Books / Culture / Family / Family-building

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

My mother, lovin' up my older daughter, circa a long time ago.

My mother, lovin’ up my older daughter, circa a long time ago.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the intersection of a couple of ideas, that at first glance, seem to contradict one another.

The first is “Love Makes a Family.” It’s the rallying cry for us queers and our sometimes odd assemblages of chosen and inherited family. It’s a slogan I can get behind. I know that love is the reason my own family is here in the first place and it is not hard for me to also claim that love is what keeps us together, as the song goes.

But the second idea is also true: “Love is Not Enough.” This is something you hear a lot when you knock around the adoption world-especially the transracial and/or transnational adoption world. I can get behind it 100% too. Adopting a child is in itself an intricate process, but adopting a child from a different country or ethnicity is even more complicated. Parents have to accommodate a safe and healthy environment for the child, giving them new things but also a taste of the familiar. Using a home study checklist during the screening process helps a lot. But once you’ve adopted them, that’s where the real struggle starts. No matter how you feel about your kids-whether it matters or not to Nantai you that they didn’t spring from your loins, share your race, know where half of their DNA came from, or have same-sex parents-they will face a different life path than their peers who grew up in more common circumstances. And at times they may care–sometimes, they may care painfully much.

So here we are with two different notions about the importance of love to being a strong family. And I am inclined to embrace them both.

Here’s how I square the circle:

“Love” isn’t just a feeling, it’s a choice of action. In fact, it’s a constant series of choices of actions. My heart may swell with happy emotion at the sight of my sleeping children, but it’s my choice to do all the work of building a relationship with them in moments when my heart is less happy-even disgruntled.

Love is the thing that makes our family because when the going gets rough-when my children do feel sad about having needed to be adopted, about wishing they could have closer relationships with their biological family, about their adoptive parents not looking like them and not knowing it feels to have brown skin in a world that favors white skin-we table our own discomforts at this unhappiness and listen to them talk about it.

In fact, I think it’s important that all “queerspawn”–adopted or not–need this kind of open love that allows them to share feelings about being different from many of their peers, even when those feelings aren’t happy ones. Sure, we think being different is cool–and it is. But there will be times when difference is tiring or just a drag and loving my kids means letting them know that it’s okay to say so out loud rather than shutting down their feelings with my insistence that all families are different…sunshine…rainbows…lalala.

Love means empathizing and letting them know it’s okay to feel anything and that no matter what, we will still be here, loving them and being their parents, even when they are sad or angry or behave badly, not just when they are being little angels (or sleeping, as the case may be).

In other cultures, in other times, there is more than one word for what we just call “love.” In English we’ve only got one umbrella term that is supposed to cover everything from a preference for chocolate ice cream to the sacrifice of a father who drowns while saving his children (as someone I know did last summer).

It’s a clunky way to express the complexity of it all, but real, active love-the kind that steps across fear, sadness and discomfort-can indeed make a family against all odds.

Below is a smattering of my favorite sources for understanding my kids’ possible perspectives on our family. If you’ve got favorites of your own, please share in the comments!

Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like it Is

I read Abigail Garner’s book when my partner and I first began researching adoption. It’s an early offering from the first adults to come of age in the midst of the gayby boom. I found Garner’s perspective refreshingly honest and the kids she includes in the book are full of insights about how it feels to be in their shoes. Sure, they love their parents, but being queerspawn has its unique challenges.

Declassified Adoptee

Declassified Adoptee is the personal (yet very political!) blog of Amanda, an adult adopted person in reunion with her first mother. She is also a mother of young children herself. Her writing is a pleasure to read and her insights into living adoption from the adoptee perspective are invaluable.

Harlow’s Monkey

This is the blog of Jaeran Kim, an adult who was adopted from Korea in the early 1970s. She is also a social worker and expert in transnational/transracial adoption and adoption in general. Among her publications is work found in Outsiders Within: Writings of Transracial Adoption, a marvelous book in its own right.

Love Isn’t Enough

The website! (Full disclosure: I have published here.) This is a group blog, that includes lots of guest posts for, by, about, to, near (erm…) transracially adoptive parents. But it includes information about raising kids with strong anti-racist values too, and is a great place to meet people with new and helpful perspectives on a range of things. The comments tend to hop with helpful discussion and make for a lively community.

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  1. Thank you! So beautifully said. I am aware every day that I have no idea what it is like to be my kids. And every day I hope they will keep the lines of communication open so I understand, as far as I can, what the world feels like where they are standing.

  2. I love this post – more than I love chocolate ice cream, but I don’t think I’d drown trying to save it. (Such a tragic story, by the way. I’m sorry.) Thank you for the recommendations, and thank you for sharing your thoughtful words about love and families.

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