Sunday, July 30, 2006

Mama's Eye View: My Parenting Philosophy

Mid West, USA
2 Children - 1 boy (1+), 1 girl (en route)

Parenting is hard. Good parenting requires commitment, consistency, and education. Each child has a unique personality that requires the parent to apply themselves to raising the child in a unique way. When a child joins the family through adoption there is one more layer of education and effort necessary in parenting. If the child is also another race than the parents, yet another layer of effort is required. Similarly, a child with special needs (learning disability, fragile health, etc) requires the parent to grow beyond the basics of parenting. So transracial adoptive parenting requires more work (in my opinion) than "regular" parenting.

My biggest question is, (to use my family as an example) can two Caucasian parents (one European and one American) instill a strong racial and ethnic pride and identity in their non-Caucasian child? Really, I don't think that they (we) can. To go back to the special needs analogy, a parent may never know what it's like to have ADHD or to be diabetic. The best a parent can do is learn as much as they can and open doors for their children to go where they cannot.
I hope my special needs analogy doesn't leave anyone thinking that I view being non-white as a negative thing. Quite the contrary. I'm just saying that as much as I read and talk and listen, I will never be anything other than white. I may be a white person with insight and that's what I can offer my children. My greatest aspiration is to be their door.

A couple of the essays in a love like no other really resonated with my feelings. I'd like to include a few quotes for your consideration. In "Color Her Becky: Grappling with Race" Jill Smolowe discusses her daughter's progressing identity as a Chinese-American daughter of white adoptive parents. She says:

Bewildering stuff, this business of race. Make too much of it, and you risk grooming your child to forge an identity based on other people's insensitivity and ignorance. Make too little of it, and you risk failing to prepare your child for life in a country that every ten years maps its racial boundaries in such meticulous detail that the 2000 Census offered 63 different options. During the prelude to an international adoption, you sift through a (pardon the expression) Chinese menu of choices. By the time you've checked all the boxes and answered your social worker's barrage of questions- Will you raise your child to respect her heritage?

Will you honor your child's place of birth? Will you instill racial pride in your child?- you feel that you've considered all the angles. But all those hypotheticals are a lot like the vows you take on your wedding day when you promise to love and honor your future mate: You really mean it-you just don't have a clue what it will look like or how it will play out.
After doing my independent study and facilitating a transracial adoption support group for a year I thought I really knew all about it! I am only beginning to realize how little I know. Jill Smolowe goes on to say:

I acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate that [her daughter, Becky's, Asian identity], just as I celebrate all things Becky. But I am disinclined to try to dictate to Becky what her skin color, Asian features, and cultural heritage should mean to her. I'm not Asian; how could I possibly know? I also don't know how to instill racial pride in her, as the adoption literature often exhorts. Instead I resonate to a comment made by a Native American adult whose adoptive parents are white: "I'm very grateful that my parents never tried to give me what they weren't able to give: my Indian self. I think that causes confusion. It was my journey to find out more.

I agree with Jill in so many ways. She makes an effort to connect Becky to her Chinese heritage through culture days, relationships with other Chinese Americans, celebrating Chinese holidays, etc. Yet she also recognizes that she is only leading her daughter to a door that she cannot pass through herself. God, help me find the door.


Anonymous Jensboys said...

As the Caucasian mother of two African American sons on the brink of adolescence I grapple with these questions on a daily basis. Can I, and my white husband, adequately prepare our sons for the realities of being Black Men. Does it ring true to them when we explain the different rules that they will have to face, not because we agree with them, but because it is simply reality? When they go to their siblings for solace and comfort, will their own pain be reflected in the blue eyes of their brothers?

But mostly, I know that at the heart of the matter, I am their mother. My husband is their father, and together, along with their first family, we will provide them with the very best that life and love has to offer.

My sons are African American. Of that I am very, very proud. I will do whatever it takes to be the best mother I can be. And that includes admitting my own weaknesses as they appear.

12:31 PM  
Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I am a black man with a wife and one child. My advice is to be candid with your black children. Tell them the truth about America, race and all the stuff--or they will think you are either (1) stupid or (2) a liar. Expose them to black culture, books, poetry and people CONSISTENTLY. But never let them push you around.

At the end of my block, there is a white (British) couple that has a black adopted son who is 6 years old. He rides his scooter up and down the block all day. He is polite and very nice. But he doesn't mind his parents. They chase after him, screaming his name, but never putting their foot down. I kinda giggle, because it's gonna be tuff for them to control him down the road. Black children need to pay quick attention to their parents because the consequences of their misbehavior is far greater than that of whites.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Aly Cat 121 said...

Oh wow I never really thought of that in the terms or way that "Bombsoverbaghdad" put it about if we as black parents don't check our children that "others" will do it for us and it won't be pretty. Because a police officer or the court systems will not care that your parents let you have your way or that you were adopted, all they see is a black man/woman who should be locked away because that's what history has taught them fasely and it is what they truley believe.

