What I learned about family after adopting a child of a different race.

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 John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.