In this blog I am sharing my thoughts on the experience of white parents bringing up a family of two daughters born to us and two sons from a Caribbean background.
For quite a while now I have been thinking of writing a blog post about birth mothers. There have been three main reasons why I have been thinking about them.
Firstly because of a conversation with a woman on the bus. We had both come out of a session of Aquafit at the local Sports Centre. This lady was brought up in the West Indies. She told me that this year she hopes to go on a cruise, as it will be her 70th birthday. It will also be her husband’s 80th birthday, their Golden Wedding celebration and her grandson’s 21st birthday. She was beaming as she told me of all these happy occasions to come.
Then her facial expression changed. She grew more serious and said, “My birth mother died aged twenty, giving birth to me. I think of her often”.
After a moment’s pause I asked who had brought her up. She said an aunt. I then ventured to ask whether she had had a good childhood and she said, “Yes. My aunt was pretty good to me”.
The next reason for writing about this theme was after watching a BBC programme interviewing birth mothers form 1970. They had all been persuaded to hand their babies over for adoption. I don’t think anyone interviewed had taken this action voluntarily. Strangely enough, although by the 1970s there would have been benefits awarded to single mothers and presumably some support, the girls themselves had seen no way out of their dilemma. Mostly they have given birth aged seventeen and been unduly influenced/pressurised by their own mothers and agreed to adoption. Some still longed to hear from their long lost children. I believe one woman had actually made contact with her child and the encounter had gone well. It was quite moving to see how deeply all the others longed for contact after all these years.
The existence of the Internet may make contact easier these days but equally the passage of years may make it less likely.
The third reason that has made me think of birth mothers is the amount of children’s novels published recently where the theme is mourning the death of the main character’s mother. I have just read three such books but I think there are others. I wonder. Does a certain idea float in the air and inspire authors? All three books I mention below are moving and excellently written. I recommend them heartily.
A last thought on birth mothers. How much dreadful suffering is going on around the world today! There are birth mothers (and fathers) struggling to live in refugee camps. There are mothers whose daughters have been kidnapped by rebel troops and raped and murdered.
I don’t want to end on a dismal note because often there is good news around somewhere if one can find it. The good news from me today is that on our street healthy triplets have been born to two proud parents. Congratulations and Hooray!
A Very Happy New Year to everyone reading this!
As we start the New Year I look back with gratitude for many things. We have had some excellent holidays – to the Highlands of Scotland – to Norway – to Corsica. The grandchildren have grown – two of them have turned into good readers who love stories. Those were happy events on the personal front. On more of a “learning front” I have joined a Writing for children Workshop at the City Literary Institute and find this most helpful. I am also grateful to the BBC for some excellent programmes they showed towards the end of the year during Black History Month.
Recently a Facebook Friend posted a message about the series which was entitled “Black and British. A Forgotten History” Her message was “Brilliant tv, thanks BBC “ I certainly agree.
She gave a link to the 4th episode.
The Homecoming Black and British: A Forgotten History Episode 4 of 4
“Historian David Olusoga concludes his series with the three African kings who stood up to Empire, an irresistible crooner, race riots in Liverpool and the shaping of black British identity in the 20th century.”
At Christmas we duly gave Mia the book I mentioned in my blogpost in November “Great Women who changed the WORLD”. I hope it will inspire her.
To recap our situation for any new readers: in the 1970s we adopted two sons who were born in London, both from a Caribbean background. Now we are blessed with four grandchildren from those sons. Sam has two daughters and Jah has a son and a daughter.
We had the joy at Christmas to all go and see the pantomime “Sleeping Beauty” at the Hackney Empire. Sam who has moved a slight distance away from London, feels the need for constant ‘cultural inputs’. The Hackney Empire is a good place for this and the pantomime was brilliant!
Here is a picture of part of our multiracial family party walking home from the pantomime.
These young ones are the future. We hope for great things for them and for our multiracial society.
