The Transracial Adoptee Experience
[MS] You’re listening to Together by AGCI, I’m Madi Salvati.
We’ve been doing some major unlearning these days. And part of recognizing our position as a predominantly white, faith-based ministry is continuing to have tough and uncomfortable conversations about how we can do better. We want to continue to amplify the voices that matter deeply in this moment, and quite frankly, that means not recording another episode driven by our own thoughts, ideas, and understanding at AGCI of what’s happening in the world today. That’s why we asked our friends at Be the Bridge, Tiffany Henness and Gina Fimbel, to help us have a conversation about adoption, race, and faith, and how we can start moving forward.
Be the Bridge is a community of experts on the issues of racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. Founded in 2016, by speaker, author, reconciler, and bridge-builder, Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge is committed to educating people on cultural intelligence and racial literacy. It is an education platform and resource to encourage racial reconciliation among all ethnicities, to promote racial unity in America, and to equip others to do the same.
Tiffany is a biracial Asian/white, transracial adoptee. She has experienced and learned how to articulate what it’s like to be the child that adoption is meant to help. She is an expert and can speak to the racial and religious dynamics of the adoptee experience. She applies her passions on adoption, race and faith as a member of the leadership council for a local chapter of the Safe Families for Children movement and consulting with and creating content for Be the Bridge.
Gina is the Transracial Adoption Educator and Operations Assistant at Be the Bridge, as well as an adoptive mom. I initially reached out to Gina since I knew we used the Transracial Adoption resource from Be the Bridge as part of our learning platform for our adoption education tool at AGCI. After discussing the initial idea for this episode, Gina introduced me to Tiffany whose story would be invaluable to having an honest perspective about transracial adoption. I should mention that Tiffany is not an AGCI adoptee and Gina is not an AGCI adoptive mom, but we want to keep reaching outside of ourselves as a ministry to gain more perspective and understanding. We want to believe at AGCI that there’s greater understanding of the transracial adoption experience, the healing process involved in that, and what that means as image-bearers of God with each generation of families who choose to work with us as an agency and platform for education. But we’re not bulletproof. We get it wrong all the time. And we want to keep recognizing that. We also want to help heal and mend the trauma that is inevitably involved in the transracial adoptee experience.
I should also provide a word of warning if you are listening with your children that there are some sensitive ideas and topics discussed related to adoption and trauma.
So, thanks for being here for this everybody. I’ll stop explaining so we can bring on the real story-tellers and experts, Tiffany and Gina.
[TH] My experience, uh, living the adopted life, I kind of could say has, um, different chapters in it, right? So, you know, I was, I was adopted the day I was born. Um, so I was an infant adoption sort of raised, uh, the first chapter of my adopted life was just one of love and being in a family that really, you know, did their absolute best to help me understand what it meant to be adopted. You know, it was, they knew I was going to know because I, I am biracial Asian and I don’t look anything like my family, my adopted family, so that they knew they couldn’t hide it from me, but they really, they tried to do their best to give me, um, a positive view of my place in the family. And in that first chapter of adoption, I would say there was just, um, you know, it was, it wasn’t something I thought a lot about. I trusted, my family said that this was, you know, this is good. I was, I was adopted, I was, I was lovingly, um, given over to, to them to raise, um, for my best interests. Then I just took it at that. And kind of, I, you know, as a kid, I was more focused on, uh, being cool or boys or school, you know, I just never thought critically about it. And I took for granted maybe, um, a lot of things about, um, about experiences as an adoptee. And if I did, and I looking back now as an adult, right, I can see more clearly some things I experienced. And I do recall that there were some feelings I couldn’t articulate and there were questions I didn’t know how to address. And so I just kind of suppressed them. Um, and I just moved on with my life. And that was like my first chapter, the second, uh, sort of transitional chapter was, um, being an adult, you know, so this is like five years ago, and becoming a mom, myself, having my own child, um, experiencing family in a very different way than I ever had before. And that chapter was really just, um, blowing the lid off of, of everything and realizing that, um, it was time to start to confront what it meant and how adoption had impacted my life, um, and face that, and really look at the good and the bad, and the hard, and the great all together. And it was very overwhelming. Um, it was, uh, the time when I was sort of deconstructing what I thought being adopted meant and what, what I thought my story was, and then realizing as an adult, some of the things I was doesn’t make sense anymore. Um, and I didn’t feel good about it anymore. And it was during that chapter, actually, that I found Be the Bridge, and it’s during that chapter that my racial identity, my adoption identity, and even my faith identity as a Christian, all of it had to be deconstructed. And, um God I believe providentially connected me with Be the Bridge because that is the first