As both a new parent and an adoptive parent, I’m always on the look-out for resources to help me be the best mom I can be. So when the new book by Rachel Garlinghouse called Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children caught my attention, I asked Rachel if she’d stop by and tell us more about it.
Rachel is mothering three brown babies, all adopted domestically. She bakes without ceasing, blogs at White Sugar, Brown Sugar, and writes and talks about transracial adoption in her “spare” time. Rachel has appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as well as The Daily Drum national radio show, and her family has been featured in Essence magazine. Her articles have been published by MyBrownBaby.com, Madame Noire, and Adoptive Families. Most impressive to me is that she actually wrote a book with young children underfoot — such an accomplishment!
Zoe Saint-Paul: Many families adopt children from other countries, ethnic backgrounds, and races, but few write books about it. It’s such a big undertaking! What prompted you to write Come Rain or Come Shine?
Rachel Garlinghouse: When my husband and I decided to be open to adopting a child of any race, we wanted to get educated. Unfortunately, there were very few resources available, and most of the books we did find were outdated or too textbook-ish. Furthermore, the Multiethnic Placement Act prevents many agencies from asking adoptive parents a lot of questions (Why are you choosing transracial adoption? Are you ready?) and providing better education. After we adopted three times transracially, I published the book I wish I would have had when we started our adoption journey. The book is conversational and practical, and it’s no textbook.
Your book is subtitled “A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children.” Does your book apply to other transracial families — such as white parents who adopt Hispanic or Asian children? Black parents who adopt white kids?
The book mainly focuses on white parents and their black children; however, much of the book’s contents apply to adoption in general and any combination of transracial adoption.
What have you found to be the greatest challenge of parenting children who have a different skin color than yours?
It’s obvious to everyone that we are an adoptive family, so we encounter more questions, comments, compliments, and insults than a same-race adoptive family. The biggest challenge for us right now is constantly being asked about the kids, “Are they real siblings?” It’s incredibly insulting to be asked that question, because the asker’s definition of “real” is biological. Therefore, the kids aren’t “real” siblings, Steve and I aren’t the “real” parents, and we aren’t a “real” family. It saddens me that society continues to put a disclaimer on the authenticity of our family.
What are three things you wish others understood about transracial adoption?
1) Love isn’t enough. Transracial adoptees, research shows, need far more than just a great family. Families should get educated before adopting transracially and continue that education for the rest of their lives.
2) The decision to adopt transracially should be taken seriously. In the book, I provide a list of things to consider before choosing to be open to a transracial adoption. Just because we have a black president, it doesn’t mean we are living in a post-racial world.
3) My family is real. We don’t look anything alike and we don’t share genes, but we are as real as it gets.
Before we picked up our girls in Ethiopia, a friend told me he admired us for adopting black children, because all the white couples he knew who were interested in adoption would never do that. Why do you think this is the case?
In my experience, white couples are most afraid of two things when it comes to adopting transracially: acceptance of the child by friends, family, and their community, and doing black hair. The hair reasoning comes from a deeper issue: a lack of understanding of black history and culture. The remedy for both of these is education.
Our girls do not identify as “black” and have never heard the term; Ethiopians consider themselves “brown.” How do people who are parenting children from many backgrounds — African-American, Ethiopian, Congolese, Haitian, etc. — help children to develop their identities without putting labels on them that may or may not apply?
I used the term “black” in my book in the hope to not exclude non-African-American adoptees. Like your girls, my girls consider themselves “brown” (and we, their parents, are “pink”). I think, as our children grow up, they will choose the term/label they are most comfortable with, and we (parents, friends, society) should respect whatever they choose.
Open adoptions are very common today (in domestic adoption, at least), and you address this in your book. Why, in your view, should potential adoptive parents welcome it?
When adopting transracially, having an open adoption can provide the child with another connection to his or her racial community. Obviously, having an open adoption offers many other benefits, such as an ongoing relationship with birth family members and information about the birth family’s medical history, family traditions, etc. Open adoption isn’t for everyone, and like any aspect of adoption, it should be researched and considered before a decision is made.
I’m impressed with the amount of resources you list in your book. In your view, what are the must-have children’s books that address adoption and/or being a transracial family?
There are so many fantastic books for children, and thankfully, more and more authors are taking on the subject of adoption and race. Some of my children’s favorites are:
I’d love to hear more about your Adoptive Mamas of the Metro support group: How did it come about? What do you do when you meet?
Adoptive Mamas of the Metro came about in 2009. I was attending a church that had ten adoptive families in it (out of just 300 members!); I was new to adoption and wanted support and education, so I gathered all the adoptive moms together and we started meeting once a month. Now, four years later, our group has seventy local adoptive and prospective-adoptive moms. A few times a year we have a speaker at our meetings, but otherwise, we just get together and talk about our adoption joys and challenges. We are continually adding more moms to our group by word-of-mouth and simply approaching adoptive families whenever we see them in stores, restaurants, parks, etc.
How have you been personally changed by adoption — particularly transracial adoption?
Transracial adoption has brought me to a place where I now understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Whites, by default of white privilege, tend to be trusted (not doubted) and respected (not dismissed). Whites have opportunities that blacks do not. I go into a lot of detail on this subject in the book.
Most of all, I never doubted that I would love the children who would become mine through adoption, but I don’t think I understood the depth of the love I would have for them, and for their biological parents and siblings.
Thanks, Rachel, for taking the time to tell us about your new book and for your passion for helping adoptive families and prospective adoptive parents.
Come Rain or Come Shine is available on Amazon (in print or e-reader format) or from any major book retailer. You can keep up with Rachel on her blog, White Sugar, Brown Sugar, on Twitter (@whitebrownsugar), or on Facebook.
Images: 1, Zoe Saint-Paul; 2 and 4, Jill Heupel photography; 3, La Jolie Vie Photography