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Transracial Parenting: Stories from Our Families (Part 1)

Introduction by Kevin Hofmann

Fifty years ago this August my eventful life began. I was the product of an affair between my white mother and black father and at the insistence of my white mother’s white husband I was immediately placed for adoption. Ninety days later I was welcomed into the home of a white family who had three biological white children before I arrived. This began my introduction into a world and life that would be defined oftentimes by the color of my skin. Our family was a multi-cultural family long before there was such a term. My parents had no role models; no other families like ours to help them navigate this interesting life. They assumed they could parent a child of color in the same manner they parented their white biological children. Soon after I arrived home they realized their good intentions didn’t prepare them for what this new life would bring.

Our family struggled. We struggled with where to live and where to go to school. We struggled with finding a balance where all the children would feel safe and accepted. We struggled with how we were seen as a family that didn’t match, and we struggled with the fact that we would have different life experiences simply because of the color of our skin. Through our experience as a transracial family we learned that a transracial life is a purposeful life. Decisions had to be made proactively to avoid certain struggles. Effort had to be given to find ways to put me in touch with children, families, and role models that looked like me. Important things wouldn’t magically fall in place. My parents had to line them up, shove them forward, push them back, and pull them over.

I wonder what life is like today for transracial families. Would they be more prepared? Do they see color? Do they celebrate color? Do they take advantage of the many resources available to raise confident children of color? Do they struggle with where to live or where to go to school? Do they come to the same conclusions my parents did?

Presented here, three* transracial families share what life is like for them to live as a multi-cultural family in today’s color-conscious world. They’re fortunate to have a support system of other families like theirs, through Adoption Network Cleveland’s Weaving Cultures Transracial Adoptive Family Group.

Kevin D. Hofmann, of Toledo, is the author of Growing Up Black in White. In its second edition, it includes insights into raising children of color and honoring birthparents. http://www.kevinhofmann.com

*One story appears below. Watch for the other two parenting stories in our blog next week.

The Importance of Racial Mirrors
By Michael Cosgrove

My wife, Danielle, and I are white and we adopted children of color, Jaden (11) and Ellington (7) both as infants. For them, we chose to move to the diverse North Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland. Our boys attend Cleveland Public Schools and are active in so many sports—soccer, baseball, hockey, and rugby. Jaden is also an accomplished drummer, and Eli is imaginative and loves animals.

Adopting transracially has pushed us to grow in ways we never anticipated. We both knew that race matters in America, and that we would have to be racially aware as parents of black children. But while we went in with somewhat open eyes, we weren’t truly aware of what we didn’t know. As white adoptive parents of black children, we’ve realized it really does take a village to raise our children. Our children will experience things we can, at best, only know at an intellectual level – we can read books, listen to podcasts, watch movies, and listen to friends to learn about what it means to be black in America, but we can’t experience being black in America. Our boys need a network of connections, both peers and adults, who can give them what we cannot.

One important connection is the one each boy has with their birthmother, which gives our boys a sense of where they came from. We do feel that we can do a better job strengthening their connection with their birthmothers, but at least Jaden and Ellington know who their birthmothers are and can see them on occasion in their open adoptions.

From the start, we worked to provide our children with racial mirrors they could connect with. We were able to find a daycare with a healthy racial mix and, importantly, teachers who were black. Today they attend a diverse school, although we struggle with having only a few teachers who are people of color. But our oldest son recently was selected for a summer program with a strong academic emphasis open only to black boys and led by black teachers. It is important that they are exposed to black adults who are not only athletes, but also professionals such as educators, doctors, and lawyers. It is easy to fall into patterns of what we know, but we keep trying to expand their exposure.

It isn’t just about finding a diverse educational experience, though. Being parents of black children has forced us to get out of our comfort zone. We used to live in a much whiter neighborhood of Cleveland before moving to North Collingwood. But even with living in a more diverse area, we still have to act with intentionality to broaden our social circle.

We have also found that we are now hyper-aware of when we are in a predominately or exclusively white spaces, even to the point of affecting how we plan vacations. Last year we vacationed in Atlanta – a destination we probably wouldn’t have considered had we not been encouraged in a transracial adoption Facebook group to think about race when planning vacations. While at our hotel, our boys were able to look down into the atrium to see so many people who looked like them. It mattered to them. They talked about it. We could see it in their beaming faces. (If it sounds like I’m overstating this, try spending time in spaces where you’re the only white person. You will feel conspicuous. Your children probably feel conspicuous if they’re in mostly white spaces, though they may not tell you because they don’t want to worry you.)

Adoption Network Cleveland’s Weaving Cultures Transracial Adoptive Family Group was an important part of our learning and continues to connect us and our kids to similar families. All transracial white adoptive parents should try to find groups where their children can connect with other kids like them. Black children growing up with white parents have experiences unlike white children with white parents or black children with black parents. Our kids need access to other transracial adoptees – especially adoptees older than them who have grappled with some of the questions they might have as they grow up.

Weaving Cultures alone isn’t enough, though, because relationships with adults who are persons of color are also important. We continue to work hard to expand our social circle, enriching not only the lives of our children, but also our lives as well.