Today, as I am thinking about my next blog post, Donald Trump has been announced as the President Elect, due to take over early in 2017. What will this mean for ordinary American citizens? What will this mean for minority groups?
I have probably said all I can say about the past and the early days of adopting Jah. Now I can turn my mind to multicultural issues. Today everybody, including our multiracial family has to face the future in an increasingly uncertain political climate.
Women in today’s society
In so many ways girls and women as well as ‘people of colour’ are disrespected throughout the world. What can one say to our black granddaughters, sisters and friends? I take it as given that men and women and people of all races are equal in the sight of our Maker. And that, despite small outward differences, we are all members of the ONE Human Race.
Our black daughter-in-law has faced racism and appalling sexism in her work, but with the support of her husband, Sam, has been able to find a new job and to rise again. They have two daughters. The little one Zara is only two years old. The older one, Mia, is now ten.
I am quite excited about a book we are going to give to Mia this Christmas. It is my attempt to instil positive thoughts and give her information about wonderful women. When we were bringing up our own two daughters I don’t remember having such inspiring books for children, but I DO REMEMBER the adrenalin flowing when I first read the adult book “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer in the 1970s! I can honestly say that it changed my view of being a woman and my understanding of the situation of women throughout the world for ever.
See below the book we are going to give Mia, to give her information on Female Role Models. It is published by Bloomsbury and the design of every page is most attractive and eye-catching.
This book as described by Amazon: “Kate Pankhurst, descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, has created this wildly wonderful and accessible book about women who really changed the world.
Discover fascinating facts about some of the most amazing women who changed the world we live in. Fly through the sky with the incredible explorer Amelia Earhart, and read all about the Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole with this fantastic full colour book.”
Bursting full of beautiful illustrations and astounding facts, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is the perfect introduction to just a few of the most incredible women who helped shaped the world we live in.
Here is a list of women featured:
I think I have always been interested in ADOPTION, maybe because my best friend at school was adopted. It interested me to realise that she had to move from one environment to an entirely different one.
Later on D and I adopted two boys, to complete our family of two daughters born to us.
I have also been interested in adopted TWINS, although there are no twins in our family.
I have often recorded programmes about twins. Of special interest are those who were separated at birth. If they are identical twins, so many amazing coincidences and likenesses have been recorded when they meet up. For example, they often call their children by the same names, or have similar jobs. Many even more amazing likenesses have been recorded in scientific studies of identical twins. Sometimes it can be after as long as 50 years of growing up in a completely different environment, or maybe even more years of complete separation!
This is especially interesting and raises the interesting question of Nature versus Nurture.
The programme Twin sisters. A World Apart (BBC4 on 4th July 2016 ) sounded a likely programme for me to enjoy. In actual fact, it surpassed my expectations.
This documentary tells the poignant true story of twin sisters from China. Their names, given by their adoptive parents, are Mia and Alexandra. They were found as babies in a cardboard box in 2003 and adopted by two separate sets of parents. Mia was adopted by parents from Sacramento in the USA and Alexandra by parents from a remote fishing village in Norway.
In the US, Mia is raised a typical all-American girl, with a bustling life filled with violin lessons, girl scouts and soccer, while Alexandra grows up in the quietude of the breathtakingly beautiful but isolated village of Fresvik, Norway, where she happily looks after a pet rat in her family’s shed/workshop.
When they received the OK to adopt an abandoned Chinese baby, neither of the adoptive families were told their daughters were twins. However, due to an unavoidable delay of one day for one of the couples, they all met on the same day when they signed official papers to adopt their new daughters.
They should have been signing the papers on separate days and thus they would never have met. What a coincidence!
The couples were each carrying their new baby daughter prior to signing the official papers. When they saw both girls, they wondered whether the children could be twins because they looked so alike. The Chinese authorities said “no”, but somehow the new parents persisted and managed to arrange a DNA test and the girls were indeed declared to be identical twins.
Both sets of parents understood how important this link is and so far have managed to get the children together for one visit in Norway and they plan to meet up on the next occasion in the United States, at the home of the American family. I believe the girls were about eight years old on the occasion of the visit. They got on beautifully.
