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'A Conspicuous Family'

The Marcelos represent three races in four people—and praise God for it

We talked with Phil Marcelo about his family of four, which represents three different races. Phil lives in Illinois with his wife, Karen, and their two children, Nathan and Maggie.

ParentConnect: Your family represents a lot of different races.

Phil: We do! I'm Filipino, Karen is Danish, Nathan is Danish-Filipino, and Maggie is African American. At Christmas our tree holds decorations from both Denmark and the Philippines, and we incorporate African-American elements to honor Maggie's culture. It's a unique and beautiful mixture.

ParentConnect: Do you make an effort to celebrate the different cultures?

Phil: We read to each of our children and have expanded our library to include books that represent a number of different ethnicities, showing differences but also showing similarities. We've included books about adoption and how there are different kinds of families. As they get older, our goal is to expose them to a number of different cultures, not just Filipino, Danish, or African American. They're learning Spanish through school. We hope to integrate that as a second language for the children, and as a third language for Karen (who speaks Danish) and me (I speak Tagalog).

ParentConnect: What motivated you guys to adopt your daughter? Have you always wanted to or was that a newer decision?

Phil: We were sitting side by side in church before the service began, both flipping through the bulletin and, simultaneously, came across a pink sheet of paper stating, "WANTED: Loving Homes for Children." It was an insert announcing an adoption information meeting at a local church scheduled for the following Thursday night. We'd begun going through fertility treatments and had miscarried a couple times. We both looked at each other and whispered, "We've got to go to this!"

On that Thursday, the program began with a troupe that danced to the music "Testify to Love" by Wynonna. That was one of the songs we'd chosen for our wedding, and we hadn't heard it since. We felt as though God was telling us, Sit up and take notice! This is for you.

We listened intently to all the presentations given that night but connected with a woman representing the Ardythe and Gayle Sayers Center of African-American Adoption at The Cradle. We spoke with her after the program, she gave us her card, and we contacted her shortly thereafter.

Thus began the decision to adopt transracially. We decided at that point that even if we were to have children through fertility treatment, we would adopt a child. We felt called to do so.

ParentConnect: Had you already started the adoption process when you found out you were pregnant with Nathan?

Phil: The Cradle's policy is that a couple going through fertility treatments should wait until after they're finished to proceed with the adoption process. Nathan was conceived during what we decided would be our last cycle of treatment. Once we found out we were expecting, we contacted the adoption agency to let them know that we were ready to at least get the paperwork underway. We knew that it might take a while for processing and for a birth mother to be matched with us so we thought that we should prepare as soon as possible. Once Nathan was born, we contacted the agency again to let them know he'd arrived. Our counselor congratulated us, but clarified their policy that the current youngest sibling in the family needed to be at least one year old. We waited until Nathan was 11 months and contacted them again. Sensing how eager we were to move ahead, they let us start the adoption process without any other delays.

ParentConnect: Do people ever wonder whom your daughter belongs to? How do you handle those questions?

Phil: Yes, we're asked those questions, and our response, in general, is to educate. We say, "Yes, Maggie is our daughter through adoption, but our daughter nonetheless." Usually people ask further probing questions such as, "Is she from this country? Did you know the birth mother? Have you had her from birth?" We love our children and enjoy telling their unique stories.

ParentConnect: What is Maggie's story?

Phil: Maggie was born in our area and was a month old when we met her. She came home with us a week later. All the adoptions placed through this particular program are open adoptions—meaning birth and adopted parents know each other. The birth mother chooses from several families by reviewing written profiles the perspective parents put together.

ParentConnect: What challenges, if any, do you expect to face as your children get older?

Phil: We know we're a conspicuous family. We can use it to our advantage right now to educate people, but we also recognize that this may be a source of embarrassment or anxiety for our children in the future because we are "different."

We also realize that, as much as we can expose Maggie to African-American culture, teach her about great African Americans in history and in the community, and ask our friends to share their experiences with her, we cannot begin to understand what she will experience as a black woman. Maggie may have a variety of feelings about the adoption, and it's possible a friend or schoolmate may make a mean comment regarding being adopted.

We want to create a safe zone of multicultural and multiracial friends and family for Maggie where she knows she is loved unconditionally and where she can express herself fully without fear of being persecuted or judged. We also believe that it's important for Maggie to have a mentor with whom she can discuss issues of adoption and culture; areas that—much as we'd like to—we can never fully understand.

Of course, we also want to be aware of how Nathan feels about having an adopted sibling and even being biracial himself.

ParentConnect: What surprises you most about parenting your kids?

Phil: Seeing that the kids are already being influenced by our faith. Maggie pipes in at the end of dinner prayers with an eager "ah-bee," which is her own version of "amen." Nathan is quick to include his grandparents and buddies from school in his prayers. He's started to say the Lord's Prayer with us, too. We were amazed when he began to recite portions of it with us at church. It just shows us that, even at this age, God is already at work in their hearts.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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