place, the Facebook group that was Latasha started. It’s the first place I found the language and the words. And I heard about these things being spoken from a Christian, biblical perspective. And I realized that even though all of this was hard. And even though all of this was, was making me, um, flipping my perspective on some things, I was no longer the happy adoptee who assumed everything was great now becoming, you know, the quote unquote angry adoptee who was like, wait a minute, this wasn’t, I don’t feel good about these things, you know, but knowing that God was with me through it. And that even though I had to change my perspective, that like, gosh, Be the Bridge just gave me so much language to, to be able to finally express things I had suppressed, to be able to know what resources to look for to be able to grieve and lament with God over the things I had never grieved or lamented about being adopted. And so then the third chapter is kind of like where I’m at now coming into a reconstruction phase, where now being an adult and having a bigger, more full and complete view of what it means to be adopted. And it’s still a growing process. It’s an ongoing process. I am reconstructing, um, what that means and rebuilding my faith and rebuilding my, my, uh, developing a healthy racial identity, one that incorporates all of who God made me to be and telling my story. And that’s part of the healing process, really. And, and, um, and I kind of, it’s interesting to be in this, um, in this phase of rebuilding and reconstruction, uh, because it’s also a phase that I have to, I have to separate out like there’s division. There’s a lot of division in my life right now. My, um, many people in my adoptive family aren’t happy about my changed perspective. And so there’s a lot of division and I feel like what’s happening in the world is like mirroring, you know. There’s a lot of folks who, with the racial tensions in the world, or with all of the things going on out there, the pandemic, you know, it sort of mirrors this, like life wasn’t what we thought it was guys, you know, things weren’t as good and easy as we thought, look at all of this hardship that we need to finally confront and face in the world. Um, and, and we’re wrestling with that right now. We’re struggling with that as a nation, as an entire, you know, as a church, um, the whole world, um, and there’s division. And yet, I see in that, what, what I call like breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs. You know, I see that this as a necessary growth process. Um, and it’s hard. And, and yet I still believe God is good right now, so . . .
[MS] I think that’s, that’s so beautiful. And just, I think acknowledging that hard space of tension, even, that we’re in and just trying to take, you know, the right steps forward. It’s not perfect, but it’s steps forward. That’s what I think, you know, we need to keep remembering. And Gina just, um, I’d love to get your perspective on this too. You’re, you’re an adoptive mom and just as, you know, transracial, adoptee educator, what is your take on, um, on that and acknowledging, you know, you know, the dark, I guess there is like that dark underbelly as we’ve talked about before, just of adoption and what goes into that? Um, what has your experience been like as an adoptive mom in that process?
[GF] Yes. Well, I think I entered into adoption just very naive to, um, quite frankly, the racism that has infected many of our community systems, but also the system of adoption, both international and domestic adoption. So, um, I have adopted both ways, both internationally and domestically. And I think as adoptive parents, we are not really taught to think critically about the heart issues and the world of adoption. Um, and that is one of the goals of Be the Bridge is to help adoptive parents begin to do that. Um, because, um, you know, adoption is not just a transaction that happens in a vacuum that is separated from larger societal issues. And so really the vision behind, um, Be the Bridge and stepping into this space of transracial adoption was to, um, create, um, a catalog of information that, um, would really think critically about those heart issues. Um, and, and give white adoptive parents, specifically, the tools to understand, um, even the privilege that we have to adopt. Um, and so, yeah, I think, um, you know, adoption practices, they do evolve and change over time. You know, transracial adoption was not really a common, um, and accepted practice in our country until I think the sixties. And so now we have a couple of generations of adult adoptees who are beginning to speak out about their experiences. And one thing that we believe at Be the Bridge is that adoptees are really the only experts about their lived experience of being adopted into white families. Um, and what we saw at Be the Bridge is that many times adoptive parent voices and experiences are centered in this conversation. And so, um, that is what we’re trying to do. Um, you know, as Maya Angelou famously said, do the best you can until you know better. And then when you know better, do better. And we, we have to know, we have to know better by listening to the voices, uh, like Tiffany’s, and there are many other voices speaking out as well, because adoptees are not a monolith, you know, just like people of color are not a monolith. Tiffany is not speaking for all adoptees, but I think the more that we posture ourselves and our ability to listen to experiences the better chance our children are going to have to thrive.
[MS] Agreed. Yeah. That’s so important. Tiffany, just with that, with Be the Bridge too, in your experience, what part of, you know, working with them and having that platform, what is, what has that experience been like in terms of amplifying your voice and having a place to do that? What has that been, been like for you?
