Creating New Traditions to Reflect Our Families and Celebrate Their Identities

author: Avril McInally

For most of us, holidays can be a little overwhelming. Do we have all the candles we need for our Menorah or for our kinara? Have we gotten our holiday lights and decorations up? How are we managing our budgets? Is the house tidy and clean enough for our house guests? Do we have enough food? Speaking of food, what about those special recipes we need to prepare? Do we have all of the proper ingredients? And the gifts? Did we purchase enough gifts to make sure no one is left out or one child gets more than another? These are the scenarios for most families at Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Yule, yet what of our families? Our families manage these aforementioned holiday traditions of hosting, eating and gifting as well as creating space for our adopted children, their race, the family they were born into, their culture, their religion and more! Read our previous post: ‘Tis the Season to Reminiscence

Because our families rest at the hub of multiple aspects of identity, we visit the idea or concept of intersectionality. Some intersectionalities that help to describe our families include race, gender, sexuality, adoption, age and religion. We have several aspects of intersectionality to honor, celebrate, foster and sometimes protect too. There’s a little more “juggling” for us to do to manage these precious aspects of our children’s or family’s identities. One way to celebrate “us” is to create new traditions that reflect our families and celebrate their identities. Read our post about the conversation cards this month December - Reflections: Making and Breaking Traditions 

Traditions are a way for families to connect and memorialize important life events. To adoptive families, creating traditions is more than a way to bond, but it can also be a great way to commemorate each family member’s roots. By incorporating activities that celebrate birth culture, adopted children can develop a strong sense of identity.

This year, I’m going to work on creating a holiday card for our family with my family. I’ll make a list of our intersectionalities with my adult daughters. Black, White, Adopted, Not Adopted, Atheist, Immigrant, American, Cisgender, Female, Male….. You get the picture. Then, we’ll draw a Venn diagram of our family’s identity and decorate it. Heck yeah, “This is Us”! This is who we are with some holly on top! This could be a new holiday tradition for us. If you start this tradition now with young children, you can save your cards every year and watch how your list morphs or matures.

In addition to creating and honoring traditions, it’s important to make time to honor our extended family of adoption as we gather to eat a special meal, to light a candle, to build a fire on one of the longest nights of the year or simply when we tuck our children into bed at night. Remember it’s important to honor and/or acknowledge the family members absent from your home. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” yet at the height of festivities and anniversaries, our children may be experiencing loss and sadness. Make space for children who are processing these emotions and thoughts and love on ‘em a little more and give them space to talk about their feelings. Let’s build traditions of inclusion, empathy and love!

This post is from our December, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


December – Reflections: Making and Breaking Traditions 

The December holidays give us an opportunity to think about traditions tied to different cultures and religions. Regardless of what you and your family honor and celebrate, we can be inspired to take a closer look at what traditions mean to us and how we can expand our thinking and actions.

December Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send out cues for conversations each month. Our Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions. Below are the questions for December. Before getting started, read the parent pro-tip each month.

December Pro-Tip for Parents: Resist the urge to hold tight onto traditions that may be holding you back from fully embracing new ideas that may better honor your child’s culture. Also think about simplifying or modifying some of the traditions you now honor to make room for new ones.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• As a kid, did you celebrate any December holidays?
• If so, which ones?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Were there things that you would do year after year as a family during the month of December or maybe other months of the year?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some new traditions or holidays you’d like to learn more about and/or try?

This post is from our December, 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Book Corner: Holiday Guide 2022

From Newborns to Adults

The Book Corner is a regular favorite in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters and parents are always looing for age-appropriate books with themes of diversity, inclusion and adoption.  The Book Corner's creators, Avril McInally, MLS and Victoria Richards, MLS, bring us this Holiday Guide for 2022 - a great roadmap for picking books as holiday gifts for our families and friends.

Click on the image or the link below to download a 9-page annotated bibliography for families formed by transracial adoption with a focus on the intersectionalities of adoption, race, ethnicity, gender expression and identity. 

Download Holiday Guide 2022

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. With a Master of Library Science from Kent State University and over 35 years as a public librarian, Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.   The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.


Nourishment: Reflecting on Thanksgiving, Adoption and the Family Table

author: Avril McInally

Our November theme is all about family and nourishment but not simply about food and what we eat, but how we nourish our understanding of the uniqueness of our families and in service of the children we are entrusted to care for and love.

This month we center on both Thanksgiving and National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM)! This year NAAM’s theme is “Small Steps Open Doors”. One step we can take as adoptive parents is to participate in the online training available from the National Training and Development Curriculum for Foster and Adoptive Parents. This curriculum,

“is now available and free to States, counties, Territories, Tribal Nations, and private agencies. The curriculum encompasses more than 38 themes that include contributions from adults who have experienced foster care and address topics such as parenting in racially and culturally diverse families, trauma informed parenting, and maintaining a child’s connections.”

