When Is Love Not Enough?

Transracial adoption and parenting children of a different race.

Posted Jul 22, 2011

I asked her about adoption, her activism and advocacy, her sons, and her thoughts on transracial parenting.  I began by asking her about the origins of her involvement with this issue:

Dr. S: What went into your decision to adopt a child of a different race than your own? 

Mama C: At the time, I honestly thought that I had given it a great deal of thought - that I had examined my own intentions, capabilities, and prejudices. I was certain that I was "cut out" for this, and that I would make a great mom to any little boy or girl regardless of race. I knew that adopting a child of color domestically (verses internationally) would mean a potentially shorter waiting period, then to adopt a kid who looked like me. I had this idea that I was always going to parent transracially, either by adoption or partnership or marriage.

Dr. S: What did you imagine it would be like to parent a child of a different race?

Mama C: I was told by a friend of a friend that "love isn't enough," and that I had to be prepared to do much more work than if I was not adopting a child of another race. I listened carefully, and was a little bit shocked that this stranger thought they could tell me that what I had to offer wasn't enough! I clearly wasn't ready to hear her message. I guess I just assumed that since I would love her or him without hesitation, I'd be able to conquer any obstacles in our path. 

Dr. S: How does that differ from your actual experience?

Mama C: I had no idea how parenting a child of another race would completely overhaul my sense of my own identity, and what it means to be Caucasian. From about the time my first born was six months old, I was in breaking down old ideas to make room for new ones. I was suddenly on display to the world, as the mother of a Black child, not as just a mother. I was marching through daycare director's doors demanding diversity training for staff and parents alike before my son was two. I looked around at my all white social circle and realized that wasn't going to cut it anymore. I was sitting in the waiting room of the all Black barbershop, watching BET, and thinking; "I am so out of place, and that might never change." But that didn't mean I wouldn't keep trying to examine my own assumptions and thinking in order to be a better mother to my son.

Dr. S: What went into the decision of the racial composition of your second child?

Mama C: I wanted my son to have a sibling that looked as much like him as possible. As a white woman, and a single parent, I wanted to be as much in the minority in my family as possible. Initially, I was looking for a donor, who looked like him as a child (based on the information you can get about donors at sperm banks). Interestingly enough, I thought I was going to give birth to a much darker child than I did. Although the donor is African American, with very rich brown skin, it turned out that the genetic outcome was not what I imagined (his skin is much lighter than his older brother).

Dr. S: How does his racial composition affect his older brother?  Your family dynamics?

Mama C: I think it's too early to say in many regards, as they themselves have not internalized their own understanding of their own race, let alone their sibling's. I know that when people see the three of us together now, they stare less than when it was just me and my very dark skinned older son. It's as if now people assume that the second is my biological offspring, and I must have married my first-born's father?

I imagine, and have been told by many black and bi racial people, that both boys will offer something to the other in terms of community and "keys to the door" of being of color in this world.

Dr. S: What are some of the ways transracial parenting has changed you as a person?

Mama C: That would take about five more interviews! I tell people who are considering it that transracial parenting changed my life much more than parenting, because the learning curve was much bigger. It's not that I had any idea about parenting - but I had lots and lots of help, and resources, and a child to express his needs along the way! If he pulled at his ear, that told me he had an earache. They are not going to pull at their skin, and tell me they are feeling the way the world perceives them is different than the way the world perceives the white child next to them. That is my job.  It takes a lot more work to make new friends who are black and maybe parents then it does to make new friends who are parents.

It also forced me to begin to undo so much of my own limited thinking about race, and to seek out community with other parents who were parenting in the hue (either biologically or through adoption) who could listen to my questions, point out my gaps, and share opportunities to learn more. I have gone from being afraid of misstepping and saying something offensive around to people of color to being comfortable as a person who has something to learn, and being able to say, "because of my inexperience and white mind I made the assumption that all black children could use the same detangler if it was in the black hair care section of the store."

Dr. S: How does transracial parenting affect your mothering?

Mama C: I don't know. I can't separate mothering from transracial parenting because it is all I know. I can say that the longer I am at it, the more I realize that I perceive myself as a "mother on the margin" because I am parenting two children of color - and in many cases this means my kids may have different needs, or need to be advocated for in ways that are different than children who are white, and being raised by white parents. For example, during "story time" in his preschool I advocated for his needs by asking the director to find the funding to enrich her classroom library so that my son saw as many characters of color - children that looked like him - as children who did not. I supported her efforts by providing book lists, and bringing books that I asked my extended family to purchase and gift to the center.

Dr. S: What has been the most challenging part(s) and what part(s) have been easy?

Mama C: The most challenging part? I suppose feeling like I am never doing enough as a white parent to make up for not being his black biological mother. I don't find any of it "easy" but I do find advocating for and standing up for what is best for my family to be something I am not only good at, but enjoy.

Dr. S: What made you decide to start blogging and writing about your experiences?

Mama C: After my first piece about parenting as a single mother via adoption was published in a small quarterly I realized how much I needed having a like-minded audience, as a single parent and as a writer! From there the choice to start a small blog and find a virtual connection out there with other parents (single, choice, adoptive, and parents who were parenting children of color) became more and more compelling to me. As the blog following grew, I began to rely on the blog as an ear for myself as a single parent and my parenting trials, anti racist challenges, and poetic musings. Since then, I've won many large and small scale awards, been published all over the ether, and organized and led workshops on many of the topics I write passionately about.  The personal has led to the political, so to speak.

Dr. S: What message would you like to give to anyone considering transracial parenting?  What would it be important for them to think about?

Mama C: I'll repeat the words that were told to me when I was considering it: "Love is not enough." When I was told those words I was indignant! How dare someone say my love is not enough to parent a child?  Today I will say that all the love in the world is not enough - because love does not change the color of one's skin. Transracial parenting is about embarking simultaneously on a parallel journey to parenting a new baby/infant/toddler/preschooler/elementary student and so on... At every stage of that journey the child will need your help in understanding so many layers of their identity. As an adoptive person, you may be starting that journey already at a deficit (depending on your knowledge of your family of origin) so having as much connection to your racial background as possible will be another critical piece of that story. 

There is also all the work we have to do around our own understanding, or lack thereof, of our own internalized view on race/racism. This is the unfolding work that is the gift of transracial adoption! What better excuse or impetus than your own child's well being to deepen your understanding of yourself and your world?


  1. Catherine Anderson's blog: MamaCandtheBoys  Additionally, her poetry and essays have appeared in Hip Mama Magazine, The Adoption Constellation Magazine, Adoptive Families Magazine, along with numerous online venues including the Love Isn't Enough (formerly Anti Racist Parent), Mixed and Happy, and Adoption Mosaic blog and newsletter. 
  2. Love Isn't Enough for thoughtful exploration of issues of race and parenting.
  3. Adoption Mosaic Blog providing educational resources and ongoing support to all those whose lives are influenced by adoption.
  4. PACT  offering lifelong education to adoptive families and birth families on matters of race and adoption.