Parenting can be difficult. Transracial parenting can be more than difficult, even with all of the rewards it brings. Parents must make ways to nurture themselves -- here's an article to help support you through that important process.
Transracial Foster Parenting -- Nurture Your Resilience (September 13, 2017)
By Lark Eshleman, PhD, and Jennifer Auman, MOM, Program Manager, N-MIECHV (Nebraska – Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program)
If you are reading this, chances are that you feel called to be a foster parent, and that you have the courage to follow through. It’s actually more of an acknowledgment that you have the heart for children, you want to make a difference, and are strong enough to allow your head to follow your heart. As you know, foster parenting is more than sympathizing, or sending money to a cause – you have committed your heart and your home and have welcomed the disruption in your world to make a real, true difference in the lives of children who need you.
From a child’s perspective, the need is strong to find and be accepted by a family that cares. And yet, children in foster care have concerns that most children do not. “According to transracial adoption expert Joseph Crumbley, all foster children, whether in a transracial placement or not, worry “Will I be accepted in this home, even if I am from a different (biological) family?” Children in transracial homes also worry “Will I be accepted even if I’m from a different race?” (from Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (IFAPA), “Transracial Parenting in Foster Care & Adoption - Strengthening Your Bicultural Family”
Our experience is that most foster parents do not care about the race of the children they foster. You see the soul of a child, and welcome that child into your heart and home. However, you may not be ready for the reality that everyone in our country does not share your views, your welcoming spirit, your loving and accepting nature. Unfortunately, you may be surprised.
You see a child you want to help. You see below the skin level. You see the need for love, structure, nurture, and care – for belonging and feeling safe. Others may see something else, and may make things difficult for you or for the children you foster. Here are some ways to be ready – to nurture your own resilience so you can give as much as you can to your children, rather than having to worry about what others, out of their own lack of understanding, say or do.
IFAPA writes in its publication about transracial parenting: “As a transracial parent, have you ever asked yourself the following questions? • Am I doing enough to help my Black child feel a sense of belonging in our family? • How can I better connect my Latino child to his culture, his racial roots? • How can I prepare my daughter for the impending discrimination she will experience because she is Black? • How can I prepare my family to experience racism now that we are a transracial family? • What do I need to do to meet my Korean child’s needs around race and culture? • How can I advocate for multicultural educational materials in the schools?
Or, have you ever been too embarrassed to ask questions about culture, afraid of saying the wrong thing or embarrassed about not knowing the answer?”
As a young Black friend of mine (this is Lark writing) once answered, when I asked if he was comfortable talking with me about his being Black, “I already know I’m Black. I already live with prejudice. Do you think anything you say to me or ask of me is going to be a surprise?” I was relieved and humbled at the same time, and this allowed us to engage in very open and unguarded discussions … I’m forever grateful to my friend who has enlightened me so much!
Being prepared to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to offer the answers that others need to hear, is a critical key in supporting your child – and yourself – when your family becomes biracial. One very important thing about nurturing your own resilience is that you, as parents, have to look inside yourselves – and those around you – to admit and accept that your interracial relationships may not be easily accepted at the park, at the mall, in school or at work. You need to accept that our world may not be as ready as you are. We don’t like to admit that the world has prejudice, and that for many people heart and head may be at war. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, and yes, in some places more than others.
Here are thoughts and suggestions to help you prepare, or deal with, the reality of biracial families in our society. These suggestions are to give you the most support in maintaining and supporting your own resilience. You need and deserve energy and confidence to meet this potentially challenging part of transracial foster parenting. Being prepared will help you be ready and stay full of hope and a positive attitude!
Name it – you may be worried or concerned about potential problems about race differences. There is prejudice in the world – you need to admit, accept, and grow from there.
Resilience is being introspective, looking inside yourself. Being able to admit the feelings and emotions that you have, naming and dealing with them, which means making a plan.
A successful plan could include talking about it, directly and openly, with children (when they’re old enough), and perhaps setting up discussion time with biological parents.
Discussion points or questions for biological family could include, for example: “I want to respect your heritage, your values, and your traditions. Tell me how I can do that.