[TH] Um, gosh, it’s really been transformative. I, um, you know, Be the Bridge is the first space. Uh, the Facebook group was really the first space where I saw anybody amplifying and centering the voices of black, indigenous, people of color or, and, and, or, um, adoptee and transracial adoptees. I, um, I had grown up with a perspective of adoption that was shaped by my parents, right? So, um, it wasn’t until I was in a space where I saw the transracial adoptees themselves being heard and having their experiences being pushed to the center that I realized that that is what I had, um, my own view my own life, but then from my parents’ perspective until that point. And so I, I think it was transformative to be involved in Be the Bridge and to see that being modeled and to listen to other adoptees who were saying things that, um, gave me words for things I had felt and things that I had experienced, but didn’t know how to articulate. And so now there’s this empowerment, right? There’s this understanding that I need to actually start for myself to make sense of what has happened to me in my own life and what it means for me to live out, being an adoptee, cause it’s something that will impact the entirety of my life. Um, we have, I think I grew up understanding or sensing that adoption was something that happened to children. And once an adult, you know, went on to live their own life, they were just an adult. They weren’t an adoptee anymore. It wasn’t relevant anymore, but I’m realizing as I’m an adult, that the reality of being adopted actually impacts my entire life. There will continually be things I experience and I will not know until I get there, how adoption, um, being adopted will, will cause me to experience that differently or in a certain way that, um, is different than my non-adoptive friends or family. And, um, and so, yeah, Be the Bridge was, was what helped me realize I, um, I had a voice that I needed to, uh, to actually look at my own experiences as an adoptee and come to terms with what that meant. And then it gave me a place when I was ready to start voicing those things and to be heard. And that’s incredibly healing. I heard, I don’t know who said this, but I heard it recently, you know, trauma happens in isolation, but healing happens in community. And when people who have suffered or we have pains when we are, our stories are heard, there is healing and being heard, and Be the Bridge is a place that, um, I have found so much healing in the fact that I, I am able to come with something that I’m like, Oh man, like, this is a part of my experience that’s painful. And it’s heard it’s that, you know, people listen. And, um, and so it’s encouraged me to continue to flush out my own story and to find a way to tell it, and it benefits me, there’s healing for me, but I also recognize how it benefits, um, people who love adopted people, adopted people, right? Like I have so many friends who someone in their family has adopted, or people like Gina that I’ve connected with either who are raising, um, children that they’ve adopted and hearing as many different adoptee experiences as possible helps us to better be able to understand what it is like from the adoptees’ perspective, not the parent’s perspective, but what it’s like from our perspective. And we can better listen and help one another. I know there’s a lot of mental health issues in the adoptee community. I have the privilege of being able to join in these private Facebook groups and chat groups where suggested adoptees, nobody else, and the things that we share in there is raw and it’s deep and there’s pain, okay? And, and it can be very hard to recognize that, um, when all you have ever heard is the parent perspective of adopting, how do either acquire us or raise us. That’s what I hear about when I Google adoption or, or adoptee-something related, I usually get something that’s facing the adoptive parents and it helps parents better parent, but I don’t get a lot of information out there as an adoptee. How do I live this life and walk this tension, and deal with these difficult things? Um, so . . .
[GF] Tiffany, one thing that I would love to be sorta talk about, um, from your perspective is the commingling of spiritual language and biblical language around, um, adoption because, um, All God’s Children is certainly a Christ-centered organization. Um, and at Be the Bridge we are, as well. That is really the foundation, um, of who we are. And so one, um, eye-opening, um, you know, aha moment I had was understanding just how harmful it can be for many adoptees to, um, to hear those types of phrases, for instance, like we adopt because, uh, you know, we have been adopted into the family of Christ and so commingling, you know, earthly adoption and the system of adoption with spiritual adoption. So I don’t know if you’d like to talk about that at all, but I’ve, I’ve found that some of the things that you’ve shared about it has been really helpful for me.