Interestingly everybody noticed that the girls often had similar mannerisms, even though they have been brought up in such different environments. The Norwegian little girl is being brought up in the remote Norwegian countryside. She can speak a few words of English. By the time they next meet, she will probably be able to speak quite a bit more. I am not sure whether the American girl was learning a few words of Norwegian, but they have certainly already managed already to communicate and enjoy each other’s company.
I’ll look out for more true-life stories about adopted twins.
This is not meant to be a political blog. It is written in the main about our personal experiences as a multi-racial family. It is impossible to ignore prejudice in society. However, it is also good to remember when prejudice can be overcome.
Sometimes I think that short accounts of experiences, almost ‘vignettes’ can speak volumes to a person. Today I offer you two.
As I write in August 2016, many people around the world have been enjoying watching the achievements of young people at the height of their physical ability, as they take part in the Rio Olympics.
I only learned via Facebook about the great significance of the first Olympic medal for a black participant in the Swimming event. I read that in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s it was not possible for black and white swimmers to swim in the same pools. There is an infamous video in existence of a Motel manager in the US as late as 1964 pouring acid into a swimming pool in order to force the black swimmers out of the pool. (An almost unbelievable act.)
An injustice like that is impossible for oppressed people to forget. And therefore how sweet was the gold medal obtained by Simone Manuel this year in the Women’s 100 metre freestyle! (See the extract below.)
“Manuel’s win is so significant given the history of swimming and racial segregation in America. Swimming has an ugly past – black people were denied access to pools and pools were not built in black neighbourhoods. Even when swimming pools were made available, swimming was segregated, so that white people went to swim in private pools, and the public pools used by black people fell low down the list of municipal priorities. This history of discrimination has a knock on effect today – meaning parents who never learn to swim do not teach their children to swim. In the US swimming is not on the curriculum like it is in the UK.
“Extract from iNews the Essential Daily Briefing
Recently I attended a week-long creative writing event. The participants all got on extremely well. As I understood it, on a previous week, one person was troubled or maybe mentally ill. She went round saying to the others. “You hate me”. She said this to one particular person whose reply was memorable. Her reply as it was reported to me was:
“I lived for 14 years in Belfast at the height of all the Troubles. I did not hate anyone then and I don’t intend to start now.”
My brother and I were brought up in an international atmosphere. Our parents were keen members of the Esperanto movement. As readers of this blog may know, Esperanto is an artificial language. It was used more in the days before English became such an international language. Our parents met Esperantists from around the world before the second World War. This artificial common language enabled them to talk to fellow Esperantists, regardless of anyone’s mother tongue. It included people who were soon to become ‘cut off’ from many others after the War, as their countries disappeared behind the Iron Curtain, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia etc. I am sure our parents must have thought a lot about their friends, whom they could no longer contact.
As a family we have cousins and family in France, Sweden, Tobago, New Zealand, Australia, California, other parts in the United States and I expect that many families have links with even more countries. Today’s children will often meet children in their schools who have come from a variety of countries and who speak a variety of languages. We live in an interconnected world!
Learning about other countries. Refugees.
Today we are able to access world news almost round the clock. However, at a time when the world seems a smaller place and when we are becoming more inter-dependent, recently there has been an unpleasant rise of nationalism and suspicion of people who come from other countries. This is very sad, especially as so many people have been forced to flee their own countries.
I don’t know how much modern parents talk to their children about the plight of so many deprived children around the world (or even in our own country). I do know that schools try to educate the children about life in other countries. (One of our granddaughters has been so interested in a school project on China. To her delight, this culminated with making a huge papier-mâché model of the Great Wall of China! )
However, until recently I had only heard of one children’s book for very young children that addressed the question of being a refugee/Asylum Seeker. (“The Silence Seeker” by Ben Morley and Carl Pearce, published by Tamarind Books.)
In my last blog post I added a P.S.
