So here is the thing.
For many reasons, I’m not the best person to be talking about this. Yet, I’m a blogger. So when it comes to spilling out my commentary on issues du jour, I haven’t let lack of qualification stop me before.
I’m not a parent yet.
I do plan to be one, though I’m not sure when yet. My wife and I are continuing to trust God for the timing, so the truth is I don’t know when I’m going to become a parent. Unless we’re led to go the adoption route, I won’t have more than the standard nine months to figure out exactly what I’m supposed change about my life in order to become a good parent. God knows, I’m not there yet.
And it’s probably no mre coincidence that, at this moment, as I write this, my wife is watching her favorite movie, I Am Sam, an emotional tour de force describing the journey of a developmentally disabled man as he attempts to fight for custody of his daughter. This is one of our favorite movies, in part, because it illustrates the desperation that both main characters (Sean Penn as Sam, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his lawyer) feel in their inability to care for their children like they really want to. They’re doing the best they can, but despite their best efforts and intentions, they just keep falling short.
This, I’m sure, is a vexing problem that eventually befalls parents of every stripe and category. Sometimes I’m overcome with flashes of overwhelming ineptitude when it pertains to just my professional and ministry life, so I can’t even really imagine how hard it might become once a child enters the mix. But when the time comes, my child probably isn’t going to care about — or even understand really, until they grow older — my perfectionist issues, or my insecurity related to my health and getting older, or any of that stuff. At the end of the day, my responsibility as a father will be to do whatever I can do help them develop into fully functional adults. All those issues will just be stuff I’ve gotta deal with in the process.
Maybe, when they grow older, they’ll be able to understand more of my shortcomings, and have some empathy for their dad. Maybe they’ll find in their hearts to forgive their dad for screwing up so royally, in whatever ways I most likely will. This process of evaluating your upbringing, of realizing what was missing all along, this is a hard thing for parents and children to go through. Some people don’t get to it until it’s much too late.
Fortunately for me, though, I still have time to become a better parent. So it’s to people like me, people who hope to become parents, people who believe in multiculturalism, people who appreciate and savor the symbolism inherent in blended familes, that I need to send this message:
Please, please, please… know your limits.
The Beatles said, “All you need is love.” I wish that were true, but it’s not.
There are signs are everywhere showing that the best of intentions are never enough to provide a fully functional, stable upbringing. This feature on transracial adoption in Seattle’s alt-weekly, The Stranger, illustrates this point so well. The premise of the piece is that transracial adoption, specifically of Black children by White parents, is all well and good in theory, but in reality it’s fraught with emotional and psychological peril.
There are many White parents who take on Black children with the best of intentions, but without the knowledge and intentionality on the front end to maintain their child’s racial identity, these parents will end up inadvertently stunting their cultural development. Color-blindness is still blindness.
The thing is, adoption even within your own generalized sense of ethnicity can still be tremendously difficult. Some friends of mine have done a yeoman’s job of raising up several children that they received from the state, all of whom have had significant difficulties with various forms of mental illness. And they’ve struggled tremendously with how to raise these children, in part, because they had no genetic similarities to draw upon.
Lest you think I’m dreading the prospect of parenthood altogether, let me say for the record: There is hope. The fact that our nation’s 44th president will have come from a similar upbringing as that of many transracially adopted children speaks to this sense of possibility. So to those who have adopted children of a different ethnicity and have struggled with what it means to bring them up with a sense of cultural normalcy, I mean to salute you, not vilify you.
Nevertheless, my hope is that, moving forward, people will count the cost when they make these important decisions. Being married can be pretty difficult on its own. Staying married and having children raises the ante considerably. So if you’re going to ratchet up the degree of difficulty even further by adding layers of racial, ethnic AND biological differences, don’t do so lightly. Make sure you do your best to know what you’re getting into, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that mettle and determination can compensate for ignorance and naivete.
Because this isn’t just some grand social experiment. These are real human lives we’re talking about. And having a loving resolve to be the best parents we can be… that’s a great start. But it’s only a start. So if that’s the end of our deliberation process, then our children pay the price.
Sometimes, it seems, good intentions just aren’t enough.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.