[TH] Yeah. I, I’ve written a lot about that last, um, last year I did a whole series about, um, adoption in the Bible or, or what we have come to see as adoption in the Bible and how it has shaped, how we talked about adoption. Cause I was definitely raised in a Christian home. I was definitely raised to believe that opening your home to a child in need was a very Christlike thing to do. And I agree, I still believe that’s true. Um, but as an adoptee, I definitely see the harm in over spiritualizing certain things and, and creating a relationship between the adoptive parents and the child that’s mirroring, you know, Christ and sinners, right? And so, um, so as an, the, um, if we say adoption is gospel, for example, and we start to create this equation where God adopted us. So in the New Testament, Paul the Apostle has four different times where he talks about this, um, change in our relationship when we are saved, there’s a change in our relationship with God. And he uses this legal term, um, which I’ll probably butcher it: “yiothesía.” Um, in the Greek, he uses this legal term and it gets translated in English as adoption. Okay? So it’s a legal concept that they had, um, during that time. And Paul was an expert in the law. So he probably was geeking out over this legal, you know, metaphor he was using, but it’s a great metaphor, right? And, um, but in that equation, in our salvation, uh, we were sinners, worthless, you know, nothing, no righteousness in us, and yet God adopts us into his family. And now because of that, we have access to all of the wealth and riches of God. And we are forever in his family. There’s nothing that we can do to annul that relationship, it’s a beautiful metaphor for salvation. But when we’re talking about humans adopting children, right, we never want children to believe that they were worthless than there was nothing, you know, nothing good about them until they were adopted into their family and then had access to all the wealth and riches of their family as if their worth came from being adopted and they didn’t have any inherent value aside from that. And so, even though I know no Christian adoptive parents would ever have that perspective, right, toward their adopted children, when we use the language of salvation and adoption and gospel, and we use it so closely with how we adopt children, here’s the thing about kids: we hear something when we’re a kid and we, we don’t fully understand, but we will fill in the blanks in our kid, in our kid mind will fill in the blanks on our own. We, we might not even know how to ask, um, what about it makes sense to us, and I have a four year old. So, I see this happen in real time now, where I’ll say something, and he comes up with this wildly wild conclusion that is not anywhere near where I was going with it, right? And that’s the thing I think it’s tricky with kids is because for me, I wasn’t a questioner as a kid. I would hear people use religious or spiritual language about adoption. And I just made up and I drew connections in my head that were wrong conclusions. And I got to the point in, um, my young adult life that I had a whole host of really confusing ideas about God and salvation and my worth, um, that, that were never explicitly told to me. Um, and I think that there I have, I’ve spoken with, I’ve been around a lot of adoptees who were raised in a Christian home. And to be honest with you, a lot of our, as an adult adoptee, um, a lot of our tendency to maybe reject the faith of our adoptive family is because we’re rejecting these false narratives, these things that do not line up, um, because these we’ve used spiritual language to talk about human adoption, about adopting children, um, today. And we reject that when we become adults, some of us, and we realize that’s not healthy. And, um, I think it’s really God’s Providence that I didn’t start thinking about these things until I was, um, in my thirties. I think my faith in God was one where I could question my, uh, what I had been raised at these religious and spiritual things. I could question that without completely just throwing the whole Bible and God in the trash altogether, you know, cause I, I definitely, um, like I said before, I had to deconstruct some of these commingled ideas to come out with, God, what is the truth here? Like I, you know, I don’t see how adoptive parents are saviors. They’re not saviors. They’re not, you know, these, they’re not Christ, they’re, they’re humans who are trying to do good, but they’re not saviors. You know, um, only Christ is our savior. And so I think, um, I think we need to learn a little bit more complex, a little bit more, um, adoptee- friendly ways to talk about our face and adoption and spiritual concepts, and the reality of adoption so that we can help kids growing up, not, um, not falsely conflate these ideas. It can be really damaging to our understanding of who God is and therefore who we are and what our value is as image bearers of God. Um, when, when we put this savior narrative into adoption, um, and there’s, there’s so many other things I could go on, but I’ll, I’ll stop there. Does that, does that help?
[GF] I think that’s so good, Tiffany, honestly. And as you’re speaking and just thinking about, um, also how adoption trauma is just glossed over in many ways. And I think that could be part of that. Um, you know, the, the savior narrative could play into, um, an adoptee trying to stuff it under, you know, under the bus, um, not the trauma, not being acknowledged that they can talk about it. And you talked about, you know, adoptee spaces being real and raw when it’s just a space for you as an adoptee. And, you know, sadly I learned that, um, an adopted person has a four, uh, they’re four times more likely to commit suicide than they’re not adopted peers. And so we can do better, I think. Um, and I think part of that is just recognizing, acknowledging the trauma and helping adoptees heal from the loss of their first families. Um, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a wonderful adoptive family. That’s not what I’m saying, but that’s not going to erase all the pain of losing first families.