“On 13th June on the Today Programme I heard about a German book for children about the life of a refugee child. Apparently it is becoming a best seller. I have tried to find out its name……….. If any reader can tell me the title I’d be most grateful.”
Well. My husband Donald came up with the title, shortly followed by one or two other friends.
Unfortunately as yet I cannot provide a direct link, but if you copy the URL below, it should bring up the English translation.
Then a friend Jo posted the Radio 4 link – see below
A new children’s book tells the tale of a family who flee the dangers of the Syrian war, make a perilous journey across the Mediterranean, and arrive in Germany in search for a better life.
Famous German author Kirsten Boei told presenter Sarah Montague how she managed to get children to understand the lives of refugees in Der Spiegel’s number one bestseller,” Bestimmt wird alles gut” (Everything will be alright).”
I must try and get a copy of this book.
I don’t necessarily advocate filling girls’ heads with fantasies of being ‘princesses’, but on the other hand I am committed to the view that there is beauty to be seen in all colours and ethnic backgrounds. This should therefore be reflected in images that surround us.
It was in the 1970s that I first thought about the portrayal in the media of girls and princesses. When we were in Malaysia we had friends who were from Northern Ireland. They came from different sides of the religious divide and had left their hometown of Newry on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Later they settled in Northern Australia.
Eileen, the mother raised a topic that I had never considered in those days. She asked “Why are all heroines and princesses in story books and films portrayed as blond with blue eyes?” She was most indignant about this, as their daughter had lovely brown hair and brown eyes. Naturally she wanted to see a brown haired, brown eyed princess!
I am writing this in June 2016 – 46 years later – and diversity is still a contentious matter. I have just read an article by a Dutch writer Mylo Freeman entitled “Black girls can be princesses too, that’s why I wrote my books”
The Princess Arabella books are now famous in Holland and beyond, but publishers worried Arabella’s ‘uncombed’ hair might be considered offensive in the US.
Someone in our local U3A group (A shared-learning organisation for retired people) has started a film study on animated films. She announced that Disney had at last decided to feature heroines from different ethnic backgrounds.
A few years ago I had pounced with joy on the film “The Princess and the Frog’, which starred a delightful black girl and followed her as she grew into a beautiful young black woman (although for a while she was a frog!!). I bought a Tiana doll for our black granddadughter, Mia.
Children however can be very perverse. Mia DID love the film, so that was excellent. Pity that she never played with dolls, so Tiana remains in our home, sitting in a basket, waiting for her cousin, another younger granddaughter (Jah’s daughter) to play lovingly with her. Well. You can’t win everything! (Interestingly Jah’s daughter has blue eyes and now her curly hair is very dark, although it started out almost blond.)
At our U3A session in June, we watched “Brave” – another Disney film that highlighted a minority culture – Scottish people, many of whom had red hair. Princess Merida Certainly had glorious red curls And I find that very good, as we do notice a large number of people with red hair when we go to our beloved Scotland.
Films from other countries
Our study of animated films began with a strange but extremely skillfull film entitled “Strings” from Sweden. The entire full-length film was played by string puppets. I don’t remember whether there were any princesses in that film. I do remember a lot of strangeness and fighting. However, I am glad that it came from Sweden. I can only say that the more one learns about other cultures and backgrounds the better.
In my next blogpost I’ll be mentioning an extremely interesting and informative afternoon conference I attended recently It was organised by “Inclusive Minds”
Learning about other cultures in school.
Jah’s little daughter has been “doing” China in their latest school project It was lovely hearing her tell me about what she has learned about China and Chinese children. She is now aged eight years old and at such a receptive age.
I am grateful to her school and to the teachers for widening the children’s horizons. Schools can be such great places in so many ways!
On 13th June on the Today Programme I heard about a German book for children about the life of a refugee child. Apparently it is becoming a best seller. I have tried to find out its name. Sorry that I have not yet found it. If any reader can tell me the title I’d be most grateful.
My last blog ended with this sentence “I have heard that there is more help for adopted and looked-after children nowadays.”
