Thoughts on Coronavirus from a White Adoptive Mom of Asian Children

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“Hey, baby, have you heard anyone talking about the Coronavirus at school?”

“No. What’s that?”

My breath slowly released as I gathered my thoughts.

When the outbreak began in China, quickly becoming international news and concern, I realized this development could easily affect our family. Just three months prior, we had traveled to South Korea to bring our second child home through adoption — narrowly missing this health scare during travel in the grand scheme. (I do call it a “scare,” not to further sensationalize it, but because I have some pre-existing conditions that would put me more at risk to serious illness.) Although at first I wasn’t concerned about us contracting the illness, regardless, I realized this could become personal on a different level– having minority, Asian children.

As I expected, frustrated posts from parents started trickling into the online adoption groups I’m in: Their Korean children being taunted and teased by schoolmates. These parents vented about their child being called, “Coronavirus” or treated as though they’re plagued with the illness simply because they’re Asian. NPR has interviewed and quoted many experiences the Asian population has endured thus far over the Coronavirus. It’s unsettling how grown adults so quickly hurl ignorant, racist slurs.

If you, dear reader, are a person of color, please know I try my best to understand just how privileged I am as a white, middle class, American woman. I know I will never fully understand racism and what that feels like, in the day-to-day and on a larger scale. But I also know it is especially my responsibility as a mother of minority children to try my hardest to understand. The depth of that challenge is not lost on me. It is my responsibility to not shy away from conversations about race with my children.

As a mother in general, I don’t ever want my children to feel outcast, made fun of or made to feel like they don’t belong. I know we all agree. As a mother through adoption, there are extra layers to that as we journey through the realities of loss and no biological connection. I don’t ever want my children to feel less than loved to the fullest in this family and in their world. But I also know, through the brokenness of people, that’s simply not something that can be avoided forever. They will experience rejection.

They have to experience rejection in order to rise up from under it.

So with that said, I was relieved that my son hadn’t heard about the Coronavirus yet. Admittedly, it had probably taken me a couple of weeks from its outbreak to realize we needed to have a conversation about it at home ASAP — we’re still learning. My husband and I filled him in on what the virus was and where it started. We told him the facts so he could be armed with the truth in case anyone at school jeers at him.

I know I can’t protect my child from mean comments when he’s away from me. I know it’s not the end of the world for him. But I know it could be hurtful, and I don’t want to be naive to what he may face in situations like this. I’ve learned from adult adoptee voices and minority voices, that racist, ignorant remarks, and bullying start at a very young age. From reading and listening to those in my son’s shoes, I know that we NEED to have these conversations at home so he knows he doesn’t have to face racism alone. My son needs to know, even at 5-years-old, that we are on his side forever. He needs to know that we will listen if he’s hurt by someone, and we will advocate and speak up as needed.

So I beg of you, fellow mamas  .  .  .  Can we make a point to talk to our kids about the true facts of situations, like Coronavirus? Even if your child doesn’t fall into the category of those being bullied for it? They will hear a lot of myth and misunderstanding from kids at school — can we ensure they hear the truth from us? NPR created a really great comic strip to help ease the worry for kiddos trying to understand it all. As a mother to Asian children, one section of the comic I’d like to quote:

“It’s very important to remember that this kind of virus can affect anybody. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what country your parents are from. Just because someone looks different or talks differently doesn’t mean that they are at a higher risk of getting the coronavirus or spreading it.”

If we can disarm the misconceptions, the fruit will be greater understanding and kindness amongst our kids. And parents like me would be so grateful.