[TH] Right. And when we talk about adoption as if it mirrors salvation, you know, as someone who is saved in Christ, I do not look back to my, you know, my sin and think like, Oh, that is, I, you know, like I am glad to move on into a new life and not look back, right? But with adoption, for an adopted child, um, that is a terribly dismissive, like you’re saying, dismissive of the reality that when we go from a first family to an adoptive family and we look back as adopted, as adopted people, we look back to our first family and we shouldn’t be like, Oh, I’m so glad to, like, get rid of them. Like we need to grieve the loss of that. We need to acknowledge that that was not, it’s never God’s plan to separate families, right? This fact that we have adoption and that it’s this, this, this function. And if it is a product of brokenness and sin in this world, it’s not, what’s never gone first choice for me. And I need to look back and grieve what might have been or grieve what never could have been, but just acknowledging that. And even though I was adopted the day I was born, um, which by the way, today is my 36th birthday. Today is the day that I have to learn how to sit and reflect on that. I have to grieve, thst today was the day I was separated. Even though I know that the family that raised me was loving. He still have to believe that, like I had to grieve that brokenness in my story. I spent probably the first thirty some years of my life. Um, not acknowledging that there was any grief there, if there was anything that, that hurt me, that was, um, that I needed to eliminate. And now, now I have to do that to be whole. If adopted families are, aren’t able to separate themselves, like this over-spiritualized narrative and to get into the reality of what a lot of adoptees who have grown up and they’re adults now, and we’re talking about all of our different forms of how the trauma manifests in our life. It’s different for all of us, you know? Um, I mean, I have some friends who they’re, they were adopted when they were older and they were adopted from families that were dangerous. It was a necessary removal from a dangerous first family. And yet they still grieve the loss of it, right? They still grieve that their family wasn’t the safe and loving family that they should have been, that they deserved to have. So, there’s that grief is still valid and it, we still need to make room for that. We should never say, well, aren’t you so glad that like, at least you’re not with at anymore or that you had a better life? No, like that over-simplified narrative of adoption completely erases part of our humanity. It doesn’t allow us to be whole people. And so part of my brokenness is, is part of my wholeness. Like that part of my story is the bigger picture of me that, that, that needs to be acknowledged, needs to be heard. And it needs to be brought to God. I can’t give God something I’ve never acknowledged exists in me, can I? So how can we tell, can I, as a Christian, if you’re a Christian parent thinking about raising your child, how can your child learn to go to God with their grief, if they’ve never acknowledged or been allowed to acknowledge that they have that grief, right? And so we’ve got to allow, um, and create space for the awareness and the acknowledgement of that. And then as a Christian, I say, so that I can then, as an adopted person, fully come to Christ and say, God, like help me with this. This is too heavy, a burden to bear.
[GF] Yeah. That is so helpful, Tiffany. And I would, I just want to hold space for, um, the morning and the grief that you’re holding today. Um, and I’m sure other days, as well, and thank you for sharing that. Um, and I also would add that as adoptive parents, I believe part of our role is creating those spaces and opportunities for our children to talk about that grief. Um, I think it’s so tempting for us as adoptive parents to say to ourselves, well, my child is fine. My child’s happy, you know, and, in many ways I’m sure their children are happy, but on the other hand, um, you know, we have to help them process the loss that they, that they have experienced. And so that is up to us, not our children. We need to lead that as adoptive parents. And I think it needs to be an ongoing conversation and not just a one time, a one time thing.
[TF] You guys gotta be ready, you know, for that to happen at any point in your child’s life. For me, I’m in my thirties now, you know? And, um, it’s harder. I think for some people in my adoptive family to, to hear me out because I am an adult and this shouldn’t matter anymore. Um, but you know, sometimes kids aren’t ready, sometimes, you know, my self protection mechanism to just stuff it down was really strong. I spent a good part of my life, um, the first 25 years at least, saying, Oh, it was so great to be adopted. And I might even adopt myself someday because what a great thing to do. And, you know, just complete like a very narrow minded, simplistic view, um, because for many reasons, but by the time I finally felt safe enough to look at the bigger picture and to go into those deeper waters, um, a lot of folks in my life had sort of put me in this category of, Oh, she’s happy and adoption was fine. And then I’m like, wait, now you’re changing your story. You can’t do that. Um, and I think adoptive parents are parents who realize like my kid can change their perspective of their own adoption at any point in their life, even as an adult. And I will be there to support them through that, no matter what it looks like, it could be a roller coaster, flip-flop whatever, it’s their story, it’s their process. And I’m going to support them and love them through it when and where, right? Um, and that is, it’s been great to, to recognize that there is folks like Be the Bridge, like you, like encouraging this deeper and more holistic perspective for adoptive parents to recognize that this is a lifelong journey, which is not a one and done, you signed the papers, it’s over there, your kids now, and adoption doesn’t affect their life anymore. Um, and so being able to acknowledge that even for myself, has been important to recognize, Nope, this is a, this is a whole lifetime of being adopted. And I am allowed to change my, my perspective of certain things about my adoption or life, um, as, as I grow and my understanding deepens. And, um, and I don’t, I need to give, I need to be kind and gentle with myself in that process. Give myself grace.
[MS] I think in terms of new parents too, um, who could be even like considering adoption or have already adopted, whatever space they might be in currently with their children, how, and this question could be for both of you, how would you, I guess, advise them to hold space for their children currently to grieve those losses, to acknowledge their story, how would you give, how would you say they could give space to their children in a way to, like Tiffany, like you said, to change your mind or your story?
