Care and Feeding

Should a Non-Black Parent Ever Adopt a Black Child?

My husband and I are in the process of adopting a biracial baby girl, but everyone seems to have a problem with our decision. Are we doing something wrong?

Adoption pages.
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Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are fostering a 6-month-old baby girl, and we’re hoping to adopt her this year. She is biracial (Black and white), and my husband is half Thai, half white, and I am half Indian, half white. We’re already putting together some resources we’ll use to talk about race, adoption, etc., with her when she’s older, and we want to raise her to be proud of her identity.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff on Twitter about how white women should stop adopting Black babies, and it’s something I’ve heard my Black friends talk about as well. One of my friends, who was adopted and now no longer speaks to her adopted parents, is very passionate about this. I’m feeling almost guilty now. I just want to know more and if we’re doing something wrong. How can I be a good non-Black mom to a Black girl, and how can I talk to my adopted friend about this?

—Nervous Foster Mom

Dear NFM,

There are many terrible stories out there about white families who have adopted nonwhite children without doing any of the necessary leg work to ensure those kids had adequate, affirming exposure to their own culture and a supportive community that includes people who look like them. There are also a few high profile examples that have ended in tragedy or with the revelation that these children were being fetishized like some sort of exotic pets, which call into question how easily white folks are considered to be “fit” parents to these children, while we know how improbable it is that say, a Black or Asian family, would be given the opportunity to raise white children unless there were some very unique circumstances at hand.

Even if there wasn’t much chatter about the ugly side of these adoptions, the cynicism you’ve witnessed online and from your friends is well-warranted considering that, well, white folks have a pretty exhaustive history of treating people of color poorly, and even well-intentioned ones have been guilty of “not seeing color” and acting as if ignoring race will somehow make racism go away.

That doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is wrong, just that there is a painful precedent that may lead some people to be skeptical about your intentions and your capabilities. It’s unfortunate that you may encounter this, but that only makes it all the more necessary that you do the work required of a non-Black person who is taking on the responsibility of caring for a Black child.

An aside: Are you and/or your husband white-passing? Is your concern about being perceived as, and perhaps feeling like, a white woman who is attempting to raise a Black child? Or is this simply a matter of you not being Black yourself and, thus, susceptible to scrutiny over your choice?

It isn’t easy for anyone to raise Black children in a country that hates them so. Despite being a former Black girl myself, it is incredibly difficult for me to look in my daughter’s sweet face and have to tell her about some vile act of cruelty that has befallen someone because they share her race and/or gender. But that doesn’t mean that Black folks are the only ones who can raise healthy, happy Black children. You’re just going to have to take consistent, deliberate measures to raise your daughter in an environment that is as sensitive to her needs as possible.

Read Black writers on racial identity development and raising Black children. Talk to your Black friends about why you decided to adopt this little girl, what your fears and concerns are, and how you’d like for them to be a part of her life (make sure that these are friends that you’re close enough with to make such a request, of course), because it is very important that she has both “uncles” and “aunties” who love her, and who look like her.

Choose schools where she will be surrounded by other Black folks. Hang Black art throughout your home, not just in her room, and make sure her bookshelf is filled with stories of little Black girls. Seek out online communities for parents of interracial adoptees and connect with other parents who are also committed to raising children that are grounded in their own cultures. Do “the work,” and your daughter will thank you for it. Best of luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a woman in my late 20s who is deeply struggling with maintaining an adult relationship with my parents. I am the eldest child and was explicitly told growing up that I had to set a good example for my younger siblings. This led to me being held to a higher standard than the other children. For example, I would be grounded for less than straight A’s in advanced courses while my sisters would be allowed to transfer to easier classes if they struggled. My mother apologized for this inequality in how we’re raised, but not until years after the fact.

To this day, it still feels as though these academic achievements are their proudest moments of me. Other facets of my life that I am immensely proud of (such as working for a startup I’m passionate about or being involved in my local queer community to create a safe space) are met with, at best, banal acknowledgment. It’s hard to want to share my joy with people who reflect boredom in response. I know I can’t force them to act as the same overhyped cheer squad as they did when I was winning scholarships. But I feel like because I’m not on honor roll anymore, I’ve lost value to them. Is this a natural part of adulthood?

—Does Growing Up Mean Growing Apart?

Dear GUMGA,

I’m sorry to hear your parents aren’t giving you the same affirmation for your hard work you received as a child, and I understand why that may make you feel that you’ve become less important in their eyes. Consider that part of the reason they held you to exacting standards had to do with wanting you to become the sort of adult who has achieved the things you have; even if those achievements don’t mean as much to them as you’d like, it sounds like you’ve built a life for yourself that you can—and should!—be proud of.

It may also be the case that your parents were more invested in your childhood achievements because they were largely connected to their own efforts. They held you to these unfair standards at school and you met them; it may have felt like these accomplishments weren’t simply yours alone but also a reflection of their contributions.

Have you kept them in the loop throughout the process of building a new company, or shared highlights from your community engagement work? Are these subjects that they can talk about with any sense of familiarity? A lot of parents struggle with connecting to the parts of their children’s lives that are vastly different from their own. It may be hard for a longtime insurance agent to wrap her brain around startup culture, and it also may take some handholding for certain cisgender, heterosexual parents to understand the power and significance of building safe spaces for queer folks. (Hopefully, there isn’t something else at hand when it comes to their lack of excitement in regarding the latter issue, but I’d imagine you’d have mentioned that if it were.)