This is good news for people involved in adoption today.
Sam had been with us for one whole year in 1973 before we ever read or heard anything helpful about bringing up a black child as white parents. This was when our Adoption Agency sent us an article from an organisation called “The Open Door Society” in Canada . As I wrote in one of my earliest blogs:
The main thrust that came through to us was that ‘Love is not enough… Society will see your children as black… …… The parents have a responsibility to instil in their child, through the media of literature, art and music, a pride and understanding of his racial heritage.”
Apart from the only two multiracial families that we met in the North East of England, our support came mainly from the organisation called Harmony that we encountered when we moved to Leicester in the Midlands.
Harmony was an organisation for multi-racial families whether by adoption, fostering or through mixed-race marriages. It was at Harmony gatherings in the 1980s that we learned a lot about skin care and hair care, It was a supportive forum where we could share information for example about books and toys that showed children who looked like our children.
I have written about this before. So what is new nowadays?
http://www.pac-uk.org/ “From April 2014, schools in England can receive the Pupil Premium for children adopted from care, or who left care under a Special Guardianship Order on or after 30 December 2005. Schools can also claim the Pupil Premium for children who left care under a Residence Order on or after 14 October 1991.
The Pupil Premium is to help schools raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap with their peers. It is paid to schools in respect of disadvantaged pupils in Reception to Year 11. The Government has extended the coverage of the Pupil Premium in recognition of the traumatic experiences many adopted children have endured in their early lives and a realisation that their needs do not change overnight”.
I wish this kind of help had been available for Jah in the 1980s. (sigh)
+ A Helpful booklet published in 2014
In April 2014 a group of multi-racial families in Cornwall has published an extremely helpful booklet in partnership with Barnardo’s.
“Children Visible by Colour in Cornwall: Suggestions for parents and carers raising BME (black and minority ethnic) and dual heritage children who are ‘visible by colour’.”
Kowetha is a pioneering community group of parents and carers living in the West of Cornwall who are raising BME and dual heritage children who are ‘visible by colour’.
The Kowetha Community group has written a handbook to support other families of diverse racial background, which is also valuable for teachers and practitioners. The handbook has been supported by Barnardo’s and considers the following:
The advice, information and shared experiences are applicable for all multi-racial families wherever they live . I can heartily recommend it.
During 2015 I turned on the radio and heard the following startling statement. I jotted it down
“Every 20 minutes a child enters the care system. There are currently 63,000 children in Care.” That figure surprised me.
Somewhere else I jotted down “Famous adoptees” that I knew of. I wrote:
Of course there are many more famous adoptees.
A few years ago I visited the Foundling Museum in London – the foundation that Thomas Coram set up in 18th Century with backing and support from Handel and Hogarth and other famous artists who were concerned about the fate of the many extremely poor and abandoned children.
I had seen the cabinet holding the tokens that mothers left when they left their children – The following matter-of-fact explanation taken from Wikipedia does not attempt to convey how moving it is to see these tiny, simple tokens.
EXTRACT from WIKIPEDIA: “Foundling tokens (coins, a button, jewellery, a poem) were given by mothers leaving their babies, allowing the Foundling Hospital to match a mother with her child should she ever come back to claim it. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the children never saw their mothers again and their tokens are still in the care of the museum.”
Illustration – “Drawing on Childhood”
In February 2016 a friend drew my attention to an exhibition entitled “Drawing on Childhood”. It was an exhibition that featured the work of major illustrators from the eighteenth century to the present day, who have created powerful images of characters in fiction who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found.
The exhibition was most interesting. It showed a variety of illustrations, sometimes by different illustrators of famous books, such as ‘Peter Pan’. For example Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustrations were quite different in tone from earlier artists.
Here is the original book cover.
And here is Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustration of the scene where Wendy reads to the Lost Boys.
I was interested to discover that in 2015 a graphic novel version of Peter Pan by Stref was published. Here is his picture of the grand house the Darlings lived in. The children can just be seen flying high above the house.
