Someone posted a question the other day, on how other adoptive parents were doing when it came to talking to their children about racism in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter events. The post came on a morning when I (white adoptive mum) had kept my son aged 5 (black) off school, on and off the toilet trying to do a poo disimpaction regime resulting from all the lockdown carbs. I swept up another lump of poo, wiped his feet where he had trodden in it and thought, “We could do this topic today while he is off school, but you know, what with lockdown and now bowels and all the adoption stuff, it feels like our diary is full.”
I do read a lot about race issues, talk to friends and pay due consideration to the variety of persons when it comes to things like choosing schools. So you would think that recently, I had this conversation in the bag. Unfortunately not. Meanwhile all my energy was going into his favourite topic – bums – including discouraging comments along the lines of, “Mummy, your bum is all swirly,” and other observations about how lockdown has had a few adverse effects on my physique.
I often wonder when to have The Talk with my son: about the fact there will be people that don’t like him because of his skin colour, that he will often have to prove himself instead of being accepted, that he will need to be mindful of how he behaves in front of the police. There doesn’t seem to be an age prescription for when to have these chats. Procreation education was generally done around age 13 in school when I grew up, with diagrams of rabbits having sex, however there doesn’t seem to be an age to talk about racism. I have read some black parents speak to their children as young as 4. Others have left it until the teenage years; some have neglected to have the conversation at all. One woman wrote that she started with her boys when they were around 7 years old but – here’s the rub – it broke her heart. Childhood should be about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, an age of innocence, not about learning to keep your hands in view when you are stopped by the police.
I feel much the same as this mother: that explaining about these issues feels like a massive spoiler and especially for a childhood overshadowed by adoption work. I did not watch the videos of George Floyd. I knew I would find it profoundly upsetting and that would, in the short term, impact badly on my parenting. I know some black people didn’t watch, stating they were all too familiar with how traumatising these events are and how bad the repeated effects of trauma were on their mental health (sound familiar?). (Incidentally, google the story of Rashaan Charles if you think these incidents are an American problem.) We did go to a Black Lives Matter “protest” for children, although there was not much social distancing going on and so it ended up being more of a spectator thing.
I’m sure I can be laid open to criticism for this, and I’m sure there are black parents with bolder hearts who have done a better job talking to their children about these times. I guess I just felt my son is still extremely young for this stuff and, you know, what with COVID and adoption, we had enough on our plate. Lockdown has actually been good for us as a family. However, there is always life story work, dinner table struggles, webinars to watch, working on emotional regulation, transitions, remastering separations at school, home schooling, my NHS job and it felt like, well, a lot. I even felt a tiny bit of relief in lockdown to take the gas off the identity work and to have a break from thinking all the time, we should be hanging out with this group instead of that one and to be doing more than we already are.
We do a lot of heritage work as a family. Socialising, eating, cooking, music, trying (read: failing) to engage him with the language and being upfront about skin colour. We took a trip back to his country of heritage just before the lockdown. The first week was nerve jangling nightmare of dysregulation; the second a resounding success. Actually that was his main complaint about the lockdown: that we were not in a position to take him straight back and invite all his friends for the ride. I suspect my son thinks his heritage is a bit special right now, probably because we treasure it but also because we have built it up. Have we set the foundations right for the future or set up something on a pedestal only for it to fall later on? As for bursting his bubble and telling him how life really is, well, I just can’t break my own heart and do it right now.
I try and fail a lot to write about transracial adoption. Mostly the writing just comes out a bit contradictory and confused. Is it right or wrong? There probably isn’t a binary answer. I fear this is just turning into yet another ramble around the whole topic which ends up drifting off with no conclusion and me looking poignantly into my glass of wine. I admit the conversation about racism intimidates me. I know I need to do it but I also suspect I will put it off as long as I can.
Events must have rubbed off on him because he spent a weekend chanting “Black Lives Matter,” in the park. I don’t think it would matter what serious conversations we had had, because he just turned it into his own agenda about bums. “Black Bums Matter,” was soon his chosen phrase. Much to my public mortification. I’m sure we will have the conversation, but not now. In the meantime, everything really interesting to my cheeky, funny and gorgeous 5 year old boy is about bums.