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.


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.


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.


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.


Where Did the Calendar Come From?

- by Avril McInally, Transracial Journeys Secretary

When humankind started cultivating and harvesting our own food, we began using calendars. We’ve utilized many different types: Mayan, Egyptian, Advent, solar, Julian and Gregorian to name just a few.

Early on, we also used calendars as tools to chart the stars or mark natural occurrences like the annual flooding caused by the River Nile. More recently, we’ve used calendars to manage deadlines, schedule activities and remember important anniversaries. What does your calendar look like and how does it come to life? Is it a busy, burgeoning document you carry around with slips of paper falling out, does it hang on a wall and feature a theme of flowers or seasons, or does it exist in “the cloud” only to be accessed by a smartphone or tablet?

Calendars and Parenting

It’s the end of summer and we’re sending our children back to school (online, in person, or home school). Our calendars are beginning to look a little different now as they’re filling up with deadlines, assignments, exams and quizzes, parent teacher conferences, and sports or cultural events. As we busily fill in our commitments, anniversaries and engagements for the next few months, which special days are we marking that are specifically important not just to us but also to our children? Which holidays can we add to celebrate the cultures unique to our families? As you mark down the birthdays of everyone living in your home, will you include the birthdays of those who do not live under your roof that may live in our hearts and minds?

Tools for Reclaiming the Calendar With Your Family

The Egyptians prepared for their annual flood. How will you build up your own scaffolding to overcome hectic or traumatic times? As you plan for the year ahead, remember to build in time to process emotions, to rest after busy times, and to have fun! However you work your engagements, anniversaries and holidays into your calendar, don’t forget to also build in the supports you need to make it through the rough times. Just as our children have big ears, they also have big eyes. The calendar may not only be viewed as a tool to managing your schedule, but it can also be a tool through which your children see you taking the care to include things that are important to them.  Below are more tools and ideas for reclaiming the calendar with your family.

The calendar is the perfect tool to:

  • Celebrate the special moments and prepare for the harder ones
  • Honor every person in the family who is connected to your child and you
  • Ensure you are making time each month to talk with intention about adoption and differences of race, culture, and class.

Read more about using your Transracial Journeys Conversation Cards.

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


Who Do You Love?

In February, we honor Black History and it’s also the month lean into love.  In April’s February card for identity, she opens the door for children to ask parents: “What is one thing you love about yourself?” and “What is one thing you love about me?”  Let’s break those questions down a bit more….

Whether you sit down with your children or not, ask yourself, what do I love about my child? Write down your answer. I know there’s loads to love about our kids. I bet your list is really long. Once you’ve written down some things, come back to this article.

Black History and love come into play for families specifically like ours, families that are Black and White. In your list, did you write anything about loving your child’s Black culture, their Black heritage, skin or hair? How are you expressing your love of your child’s racial identity?

Our Relationship With Black History, Black Friends and Racial Identity

Black History and love come into play for families specifically like ours, families that are Black and White. In your list, did you write anything about loving your child’s Black culture, their Black heritage or even their Blackness? How are you expressing your love of your child’s racial identity?

A friend once asked how to help his child form friendships with other Black children. I asked him, do you have any Black friends yourself? Does your child see you loving Black people in addition to them?  This dad had no Black friends, so it wasn’t any wonder that his child didn’t have any either. How can our kids be or achieve something they’re rarely exposed to?

Ask yourself, do I just love my Black child or do I go further and have relationships with people that are Black? In working to build these relationships, we’re not only availing ourselves of the joys of new friendship but we’re also showing our children we don’t just love one Black person, but many. And remember, children are often noticing and internalizing things even when they don’t always have the words to articulate how they feel about things.

Sometimes, walking this path can be lonely. My Black child didn’t want to participate much in reading about Black history or literature. My Black child didn’t want to attend marches with me for Tamir Rice. Tamir was shot and killed by police outside the very city recreation center we attended for swim meets and family art classes. My Black child didn’t want to attend Black museum exhibits with me much either.

Some White friends and family members thought I was crazy for raising my kids in the middle of the city. It was alienating for me and I didn’t have the support of Transracial Journeys families because some of this happened before our small transracial adoption support network existed. I walked, I cried, I attended, I viewed, and I listened for years often alone. If either of my children came along with me to these events, it was more often my White daughter.

I didn’t realize until recently that doing these things was an act of love and support for my Black child and her racial identity. All along this journey, she was really watching me with big eyes. I know now that doing all of these things not only contributed to the growth of my child’s racial identity, but as she grew, it set down more of an ease to have conversations about race that were initiated often by her. I know it made her feel much more certain of my love for her because I worked for relationship and community with other people like her.

If I could go back in time and ask advice from “future Avril”, I’d love to have heard,

 “love your child, love her culture, love her family of origin… just love her people and in turn, you love your child and your child will have a better chance to truly love themselves””...

