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.