[GF] I think Tiffany probably has more wisdom on this than I do, but I’m very explicit with my daughter who is nine now. Um, and I’m also pretty explicit with my daughter who’s four, getting ready to be five. Um, you know, they fully understand as best they can for their, um, age and developmental levels, uh, that they are adopted, um, that they have first families. Um, and also we don’t downplay racial difference. Um, I think many white adoptive parents, particularly believe that they need to do that in order to communicate unconditional love and acceptance. I’ve even heard some white adoptive parents say, Oh, we don’t see color, um, believing that that they’re doing their child a favor. Um, and so, um, I think we have to understand as white adopted parents that raising a child, um, to be, to be a member of a racial or ethnic group other than our own is challenging. And the reason why, um, is because we are not a member of that, uh, racial and ethnic group. And so, um, every ethnicity has, um, their own sets of challenges. And so it’s really important to, for your child to have racial mirrors, um, and mentors and peers, um, because they’re constantly, all children are constantly getting cues about race from their environment, whether positive or negative. Um, and so, so will our children. Um, and so we just have to understand that we do have a role to help their child make meaning of that information because we want them to develop a healthy, um, racial and ethnic identity. Um, and I think there’s a large body of research that’s now showing that, um, you know, intentional racial, ethnic socialization is correlated to healthy outcomes for adoptees, healthier outcomes for adoptees. Um, and so I think, that’s just part of holding, you know, helping our children to hold space, um, not just for the trauma of adoption, but also for, uh, particularly for transracial adoptees. Um, you know, we just have to understand that it’s crucial to understand, uh, it’s importance that it does, race does have meaning in America. Unfortunately, you know, race is not a biblical, it’s not a biblical thing. Um, the only difference is the amount of melanin we have in our skin, but it is a social and political construct. And so I don’t think we do our child any favors by, by minimizing that or denying that.
[TH] I think what I hear you say Gina is that . . . um, so a little bit of extra before I go into it, uh, I have had the legal guardianship of a young Latino boy for a couple of years, and we were able to reunite him with his biological family at the end of it. But, um, during the time he was with us, I realized how my experience, um, as an adoptee, as a transracial adoptee, you know, um, informed how we, we talked about what he was going through. And so, Gina, what I hear you saying is like, we, you know, speaking as a parent now, um, we’ve got to give our children access to narratives, to perspectives outside of our own. And that can be super scary, right? Because I think as parents, we tend to want to control and shape to preserve, to protect, to foster, to facilitate in a way that is going to be the best for our child. And so to expose our children, to people who have perspectives that we’re not maybe completely comfortable with, or we might not completely agree with seems counter intuitive, right. But I think with adoptees and transracial adoptees, especially as children growing up in our formative years, we need to see and hear other adoptees sharing and naming and putting words to some of these complex things that an adopted child is probably already coming into contact with. But since for me, I didn’t know what it was or how to feel about it or, or how to name it. I would kind of just, um, suppress it and I would, like, make it go away. And it was uncomfortable for me. I do believe that had I had, I tried to voice some of those things to my parents. They would have tried to support me through it, but I didn’t even know how to ask for help. Okay? And so, if you expose your kids to other adoptees and people of their racial or ethnic background who are helping them to see how to navigate this world as a person of color, um, it’s going to help your kids be able to communicate with you what they’re struggling with. Okay? And it’s going to help them to feel like they do have the space or the ability to even, you know, know that they need help to ask for it, to know what, to know, how to make sense of some of the things they’re already experiencing. I look back as a child and I can see now all of the times that I had, um, uncomfortable or negative reaction that were around, you know, being Asian. But I didn’t know at the time that that’s what was happening because I hadn’t been, um, I hadn’t been equipped to, to see the world that way. I had been equipped to minimize race and say, everyone’s the same and everyone’s colorblind and that’s good. But when racial, racially charged things would happen, I, I would minimize them and I would push them away. And now as an adult, I look back and I’m like, Oh, I see it differently now, right? So, it’s hard. You know, I think me being a parent now, I realize I want to see my children as mine. I want to take ownership. I want to have some level of control, but it helps to recognize as a Christian, actually, you know, these children, God has entrusted them to me. I do not own them. He’s entrusted them to me. And even though my two biological children came from my own body, like they’re still God’s, they’re still people who are going to grow up to be, to be God’s own. And I get to, I’m entrusted with stewarding that, but I am not in control. Um, it is not my job to completely shelter them from everything. Um, and so with the adopted pants, I, my encouragement to help hold space for grief or hold space for trauma cause there’s adoption trauma, but there’s also racial trauma, you know, is to allow your children to be in environments where they can be around the people who are able to, um, show them it’s safe to talk about these things. It’s safe to, to acknowledge that these things, the things that do happen and they do hurt. And it’s okay to do that. And if you’re an adoptive parent who’s white and you haven’t been adopted and that’s outside of your experience, you know, it can feel uncomfortable and it can feel unnatural to things that you don’t understand. But I think carefully and being, you know, taking good steps to educate yourself and knowing what people in environments and spaces you can trust. Um, I think you’ve got to do that extra work because then you will be able to have, hold that space for your kids. You will be able to be invited in to that, you know, mom, dad, like, this is what I’m struggling with. This is what I need help with. And they will know that you’re there to support them. Right? Um, but yeah, I mean, I really, Gina, I appreciated how you, how you said that. Because it, it helps me frame my answer, how I think we can hold space for, for adoptees.
