Some time ago, we hoped to bring folks we respect very much to share their stories on our blog. It felt important that we join with people who are changing the way we think about families. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing a special series of interviews and some incredible guest bloggers with you. Same-sex parents, foster parents, transracial families and adoptees and a host of beautiful people who inspire us and inform the way we think about parenting, love and life. We’re beyond excited to launch this adventure right now, during National Adoption Month, with Angela Tucker.
Like many of you, we were deeply moved by the bravery and honesty with which Angela shares her life story in the documentary, Closure, filmed and edited by her talented husband, Bryan. When we crossed our fingers and wrote Angela to ask if she’d be willing to be interviewed, we were delighted to have opened a dialogue with her, but so grateful to have access to her insight, wisdom and compassion. And. We were super pumped to hear about her really incredible next project, The Adopted Life Episodes.
Closure film synopsis: Angela, an African-American, was raised by a Caucasian couple in a large, multiracial family in Washington State. She was adopted at the age of one from foster care in the state of Tennessee, under the terms of a closed adoption. As Angela grew older it became apparent that the unanswered questions about her birth story would continue to haunt her if she did not attempt to find some answers. Filmed and edited by her husband Bryan, this documentary follows Angela for two years during the search for her birth family. Several twists and surprising revelations ultimately lead Angela and her family across the country to her place of birth. It is here where Angela comes face to face with her birth mother for the first time, and meets family members who had never known she was even born - including her birth father.
Fostermoms: We hear so much in the adoption world from white parents who have adopted children who do not share their ethnic background. Our hope is that the conversation will begin to shift to hearing from adult adoptees about their experience, as opposed to hearing from White adopted parents about parenting transracially. As an adult transracial adoptee, what advice do you have for potential adoptive families who are considering welcoming children into their home from which they do not share an ethnic background?
Angela Tucker: When I was writing home studies for families, I was not interviewing families expecting perfection, but was keenly focused in on families who had an openness and the humility to think about how the world looks from another perspective. Families who were able to think critically about their surroundings, the diversity (or not) within their friendships and immediate community were families that I felt to be better fits to foster or adopt children of a different race. Recognizing the importance for children to see mirrors of themselves represented in positive ways on the television, in books, through artwork and in school is is acutely important specifically in this age of police officers making deadly decisions based on their implicit biases.
I believe that some parents truly do not see skin color when it comes to providing loving and safe care for a child, but this world we live in certainly is not colorblind. Thus, it is imperative that Caucasian parents understand their own identity (white privilege, white fragility) prior to bringing another child into their home. Failing to view the racial and/or cultural differences as an aspect of emotional safety is neglectful parenting.
Time and again I hear from white adoptive/foster parents who never had heard of or believed in white privilege until they adopted or fostered a child of color, because they are finally able to see first hand how people of color are treated differently in society. This is problematic.
FM: So well said! And, yes, so incredibly important in encouraging pre-adoptive parents in working on this before kiddos come into their home. I think the denial of privilege (and therefore the denial of systems of racial oppression) is almost as harmful as perpetuating biased assumptions. How do you imagine kids are best supported in developing a coherent racial identity when being raised by white parents (with parents who have likely been raised within the American culture and have grown up experiencing white privilege and the benefits of being the dominant culture)?
AT: I grew up understanding that it isn’t ones pigmentation that determines beauty, but had an awareness that general society disagrees. In my family, my natural, coily afro-textured hair was not seen as a cumbersome problem, or a terrible struggle, but a doing hair was a bonding experience. My mom took us to fashion shows that featured men and women of color. She was often the only white person in the room - this was helpful for me to see, as she was essentially modeling my reality of being the only black person in the school. She also made sure that I had black Cabbage Patch Dolls (this was quite the feat pre-internet days), and wrote letters to our local store to request "flesh" tone Band-aids for darker skin.
Even with these practical examples of supporting my racial identity, I still longed for straight, blonde, European hair. I wanted my hair to be bone straight and angel thin. I don’t think this to be a case of “the grass is greener,” but rather my subconscious belief that light skin is prettier, which was reinforced when learning why there was skin bleach cream in the grocery store aisles. Growing up in my family I benefited from my parents white privilege in many ways, but when I left home, I quickly realized that I’d lost that protection of privilege, and was suddenly just a black girl in a very white world.
FM: I heard the term “aging out of white privilege” early on in our foster care journey and I think about that construct often when thinking of our boys. When young adults strike out on their own in any home it’s such a challenging time of transition, and the additional burden that kids of color raised in white homes carry is heavy. Are there things you think we could be doing better to help kids prepare for this launch? Ways you would want parents to help support or frame the world better for kids so this time of transition is not so jarring?
AT: Conversing about privilege early on and frequently is a great way to ensure that this reality will not come as a shock. If The Adopted Life Episodes is funded, this may be a question I raise with the foster and adopted youth. I think part of understanding what foster parents can do better, is first understanding what foster /adopted children know. I know many children of color experience micro-aggressions as off-putting, but aren’t able to name it, as they don’t yet have the language or understanding that this is a shared experience. I believe this to be half the battle.
FM: I’m going to shift gears a bit here to ask your thoughts on foster care related questions. A fear we often hear from parents or families fostering young children or infants is that they might grow too attached and feel too wounded if they were to have the infant or baby leave their home. In your beautiful documentary, Closure, you reunited with your foster parents who raised you through the first year of your life. What would you want people to know about infant foster care?
