Between five and ten years ago I felt so international, so multicultural, so accepting and embracing of other cultures. I'd lived abroad, travelled to over 15 countries, studied several languages, and invested time "over the tracks" in my own backyard. I was (and am) in an intercultural marriage and pretty much felt like I was so connected to the world, and I could bridge any cultural barriers I came across. I had some apprehensions about my ability to successfully parent a child from a different ethnic background than mine, but I imagined that if I applied myself, I would be able to do a good job.
At that time, I feel like I had a hyper focus on culture, nationality, and ethnicity. I was interested in a positive way, and very focused on facilitating my own child's connection to his African American heritage.
Now, twelve years into my intercultural marriage, and four+ years into my third stint of living abroad, so much has changed.
First of all, I have completely given up on the idea that I can ever become Dutch like my husband. I will never be Dutch. I could live in Holland, I could study to gain a Dutch passport, I could grow in my understanding of Dutch culture, but I will always be an American Girl. The more time I spend in Holland, the more American I feel. I love Holland, and I love my Dutch family, but that doesn't make me Dutch. I never will be.
Coming to this realization, this understanding that I can have a personal and intimate guide into another culture, the ultimate "in", and still not fit, or gain credibility by osmosis, has really made me rethink my entire perception of multiculturalism. I really thought that I would eventually be part Dutch by association, but I'm not.
I have Dutch loyalties, and interests, and I consider my children to be half Dutch, but I am American.
This has really impacted my perspective on transcultural parenting. I no longer believe that I can contribute to my children's Dutchness in any significant way, other than to value it as part of who they are, and reinforce my belief that they get to choose their identities. If they identify as Dutch, they are, and no one can take that from them. They have the passports to prove it.
I tend to be a person who sees things in stark black and white, and my measurements for success are so rigid, they are most likely not realistic.
When it comes to parenting my transracially adopted son, I have an extensive list of expectations for myself as his parent that I am currently failing at. Somehow because he is African American, and I am American, I don't hold my husband to these same expectations. I feel that it is my job, as one who shares this national history with my son's ancestors, to carry the weight of helping him successfully gain an identity as a African American man.
When I imagine what success looks like, I imagine that a transracially adopted adult should
-be a walking encyclopedia of their birth culture's history and important people
-be completely comfortable in their birth AND adopted cultures, in settings that span class and socioeconomics
-be completely fluent in his or her birth language, or be able to navigate linguistic differences that exist in english
-be able to maintain a dual national identity if born in a country outside the one they are adopted to
The list of things that indicate success go on and on in my head, and is largely based on what I've read adult transracial adoptees describe as what they wish they had, but based on my own ability to achieve the kind of cultural fluency I want for my son, I don't really think such a thing is possible any more.
I am still thinking about adopting from Ethiopia. Last night I asked my husband, "do you think it would be wrong to adopt from Ethiopia if I don't know if I can maintain a permanent dedication and connection to the country?" "Are you permanently dedicated and connected to [the state our son was born in]?" he replied.
Always so matter-of-fact. So Dutch.
Here's the thing. In reality, living in Sydney is affording me a much more diverse and culturally connected life than I've ever had. My friends come in many hues, and hail from many countries. But ethnicity and "culture" has never mattered to me less than it does now. These are just my friends. Sometimes we get together and share food from our homelands, or once in awhile we discuss the way our heritage impacts our life or decisions, but mostly we just get on with living life and being friends.
I used to think about "my Malaysian friend" or "my Sri Lankan friend", but those mental descriptors fell away a long time ago, and now these are just the people that I do life with.
In the same way, when I look at my son, I see the to-do list of perfect transracial parenting superimposed over our interactions less and less, and just see him.
Is he doing well? Does he feel confident in his skin? Does he know he is capable and kind, and able to achieve? Does he know he is handsome, and loved, and that he belongs wherever he is?
More and more discussions of his ancestors, and his/our heritage are naturally entering our conversations at his initiation. The more I give up on my expectations of what I think I should be doing, the more free I am to focus on where life has actually brought us, and how free we are to just be more, and define less.
We are Americans, caramel and vanilla, we are Dutch, we are Aussie. As my three-year old Finch said with a grin, "we're all mixed up!". All mixed up, and so proud of all the pieces.