April 14, 2009

A Compassionate Nature

Compassion. One little word with a whole lot of meaning. To me, anyway.

Webster’s Ninth defines compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Long before we started our family, my husband heard me say over and over again how strongly I feel about raising compassionate kids. My mantras included: no child of mine will treat others with disrespect; I have no tolerance for intolerance; and finally, I want my children to fight for what they believe in and to stand up for others. I believe compassion is at the root of all this.

But is compassion learned or inherited? Or both?

When you adopt, the ol’ nature vs. nurture “debate” comes up again and again. Not only as something we are constantly thinking about as adoptive parents, but we are often reminded of it by our well-meaning friends and family.

From a young age, my daughter showed clear signs of compassion for other people, for animals, toward her dolls; a general sensitivity to others’ feelings. As she gets older, I see her compassion growing stronger (and I have to say, this thrills me!). She recognizes when I’m sad about something and is right there with a hug and a pat on the back, and a few words of wisdom only a child could provide.

Over this past weekend, I committed involuntary cat-slaughter. (Any one who knows me well knows what an animal lover I am; I don’t even squish bugs.) Ava was with me when it happened, and handled it remarkable well; better than I did, actually. Right after it happened, she said, “Mommy, let’s say a prayer, maybe the cat will come back to life.” Every day since the accident, she asks me, “Mommy, are you still sad that you squished the cat?” When I say yes, she gives me a hug, pats my back, and tells me it’s okay, the cat is with Chani (our cat that died of old age last year) in “Chani Heaven” (as Ava calls the place where cats go).

I can’t say for sure if Ava’s compassion comes from “nature” or “nurture.” Unfortunately we don’t know much about Ava’s birthmother, nor have we ever had a conversation with her. I do know that I will do everything in my power to lead by example and continue to nurture my daughter’s compassion. Not only for the welfare of others, but for her own health and happiness.

April 08, 2009

Mini Me

Like it or not, our children are a reflection of us. Naturally, we want that reflection to be positive regarding how a child behaves and treats others. What many parents don’t worry about (okay, what many men don’t worry about; I know my husband doesn’t) is how a child’s appearance reflects on them. Such as what a child wears out of the house in the morning or whether or not their hair is combed.

Correction: what many parents of white kids don’t worry about is how a child’s physical appearance reflects on them.

That isn’t to say that if you have a white child, you don’t care whether or not their clothes are clean or their hair is combed and styled. But as transracial adoptive parents, we are judged a little differently than others. Our senses are heightened to the fact that we’re different, true. But I don't think it's entirely in our heads that people are judging us. I do think it is largely a “mom” thing though—moms are judged a little differently than dads when it comes to a child’s appearance. Sad (and wrong), but true.

Luckily, most of the comments I’ve received about my daughter’s appearance are positive and helpful in nature, for which I am appreciative. Women will approach me in a beauty supply shop (specializing in hair care products for African American women) with all kinds of advice. Sometimes the staff will even talk slower and louder, assuming I don’t speak the hair care language. Though when they examine Ava’s hair up close, they realize I do know how to care for her hair and I often get compliments, which makes me proud. (See my earlier post on the negative hair comments I've received!)

I can only speak to my own experiences, of course, but I have had friends confess that they also feel they are being scrutinized just a wee bit harsher than most parents. But hey, that’s the nature of the game. Whether we like it or not, as transracial adoptive parents we are sort of the spokespeople for the adoptive community. It wasn’t all that long ago that transracial adoption was not allowed.

We will be watched, judged, scrutinized, and the like. Not because anyone wants to see us fail, but because we’re different, in a good way I believe. Yes, we may have to continually prove we’re doing right by our children when it comes to “cultural” differences. And yes, someone will always have something to say about something we aren’t, or shouldn’t be, doing. I embrace the challenge and look forward to exploring—with my daughter and husband—just what it means to be a transracial family.