I’ve been wanting to put my thoughts on this down for some time. Be it headspace, emotions, needing objectivity or something else, this topic has been hard for me to engage with critically. I hope to add value in these next few paragraphs. I am neither the expert nor the uninformed, I am attempting to rise above and give reason to pause so that we can perhaps journey forward, not always agreeing but becoming more unified.
My thoughts relate to the narrative between adoptive parents, adoptees, social workers and in fact anyone who occupies a space in between. I have found social media over the last year and especially last few months, to have become a place that allows a narrative which, despite potential best intentions, has been negative, at times toxic and I don’t think altogether benefiting the children whose needs we are trying to meet.
Let’s be clear, we all have our OWN STUFF we are dealing with. We also live in a country where at times we are jaded, overly negative, anxiety-filled and at other times, unrealistic, utopian and sometimes simply ignorant. Social media is also not the best place to seek advice, show vulnerability or simply vent. We are a stressed and anxious bunch, at times reaching for any form of outlet, advice, sounding board and validation. This need is often left unmet and has at times been received poorly and often intentions are misconstrued, mistakes are made and wounds ripped open.
I have spent some time readings posts, comments, articles, listening to podcasts and watching videos/vlogs. Let’s be clear on a few things:
- Social media, in general, is NOT the best place for advice;
- A person’s intentions are often blurred when posting/commenting;
- People appear to be poised to strike when mistakes in language are made, instead of hoping and assuming the best of people;
- Some folks make blatantly biased/prejudiced/racist/uninformed and hurtful comments (these people should be taken to task);
- We do live in a country with a past that requires we don’t simply sing kumbaya and forget what has happened an to whom (It is often those who were not hurt from the past who want others to “move on”);
- There is the space to engage with the past, the realities it brings into the present and still hope and believe for a more unified tomorrow.
I am not ignorant nor am I blind to the realities that we and our kiddos face. But I am determined to not let the past dictate the framework of the future.
I am aware of the existence of white fragility, adoptive parent fragility, implicit biases and the fact that many share things that are not in the best interests of their children in my opinion (but perhaps because they are THEIR CHILDREN and presumably are the ones with the greatest vested interest in their ability to succeed, we should not feel we have the right to publicly vilify them?) Just a thought, perhaps there is another way to engage and bring truth while at the same time honouring one another? Give me your thoughts.
I am acutely aware of the need to engage with race, the fact that my kiddos look different to me and that they will experience a world that sees their colour first and not their character is a reality. I CANNOT be naive and think that this will disappear because they are my children. I also cannot begin to appreciate how difficult it is for people of colour to walk around in a world that still to this day, functions with implicit biases and judges on skin rather than heart. I cannot be so naive to declare that in a country where colour was used as a means to punish that it simply doesn’t matter. I cannot be colour blind, colour matters, it shouldn’t, but simply declaring that I don’t see colour won’t change this fact.
I also am aware that my children need to be aware of and engage with racism. They need the tools to call it out to stand against it and yet still hold their heads high when their oppositions are not applauded by the uninformed/ignorant. I need to make an effort to show my black children that they can become whatever they dare to dream. This means that I seek out people who look like them to be their doctors, dentists, hairdressers, teachers, friends, educators. I cannot raise them in a bubble. They must grow up to become strong confident, proudly black, men and women. I must give them the opportunity to seek out their heritage, to learn about those that have biologically gone before them and not feel threatened, or at least put their needs for understanding before my insecurities. On this though, an adoptee shared the following this week that does provide some perspective and perhaps a point for dialogue:
“It takes a very close-minded person to cherish the past more than the future”
But, the issue of race and prejudice is not the only challenge our kids and we will face. It does seem that this takes center stage in much of the SA narrative on adoption, but it is not the defining factor in my opinion. It is CRUCIAL that we engage with race etc, but not to the detriment of things like attachment, sensory issues arising from trauma, adverse childhood experiences and how these play out in the development of our kid’s neurobiology, physiology, emotions and general development. Trauma is real, relevant and has been experienced by all adoptive/foster kids. We will not serve them as be we should if we use all our energy engaging with race, prejudices, biases and the many transracial challenges, although these are real and hugely important to tackle.