The 20s are a very eye-opening time in one’s life, and your parents’ shortcomings will become clearer to you than ever. Your mother’s apology is confirmation that, at least in one regard, they did make some mistakes when you were a child that could still affect you today.

Try to engage your parents in conversations about what you’re up to, and let them know straight up that you miss feeling like they are proud of you, that it means a lot to you to hear their praise and affirmation. Brace yourself for the possibility that they may not be able to meet your standards in this regard, and recognize that their lack of enthusiasm is not proportionate to the value you and your work have in the world. Wishing you all the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a mom to a 5-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son. I have been fortunate that my work circumstances allowed me to breastfeed my daughter for 18 months, and my son is following in his sister’s footsteps. I’m glad I was able to breastfeed for so long; I enjoyed bonding with both of my babies, and they enjoyed both the nutritional value and the comforts of nursing.

But here is the problem: I’m totally over breastfeeding, and I want to stop. When it was time to wean my daughter, I cut her off cold turkey and dealt with the tantrums as they came for a few days. I would go out at bedtime and let my husband put her to sleep. After about a week she calmed down. I assumed I would take the same approach with my son, but this pandemic has thrown me for a loop. I’m currently working from home while watching both kids (my husband works an essential job and is out of the house for at least eight hours a day). I don’t know that I can tolerate added tantrums multiple times a day while also trying to work without absolutely losing my mind (when I weaned my daughter, I was also at work eight hours a day, which helped). How can I end this as painlessly as possibly?

—Nursed Out

Dear NO,

The “cold turkey” approach that worked for your daughter probably isn’t the best one to take considering that you can’t physically distance yourself from your son right now. It may be easier to gradually wean him instead. Start by replacing one nursing session a day with the food or formula of your choosing, while still cuddling him as he eats. Let the bedtime feeding be the last one that you replace and, as needed, let your husband be the one to put him down as you did in the past; take that time to go have a cup of tea, run a quick errand, or listen to some music with headphones. This process is likely to be more difficult because of the amount of time you are spending together, so do your best to be patient with baby boy and with yourself. If the slow approach doesn’t seem to be working, consider using a holiday weekend to try to go at it the way you did in the past; it may not be the most pleasant use of your downtime, but you’ll appreciate it in the long run. Good luck to you!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Tell me the truth: How much time is it normal to want to spend away from your child? And how much time away from them is damaging?

My little boy (18 months) is the greatest gift the universe has ever given me, and my husband feels the same way. On the other hand, we don’t actually seem to want to spend much time with him. Speaking purely selfishly, my ideal would be something like three hours a day, seven days a week … I feel terribly guilty even writing that!

He’s such a sweetheart; he loves his mama, and I am very present when I’m with him. But his interests (throwing rocks, chasing the cat, flipping the light switch) are rather repetitive. He spends most of his time asking for things—not using the words he knows, but by whining—and of course 75 percent of what he wants, he can’t have. If my husband and I try to have an actual conversation, he babbles VERY loudly. Shrieking if necessary. And the babbling and shrieking are adorable because everything he does is adorable; even his tantrums are adorable. But it’s also just so tedious and taxing.

His day care has just reopened, and I’m on a text exchange with the other mothers in his room. They were all expressing how bittersweet it would be to not have their kids around all day, and I didn’t say anything, because to me (apart from my anxieties about COVID), it’s anything but sweet to us. In fact, we have been contemplating getting sitters for him on Saturdays and Sundays as well, because we sort of feel as though if we never have to spend another 12-hour stretch with him (without playgrounds, science museums, libraries, or swimming pools), it will be too soon. I feel as though I do love him very much—but am I deluded? If I loved him, would I want to be with him? Or do I love him, and I’m just selfish? Or is this part of the normal spectrum of mother-love, and maybe I’ll want to spend more time with him when he reaches the age of reason? Is he going to apprehend on some deep psychological level that he’s apart from me not just because I have to work but because I want to get away?

—Meh Mother

Dear MM,

I don’t know the moms in your text group, but I’d be willing to bet that at least one of them is phoning in her disappointment about her kid going back to day care just to avoid sounding like a bad parent. In fact, I don’t know a single parent—including those who have had to leave the house for work at times—who isn’t going a bit mad thanks to all of the time they’ve spent indoors with their children over the past few months. Truth be told, I’d imagine that there are a lot of parents to 18-month-olds who’d have very similar comments to your own, even if there were no pandemic making the difficult task of parenting even more difficult than normal.

It’s good that you say you are very present when you are with your son, but you may also need to find some times to be less present so that you aren’t burnt out from the seemingly endless days of games, meals, tantrums, and clinginess. Find activities that he can happily engage in while in your care that will allow you to get a little reading done, or to watch a favorite show, or to simply focus on working to keep food on the table.

Stay mindful of your feelings here. It’s one thing to be exhausted or bored, it’s another to begin to feel like you’re never happy in your son’s presence, or that your ability to care for him with love has somehow been compromised. If you and/or your husband find yourselves feeling deeply disconnected from your son and the act of parenting, then you may need to speak to a professional. Otherwise, it just sounds like you’re having a totally understandable reaction to your life being turned upside down for approximately four months, and you owe yourself a bit of grace.

— Jamilah

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