[MS] Thank you both for those perspectives. I think just having, you know, both sides of the coin as an adoptee and an adoptive mom just in this space is so important for our listeners to hear. And there’s just, there’s so much to that. And I love the complexity of these issues and just how, you know, nothing is, nothing is really, as it seems going forward. And I think it’s really important to keep acknowledging that. Tiffany and Gina, just any final thoughts, ideas, advice, even you’d like to leave our listeners with.
[GF] I just think as transracial adoption parents, we really want to do everything that we can to, um, provide a buffer, um, against the negative impact of racial prejudice and discrimination. And as uncomfortable as it is, and as hard as it, as it is to say, and it’s not our experience as white people. Right? Um, we, we don’t have the experience of racism. Um, and so because of that, it does feel even disorienting to begin talking about, um, about race and to be explicit about that. But I think what we do is we, we equip our children when we talk about it because we want them to, uh, when they have an encounter, um, that feels like they are getting stripped of their dignity, we want to equip them to be able to, to handle that as best I can to process that, to understand that it’s not their problem, but it’s the other person’s problem who may, um, make an insensitive comment or a racist comment. Um, and the reason why we have these conversations is because we want our children. And I think Tiffany was, this is what she was saying, but we want our, we want our children to come to us when they have, when they have these encounters. I remember speaking with an adoptee who wrote into our guide. There are so many wonderful adoptee perspectives in the guide. Um, and I’ll go ahead and give a plug for it: Be the Bridge.com/shop, um, where can purchase the guide. But she talked about, um, getting called the “n” word for the first time on the playground. And she knew that it was negative. She knew that, um, it was meant to same her and she felt ashamed, but she never talked to her white adoptive parents about it because they had never made talking about race, um, and intention or a priority. And so she had to shoulder that on her own. Um, and so, you know, the more that we can begin to understand our aracial identity, um, the more that we can understand aracial privilege, um, the more I think we can, um, help our children to begin to unpack their, uh, racial identity, um, by modeling that for them. Um, but yeah, I just wanted to, I wanted to throw that in there because I think, cause I get it, you know, I, I am pretty white. I grew up in Appalachia in the mountains in a very white community. Um, and so for me uncovering, um, a lot of these things and relearning history, um, and just seeing the world through a different perspective through the eyes of my daughters, um, and listening to people of color, talk about their experiences and believing them when they talk about it, it completely transformed my life and my perspective. Um, but it, it’s so worth it. And I feel that the people, um, I feel that my daughters are going to benefit from that. And I’m not saying that I do everything perfectly because I certainly do not. And it’s definitely been a learning journey for me. And I feel like it’s one that I’ll always be on. I’m not going to have arrived at being a perfect parent and just learning to educate ourselves about why people, um, you know, don’t go to your neighbor who happens to be Black. If you have no real foundation of a relationship there to ask them, uh, race-related questions, or don’t go to the adoptee down the street to ask her about her experience or his experience unless, there’s not, you know, a long-term, meaningful, authentic, genuine relationship that goes deeper than just, you know, a conversation like that because there are people of color who are giving their lives to, um, to speak out about, you know, and educate people about racial issues. And as white people, we need to be, um, investing in those organizations. And there are transracial adoptees who are, you know, Tiffany being one of them who through great emotional labor is, you know, kind of unpacking, uh, her life experience to, uh, you know, to give us wisdom. Um, and you know, we need to be, um, also investing and supporting transracial adoptees financially during prayer, um, you know, through elevating their voices as opposed to, you know, whites and our voices as she was saying. And so I just wanted to, um, to say that,
[TH] Well, all of us parent imperfectly, right. And, you know, I think one of the first steps is to admit that like I am going to make mistakes, but not to, that doesn’t absolve me of trying to educate myself and prepare myself as best as possible for the sake of my child. Um, and so one of the things that Be the Bridge does when I, when I first started getting into the group discussion guide, and one of the things they encourage people to do is to take an inventory of the educational materials you consume, the entertainment, you consume, and to see how much of it is created by white people or centering white culture or white stories. And I would say the same thing goes for adoptive parents. How much of adoption related material that you read, consume, watch, you know, podcasts, blogs, um, books, how much of this is it that is by adoptive parents or by adoption agencies compared to how much of that is actually by adoptees themselves. And if you are parenting or going to parent a child of another racial or ethnic group, then how much of the material is by adoptees of that racial or ethnic group. And, um, if, if you can, as an adoptive