Days after watching the movie Adopted, my head is still swirling with thoughts. Though the movie features international adoption and we have opted for domestic adoptions, I felt that the message was screaming at me. How are you raising your daughter? Does she understand her worth? Does she understand she has value as a young African American girl in this country? And in our home? Am I teaching her to feel comfortable in her own skin? And even more importantly, do I validate her pain, confusion, and loss? Because all of this is real.
When we began our adoption process and chose our preferences, race wasn’t an issue for us. We easily checked the box next to “Any.” Skin color didn’t matter. It’s all about the heart. And our heart had no restrictions. Though all of that is true, we naively entered our new life when our beautiful child with rich satin skin was placed in our arms. For me, it was absolutely love at first sight. Every part of me knew this was right and that she was who we had been waiting for.
Early on, I knew my daughter was aware of our physical differences. But it wasn’t until years later that it hit me, deeply, of my responsibility to not only teach my daughter . . . but to listen to her, and even just sit with her as she cries about things that I don’t understand. Because I’m white. And she’s black. And I grew up with my biological family, and she isn’t doing that. I realized that there was a huge part of her life journey that I would never understand. And I didn’t have to. But I had to be here for her.
This movie addresses that.
And we all must watch it.
Especially if you are the parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend . . . of a child who is a different race than the rest of the family. Please watch it.
The movie revolves around two different families. The one family is beginning the adoption process, choosing to adopt a baby from China. I felt so many of those early memories come back . . . the anxiety, the fear, the love. They are just beginning and there is such hope that shines through. I see the adoptive parents’ naiveté. I felt as if I went back in time and relived pieces of my life. And there was so much joy. So much joy.
And then there was Jenny’s story. The movie follows her at the age of 32. Korean American. Adopted. Loved by her family. But lost inside. Oh there was so much that she said that made me stop and assess my parenting. I actually paused the movie to take notes because some of what she said was so profound to me. When my own daughter is 32, I want her experience to be different. And it can only be different if I learn from others who have been through it.
So often we bathe in our own joy. Adoption is a difficult process and journey. So many logistics. So much heartache. And then . . . Joy. Love. Bliss. We ride that wave for a long time, thinking that we are a family now and all is right. But so much more than just paperwork needs to be processed in order to truly create family connections. We don’t have to understand what our children go through, but don’t we need to try?
I was impressed by Jenny’s brother, Eric. As her brother, he was there for her. He didn’t try to convince her of her feelings, tell her she was wrong, or that she should be grateful. (Please, no one ever ever tell my kids they should be grateful.) No. All he did was listen and say, “I get it.” He validated her loss and her pain. And because of that, in a way he was Jenny’s rock.
Her parents, bless their hearts, wanted what was best for her. They wanted her to know she was loved. And instead of allowing her to share anything about her sadness (questions about her birthmother, her culture, etc) they just expected her to feel as they did. They just plainly expected her to feel 100% a part of the family, just as they felt about her. And yet, there’s a huge part of her life she knows nothing about. She does have family somewhere else. What about that family?
I can only imagine what Jenny must have felt when her mom said, in reference to Jenny’s birthmother, “I don’t care about her.” She didn’t say it meaning to cut her down, but rather, Why should I think about your birthmother? She’s not a part of my family. I don’t care about her. Oh, how that cut deep into my heart . . . and I’m not Jenny from this movie. When it comes to adoption, Jenny shares, “You only got her because she was abandoned and she knows that at a younger age than you can imagine.” That’s a painful thought that many loving adoptive parents want to shield their children from. But in doing so, are we causing more pain? I submit that we do.
I loved the way she worded it when Jenny said, “Families adopt. Adoptees adapt.” So simply put, but she explains how throughout her entire life she was adapting to try to fit in. My own daughter has said to me that she doesn’t fit in with our family. She told me this when she was only seven years old. I didn’t tell her she was wrong, though there were plenty of reasons I could have listed off to “prove” she fit in perfectly. Instead I asked her, “How does that make you feel?” When she confided in me, I asked her, “Are there ways that you do feel you fit in?” Luckily, some of what I consider the deeper reasons were what she held onto . . . but these other comments about how we look verses how she looks are not superficial. They are real and painful.
