This post was written by Tony Hynes, an author and adoptee. His life story includes his birth mother’s mental illness, a tumultuous battle in the court system when his adoption was challenged by his birth family, and the unique perspective of being raised by two moms in a transracial household. His book “The Son with Two Moms” is available on Amazon in print and electronic editions. Check out Tony on Facebook.
I’ve been asked about my family before. I understand why. People want to know about a family that isn’t like theirs (or is like theirs). They want to know what it’s like to grow up with two white moms. They want to know how I, a black man, see the world today after being raised by two white women. They want to know why I speak the way I do, why I am careful with my words, and why I decided to write a book. I never know exactly what to say, or exactly how to address every question they ask me. No answer seems full enough to address every point they raise. I try to search for the right balance. The answer has to be truthful, but educational, respectful, but confident. It’s a line I straddle every time I tell my story and a line that many individuals from transracial families are familiar with.
I am college educated and am currently pursuing my PhD. I love to read. I love to play soccer and listen to music. I went camping almost every summer as a kid. I share much in common with some of the families who ask me questions about my upbringing. However, sometimes I sense they don’t feel the same connection. After a panel discussion a few months ago, for instance, a white father said to me “I have two adopted black sons. If they grow up to be like you that would be incredible.” Nothing about his statement was particularly alarming. However, the way in which he said it, with wonderment and an air of impossibility, was. It was as if he didn’t believe he could be a good enough parent to raise a black child as “healthy” as me. It was as if he thought I was an anomaly, a glitch in an otherwise flawed system that didn’t allow black boys to achieve greatness. One week later, a woman asked me if I had had any help writing “The Son With Two Moms.” When I replied that I did not her puzzled expression turned into a toothy grin. “Wooooow!” She said. “That’s so amazing.” I thanked her as she continued to glow. “So no one helped you write any part of it?” She said. “Nope.” I said. “Just me.” “Wow,” she said.
As she walked away I thought about how shocked she looked, about how impressed she was that an author wrote an entire book by himself save for the help of a copy editor. Her expression and her words suggested to me that she had put me in a box before she met me, and that even when I broke out of that box, she had tried to fit me back in it by suggesting that someone else was responsible for my appearance outside of it. It is time parents, adoptive and otherwise, stopped thinking this way. Regardless of what race your child is or where they came from, they are capable of great things. To be flabbergasted at what another young black male—or any child— has been able to accomplish, devalues your sons and daughters as people and reinforces the notion that for them success is a long shot. It is not. In fact, in many cases it is likelihood. Studies have shown that children usually achieve or surpass the educational attainment level of their parents. In regards to income, this also means that children normally achieve or surpass the socioeconomic status of their parents. The same logic and the same data can be applied to kids who grew up with their adoptive/foster families as well. In my case, both of my moms went to college, and also to Ivy League schools. I didn’t expect to write a book one day, but I did expect to graduate from college. When a parent recently asked me “Did you always speak the way you do now? You know, as articulate as you do now?” I did not take offense to it. On the contrary, part of me took it as a compliment. However, I did wonder if that question would have been asked had that gentleman known that both of my moms were college educated, or that I had always been an avid reader. I wondered if he would have asked me that question if I were a white adopted child who had written a book about his life. I don’t know the answer of course. I never will. But I have an idea of what it might be.
When you talk to your kids, or friends, or relatives, feel free to mention my story. Feel free to mention that my birth mom was schizophrenic, or that my adoption was overturned when the courts said two white women couldn’t raise a black child. Feel free to say that I was asked to choose between my birth mom and my two moms at the age of 7 and that I chose my two moms. Feel free to talk about the anguish I felt when one of my moms passed away of cancer. Feel free to mention that my mom Janet was finally able to adopt me when I was 19. However, please do not make me a victim, or a martyr, or an anomaly. I was fortunate enough to have 3 moms who loved me, who were all there for me in different ways. When you think of me, don’t compare me to your children, compare me to yourselves. If you have ever lost a loved one you can identify with my story. If you have ever thought of ways to improve yourself you can identify with my story. If you have ever been willing to risk your life for someone you love, you can identify with my story. I ask you to identify with me, because I may share some of the same characteristics and circumstances your child does. I may share the same skin tone your child does. However that does not mean you cannot identify with my journey—and it does not mean you cannot identify with your child’s. The question I am asked most is “how do I find a way to talk to my child about their culture?” As with all questions I don’t have a perfect answer, but I tell them this: “If you want to understand your child’s culture, begin to understand your own.” My adoptive mother “Mary Hynes” was Irish. I share her last name. Sometimes on Saint Patrick’s Day she cooked an Irish dish and played Celtic music. I feel a connection to that culture—and to my mom, because it is the heritage of my family. My moms always made sure I was aware of black history and the Civil Rights movement, but they also let me know that I was a part of their history now too, and I love them for that. Your children are a part of your history now too, so include them. Make them feel welcome. Believe in what they can accomplish, and believe in what you can accomplish as a parent and, more importantly, as a human being.