AT: For as long as I can remember, I had endless questions about my birth family and my foster family. We had very little information about them. I interpret the never ending curiosity to be a sign of my deep attachments, even though my time with both of them was brief. The little information I do have about my foster family is foundational to some of my successes today. I know that they fostered me at a time when fostering across racial lines wasn’t common. I also know that my birth mother and I share a primal connection. A connection that I have only recently been able to articulate, largely because I was finally able to meet her in person. It was incredibly emotional to meet my foster family at the age of 26, having known that my foster mother worked with me in physical therapy everyday for hours, sometimes just so that she could change my diaper, because my limbs were so tight. It was very special for me to hear that my foster mom sent one of her t-shirts with my adoptive family when I left their home, so that I could be close to a familiar scent.
Foster parents don’t always see the fruits of their labor, and may never hear about the impact their gentle touch can have, especially on an infant who's experienced trauma. But, I never forgot my foster family.
FM: I have to tell you that I have re-read this answer multiple times and my heart swells each time. I imagine that everyone who fosters hopes to be doing enough. To be offering enough so that we are buffering against some of what we know to be painful and traumatic losses and periods of time. What a gift to my foster Mama heart to hear that you know it to be true that love is not a lost endeavor even if it is not couched in “forever.” That compassion and connection was the right answer and likely always will be. Are there other hopes you have about things foster parents really understood about their role during this crucial developmental time in someone's life? How might you respond to someone who says they don't know if they could ever foster infants or babies because they would grow too attached?
AT: I immediately think of my favorite poem “On Children” by Khalil Gibran as I truly feel that raising children should never be about ownership. We raise children to become happy, healthy and productive members of society. Some of the lyrics are:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls. (I especially love this line!)
FM: I really appreciate that last line as well. Your documentary captures beautifully the need or desire to seek connection with your birth family. Thank you! For our little family, once we shifted to becoming pre-adoptive, we felt the clear and strong hope that our kids' birth parents would be in their life to some degree throughout their entire childhood and hopefully adulthood. For folks who might not share our hope that their children remain connected to their birth parents, or for folks who might be fearful or threatened by that connection, what would you want to say to potential pre-adoptive homes who are experiencing anxiety or feel threatened when their children want to seek out birth parents?
AT: Every human being deserves to know the truth and origins of their story (although this cannot be obtained by everyone). I have spoken with many parents who don’t feel that their child can handle hearing the difficult parts of their story. There are certainly some facts that may be developmentally inappropriate, but if a child is asking about their story, I’d urge families to find a therapist who can help present that information in a sensitive way. There is no foster or adoption story without trauma and hurt.
FM: Oh, such a huge yes! That is such an important piece, I think, the truth of your life is always best dealt with developmentally. You can understand and process far more in your teens than you could when you were five years old, and that the truth and place you came from should always be your story. Not hidden and then revealed, or covered up. So eloquent.
In what ways has this journey you've undertaken to seek connection with all sides of your history shaped the way you think about family? What might you wish to share with other people curious about the lessons you learned or the insight or meaning you derived from walking this path? What might you want to say to others who are emerging from their own history of growing up in foster care or who might be transitioning to an adoptive home or might be an adult who had many different ways of being touched by the foster care and adoption journey in their life?
AT: I have a large family, spanning biology, adoption, foster siblings, foreign exchange students, birth parents, foster parents, foster siblings, in-laws, birth siblings. My idea of family has virtually nothing to do with blood or genetics. Families may differ in their socioeconomic status, cultural values, social norms, but are able to call on each other as family nonetheless. Whether my siblings are in jail or vacationing in Hawaii, they know that they have a place to call home. I feel so valued and respected when I hear my birthmom refer to my mom as "mom."
One important facet of knowing you belong in the family is the freedom to make sense of your story. I feel this to be especially important for those who have many families, or have been placed in multiple homes. Being able to speak out your own truth without feeling responsible for other people's’ feelings allows for transparency and honesty, which in turn cultivates trust.
FM: Miss Angela you are just wonderful. I think this is so powerful and so important and what an integrated and holistic way to understand one’s self in relation to families and love and commitment. Family is plural, the same way truth is a plural concept in families. It’s all part of us and it’s all important. My goodness, you are really amazing. Now the really good stuff...You've got an exciting project under way & a Kickstarter to back it. Can you tell us about it?
AT: Gladly! I am very excited to launch The Adopted Life Episodes. I conducted a couple of Skype interviews with transracially adopted (and fostered) kids, and had such a great time. Over the past few years of traveling with CLOSURE, I've truly enjoyed meeting these kids, and couldn't deny the obvious and instant bond we shared. I realized the power of adoptee solidarity, and the freedom with which we both feel in expressing ourselves. My husband and I went out to dinner one night, and were reflecting on the amazing journey we've been on, and realized how powerful it'd be to sit down one on one with kids to discuss shared experiences. The videos will be available to the public (for free!) to promote discussions and allow for discussion based trainings. As a psychology major, I can't help but to psychoanalyze this large undertaking. I truly think I'm trying to create something that I wish I'd had growing up. It would've been amazing to have been able to go online and see other kids my age who were also adopted, and working to understand the complexity of our life stories. I am so excited to [hopefully] see this project come to fruition to allow other adoptees to go online in the privacy of their homes, and feel comforted in knowing that they are not alone in their thoughts.
FM: We are so excited for this! This is first time I have heard of a public supportive and shared platform offering kiddos and adults, who really are the ones who should be driving this dialogue, a chance to be heard. One of the pieces we appreciate so much about your work and commitment to furthering the conversation here is the way you reach back to help others find their voice too. That takes a courageous and brave woman. So much love and respect for what you do. We are better off for all you do, that’s for sure. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our burning questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add? Anything we missed?
AT: I am so glad to know Fostermoms.com exists. I know fostering can be a thankless endeavor, but that's not why you do it. I want your followers to know that I am so thankful for all those who are taking such great care of our children.
In addition to this interview with us, Angela guest blogged on The Dave Thomas Foundation’s website, where she shares her thoughts on the importance of foster parents. Angela can be reached via email.