This story was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans.

Mash-Up adoptive families face challenges that others don’t.

Neither my white partner, Jill, nor I look like our black son, Shiv, or like each other. And this affects our family on a daily basis — at the grocery store, at Target, on a plane.


If you are considering or already have a transracial adoptive family, here is a compilation of lessons we’ve learned as we’ve made our way as partners, parents, and a family unit as a whole.

1. Check your assumptions.

When we first became Shiv’s parents, I was embarrassed I’d ever had reservations about the possibility of parenting a black child. Now that I am four years into parenting, I see those concerns as spot-on and important; it isn't nothing to parent a child of a different race or ethnic background. This is especially true for white parents of children of color, and we do our children an incredible disservice if we try and pretend that color isn’t a factor in daily life in America.

Becoming Shiv’s parent has pushed me to come to terms with my own prejudice and privilege and to humbly admit how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know about what it’s like to be black in America.

Things that have helped: reading more authors of color, past and present; following activists and authors on Twitter; diversifying my news media input; and paying particular attention to friends and acquaintances of color that I can learn from.

If you aren’t prepared to tackle your own bias and limitations — to admit that your lived experience may have left you with blind spots — then don’t apply to adopt or foster children of color. Or if you’re a person of color, a child from a different race or ethnicity than you. There is no shame in telling the truth. The real shame is when children are brought into families that aren’t prepared to support them in the ways they will need and deserve.

2. Research your adoption agency.

Not all agencies are created equal, and — in some cases — you get what you pay for. Always, always talk to transracial families who have worked with the agency before. If the agency doesn’t provide you with a list of references, that’s a warning sign.

Another warning sign are phrases like "Oh, children don’t see color!" or "Color doesn’t matter!" Any agency worth its salt should be staffed with social workers who can comfortably and knowledgeably discuss the issues transracial families face and can steer you toward resources both before and after the adoption takes place.

More than anything, trust your instincts. Our agency doesn’t have a fancy website, but they do have employees who care deeply about what they do and always treated us — and, even more importantly, the birth mother — like human beings.

Nishta Mehra, her son Shiv, and her partner Jill. Image courtesy of Nishta Mehra/The Mash-Up Americans.

3. Talk to other adoptive parents.

Talk to any adoptive parents, but especially reach out to adoptive parents who have kids of color, and a different color than them. Don’t be shy! Most of us are happy to share our experience and be adoption ambassadors. Once you’ve established a connection with adoptive parents, ask the questions that you really have — we’ve been there, we get it, and we can address your concerns.

I was recently asked by a prospective adoptive parent, "Then why do you always hear about adoption taking such a long time, like people waiting for two years and stuff like that?" I had just shared with her the timeline of our own adoption process: just under nine months from filing paperwork to bringing our baby home. My reply: "Because those people are waiting for full-Caucasian newborns, and they’ve probably specified gender. If you check all the boxes, you won’t be waiting nearly as long." This prompted an important conversation about race and the adoption industry, including the fact that babies like my son are considered "difficult to place" because of their color and often cost less to adopt.

4. Decide your deal-breakers ahead of time.

What are the customs that really matter to each branch of the family? Who feels strongly about naming traditions? You may have decided many of these things as a couple, but babies tend to raise the stakes. Your parents may suddenly care about what you’re doing on Christmas Eve, what you’re eating, and the memories you are creating for their grandchildren.

It’s impossible to anticipate every occasion, of course, but some thoughtful questions ahead of time can potentially avoid conflict.

For example, it was/is really important to me that Shiv be raised within an Indian cultural framework, which includes, for my family, Hindu rituals and practice. Jill knew this from the get-go and had no objections, but this approach does ask something of her — to come along on holidays, to eat certain foods on certain days (and not eat certain foods on other days), etc.

5. Pay attention to representation.

As parents, we are deliberate about what brand of blanket to buy; why would we not also be deliberate about the images that surround our children and thereby inform their self-conception? Be conscious about things like books, TV shows, movies, parks and playgrounds, grocery stores, restaurants, and schools.

Shiv got so excited one day when we read Wynton Marsalis’ super-fun book "Squeak, Rumble, Whomp, Whomp, Whomp." The book follows a young black boy as he narrates the sounds he encounters in his everyday life. "That’s me! I in the book!" He was thrilled.

Just today, he pointed to characters in a book we were reading and said "They black," he nodded, "I black, too." He asked, "You black, Mommy?"

"No, baby, Mama’s brown," I said. He put it all together: "I black, you brown, and Gigi white." That's right, I told him. Then we went back to reading our book.

Image via iStock.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Find groups for adoptive parents, including subcategories like transracial adoptive families or LGBTQ adoptive families, on Facebook and post your questions — or vent your frustrations — there.

"What do you do when someone assumes you’re the nanny?" "How do you respond when someone asks about 'his daddy'?" But remember that it’s not the responsibility of your friends or acquaintances of color to "explain to you" whatever it is you want to know. Don’t hold them responsible for representing their entire race or ethnicity.

Sometimes, a trusted source is closer than you might think. In the wake of an ugly playground incident, when a white boy told Shiv that "no black boys were allowed" in the sandbox, I debriefed with my mom. She is fair-skinned and often had to deal with strangers’ bullshit about me, her darker-skinned daughter. She helped me think about how I would handle the situation differently in the future.

7. Be prepared for relationship surprises — pleasant and unpleasant.

Some connections will be strengthened, but others you may decide to cut loose — these decisions and conversations may be incredibly difficult and disappointing. For LGBTQ and transracial families, this may be even more so the case. Don’t be afraid to communicate particular standards for your family and friends when it comes to what is and isn’t said in the presence of your child. Don’t force your child to advocate for themselves or to give a pass to relatives who aren’t willing to move or bend.

8. Follow your child’s lead.

When it comes to experiences and interests, I am a firm believer in giving children options and letting them choose. (When it comes to what you get to drink with dinner, however, I am a firm believer in water or milk.) While it is important to be sensitive to cultural needs that your child may have, it is equally as important not to force any such experience on your kid. Offer the experiences that you feel may appeal to your child, then support their choice.

For example, I didn’t realize the extent to which the barbershop is a formative experience for many black men — of course I didn’t because I am not a black man. Luckily, some of my students clued me in: "Ms. Mehra, he’s got to go! We’ll take him." Now that he’s old enough, I’ll take them up on the offer; but if Shiv doesn’t enjoy going, I won’t insist that he go in the future.

9. Keep some phrases in your arsenal.

"He doesn’t have to be biological to be 'mine.'"

"Yes, our family was built through adoption."

"That’s a very personal question to ask a stranger."

"Actually, he has two moms."

"If you’d like to learn more about adoption, I’d be happy to point you to some resources."

"Oh, would you like to talk about how you conceived your child?"

10. Think about bridges.

Because I am an English teacher and a word nerd, I often turn to etymology for guidance. The Latin prefix "trans" means "across, on the far side, beyond." As members of transracial families, we are given access to the beyond of another’s experience, but that doesn’t make their experience ours.

To claim that because I have a black son, I know what it means to be black is as ridiculous as saying that because I have a son, I know what it means to be a male. Being Shiv’s parent has created windows — windows through which I can see things that I didn’t before, windows for which I am grateful — but it is essential for me to remember that I don’t have the full view.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?

Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.

The best!

If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!

Image via

Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.

But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.

Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Images from Denver Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

Keep Reading Show less

Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
Keep Reading Show less