We all want to belong. It’s human nature. As we age, most of us seem to find our own sense of self – our own individuality. Yet, despite our efforts to “find ourselves” and “live our truth,” we usually find safety and comfort in knowing we always have a place to return. A home base. A place we belong. In our society, we expect our family and our home to be that stable ground where we can always land. Sharing a last name, however, doesn’t make you belong to a family. It’s a start, but it’s not the crucial component to creating deep familial ties. You know what does?
Pure love and acceptance of that individual.
When a family enters transracial adoption, it is clear that the child doesn’t look like his parents. There are obvious genetic factors that so plainly state to the world that you are not biologically connected. In a culture where physical appearance is glorified and highly valued, your different-looking family can bring about great insecurities, and for the good-intentioned-full-of-love parent, that insecurity usually puts them in protective mode. Protect the child – the most vulnerable.
That’s what a parent does, right? So it’s common to constantly try to point out similarities – so the child can feel included. It’s common to minimize any differences – so the child can feel included. It’s common to avoid talking about painful pasts, like adoption in general – so the child can feel included.
When parents in a transracial adoption minimize differences and constantly point out the similarities, everyone is cheated.
The good in this is that love is the motivation. But that’s probably the extent of the “good” in this situation. When parents in a transracial adoption minimize differences and constantly point out the similarities, everyone is cheated. That child feels less connected because naturally who he is isn’t fully accepted, or so he may feel. And the parents – those wonderful parents – are cheated from knowing every part of their child.
That is why I felt the pivotal moment of the past episode of This is Us occurred during the conversation between Jack and his son, Randall. There were so many gems during that hour of television bliss, but it all boiled down to Jack recognizing that his son, Randall, is uniquely beautiful and that should be celebrated. They ALL are different, and that’s a good thing. Even with all our differences, we still belong.
Jack goes on to say:
“We always try to treat you kids the same; always have. Hasn’t always worked because, well, you’re not all the same. You’re adopted and we don’t talk about that enough because to me, you are every part my son. And maybe I don’t want you to feel like you stand out. But I need you to know something. I want you to stand out. I want all of you to be as different as you can possibly be, in all the best ways. I love you as much as a human heart can kiddo. You are an exceptional young man. So don’t let your dad’s poor choices make you feel afraid to be different. OK? OK.”
As a white mother to a black daughter, our relationship we have began to strengthen and deepen as soon as we started to talk about race. We began by discussing our obvious physical differences, but since then, we have been able to delve into issues that are more life changing – like understanding that her younger brother has strengths that she doesn’t have, and that’s OK. She has also started to learn how to celebrate others’ differences while recognizing and celebrating her own.
I hope we’d agree that one of the most important life lessons we can teach, and we pray that our children will internalize, is that they are uniquely special and important in this world, and it is because we are each different. Watching this scene the other night reminded me that I never want to hold my children back because of differences we have. Thank you, writers of This Is Us, and thank you Jack for so beautifully expressing a moment many of us feel when we realize how we’ve unintentionally been holding our children back. In my opinion, it was one of the best moments of the season.