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Adoptive Parenting: Is Love Enough?

by Laura on January 30th, 2014

Executive summary: No.

“Business” by arztsamui,

At first I planned on writing a response to the recent conversation, Kristen Howerton Talks Transracial Adoption and Raising Black Children [INTERVIEW]

I wanted title the post: “Dear Adoptive Mom: Some Advice for When Life Is Confusing”

I planned to answer such confusing questions as

What is so wrong about featuring prominently the photos of me and my beautiful blended transracially adoptive family?

What is so wrong about talking about dealing with racism … with a White person?

How am I NOT an expert on transracial adoption when I am White and my transracial adoptees are still small children?

How is it wrong for me to present myself as an expert on transracial adoption? [See: #NPRgate]

But then I realized. Wait a minute … I’m. not. Black.

I’m not a transracial adoptee.

There are plenty of people more qualified to talk about this,** including (but certainly not limited to) Chad Goller-Sojourner, author of Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, whose NPR interview appeared earlier this week.

One example of the complexity of raising transracial adoptees that struck me most was how Chad felt as an adult that he had to spend time dispensing with his appropriation of White privilege (Shopping as a kid, saying “Look mom!” to indicate that he was in fact with a White lady.) … How he had to figure out for himself how to be a Black man.

So, I will encourage actual transracial adoptees to answer the above questions.

Which brings me to …

Is love enough?

This gets me thinking about the statement, “I am raising my [transracially adopted] kids just like everyone else. We are the same as you. We have the same issues.”

Perhaps, but adoptees have different issues, as well.

Which is why I would venture to say that love is not enough.

Let’s just imagine for a moment that adoption doesn’t exist. [I can hear simultaneously the collective sigh from the adoptee community and the collective appalled gasp of adoption-positive society.] Picture this …

You’ve known your best friend, Maya, since college. You both met your husbands and started having kids at the same time.

Maya’s husband is a great guy, officer in the military and is tragically killed in action, leaving Maya with a beautiful little toddler, Ana, to raise by herself.

Of course, you are there for Maya and Ana. You will stand by her, because in fact you’ve known Ana since she was born. You love Ana as you love your own young daughter.

 Then, the unthinkable happens. Maya comes to you saying, “I have terminal cancer. No one knows Ana the way you know her. My parents are frail and they love Ana, but I want you to care for her when I die.”

Before Maya dies, she passes along power of attorney for Ana to you.

The Adoption Fog Emergence Process: NOT for the faint of heart.
“Misty Landscape” by dan,


Clarity Questions to Bring Us Out of the Adoption Fog:

1. Has Ana has suffered a traumatic loss? Multiple tragic losses? Even if she’s too young to have conscious memories, is it apparent that those losses are still there?

2. Would you change Ana’s name once she starts living with you?

3. Would you insist Ana call you “Mom”? Or instead, if Ana really wanted to call you “Mom,” would you perhaps encourage her to call you “Momma,” to distinguish you from Maya, the one she called “Mom”?

4. Would you in every possible way keep alive Maya’s memory for the sake of Ana? Would you encourage her to openly grieve?

5.  Would you put up pictures all over social media, celebrating the fact that you “took in a child”? Or might you recognize that Ana is still grieving and not appreciate that when she grows older?

6. What if you’re White and Maya and her husband were Black? Would you feel it’s important for Ana to connect with her roots? Would you be willing to put yourself into Ana’s world, perhaps even attend Ana’s parents’ church (putting yourself into an uncomfortable position) … just to make Ana’s place in the world that much more secure and familiar?

See. That’s the thing. When you add “adoption” to the picture, suddenly, it seems okay to ignore a child’s past, to change her name, to believe that unconditional love is enough. Just because the child would prefer to pretend everything is okay, and that she doesn’t care about connecting with Black people … means that you’re off the hook.

Look. My non-adoptive child doesn’t care about going to bed on-time. She doesn’t understand the correlation between staying up too late and being tired the next day. … How can an adopted child understand the correlation between taking an easier route, that will end up harder in the long run years down the road?

That’s right, she can’t. Which is why adoptive parents have it even harder than non-adoptive parents.

Which is why adoptive parents whose kids are still very young should not go around positioning themselves as experts on race and transracial adoption.

Which is why we should defer to those who have lived the life …

* * Resources, including but not limited to:

Mila at Yoon’s Blur, Exploring human experience & identity beyond the adoption box

Rosita at Mothermade, “a collection of thoughts on being American, Asian and adopted”

Land of a Gazillion Adoptees Magazine, Gazillion Voices … anything

Filmmaker Angela Tucker of Closure, writing at the adopted life

Books featuring contributions of transracial adoptees:

Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption from a Place of Empowerment and Peace

Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, An Anthology — the paperback is READY. As a part of the Amazon Matchbook program … if you buy the paperback, the e-book is FREE. Yes, that’s right, FREE.


From → Adoption

  1. Very well said, especially this: "Executive summary: No."

    I appreciate your writing and willingness to tell adoptive parents (I am one) when to get over ourselves. This has to happen frequently for us to get it. Without the reminders, we will forget, I promise you.

    Thanks also for the many resources, good stuff!