That's actually a scary thought of having a child of yours in the system because you were trying to "just love them" and the one thing you tried to avoid wound up being a reality.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think two White parents can raise a racially conscious (strong ethnic pride and racial identity) non-White child if the parents keep the following in mind:

1. You are the parents, so act like it. That means, demand the respect worthy of parents, and nurture, guide, provide, discipline, teach and love this child as you would a White child.

2. Don't let your child "get away with murder", as the saying goes. That means, set standards of human decency and make sure your child lives up to these standards. In other words, "raise him so that other people can stand him".

3. You are NOT Black, so don't ACT like it.

4. YOUR CHILD IS Black, so he doesn't have to ACT, either.

5. Encourage friendships with kids of other races and befriend families who are not White. This will be easy if you have not segregated yourselves into all-White neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc.

6. Let your child choose his own friends when he is young. He will gravitate towards kids who like what he likes, not looks like he looks. Common interests are the foundation of good friendships and relationships.

7. Don't let the media be his primary teacher of what "his culture is all about". After all, television and music is just entertainment.

8.When you don't know, say so. Nobody knows everything. Your child knows this.

9. Don't feel guilty about not having a White child. You chose this kid, now rise to the occasion and raise him.

10. Keep it real. That means, be honest with yourself and be honest with your child when you come face-to-face with racism, as you surely will. We all do.

Lastly, I don't think there is such a thing as "regular" and "basic" parenting. There is "good" parenting and "bad" parenting. Be a "good" mama. You will make mistakes, not because you are White and your child is not, but because there is not a perfect child and there is not a perfect parent.

Hang in there mama!

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Jensboys said...

I just wanted to say that I agree with all of your comments as well. The naivety of raising a black infant child in a white enclave (not that I ever did, but some do) disappears with the onset of school and the ensuing peer issues, parent issues and well, general life issues of being a minority person. Nothing like having an eye opening experience if a white parent is not prepared for that reality.

Providing same race role models for our children is essential. Allowing outlets for their own anger, grief and confusion at race realities are also essential components to being a successful transracial parent. Then ACCEPTING that racism is real and our kids must have the skills to deal with it, although painful, is also essential. No book, no discussion group prepared me for the reality of explaining to my then 9 year old why he was being followed in a store when his white brother was not. Understanding that their reality is not my reality, but also understanding that it is MY responsibility to understand THEIR reality and prepare them for it, rather than expecting them to accept mine.

It includes parenting our boys to prepare them for the real world. Exactly as was said above. Mind ME or someone else will make you mind, and the consequences will only be bigger.

My first post was more the emotional thought of expressing that my children will and do experience a certain net loss by being raised in a trans-racial, adoptive home. HOWEVER, we live our lives by celebrating our family. Our differences, our sameness. Our love, our memories, our shared experiences with different perspectives.

At the heart of the matter, I am the mama of black children. Just like you. I am forever changed by that fact. For the better.

Of note, I would love to see someone write about the perspective of a white child with black siblings. My two Caucasian children experience race on a completely different and altered level than their same race peers. Their self perception is of a minority person as well. Its an interesting and complicated dynamic.


9:13 AM  
Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I have a white friend who has a black brother. Really, they are "step" brothers, but they just call each other "brothers." They go out together and they introduce each other as "this is my brother" and people always do a double-take. It's hilarious. I love both of them. The white one one is super-cool. He's so well-rounded and understanding, as I assume most white kids with black siblings would be.

In the end, we're all just people.

10:34 AM  
Blogger iveyfamily said...

Love this and I too am asking God for that door.

4:48 PM  
Blogger cloudscome said...

Lovely post and wonderful philosophy Kohana! I appreciate all the advice given here too, as I am raising three sons; one white and two black.

What Bombs said: "Black children need to pay quick attention to their parents because the consequences of their misbehavior is far greater than that of whites." really strikes home for me. I was much more tollerant when my oldest (white) son was little, giving him more room to explore and make his own way, letting him learn the hard way, giving him another chance if he ignored me. With my (black) now 4 YO I find myself saying "you must obey me" and not giving him a second or third chance. The stakes seem higher and the consequences more grave, since I think the rest of the world will often not give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't like seeing myself so strict and demanding, but I hope it will serve him in the long run.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Jasai said...

Cloudscome - Your recognizing this truth and acting accordingly speaks to your preparedness to raise black sons who have to live in the “real world” no matter how uneven or unfair this methodology might seem to us as adults.

I believe that your boys will love and respect you for your acknowledgement of the path they have to tread. When you have built a family in the way that many of you have chosen (culturally and racially diverse) it is so important to give each child what they will need in order to thrive and survive and not simply what we needed as children or understand as our norm. And I guess this is really a lesson for every parent, everywhere.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Gee said...

Wow, what a blog and what responses! I am amazed that people are as candid as they are. I am the mother of 3 biracial adopted children and a European husband...I know on the day to day what challenges we face...It is good to know that support is available.

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