parent or hopeful it up as parent, if you can learn to sit in the discomfort of hearing adult adoptees, sharing their complex realities, you know, their, their experiences that do not center the adoptive parent and, and the adoptive parents needs, and the adoptive parents timelines and the adoptive parents concerns because concerns that adoptive parents have are different from concerns that adoptees have when we talked about adoption, if you can learn to do that, cause if you can read those books, um, and Be the Bridge Transracial Adoption Guide has a list of resources in it. So it’s another good reason to get that guy. There’s a list of adoptee-centered resources. If you can read those things, listen to those podcasts. You know, there’s my website, my blog, you can go on to Instagram and follow hashtag transracial adoptee, and you can find the adoptees who are sharing on social media, if that’s where you’re at. You know, if you can learn how to engage with those adults who are sharing complex hard to hear things, you’re sort of in a way, preparing yourself for how to sit with your child as they grow through their experience of being an adoptee and someday, are, are you going to be, are they going to feel comfortable coming to you with some of their deepest hurts? Well, hopefully, right? Cause as a parent, that’s what you want. You want to be there for your kid and their deepest hurts. And if you’ve already heard some of these, some of these really hard to hear things as a parent, um, from, from an adoptee, who’s putting it out there, you know, willingly, um, I think it buffers you in your heart, and it creates a posture in the adoptive parent to be ready to sit and listen humbly, to validate. And to remember, it’s not about me as the parent and what I feel or what I think, it’s about the experience of my child and then, you know, their, their feelings, their, their concerns. They’re, the things are struggling with, these are valid. These are real. And I need to, I need to center that and I need to be there for them and support them through, through that. Um, and it’s a great practice, you know, I, I, I don’t ever want to, you know, this, uh, completely like dog on adoptive parents, but I do see in the adoption world, a focus on, um, really affirming adoptive parents for their choice. And I’m not going to say that’s a bad thing to do, but I’m going to say, if that’s all you hear as an adoptive parent is, you’re so good for doing this. You know, this is such a great thing. Um, it doesn’t create an endurance or a stamina in you to hear, um, a narrative that says, Hey, like, and yet here’s all the things that my adoptive parents did that didn’t actually help, you know, and you’re like, wait a minute. That’s going against the feel-good perspective that I have, um, sort of fostered this whole time, as I’ve learned how to be an adoptive parent. And even if you have biological kids, right? Like, you know, again, I’m only a four year old parent in terms of my own biological child. Um, but even at four, he can tell me things, it hurts my pride. And, um, and I think it’s, I think the adoptive parents, like we need to, uh, I am not really an adoptive parent. We had a legal guardianship for a few years. So I shouldn’t say we collectively too much in that, but, um, adoptive parents, parents in general, like we’ve, we’ve got to be ready to recognize that our pride is going to get hurt. Cause we will have made mistakes. We can own up to those, but we can, um, we can recognize that we are the parents and our job is to help, um, our child, no matter how old they are, no matter where they’re at with what they’re struggling with and, and to de-center ourselves from the relationship. Um, my child’s life is not all about me. They’re, they’re, God’s, they’ve been entrusted to me. I am, it’s a gift for me to help steward then into whoever God creates them to be, but they do want me to exist for me to feel good about myself. And that’s true for biological parents as well as adoptive parents. And I think hearing the adult adoptees, speaking about the complexities, the things that our kids can’t say yet, helps prepare adoptive parents to be able to really show up for their, their own adopted kids when, when the time comes.
[MS] Thank you both so much just for being willing to talk about these hard things. And you just, again, just create that space for everyone, listening to hear that it’s, it’s really important. I just wish you all the best and look forward to talking again soon. I’m sure.
[GF + TH] Thank you so much. Yeah.
[MS] We hope we could provide another window of perspective and be forthcoming and honest throughout this episode. It’s heavy, but we have a responsibility to contribute to the healing process within the transracial adoption experience . . . and to the injustice in our world today. We want to keep having these hard conversations and want you to know that the learning does not end with this podcast episode. We don’t plan on putting the resources away for a while in hopes that something stuck. We are not moving on from this and are committed to staying present in this lifelong healing process.
We invite you to check out the resources mentioned in this episode from Be the Bridge, along with Tiffany’s blog and website. Go to bethebridge.com/shop for the Transracial Adoption guide, along with a plethora of incredible tools to utilize in your process of educating yourself on the topics we discussed. You can find Tiffany’s blog on her website at callingthewilderness.com. Both of these resources are linked in our shownotes.
Thanks for being here, everybody. We’re excited to continue this journey of unlearning and listening together. We’ll talk again soon.