Nearly 13 years ago, my husband and I adopted our first child, realizing our dream of becoming parents. We adopted twice more in quick succession, and each time our capacity to love grew right along with our family. Almost immediately, we became “accidental” advisors and role models to other adopting parents, fielding phone calls and inquiries from people looking for advice and guidance, especially around the topics of international and interracial adoption. The only thing that made us “experts” on those topics was that we had encountered them first, yet we did our best to provide help as we could.
Two couples on our block adopted after we did, and one of them became an interracial family in the process. We all talk from time to time about our experiences, sharing stories and asking questions, probably to affirm what we are doing.
At a recent block party, my neighbor told me that she, her husband and their second-grader were set to interview for a spot at a private, Christian school. The school appealed to them because it is more diverse than the highly ranked, but predominantly white, public school attended by all of our kids.
My neighbor explained that her daughter sometimes comments that she doesn’t like being the only African-American in her class. My neighbor then asked me whether I thought switching schools was a good idea. In response, I asked how often the topic comes up and whether her daughter seems truly bothered by her minority status. “It comes up occasionally,” she said. “She doesn’t really seem bothered, but she’s still so young.” The mom confessed that it was she who was worried about whether her daughter was in the right school, explaining that she wondered if the girl would be happier in a school with more African Americans.
I was immediately reminded of the “conspicuous families” training that my husband and I took when we were getting licensed. The social workers advised us to think about how adopting a child of another race would impact our child, our extended family and each of us as individuals. The social workers asked if we would be willing to move to a more diverse area for the benefit of our child — not that we had to, but were we willing?
At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around why we would leave such a great community (a town that people move to for the great schools!) to have a more diverse experience. There was so much to love about our community – including that great, public education – that it would seem ridiculous to move elsewhere! Would safety be an issue in another neighborhood? Would we be as happy elsewhere as we were in our current community?
As humans, we often fear what we do not know or understand. Moving to a new neighborhood or school (or starting a new job or joining a new club) arouses fear in us. We want to feel safe and happy and well informed and accepted. No one enjoys the experience of being lost or rejected.
At the block party, my neighbor told me that her only hesitation with the school they were considering was its religious affiliation. She wanted to be sure that there was nothing “weird” about it – not because she suspected there was something weird about it – but because it was different than her experience as a Christian. She said that her husband wasn’t concerned about that at all; instead he worried that the complexity of getting their daughter to and from the school would negatively impact the family.
Fear, anxiety, and the desire to do the right thing: all are normal human emotions! Could I say what was right for my neighbors? Not a chance. They are completely different people than the adults and kids who make up my family. Could I share with my neighbor my kids’ observations about being brown in a predominantly white community? Yes, and I did.
I told stories about their experiences and said that the kids’ concerns about being minorities ebbed and flowed. I explained that the kids’ interest in the topic varied by child. And I said that my kids love their school and their friends and their town and have said time and time again that they would “never” want to move. But that was not to say that her daughter felt or would feel the same way.
As parents, we have to make tough choices — choices that support and honor our kids and prepare them for lives apart from us. We do our best to gather information and to think through all of the angles, and then we make choices that we deem best for the kids we love so very much. Often, it seems, we just hope and pray that we were right.
Marcy McKay is married and the mother of three fantastic children (ages 10-13), adopted from Guatemala. She recruits board members for the Gift of Adoption Fund and serves as a volunteer fundraiser. She is also a freelance writer with expertise in healthcare.