Who’s the Protector?
When I was 21 years old, I called my mom and dad from college with some reservation, nervousness, and hesitation. Finally, I announced I would be searching for my birthmother. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and then my parents erupted with information, information that they had known for 21 years, information they were waiting for me to come and get.
Over those 21 years, I thought a lot about my birthmother and wondered about her, but I never shared that with my mom and dad. Recently, I realized we were both waiting for the other to say something. My parents assumed since I didn’t bring it up that I wasn’t thinking about it. I assumed since they didn’t bring it up, they didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t know anything.
Often, I hear the same assumptions from adoptive parents especially about the issue of race. “Kevin doesn’t have issues with race because he never says anything about it. But, when he does say something, we will talk about it.”
Many adoptees learn early on how to protect those around them. So, if an issue comes up about race, and we already sense our family isn’t comfortable talking about it, we just don’t say anything. We believe it will hurt them, so we hide it to protect them.
The number of racial incidents and issues I had growing up are beyond my ability to count. The number of incidents I shared with my parents I can count using my fingers and still have some digits left over to type this post.
I have heard children notice racial differences as early as a few months old and as late as 3 years old. Assuming your child of color doesn’t realize or feel different in an all-white family and environment because they haven’t said anything is at best an oversight. Giving the child of color the responsibility of addressing this issue or starting this conversation is at best a misstep.
When I hung the phone up in my college dorm room, I was relieved that Mom and Dad were so open to me searching for my birthmother and happy they knew so much about her. As I walked across my college room, relief and happiness swirled into confusion. “How come they never shared this information with me over the past 21 years?” was the question that echoed off the walls of my small room. “I guess I should’ve asked” was the thought that bounced back. The role of protector had become such a part of me.
Think about it. Talk about it.
How can you create a safe place for your child to discuss racial issues?
What can you do to be proactive in conversation with your child about his or her heritage?
How can you appropriately and effectively involve others to this end?
Kevin Hofmann is an accomplished writer and public speaker who has a passion for adoption and especially transracial adoption. He is an adoption advocate and enjoys sharing his experiences as a biracial, transracial adoptee to help other adoptive families. He has dedicated his blog to adoptive parents, sharing his thoughts and feelings as a transracial adoptee. He lives with his wife and two sons in Toledo, Ohio.