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.