Thanksgiving and NAAM

At the intersection of Thanksgiving and National Adoption Day, which is held annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, while we traditionally center on the joy we also need to make space for the challenges that come to our literal and figurative table. Days commemorating adoption, as well as the history of Thanksgiving, can be challenging for those of us who have been adopted as well as for indigenous people in the United States. We, as families formed by transracial adoption, have a unique and lived perspective of coping with related challenges in this nation. As we continue to move through the more complex layers of our modern lives, we can ask ourselves an important question - how can we celebrate or commemorate Thanksgiving and NAAM? Related post: Adoption: A Three-Sided Coin

Deciding What Holidays to Celebrate

In the past, we’ve shared thoughts about Juneteenth and Independence Day, and how different families decide to celebrate one holiday over the other. What we choose to put on our calendars and how we choose to celebrate or give a moment’s grace to our anniversaries is personal to each one of our families. This year, we encourage all families to work on threading the strands of National Adoption Day and Thanksgiving together at the Thanksgiving meal. Let’s give thanks for family, honor the adopted children entrusted to us, and continue to process the history of Thanksgiving and how it plays out in our lives today. As children advance and grow, we can encourage conversations and connections to adoption and differences of race. Regardless of how old children are, there is an opportunity to explore the important elements of identity and connection.

This post is from our November, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Black Excellence: Daniel Smith 3/11/1932-10/2022

This month, we mourn the passing of Daniel Smith who died at the age of 90. His life of activism and his pursuit of civil rights very probably stemmed from being the child of Abram Smith, who himself was born into slavery in the 1860’s.

In multiple interviews, Daniel has recalled stories of his father’s experiences under slavery and the ensuing era of Reconstruction.

“At night, Smith would sneak out of bed to hear the stories only his older siblings were allowed to consume. From lynchings to horrid punishments, the stories were gruesome.”

Being raised the child of a former enslaved person along with his 5 siblings, he later came to acknowledge seeing his parents as,

“...followers of the “twice as good” philosophy — the futile belief that black people must perform twice as well as whites just to be considered equal. And beneath the sunny message of how extraordinary the Smith children were lay Abram Smith’s stories of slavery with their frightening symbols of brutality.”

As a young man, he served as a medic in the Korean War. Upon returning to his home in Winsted, CT in 1955, he was dubbed, “Danny Smith, the Negro hero of the town,” for rescuing a drowning man from a flood.

He later attended the Tuskegee Institute to pursue a career as a veterinarian but he left the program after the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in order to join the Civil Rights Movement. Then, Mr. Smith went on to work on many endeavors related to race equity and civil rights. One such accomplishment was his work as a literacy advocate with migrant workers. This provoked retaliation from the KKK but it didn’t stop him from continuing to work on behalf of the movement, as his life was filled with similar endeavors until his retirement in 1994.

Click on the links to read more about this man’s remarkable life.


The Persuaders and Transracial Journeys

Our Transracial Journeys organization is included in a book by a best-selling author to be released in October.  This post is to provide our families some background and context and was written as a collaboration by Avril McInally and April Dinwoodie. 

In 2018 we were approached by best-selling author of Winners Take All and award-winning former New York Times columnist, Anand Giridharadas. He was writing his next book that centered on an insider account of activists, politicians, educators, and everyday citizens working to change minds, bridge divisions, and fight for democracy. He had heard of Transracial Journey's mission and the work we are doing to offer practical tools and support for families experiencing transracial adoption and thought it should be part of his research.

Anand at TRJ Family Camp 2019 for Research

Because we fiercely protect the community we have nurtured, we thought long and hard about how best to engage with Anand. After several conversations with him and a lot of thoughtful discussions with our board we agreed to invite Anand to our Transracial Journeys Family Camp in 2019 with the understanding that the community we create is a sacred place and if invited in without a direct connection to transracial adoption it would be imperative he abide by our guidelines for engagement. We prepared families that were attending camp and clearly articulated what it would mean to speak to him "on the record".

This October, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy will be released by Penguin Randomhouse. As Anand describes in a pre-release article,

"I wrote THE PERSUADERS because I want those of us who believe in democracy to prevail against this dangerous ongoing revolt against the future....I set out to find the activists, politicians, educators, organizers, and others who are doing the work of persuasion when others aren’t and who I thought had something to teach us all. I talked with them, followed them, and then wrote a book about their quest, in a time of great crises, for a politics fierce and unapologetic enough truly to change things and smart and expansive enough to change the minds to get there."

Transracial Journeys Featured in Anand Giridharadas Book

A recent reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote: “[Giridharadas]] interviews progressive leaders who seek to maintain their principles while appealing to the unconverted without denouncing them as bigots or alienating them with politically correct dogma.”

The second chapter of the book, Can Love Change A Mind?, features discussions Anand had with Transracial Journey leaders, parents and race equity trainers at Bellwether Camp in the summer of 2019. You may recognize some of the interviewees. As you read, keep in mind the preceding quote. We, as parents of transracially adopted children, sit in the landscape of this book with some amazing global leaders and activists all of whom have their own agendas and lived experiences.

