Every year, hundreds of expectant mothers choose transracial adoption, placing their babies with adoptive parents of a different race. Like any other adoption, transracial adoption is a lifelong journey, complete with its own set of unique joys and challenges.
In most ways, parenting a child of a different race is no different than raising a child who shares your racial background. However, there are some unique and subtle ways in which race may impact parenting decisions for transracial adoptive families. As this form of adoption becomes increasingly common, it is important for families to truly understand their children’s needs and experiences as transracial adoptees.
Discuss Race with Your Children
Your child’s race has no impact on your bond and love for them, and this can cause many adoptive parents to view race as a nonissue. But the truth is that it is impossible to ignore racial differences entirely, and parents who are raising children of a different race must be prepared and comfortable addressing physical differences and talking about racial issues.
Every multiracial family has different experiences, and there are different views on when, how and to what extent to discuss race. While there is no simple guidebook for families to follow, consider the following suggestions:
- Recognize different needs – If you are a white parent raising an African American child, your child’s hair will not only likely look different from yours — it will also require different care. Recognize and embrace your physical differences, remind your child of how beautiful they are, and address your child’s specific needs.
- Confront racism – While you do your best to surround your child with friends and family who are open-minded and accepting of people of all backgrounds, you cannot control every person your child will come in contact with, and chances are your child or your family will face prejudice at some point. Learn how to talk with your child about racism even before your child is faced with it, and give him or her plenty of opportunities to discuss these issues with you.
- Talk about cultural identity – Transracial adoptees may struggle to determine their cultural identity. Teach your child about his or her ethnic, racial and cultural background, and be prepared to answer questions that will help them address these unique identity challenges.
- Learn about different races – Do not focus solely on your child’s race (or your own race) during these conversations. Try to use examples from various races and cultures, and create a home environment that is accepting, loving and open to people of all backgrounds.
- Listen – Just as important as talking about race — and maybe even more so — is listening to your child. Give them opportunities to share their experiences without being defensive, dismissing their emotions or offering excuses or denial. Respond empathetically to any sadness, anger or pain they express. Unless you are a transracial adoptee yourself, you cannot fully understand your child’s experience and perspective, and this will be a learning opportunity for you as well as your child.
Discussing race can be difficult at first, especially for young children. One common concern shared by adoptive parents is how to acknowledge and celebrate racial differences without causing the child to feel isolated. Many also struggle to introduce the topic of racism without frightening their child.
However, the more you talk about race with your child, the more comfortable the topic will become. Above all, it is important in every conversation about race to ensure your child knows that you love him or her for exactly who he or she is.
Provide Opportunities to Explore Diversity
Racial and cultural identity can play a big role in your child’s overall identity development, and it is important that you give your child plenty of opportunities to explore his or her own racial background.
In addition to talking about race, it is important for adoptive parents to give their children hands-on opportunities to learn about and interact with others who share their racial and cultural background. Here are some suggestions for helping your child explore diversity:
- Surround your child with peers of various racial backgrounds, including other children of his or her race. Send your child to a racially diverse school, enroll them in diverse summer camps, sports teams and music programs, and make playdates or join a play group of culturally diverse families and children.
- Seek out other multiracial families, especially families who have experienced transracial adoption. It is wonderful to expose your child to other people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, but no one will understand and relate to his or her experience like a fellow transracial adoptee. Try reaching out to local adoption support groups to find other transracial families to connect with.
- Provide your child with culturally diverse dolls and toys, as well as books and movies about his or her culture and transracial adoption.
- Attend cultural events and celebrations where your child can meet and interact with others of his or her race.
- Interact with adults of different races in your neighborhood, school district and church community. Invite family friends of many different races and cultures into your home, and help build relationships between your child and positive adult role models of your child’s race.
While you may not know what it’s like to grow up as a person of your child’s race, there are many others who do. Provide your child with as many opportunities as possible to interact with other children and adults who can share in those experiences.
Responding to Others
While society is becoming increasingly tolerant and accepting of diversity, multiracial or multicultural families often still draw attention in certain communities. Even after creating a safe and accepting environment in your home and surrounding your child with diversity, you and your family may occasionally attract unwelcomed questions or comments that can be hurtful to you and your children.
Here are some steps you can take to prepare for and respond to these types of situations:
- Have short, simple responses prepared ahead of time. Within two or three sentences, you should be able to quickly and easily let ogling and nosy strangers know that families can be formed in many ways, that you are proud of your multicultural family and that the topic is not open for further discussion.
- Nonadoptive parents are generally not expected to relay the details of their child’s birth story to strangers they pass on the street, and you shouldn’t be, either. Remember that you do not owe anyone an explanation of your family’s story. After making your brief response to their question or comment, feel free to change the subject or step away from the conversation.
- Do your best to keep your responses positive and light-hearted. Model appropriate responses for your children, and have discussions with them about how they can react if placed in a similar situation. Always ensure that your interactions with strangers communicate to your children that you are proud of your family’s racial makeup and that your child is loved, accepted, and perfect the way he or she is.
- While your status as a transracial adoptive family in no way obligates you to be the “face of adoption,” you do have an opportunity to educate others about adoption and the issues that transracial adoptees face. While it is not your job to explain adoption to every stranger you meet, also recognize that some people who ask questions are genuinely interested in the topic of adoption and want to know more. If you feel like sharing your adoption story, do so — and be proud knowing that hopefully, the next time they see a multicultural family, they will be more knowledgeable.
Resources for Transracial Adoptive Families
As transracial adoption becomes increasingly common in the United States, more research, resources and support networks are emerging for multiracial families. If you are raising a child of another race, consider the following educational resources:
If you are considering transracial adoption and would like more information, contact an adoption specialist to learn more. You may also explore our Agency Assisted program and Available Situations page for diverse adoption opportunities.