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Mothering without a Compass

White Mother’s Love, Black Son’s Courage

2000
Author:

Becky W. Thompson

Mothering without a Compass

A lively meditation on creating a multiracial family.

Mothering without a Compass is the moving story of the author’s first year as the white lesbian mother of an African American boy. Thompson gives us an absorbing and often humorous account of her attempt at antiracist, multicultural parenting.

Becky Thompson has tackled some of the most complex issues of our time-race, gender, class, and motherhood-in an engaging, sensitive and insightful way. With the microscopic lens of both a good photographer and scientist, she has given her readers beautiful pictures of a bonding between mother and child that is both warm and sensible. Pulling no punches about her anxieties and fears, her growing love for her child and her fear that he may be taken away, she has shown us that love can transcend all boundaries. Mothering Without a Compass is a treasure. A must read.

Joyce Ladner, author of The Ties that Bind: Timeless Values for African American Families

In 1997, Becky Thompson began parenting nine-year-old Adrian at the request of his mother, and her life changed forever. Mothering without a Compass is the moving story of her first year as the white lesbian "sudden-mother" of an African American boy. From the everyday yet sometimes overwhelming tasks of finding Adrian a school and debating the significance of action figures, to unexpected discussions about who pays whom at the sperm bank, to the more complicated matters of racism, sexuality, nontraditional families, open adoption, love, and loss, Thompson gives us an absorbing and often humorous account of her attempt at antiracist, multicultural parenting.

Mothering without a Compass highlights a range of issues and experiences: Thompson’s desire to be a good mother while holding on to her sense of self; her growing, detailed knowledge of the ways in which racism affects people’s feelings about themselves and the world around them; her increasing appreciation of the inner life of a child; her realization that mothering forces her to confront her own vulnerabilities and past losses. The book opens with Adrian’s arrival and ends with a visit from Adrian’s biological mother, during which she and Thompson search for ways to respect each other as parents across racial, religious, and cultural divides.

Mothering without a Compass relates a lesbian parent’s struggle to help her child grow up and describes the complexities facing children who have more than one family. This candid, personal story shows that it is through everyday life that questions about race, class, gender, and sexuality are often played out. It is a necessary book for all parents-for anyone concerned with the challenge of raising justice-minded children in a complicated world.

Mothering without a Compass

Becky Thompson is the author of A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems (Minnesota, 1994) and coeditor (with Sangeeta Tyagi) of Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity (1996) and Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Excellence (Minnesota, 1993). She is associate professor of sociology at Simmons College in Boston.

Mothering without a Compass

Becky Thompson has tackled some of the most complex issues of our time-race, gender, class, and motherhood-in an engaging, sensitive and insightful way. With the microscopic lens of both a good photographer and scientist, she has given her readers beautiful pictures of a bonding between mother and child that is both warm and sensible. Pulling no punches about her anxieties and fears, her growing love for her child and her fear that he may be taken away, she has shown us that love can transcend all boundaries. Mothering Without a Compass is a treasure. A must read.

Joyce Ladner, author of The Ties that Bind: Timeless Values for African American Families

This is a wonderful book, honest and beautifully told. All the doubt, uncertainty, and changing consciousness of the experience of motherhood is powerfully drawn. Thompson is a writer who is committed to social justice, yet knowledgeable of the psychological and moral complexities that can sometimes, understandably, be erased by political agendas. I read this book and responded to it as a mother, as a feminist, and as a writer.

Jane Lazarre, author of Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons

What is compelling about this book is the author's unique position as a white women describing her experiences as an adoptive mother of an older Black child. Thompson's honesty and uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing for Adrian, her worries and concerns-all these make this book powerful and important.

Maureen T. Reddy, author of Crossing the Color Line: Race, Parenting, and Culture

In 1997, Thompson, a white lesbian, was asked to take custody of 9-year-old Adrian, an African-American boy, at the request of the boy’s mother. This book chronicles their first year of life together. It's a sweet story that proves while love makes a family, sometimes making a family also creates love. Thompson tackles the issue that you'd expect to come up when a white lesbian adopts a child of color. But she also writes humorously and lovingly about less typical things, like the Hulk action figure she makes disappear.

Curve

The beauty of the book is in its universality. The care and energy Thompson invests in teaching Adrian about his culture and others can and should be invested in any child. The implications of accepting ‘instant motherhood’ of an African American boy with a troubled history are huge, yet Thompson embarks with an open mind and heart, doing her utmost to rear the child with all the grace, dignity, and intelligence she can muster. Her experiences are a powerful example.

Hope

A lesbian mother talks about the challenges and joys of raising her adopted African American son. Tackles the issues of gender, race, class and motherhood in a sensitive and humorous way.

Skipping Stones

Thompson eloquently relates the difficulties of bringing up a proud, intelligent and sensitive child in a culture that does not recognize such qualities in African American men. She soon finds that her commitment of raising Adrian in a multicultural, progressive environment is trickier than she had imagined. This memoir will strongly appeal to anyone interested in the complications and pleasures of raising children in a culture of increasingly different and contested ‘family values’.

Publishers Weekly

Written in essay form and from a lesbian standpoint, the story of Thompson and her adopted African American son is less an attempt to obtain answers than to express her feeling that the racial and cultural differences between her and her child cannot be ignored.

Library Journal

Becky Thompson tackles transracial adoption. It’s a sweet story that goes a long way in proving that while love makes a family, sometimes making a family also creates love.

Lambda Book Report

Very moving.

MultiCultural Review

Mothering without a Compass

Contents

Put my head in her hands, our two heads together
Witness to the telling
Limb from limb
Telling, not telling, still hurting
What part of the story do I tell?
Heart on the table, in my hands
In the age of no innocence
Lost time, in time, on time, with time
In the gaze, in the tone of the voice
Much of the script, already written
Father love
Mother love
Sex education in the 1990s
So grown
Sand beneath my feet, the tide takes its turn

Acknowledgments

Notes