Jenny shared with her father, “I adapt to you guys all the time because I’m the only one who’s Asian. And I want you to meet me halfway […] if I’m really your daughter, as much as a blood daughter would be, then you’d be out there making sure things are right for Asian girls or all people of color. Because you chose a child of color.”
So. Where do we stand? I’m directly speaking to white parents who have adopted children of another race. Where do you stand?
Do you understand that on some level your child feels, or may feel at some point, a sense of abandonment?
Do you understand that it’s not your job to fix that, but it’s your job to be there when the pain hits?
Do you understand that because you are white, you cannot understand what it’s like to be your child? No amount of love that you have will fully protect them from the pain of being so obviously different from their family. I know this sounds severe . . . and maybe it’s not the case for everyone. But most of us neglect to consider even the potential for these feelings because we are so happy they are our child.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends: the jokes you make, how lightly you take the issue, “mildly racist” comments (if there is such a thing). . . they all leave a mark on that child’s soul. From my own experience with my daughter, all the jokes and comments are stored in that child’s heart. And then one day, if you are lucky, she shares them with you. And you hear the hurt in her voice and the pain as she shifts her eyes away from your own. Words matter. Even if it seems silly to be so careful, if you truly love this child, as you would blood . . . change your words towards more softness and tenderness.
And finally . . . what are we doing? I turn my attention specifically to white parents of black children. Our world is intense. We have seen case after case of police brutality. Listen. This isn’t a Black Lives Matter political statement. This is an I Love My Kid statement. ALL. Lives. Matter. But does YOUR child know that their black life matters? If you love them, even when you mess up and don’t validate them as you should, they know it. They feel our love. And it empowers them. That’s what love does. It gives us a sense of mighty worth that is divine. And yet, I came across a video this week on Facebook that shocked me. No amount of love protected this young man. He needed knowledge.
We must teach our children, because we love them, that they will be judged and treated differently because of how they look, specifically because they are black. Statistically, black boys and men, in particular, will face racism that may result in more violence. White brothers and sisters of black children will be treated differently, and they need to be taught how to properly handle this, how to stand up, appropriately, for their family members. Our black children need to realize that while they are talking out of turn in class with their white friend, the black child will get the warning. Some will argue that it’s just circumstantial . . . and maybe it is. But there will surely be times when it’s not. Our world, our country, has come a very long way, but there is a long long road still ahead. If we do not prepare our children for the most definite possibility that they will face racism, we are doing them a huge disservice. And as in this case, it may be nearly fatal. Oh please, don’t let our desire to protect our children from pain get them killed.
Teach them. Advise them. Protect them with that painful knowledge that they will be treated differently, that they will be hurt by words, and that the sting will be great. Encourage them to aim high. Remind them that there are thousands upon thousands in this country who stand for goodness – you as their mom or dad, are one of them – and that you are all making a difference toward positive change.
Even in fairy tales that end with happily ever after, there’s a villain. And it just takes one. Snow White nearly slept for eternity because she was so naive that someone may want to harm her. That villain was disguised and that costume hid the truth of the woman’s intent. Likewise, there will be people our children trust who hide behind a disguise. They won’t see the racism coming until they are knocked over by it. We hear about policemen, but it could be a teacher, priest, or doctor. Don’t let your child be naïve to the fact that there are rotten apples who hurt people. As you have seen in the news and read online, there are far worse things than sleeping until True Love’s kiss. Don’t ignore this reality. If they aren’t prepared for it, the damage could be great and irreparable.
And yet we must have balance. How do we teach and prepare our children without instilling fear? It’s an excellent question for another article. But don’t let that be your excuse for not talking about racism in America.
If you are considering transracial or international adoption, watch this movie. If you already have a transracial or international adoption, watch this movie. Does Jenny’s story reflect every transracial or international adoption? Of course not. But let’s take an hour to educate ourselves so that we too will be prepared. Because you know what? We love our kids more than we ever thought possible. So let’s act. Let’s protect all children of color. Because whether we realized it when we chose our children of color or not, as Jenny put it, we are now in that camp. Let’s meet our kids halfway. Let’s get out of our comfort zones and adapt, just like our kids have to every single day. I want my child to know that all of who she is is worth standing up and fighting for. I may never protest on a bridge, but I can surely find a way to do my part.