Jeena and Drue Wilder have been open to adoption as long as they can remember. As parents living in Atlanta, GA, they are proud of their biracial family and speak openly and honestly about the transracial adoption process via social media. As biological parents to Elyjah, 7, Delylah, 6, and Jemymah, 2, they realized that they wanted to add a fourth child into the mix, and that's when their 6-year-old daughter Claridy, who is white, came into their lives.
"My husband's mom, grandmother, and aunt are all adopted," Jeena told POPSUGAR. "Adoption is a huge part of his family. I had also realized that I always wanted to be a mother to a child who wasn't biologically mine. Obviously, Drue knew how much adoption affected his family and his life, so when we got married in 2012, we had agreed that it was something we both wanted to do."
Rather than fostering to adopt or going through a formal process, Jeena and Drue opted to adopt via kinship - where a family adopts a relative's child - when Claridy's biological parents were sent to prison.
"We didn't actually go through the formal system because it was a kinship adoption," said Jeena. "We knew what was happening with Claridy before she was officially put into the system, which made it harder in some ways and easier in others. It was obviously more expensive, but we didn't have to jump through as many hoops. We had a caseworker, but it wasn't as intense of a situation as some of my friends who are taking other adoption avenues."
"Because I have biracial children already, I've gotten used to the fact that I'm not going to have children who look exactly like me."
Since both of Claridy's biological parents are incarcerated for life, navigating the process came with some additional challenges. At first, Claridy's biological mother was hesitant to let Jeena and Drue have custody of her daughter, going as far as flat out refusing initially. Eventually, her biological mother agreed to adoption, and Claridy went to live with the Wilders.
"There were a lot of bumps in the road at first because Claridy actually went to two other homes before arriving at ours," said Jeena. "Even though she wasn't officially in the system, her mother just didn't want us to have her. Ultimately, both of the homes she went to had said that the situation wasn't the right fit for them. For example, she lived with her grandparents, but they're older, and while they wanted to take care of her, they felt that they couldn't truly give her what she needed. When she came to our home, she had already been through so much trauma. She didn't trust people. Even when we would leave, she would always understandably freak out."
Now that Claridy has been with the Wilders for three years, she's come into her own, showing tremendous improvement. "The first year was the hardest," said Jeena. "I don't know how else to explain it. I knew I was in it for the long haul, but I didn't know if things would get better. This year has been the best. I feel like she's really starting to understand that she's with us forever. She's starting to realize that things are stable. Oddly enough, we've had a lot of changes this year between finalizing the adoption and moving out of state. I think she understands that she's staying with us throughout these changes."
"My relationship with my daughter has been great," gushed Jeena. "Because I have biracial children already, I've gotten used to the fact that I'm not going to have children who look exactly like me. All my children have different skin tones, so when I view my children, the fact that don't look like me doesn't matter. They're my children."
For Claridy, making sense of the fact that her mom didn't look like her took a little finesse, especially because she was born in North Dakota, where there aren't that many Black residents.
"People would ask me, 'Is she really your daughter?' Honestly, I would just reply, 'Yup! She's my daughter, what are you trying to insinuate?'"
"There aren't that many African Americans in the town that she lived in, so I'm pretty sure I was the first Black person who she had a relationship with," explained Jeena. "My husband noticed that she mentioned my skin tone a lot when she first came to live with us. Because we have another daughter who is the same age who wasn't asking those questions, we realized that it might be because there aren't that many African Americans where she's from."
But for Jeena, Claridy's comments were a result of her trying to make sense of her new family. "She would say things like, 'Mommy's skin is brown and my skin is white,' or 'I have blond hair,'" explained Jeena. "She was really just noticing a difference." Although Claridy's observations were completely innocent, some adults in the community felt compelled to point out the difference to Jeena, and they weren't always kind about it.
"People would ask me, 'Is she really your daughter?' Honestly, I would just reply, 'Yup! She's my daughter – what are you trying to insinuate?' Those individuals usually wouldn't say anything after that," said Jeena. "But there's an occasional person who will ask, 'No, is she really your daughter?' And I would just look at them, like, 'Are you really going to ask that in front of my daughter? Do you want her to respond to you? Do you need to see some paperwork? It's really hard. Why can't you just see a family that's together and just say, 'Hey, that's a beautiful family?' You should just be happy that it works."
As a mom with three years of experience in transracial adoption under her belt, Jenna is encouraging other prospective parents to keep the conversation going with their children when it comes to race and identity.
"Have an open dialogue," she urged. "One of the things I'm really proud of in our family is that Claridy doesn't feel left out in our biracial family. She'll say, 'Mommy doesn't match me or Delylah. We're all different.' It doesn't matter that we're different. We're still a family, and we say we love each other. Say it often because it makes a huge difference. Also people like to say love is love and that race doesn't matter, and they're right in some ways. But trying to hide our racial differences or sweeping it under the rug doesn't help anyone. As the kids get older, they'll have questions, so ensure they always feel comfortable coming to you. I want my daughter to feel as comfortable coming to me as she does her white dad."
To keep up with the Wilders' adventures, follow them on Instagram.