Having had the opportunity to listen to adult transracial adoptees over the years, it is becoming more and more apparent that our kids and families in particular sit at the junction of more than one intersectionality be they race, adoption, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and more. For a lot of the world, adoption is not considered an intersectionality. If it were, then there would be far less adoption jokes. This particular intersectionality isn’t addressed in “our chapter”. It’s not really part of the author’s thesis or theses, but it is ours. So let’s start talking this up and engaging those who don’t have awareness of this aspect of our children’s identities. After all, that’s the modus operandi of this book.


Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

 

In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month


Mental Illness Awareness Week and Masks of Perfection

author: Avril McInally

This year, Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) runs from October 2 to October 8. In April’s deck of cards for October, she asks, “Do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?” This question resounded and rested heavily on those of us attending a recent Transracial Journeys’ Board Meeting. You could have heard a pin drop after one of our board members solemnly spoke of an associate’s child who had just committed suicide.

To bring this closer to home, this child was a transracial adoptee. They were the kind of young adult who seemingly had every opportunity at their fingertips. A child whose parents beamed over their accomplishments and a child who never did anything but please those same parents exceedingly, as well as the society in which they circulated.

“Adoption is often forgotten when speaking about trauma, leading to a form of disenfranchised grief, which is grief that is not typically acknowledged or validated by society. Both the trauma and the unrecognized grief may contribute to significant mental health issues.”

What sort of mask was this child hiding behind? Were there any outlets or therapies for their grief?

When working with this month’s cards, pay close attention to the relationship card and what it asks. Then, ask yourselves if our children wear masks to please us? Consider having a dialog in which we encourage our children to drop their masks in order to share their anxieties, experiences and fears with us. They need to know that they don’t have to wear the masks of perfection or excellence to be safe with us.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has themed this year’s MIAW “What I Wish I Had Known”. You can visit their website for an itinerary of their accessible programs and perhaps, in participating in this program or having honest and safe talks with our kids about the masks we wear, we’ll not have to ask ourselves what we wish we had known.

This post is from our October, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Whether you participate in Halloween or not, October 31st has many children and the young at heart dressing up in costumes and wearing masks. Today, the pandemic has given many of us cause to wear masks to protect ourselves from the COVID-19. But what is behind the masks you don’t see? What do they reveal? While having these discussions with your children, consider Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 2 to October 8. Read how this week can have unique significance in our community in our article "Masks of Perfection."

October Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp and available for purchase. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for October. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

October Pro-Tip for Parents: Think about the symbolism of masks and how you might mask your feelings about adoption and differences of race. What can you do to tap into those feelings and let them show in healthy ways? Do you recognize when your child might be masking their feelings? “We Wear the Mask” - Paul Laurence Dunbar

CARD ONE: IDENTITY (child asking adult)
• Did you dress up for Halloween as a kid?
• What was your favorite costume?
• Did you wear a mask?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS (child asking adult)
• Do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE (child asking adult)
• Have you ever tried to hide/mask your feelings?

This post is from our October 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp!


Using Transracial Journeys Conversation Cards

In our post, Where Did the Calendar Come From?, we discuss how the calendar is the perfect tool for celebrating certain moments while preparing for tougher ones. For honoring each person in the family who is connected to your child and to you. And to ensure you're making time each month to talk with intention about adoption and differences of race, culture, and class.

In this post we discuss how best to incorporate the calendar and your Transracial Journeys Conversation Cards into your monthly routine. 

Transracial Journeys Conversation Cards

Unless otherwise specified, the questions on each card are designed for the children to ask the adults/grown-ups. Here is a suggested weekly breakdown for using the cards each month.

Week 1: Parents prepare and reflect. 

  • Read the parent tips for the month.  
  • Using the activity deck, review the month’s theme and prompts
  • Check-in with any emotions that come up for you and discuss with your partner, a trusted friend, or loved one
  • Be intentional when thinking about the best time to create the family ritual

Week 2: Pick card 1.  Child reads/leads discussion
Week 3: Pick card 2.  Child reads/leads discussion
Week 4: Pick card 3.  Child reads/leads discussion and close out the month with any insights, challenges and new ideas  for the next month.

Parents/Grown-ups: Read these tips before you jump in with the young people entrusted to you:

  • Explore the calendar and deck on your own and think about the prompts/questions - maybe even write a few things down
  • Have conversations with other trusted grown-ups first and anticipate any questions that may come from the children/young people
  • Be sure you are centered and ready before diving into the conversations
  • If you already have these kinds of conversations with children/young people, challenge yourself to take it to the next level 
  • Explain to children their role and how they will be able to ask questions to you as their parent

Tips

  • Notice how you felt before, during, and after the conversations
  • Notice any conversations that come up within a couple of days after you have your family “calendar time” and maybe even send yourself a calendar reminder to check in with your kids in a few days - “I was just thinking about how (insert feeling here) it felt to talk to you about (insert topic here) and wondered how you were feeling?
  • If your kids want to skip a month or a week, give grace but you, as parents/grown-ups, should still make the effort to explore the questions/prompts without them
  • If you are inspired, ask follow-up questions to keep the conversation going

One-Page Parent Guide for Using the TRJ Activity Deck Cards

This post is from our September, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.