We also cannot, as one podcast suggested, choose against a transracial adoption if we do not have a strong transracial support system. How can we believe this, how can we even suggest this in a country with a little over 1100 adoptions year on year, 3500 surviving abandoned children entering homes and around 500k children in need of families? Yes, I understand your point, but quite frankly, given the crisis at hand we need everyone on deck, willing, equipped, informed of the challenges (often this is not happening) and we need to create a culture that opens up homes rather than placing burdens and requirements on families that causes them to say no to a placement as the colour of their support system does not reflect the child they intend to raise. I find it terribly irresponsible to place this expectation on people in our context. We should instead be encouraging whilst highlighting the need to expand and diversify our support frameworks and then giving practical ways to achieve this. I am not ignorant, but I cannot believe how some of the narratives have preferred to discourage and shame rather than encourage and equip. Our tone is so important. People with more experience and a greater appreciation and understanding of the context and nuances of realities in SA, will better serve others if they seek to impart truth with grace with an appreciation that some people may not be as “WOKE” as they are, but are still on the journey and need help, correction at times, but not language which can be interpreted as judgemental. We need to educate, share, give practical tools based on truth, but in a manner that unifies people rather than polarises different groups. The only way forward is together, understanding that we may be at different stages along the journey, but we are journeying together.
At the same time, having said the above, those who are new to the adoption/foster care space, white families with children of colour, don’t be ignorant. We have no idea what people of colour go through. Don’t believe that you loving your child will change the biases and hurtful experiences he/she may have, purely because they are not white. Don’t downplay the importance of filling their lives with people of colour who can relate, explain and support from a position of experience. We need to put effort into expanding our support systems and yes, it will be uncomfortable at times, but get over this quickly because your children will need it. Your need to avoid discomfort should come far behind their need to learn how to live in a world that has judged and past sentences time and time again, purely based on colour.
Adoptive parents, you have value, you are part of the adoption triad. Yes we must learn from adoptees, we must take to heart the negative experiences they have lived and have these inform how we parent. Yes, we are flawed, we will make mistakes, we will believe we have the answers at times and we will need to take responsibility when we fail. But we are the ones with the greatest vested interest in our kiddos moving into greater levels of healing and becoming, as some have termed “Well adjusted adults”.
Adoptees, we are trying our best. Have patience with us as we learn to parent you as best we can. We will make mistakes but when we do, have grace on us. Never stop sharing your experiences and telling us how to be better parents, how to meet your needs with greater success. For those who have come to dislike or perhaps hate adoption, I personally am sorry. Sorry for the initial hurt and pain of not growing up with birth mom and Dad and then to have not had your needs not met by your adoptive parents. Please know this, adoption is good but people can fail. This is not unique to adoption but all parenting in general. It doesn’t excuse what you have been through or justify any of the pain but I hope and believe for healing for you.
For those who are facilitating adoptions in SA. You have my respect and praise. It is a difficult time for those serving our kiddos. To maintain a positive outlook and to daily engage with the hurts and needs of so many children on a daily basis, with no certainty on the way forward from government, this must be a heavy burden to bare. Thank you for standing strong in the face of great trials.
I think my heart in all this is to say, we are flawed, we have so many problems, we cannot be ignorant and blind to the challenges we face. Yes, some may want to ignore the challenges, stand in the sunshine and pretend that a new day has dawned. But for many, it hasn’t. At the same time, we can’t expect to move forward without a semblance of hope or positivity which can at times masquerade as ignorance.
We live in hope, we have to! I am reminded of Nehemiah and the people of Israel who built the walls of Jerusalem after years of decay and war. They all stood side by side, sons, daughters, merchants, builders, educated, unskilled and skilled alike. United in their goal of rebuilding a wall while at the same time, as they placed bricks into the wall with one hand, the other hand readied itself with weapons to fight back any who would come against them. My point is this, we have a wall to build AND we have to fight, but we also need to do both together, covering each other’s weaknesses, humbly learning from those who have gone before WHILE also graciously and with patience, equipping those coming after us. We have a wall to build, let’s put our energies into getting the job done.