If you could see me right now, you would see me jumping up and down and dancing around my living room. I’m just so excited to re-introduce the Spotlight on Mixed Race Families – a feature I ran waaaay back in my first year of blogging and have been dying to start up again. I’ve got some incredible families lined up to share their stories and I can’t wait for you to meet them all!!!
And what better person to kick things off than the awesome Rachel Garlinghouse of the blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar? I first came across Rachel’s writing about a year ago, when she wrote a beautiful piece on approaching transracial adoption with humility. In addition to be featured on sites like Babble to Huffington Post, Rachel is author of two books for adoptive parents and a children’s book. (Yes, I’ll include links to all of that at the end!)
First, a little about Rachel’s family…
My name is Rachel, and I’m a former college teacher turned author, blogger, and speaker. Steve and I have been married for twelve years. We met at a church coffee house event when I was just sixteen, and afterward he took me to Denny’s and bought my hot chocolate. I was shocked because all my previous boyfriends never paid for any of our dates. This guy was chivalrous, cute, and kind! We married in 2003 in the same church where we first met.
Three years into our marriage, I got very sick and was taken to the ER in a condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Essentially, the body becomes toxic. I was saved, to be cliché, just in the nick of time. My diagnosis: type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease. This was a very difficult time for us. My disease has no cure and is managed with insulin therapy (I wear an insulin pump) and lifestyle choices (exercise, diet, and stress management). I immediately knew that we would choose to adopt; I knew how difficult pregnancy with type 1 diabetes could be.
Fast forward to today. We live in St. Louis with our three kids, all of whom we adopted at birth. Our adoptions are domestic, open (we have ongoing relationships with our kids’ birth families), and transracial (our children are Black, and we are White).
As a family, we love to travel (the beach is our favorite, especially because we live in the very middle of America where going to the beach is a wonderful adventure!), create art, play outdoors, and watch movies (while eating a ridiculous amount of popcorn).
When it came to adopting, how did race factor in?
When we were first waiting to adopt, we were only open to adopting a child who racially matched us. It wasn’t something we gave a lot of thought to. We just swiftly checked the “Caucasian” box on the openness form our agency gave us and moved on. However, as time went on, we realized we could parent a child of any race. We lived in a racially diverse community, we were friends with many other adoptive and transracial families, and we had the support of our “nearest and dearest.” We met with other transracial families, read books and articles, and talked with our social worker. After four months of soul-searching (praying, discussing, etc.), we decided to be open to adopting a child of any race. We took our decision seriously, and we parent with empathy, education, and empowerment.
What does being a multiracial family mean for you as a parent?
Being a transracial family means parenting and living differently than we would have if we had chosen to have biological children or would have adopted White children. There are things like learning to do our children’s hair, intentionally forming close relationships with people of color, and being engaged in the issues that the Black community faces (because what they face is what our children will face). Two years ago, we found a Black female college student to mentor our daughters. We also have an awesome friend who braids my oldest daughter’s hair. We realize that we aren’t enough for our kids when it comes to them forming a healthy, confident racial identity. They need to learn some of who they are (and who they can become) from people who look like them. We know that love isn’t enough when it comes to parenting transracially, though love is certainly a great foundation.
What advice would you give other parents in multiracial families?
To anyone considering parenting transracially, my advice is to make the decision out of education and honesty. Putting “colorblind” glasses on isn’t wise. Seeing your child’s color is essential. It’s their reality, and their color is something to be celebrated, not ignored. Not every prospective parent lives and works in a place that is healthy for a child of color. The person should also have a diverse group of friends and have a supportive “village” around them to help them navigate the challenges that come with parenting transracially.
How have you changed as a result of being momma to three brown children?
Being a mom to my children has changed everything. I have a much greater understanding and depth of empathy for people of color, because we are now a family of color. Our family faces microaggressions (for example, strangers trying to “pet” my girls’ cornrows out of curiosity or stereotype-spewing like my kids are good dancers because it’s “in them” as Black people), interrogations (“Why didn’t you have your own kids?”, “How much did your kids cost?”, “Are they real siblings?”), and plenty of stares and second-glances. Equally as disturbing are “compliments” like “Your kids are so lucky!” (no, we are the lucky ones) and “It’s so nice you gave those kids such a good home” (assuming my children came from dangerous, poverty-stricken, promiscuous birth families). I’ve had to become a stronger, more assertive person, because I know that I’m modeling behavior for my children.
I’ve become aware of just how overwhelming and disheartening it can be to be a person of color in America. To not be believed, to be suspected, to be seen as less-than or second-class. Right now my children get to experience some of my White privilege (by association), but the days are coming when they will be places without us: at the mall, at the park, walking to a friend’s house, trying to date. We have to prepare them for the discriminations they will inevitably face. (Just this year, my son was called a “cute little thug” by an acquaintance. He is TWO YEARS OLD.) It is heart-breaking that in 2015, the racial divide in our country is growing, particularly with the many stories of Black men and boys being murdered and the polarizing reactions to their deaths.
I’m honored that my children’s birth parents chose me to be the kids’ mother, and I take my “job” very seriously. Though our family stands out to strangers, my kids are my REAL kids. Our love for each other is authentic. Despite the challenges I face because of my disease, I wouldn’t trade my diabetes for anything. Without my disease, I wouldn’t be mothering my three kids. They are my world. I see so much creativity, beauty, and possibility in their eyes. They are going to do big things, and we, their parents, will be there for them…every step of the way.
Here are those links you are looking for!