood, the truth is, I’m entirely scared. I have no idea how my son will respond to me or how long it will take him to love me. I know there will be significantly long and challenging days ahead. Maybe all I can do is quietly wait for the moment when he wraps his warm little arms around me and says, “I love you.”