This post is from our February, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Black Excellence – bell hooks

Buy the cover art→  Art by Monica Ahanonu for TIME

Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks (September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021)

This month, we celebrate bell hooks and her contributions to race, class, and culture in her many books, and in her work as a feminist and as a professor.

In her book “All About Love”, she wrote that we put more emphasis on love as a noun, but she asked her readers to use it more like a verb. In the same book, she referred to M. Thomas Peck’s definition of love as

“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

We have a lot to learn about our relationship to love, loving ourselves and loving others.  Dr. Hooks has left us a legacy of instruction in her body of published work.


‘Tis the Season to Reminiscence

What does it mean to reminisce?  I have difficulty spelling the word, never mind fully understanding it.  After a quick search, I found a few accessible definitions. These included a story told about a past event remembered by the narrator, and the enjoyable recollection of past events.

However, for our families in particular, reminiscing isn’t always a rosy experience. Sometimes, it can be a thorny one. Digging deeper for more meaning, I found the term differently-defined  in a Merriam Webster dictionary.  Hold on to your hats!

  • Apprehension of a Platonic idea as if it had been known in a previous existence
  • Recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact
  • A remembered experience
  • Something so like another as to be regarded as unconscious repetition, imitation or survival

Often, we search for warmth and meaningfulness in our memories and reminiscences, especially during the holiday season,  but they’re often laden with events that can activate thoughts of loss. “Reminiscing together, and sharing feelings and memories about the people who are not present brings everyone closer,” writes Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C, but that isn’t always necessarily the case. She states that it is important that parents “understand the complex feelings around the many losses that adopted children have experienced.”  Krebs goes on to write, “I remember the teen who had never had a Christmas tree and did not know what to do when invited to help trim it… and another child whose birth family was often homeless and had no money to buy food or gifts, who felt guilty and overwhelmed by what she received from her new family.”

Celebration Can Magnify Grief

Recalling past events can bring forth happy memories as well as difficult ones.  “Know that the joy of celebration can actually magnify our grief,” writes adoption professional Elise Lowe. Lowe describes how to recognize behaviors in our children that may stem from this emotion. Those include: angry outbursts, being withdrawn, anxiety, irritability or having trouble sleeping. These things can happen when difficult memories are being revisited, or when we are reminiscing, but we can help our children cope.  Lowe says we can respond to these behaviors with sensitivity, support and compassion, and  notes that being empathetic builds attachment.

Consider Ways to Offer Support

What else can we do? In the rush of holidays December brings, it’s important to slow down and pay attention to our kids, share our feelings and honor theirs. For children that may have memories of holidays past, ask them about their traditions, says Krebs. We can also consider the following.

  1. Don’t erase those who look different from the rest of the family. Adult transracial adoptee Rebekah Hutson, asks that we make our transracial families multicultural and points out that this is especially important during holidays and anniversaries.  “Just imagine looking around your family… Family, the people who are supposed to ride for you, and seeing all the love, laughter, and support for certain people, and then complete erasure of others who look different.” “Don’t just include us in your family, treat us like family; become part of our family.”  Trauma can be lessened when you keep your child connected to their culture.
  2. Be aware of and prepared for sensory overload. There are loads of stimuli during the holidays and they can be overwhelming. Simply switching on the tv and seeing all the movies and commercials related to happy families and unrealistic expectations can overload our circuits.  For kids with trauma in their background, consider maintaining an environment that’s predictable and consistent in order to soothe their nervous systems.
  3. If your child remembers their biological family, ask them how holidays were celebrated. Work together to incorporate some of those traditions into the season. If you have an open relationship with your child’s family of origin, consider nurturing this relationship even more at this time of year. Krebs outlines that our children can write letters or emails, draw pictures and send cards or make phone calls.  You could plan a holiday celebration to hold on a visit with biological family members too.
  4. Social worker, Krebs describes some accessible activities in her article “The Holidays - an opportunity for loving healing”.  They include adding some old, favorite holiday foods to the menu, or “lighting candles in memory of ALL loved ones not present.” She mentions one family she worked with that “made a paper chain containing all the names of both birth and adoptive family members and hung it in the doorway for all visitors to see.”
  5. Seek out holiday songs from your child’s culture. Listen to them and try singing them too.
  6. Be on alert for any actions or behaviors from friends or extended family that may harm or isolate your adopted child. If this does happen, talk to your child about the problem as well as talk to the  people who have   harmed your child. Always stand up for the rights of your child, be clear with others and be your child’s protector and advocate.
  7. Be culturally expansive about holiday traditions. Have everyone  share something they like about the holiday as well as talk about their favorite traditions.  Decide to incorporate some of these old favorite traditions from all members of the family, and turn this into your own, new tradition.

This post is from our December, 2021, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.