Our unplanned, multi-racial family had started off in the usual way, with the birth of our first and only biological child.
The family grew, through numerous adoptions, to the unusually large number of eight children. As you can probably tell, our story isn’t intended to be didactic; it’s simply the story of a non-traditional family, which I hope provides ‘anecdotal’ evidence (literally) that interracial families work in much the same way that conventional families do.
Like all families, we had our problems.
Some of the children had trouble developing their identity. Jason went through a transition where he related to being black and wanted to immerse himself in ‘black culture’. He had several scholarships and chose to go to a university in Alabama, where he was surprised to learn that some of his classmates had never spoken to a white person. Many of the students there were prejudiced towards whites, so for the first time in his life, his white heritage was a problem. This experience taught him that racially mixed people can encounter problems no matter what cultural choices they make. When he returned home, he began to identify with both white and black cultures.
By contrast, Jessica and Scott seemed content to let their Chinese heritage play a minor role in their identity. They were both very pleased to be part Chinese, but weren’t bothered by the fact most people took them for ‘Caucasian’ or that only Chinese people seemed to recognize their Chinese background.
Angus is of Acadian descent, but being raised in New Brunswick gave him a positive attitude toward his heritage, despite the fact that he doesn’t speak French.
Although Nadine grew up in Toronto, in a black community with a distinct culture that she identifies with, she chose to live in New Brunswick, where she is a visible minority.
Jade, our biological son has of course been exposed to what I would describe as a multi-racial and multicultural background, and this has had an effect on his identity too. At times, curious people who haven’t felt bold enough to approach his parents or his siblings have often approached Jade as the person who might best be able to explain our family.
Children who are older when they are adopted can bring a lot of baggage with them. Scott and Jessica had been in many foster homes before they came to us, and when they first arrived, to them it was just another home. They were not sure how long they would be living with us, and they’d had no continuous relationships with anyone other than their social worker and their dentist. In their short lives they had experienced repeated rejections. It took a long time for them to understand and accept the meaning of the term ‘family’.
Angus had been shuffled from relative to relative until he was thirteen years of age. He was very lonely when he came to live with us, and he was also puzzled as to why we wanted him. He felt alienated and unable to believe that strangers could love him, but at the same time, he was excited to join our family. For a long time, he did not like explaining his situation to other people, especially those who wanted to know where he was living before he became part of our family.
Recently we have discussed the family with Jade to find out what he thought of the transracial family that was imposed on him. He has been very positive about our family, because he feels that a transracial family has enlarged his view of the world.
Once the children were grown up and had finished school, we asked them if they would like to find their biological families. We believed that the decision to search for their family roots, or not to, should be made by each of them personally. Some of them did choose to seek out their birth parents. Jessica (who had come to us with her brother Scott) said she would like to find her other siblings, although Scott wasn’t interested in doing so. We took Jessica to the provincial adoption department and they showed her their records. When she saw the information on her background, she had a difficult time absorbing the information, but she made contact with her biological mother and with a sister. Jessica and her ‘new’sister became such good friends that the sister is a frequent visitor to our family gatherings.
Angus already knew most of his biological family and is still in contact with them. Jason has no desire to find his, but Aleta is presently looking for her birth family. I had been involved in the adoption of Megan’s biological brother and sister by a friend, so Megan had contact with them throughout her childhood.
One of the reasons the children searched for their biological families was that they were very curious to see a person who looked like them. The search for biological parents did not bother Howard or me, because we believe that the more people you have to love you, the better are your chances to be happy.
Families don’t have to be white, middle class, and consist of a couple with two kids, to be normal. Adoption can be good for children and parents alike—most people agree with that. But the adoption of older children and children of different races can also have a happy ending.
The controversy over transracial adoption usually focuses on the importance of children being raised among people of their own race. Although we recognize the value in that point of view, we believe that having a family, regardless of one’s race or traditions, is more important than not having one.
Transracial adoption is not exploitation; it’s just practical. We are born with roots, but roots can also grow through adoption. Canada is fast becoming a mixed-race country, and we are part of a world that’s often referred to as a “global village.” In many places, people are paying less attention to racial identity.
In 2006 we had a family reunion, and for Howard and me, it was a dream come true. We now have 11 grandchildren, ranging in age from one month to 15 years old. The mix of racial overtones is apparent in our grandchildren, and like most children of mixed races, they are extraordinarily beautiful. When you include Howard and I, the children, their spouses, and the grandchildren, there are 24 of us in the family.
For the seven children we raised, the experience of having children of their own and seeing them play together in the home that they themselves had grown up in brought back many childhood memories. It prompted some of the children whom we’d adopted when they were older to talk about their lives prior to (as well as after) becoming a part of our family. They still have memories of their lives before adoption and are cognizant of the insecurities they experienced.
For Howard and me, part of the pleasure comes from watching our grown-up children together, because the respect and affection they feel for one another is obvious. These feelings are evident, too, in the way that they help each other out whenever there are problems with their own kids: they help each other find solutions. They make sure their kids get to know one another and develop connections to everyone in the family.
We have always known we were blessed by having children, but the wonderful part now is realizing that our children place more emphasis on family than on the fact that they have missed some of their cultural heritage.
Watching them with their children has made us realize that they have both roots and wings. Because they have both, they continue to return home, and we remain a family with strong ties to each other. In the end it is family, not race, that matters.
Our children have grown beyond our beliefs and values, having to a large extent developed unique values and beliefs of their own. But in the end, what we will always share is that common root system that wound its way through the years, nourishing each of us as we grew individually, and as part of a larger family.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem