I became a first-time, adoptive father in August of 2002, when my wife and I traveled to the People’s Republic of China to meet our new daughter, Aimee. I have been loathe to write much about the experience as I didn’t feel it was my place to wave her life, and the circumstances (as I knew them) of our adoption, in public. I did, however, spend the first few years communicating a great deal with other parents of internationally, and transracially, adopted children. I’ve decided now is the time to start sharing my thoughts and recollections. This is an email, dated October 13, 2005, I sent to a Yahoo group used by most everyone who used the facilitator we did – U.S. Asian Affairs – to help us with all the issues our adoption from the PRC required addressing. Most of the people who adopted Chinese children are white, and the issue of racism was even more difficult for many to discuss back then than it is now. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in response to a statement by a fellow AP (adoptive parent):
As my father used to say, “you hit the head right on the nail”. While abandonment issues are the most obvious, they exist because of something that happened at a time certain. That isn’t to say they don’t continue to affect our kids in numerous ways as they grow; just that the fact of abandonment is something that happened in the past and must be dealt with in that context.
Race, on the other hand is (unfortunately) an issue our children will almost certainly continue to deal with all their lives. How we approach it is of paramount importance in how they will cope with it. My research tells me (as do my gut instincts) that parents who choose to believe they can ignore it, or that it really isn’t a major issue, are setting themselves and, tragically, their children up for some major problems.
Once again, I urge all adoptive parents and all prospective adoptive parents, especially families where both members are Caucasian, to learn as much as you can about the realities of racism. I am talking here not merely about the most obvious aspects (such as outright bigotry) but also about the institutionalized and insidious aspects of racism. Those of you who have not given it much thought (this is not an indictment, merely a recognition of reality) will be shocked at some of the things you learn.
Additionally, I can’t stress enough how important it will be to let your children lead the way with respect to their lives. I believe love consists of two major components; affection and respect. I know you will show great affection for your child. It’s important as well that you show them deep respect and you can do this by learning how to listen to them. Children should not be seen and never heard. They should be heard first and foremost. Trust them; listen to them; make sure they will always talk to you and you will become their allies in a battle they will have no choice but to fight.
Know also that you are not in this alone. There are numerous resources out there for you to learn or gain strength from. We should all be thankful for Rick, Karin, and all the folks who contribute to the discussions here on China33. Traveling to China to receive your child is just the beginning of a lifelong journey and you have the opportunity to take it with a large, supportive community. Take advantage of it. Your kids will thank you.