If your child’s biological family is not available or accessible, then identify someone in the community who can help this child see a face, that reflects themselves – their race, culture, or family of origin.
Ask your local librarians about books for children that are written by and represent their children’s race, heritage and traditions.
Spend time with your child and his or her friends, encouraging questions and freely opening dialogue. Children want help understanding the world, but may be afraid to ask. Don’t hesitate to bring up the topic, and take it from there – and if your child isn’t ready, don’t force the conversation. Perhaps you should wait a while, until there has been “processing time,” and then bring it up again.
Look at new research on how meaningful conversations can happen most easily! Often it’s when two people are doing something completely unrelated – washing the car, grocery shopping, driving or bike riding.
There’s also great new research on coloring books – you might check out www.AboutChildTrauma.org for more information on that subject!
To summarize the conclusions of recommendations made by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, it is recommended that children of color are placed with families who can meet their long-term needs, through supporting connection of the child to his or her own culture, fostering a healthy and positive racial identity, and preparing the child to deal with discrimination. To read the entire report by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, log onto: www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2008_05_mepa.php.
Choose to attend multicultural celebrations, community events, and celebrate multicultural holidays.
When possible, choose doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, teachers, coaches who are of your child’s own race or heritage.
Share information, books, and articles with your child’s school. If it’s helpful, offer to give a short presentation about your child’s culture, including the child in the presentation if he or she is willing. This should be done with the agreement of your child – if he or she isn’t ready, it could be too difficult for them to accept. But it’s good to give it a try!
Another approach to help you and your child feel comfortable with your transracial family is to volunteer at your child’s school to celebrate ethnic history months, i.e. volunteer to read multicultural books, tell stories, collect and share multicultural posters, in the classroom or the school’s library or through your parent-teacher association.
Cover yourself and your child with “layers of protection,” things that make you feel joy, like surrounding yourself with positive people to offer support, doing things that make you happy for no reason other than that do, laughing and playing games or being silly, and having an “Attitude of Gratitude!” It’s amazing how looking for the positives in life change your mood, so bring on the love, fun and kindness!
You want to make sure that you and your child have more layers than the world can “rip off.” The more layers of protection you have, the more protected you are, the better you are at protecting your child. Be ready to go to your “safe place” when the world is not kind. If you can, bring your child with you – teach by example.
That “safe place” can be a physical place, or it might be a meditative space in your own mind. Either way, it’s a place where you can retreat, even for a few minutes, to feel safe and regroup, to remind yourself that you are doing what is right for you, and for your child.
People will say things to you that are unkind, that make no sense, that invalidate your own sense of how things work or what is real. You don’t need their negativity and neither does your child! You know those times when you just walk away from someone’s not-so-nice comments, then later you think of exactly the thing you WISH you had said? Prepare ahead of time what you can say when it happens; something that works for both you AND your child – after all, you’re leading by example. Your children will learn from listening to how you respond.
Now is the time to be prepared to answer questions about transracial families like yours. You might be ready to say, for example, “Love knows no color.” “Every child is beautiful.” “Personally, I love Spanish music!” “Oh, it’s easy to learn how to fix ‘Black hair’ – come over sometime and we’ll give you a lesson!’” This may be yur opportunity to educate! If your personality is to be sassy, be sassy back! If you’re a more studious person, be ready to suggest an article or book the other person might want to read. Just be careful to not offend your child. Remember, sometimes the best response is one that you have considered, practiced, and are comfortable saying. Be ready to say what you mean!
Be grateful. Gratitude is “counting your blessings,” remembering that good things can come from not-so-good experiences. Gratitude brings joy. Joy brings energy. And positive energy equals RESILIENCE!
The world is a scary place, especially for a child who has already experienced separation, loss, and frightening changes. Our advice to you is to be prepared -- surround yourself with people and environments that support you as you foster children who need you. Work on developing your own layers of protection – these are three ways that can help you, your foster child, and by extension, our world to be as loving, accepting, and nurturing as you already are.
All best wishes and blessings to you as your follow your heart’s loving mission!
Lark Eshleman @ www.AboutChildTrauma.org
Jennifer Auman @ Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org