    • Laura Dennis permalink

      Thanks, Margie — I've seen you promoting and discussing and absorbing adoptee voices on your blog, and I appreciate you for that. Thanks so much for reading <3 <3

  2. mad momma moogacat permalink

    Bravo, from another AP who sometimes needs to be told to get over myself. Wonderful resources!

  3. Laura, I'm reading this post and it's a bit surreal, because you are talking about me as if I disagree with each of your points. We don't know one another, so I'm not sure where you have gleaned your knowledge of my outlook on adoption. It almost feels like you are making me a stand-in for other AP's. Yes, I post pictures of my kids online . . . bio and adopted. We may disagree on that point. But I've never posited myself as an expert on transracial adoption. The interview that sparked the backlash was on the subject matter of raising minority children, and within that interview I specifically talked about listening to adult adoptees. I certainly don't think I'm an expert on raising black kids, either. It was a convo between to moms, not an expert panel.

    I've never said "love is enough". I've never hinted that my kids' losses aren't real. I don't think it's okay to ignore my child's origins. I absolutely feel it's important to connect my children to their roots. I don't think I'm "off the hook" in any respect and am quite intention in parenting in a way that attends to all of the above.This post is surreal because you are talking about me, but you are making some wild assumptions about how I parent. We don't know one another, and yet you feel free to imply a whole lot about me.

    You are making great points, but I am frustrated that you are misrepresenting me to do so.

    • mothermadedesign permalink

      I do not know you either, Kristen. Nor did I hear this interview. Here’s what I see from your comment, though. You talk about yourself a lot. You could say, “Thank you for this analogy. It puts the loss of original parents in perspective. I have thought of that, but this clarifies things even more. Do you mind if I use this analogy?”

      I realize it is hard to go public and have others write critically (but constructively) about your words. Trust me, adoptees know this all too well.

      • Jessie S permalink

        I was surprised to read this post, actually a little confused. I follow Kristen's blog and I didn't understand how this post was refuting her stance on raising children in a transracial family since they seem to be in line with everything she's posted about the subject that I've ever read. I think the author may, indeed, have made quite a few assumptions.

      • Laura Dennis permalink

        Hi Jessie! The author here, Laura.

        Asking questions (however snarkily — I admit, it’d kinda my thing) is just that: asking questions. It’s not making assumptions. That’s why they are questions. The reader may, however, read into my questions — based on his or her own personal experience and perspective (to the reader’s possible peril).

        As an adoptee, I am often? very often? constantly? asked to defend myself, against assumptions real, imagined … stated or implied.

        It is reasonable for me, as an activist in adoption to question those in power; those in the power position being agencies and adoptive parents. I know that not every adoptive parent is one that “doesn’t get it.” Nevertheless, I question a lot (including my own assumptions and preconceived notions — see the post in which I address the accusation that I am a house slave of adoption. Wow, that was *fun*) on this blog. I’m not refuting anything; far from it. I am asking questions and I provided a “picture this” example. I would love to hear your thoughts on my clarity questions and to start (continue?) a dialogue.

        All the best,
        Laura Dennis

  4. You've made some points here that have been helpful for me, Laura. Thanks.

  5. Gaye permalink

    Kristen, with respect, your children's roots and mirroring does not simply refer to being black. Their roots and mirroring needs refers to biological family – people who share the same DNA. As a white adoptee raised in a white family I had what you offer to your children – access to my race and access to seeing white females like I am. What I didn't have and needed was access to my genetic history and myself genetically mirrored.

    I don't doubt you are genuine in your intent; I just think you present a superficial and relatively self satisfied simplistic remedy to what is a complex problem for all your family, even more so as the boys get older.

    I support Laura's blog and the message she shares. I hope as an AP you might find the space to consider the points made as a reflection to support you and the boys, rather than deflect the content as a mere attack on you.

    • My adopted children's relationships with their birth familes is private, but again assumptions are being made.

      I don't think this post is an attack. But I do think I'm being held up in this post as the antithesis to Laura's points, and it's simply not the case. I'm not deflecting the content, I'm pointing out that I agree with most of it and don't appreciate the speculative assumptions about how I parent. These points could have been made without using my family as the contrast.

  6. ajtim permalink

    I think the analogy used in raising "black/non-white" children is the same one used to discouraged interracial marriages-which is very wrong. The President is a black man who was raised by his white mother/family and he is fine. The same can be said about the SF 49's quarterback Colin K, he's black and was adopted and raised in a white household and is doing very well just like countless others. I think many people want to guilt trip APs so much for wanting to be parents that its a shame. If anything, people should be guilt tripping the BP who aren't able to or don't want to raise their own children!

    • clair8y permalink

      Yes, the POTUS is a black man raised by his white mother, but let us not stop there… The POTUS was raised by his mother – his biological mother – and his grand parents. The POTUS was not raised as an adoptee. Very distinct difference.

  7. ajtim permalink


    You seem to forget that the topic of the discussion was can white parents raise black/non-white children? The President and others, that I gave as examples, prove it. Long story, short ( and in my opinion) it doesn't matter if you're black or white, children of ALL races need good/loving parents PERIOD! After all if the birthparents ( regards of their race) had it together there would be no reason for adoption.

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