I imagine that most readers of this blog will be able to think of many stories about orphans. In fact, where would one begin?! Here are some authors and their illustrators that I think of first:
Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and many other characters, illustrated by many different artists – George Cruikshank being one of the most well-known)
Ludwig Bertelmans who wrote and illustrated the Madeline stories (1939).
In all these cases, the artists/illustrators added greatly to the story.
Later there were many stories by Noel Streatfeild featuring motherless children. A book I always enjoyed is “Heidi” by Johanna Spiri, illustrated here by Janet Johnston.
In the more modern era one can think of. Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”… “Matilda” illustrated by Quentin Blake)
Harry Potter! By J.K. Rowling.
“Tracy Beaker” and “Hettie Feather” by Jacqueline Wilson, who is famously illustrated by Nick Sharratt.
This is by no means an exhaustive list.
After the exhibition I had a cup of tea with my friend in the Museum’s café. I rather wish it had been there when our boys were young. The walls are covered with clearly printed names of people who were either adopted or fostered – ‘Looked After’. Their achievements are varied and impressive and often realised against great odds. It was most interesting and enlightening. I think if I were an adopted person I would have liked sitting there and I think I would have just soaked up the general atmosphere and the effect of all those names.
There is far more interest and I have heard that there is more help for adopted and looked-after children nowadays. I am glad about that.
When we moved to London, I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things one could see and do in the capital. In earlier days I thought that I would not like to live there, but by 1983 I was truly ready to settle in (and hopefully never to move away.) We were both brought up in Surrey, but up until then, in our married life we had lived in SIX different homes, including one in Western Malaysia.
As I have probably said elsewhere, the moment Sam arrived in London, he felt at ease. I think he relaxed because he saw so many people of different colours, including people who looked just like him. Within three days, he had worked out which bus to take. Actually his school was within walking distance and after the first day he wanted to walk there alone.
D. often travelled abroad for his new post for the church denomination and therefore I had to do quite a lot of exploration myself. Jah was still young, so he had to come along. We saw many wonderful things.
I very much doubt whether Jah will remember two cheerful sculptures that we discovered at Somerset House, but they are joyful artistic expressions that I will never forget. The sculptor/artist was Keith Haring. Sadly he died very young, as a victim of the Aids epidemic that was rampant in the 1980s.
I know that we took both boys to Science and Natural History Museums, although I am pretty sure we had to pay in those days. It is much better now that children and families are able to enjoy all the national treasures free of charge and can therefore return again and again – as indeed people do, judging by the huge queues, especially at Half Term.
The Natural History Museum, South Kensington
We went to the Tower of London. Being boys they spent a long time staring at various coats of armour. They also enjoyed the humorous commentary by the guides.
We went to see the Lord Mayor’s Show and visited the Museum of London where we were able to gaze at this magnificent carriage.
Once, when we had walked through the whole length of the Burlington Arcade, we saw a notice that said “It is forbidden to whistle or sing in the Arcade”. Jah had walked right through the Arcade singing a merry song before we reached the notice. When he saw the notice he was very worried. He kept looking over his shoulder, but calmed down when no “policeman” came to arrest him!
I remember also that Jah had been very impressed by the severity of a notice that threatened all sorts of dire punishments if anybody dared to chain their bicycle to railings in “posh” sreets.
After-school clubs were only just beginning to start when we moved to London, but since we were living in the Borough of Camden, Jah was entitled to attend two weeks’ summer play scheme at Coram’s fields. This was a really good experience.
I’m not sure whether we took the boys to the Notting Hill Carnival, but Sam went every year with his friends as he grew older. (The picture below was taken at Carnival in Tobago.)
The inventiveness of costumes that are made around the world is so impressive.
These are just a few memories of our early days in London – the city that both Sam and Jah were born in.
Since I have covered most of Sam’s and Jah’s childhood, from now on I’ll write blogposts once a month – usually on the first Monday of the month. There is plenty more to say on the theme of Adoption Reflections and a Multiracial family. . .