Adoption is an exciting, beautiful journey — but for your family and friends who aren’t familiar with the process, it can be a shock to hear that you’re planning on adopting a baby.
Most of the time, with proper conversation and education, that shock and confusion disappears as your relatives grow to know and love your child. But, as this week’s episode of “This is Us” showed, deep-seated feelings about genetic relationships and children of another race can continue long after an adopted child is brought home.
*Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched*
On “This is Us,” adoptive mom Rebecca has always had a strained relationship with her mother, who makes her feel criticized about every aspect of her life. When it comes to her transracially adopted son Randall, however, Rebecca decides to stand up to her mother’s disparaging remarks.
Whenever Rebecca’s mother is around Randall, she makes offhand comments about her surprise at how smart he is, as well as verbally separating him from his siblings by saying, “The twins and Randall.” She gifts him basketballs (rather than footballs, a sport the whole family enjoys) and makes inappropriate comments about her own black maid growing up. Fed up with the negative attitudes and comments, Rebecca confronts her mother, telling her she is unwelcome as long her behavior continues.
While these flashbacks take place in the 1980s, the topic of racism — among family members and communities — is just as important a topic for parents adopting transracially today. Every family dynamic is different, and the ways that a family addresses racism, adoption and inappropriate comments on both topics will be best determined by their own relationships. If you have concerns about how a relative or friend may treat your adopted child before or after your adoption, we encourage you to speak to your adoption specialists for advice on how to best approach this sensitive topic.
In general, here are a few tips to consider:
1. Speak to your family about your adoption before it happens.
It can be uncomfortable to speak to your friends and family about the potential for inappropriate comments to your future adopted child, but this conversation is important to have before you bring an adopted child home. Make sure your family understands how the adoption process works, your reasons for choosing a particular type of adoption, and how adoption will need to be a positive topic throughout your child’s life. Set ground rules and give tangible examples of what they should and shouldn’t say to your children.
2. Keep that conversation going as your child grows up.
If a friend or relative starts making inappropriate comments or treating your adopted child differently from biological children in the family, you should address this right away. It can be complicated and difficult to speak to elders or close family members about these topics but, for the well-being of their children, adoptive parents should take a strong stance like Rebecca does. Not only will this communicate what is and isn’t appropriate, it shows an adopted child that they are just as much a part of the family as anyone else and, for those adopted transracially, that racism is not to be tolerated.
3. Talk to your child about comments they may hear.
Unfortunately, an adoptee may hear comments or discussions about their differences that they may not understand. In this week’s episode, Randall overheard his mother reprimanding his grandmother for her comments. To help him better understand, both Rebecca and Jack spoke to him about the more subtle aspects of racism that his grandmother was displaying — and which he might experience throughout his life. Giving an adoptee a chance to ask questions and discuss their feelings about these complicated topics is instrumental for them creating a positive identity as an adoptee.
4. If necessary, choose your child over your family.
Most friends and family of adoptees will learn to use adoption-positive language and accept an adopted child just as they would any biological child — but this may not always be the case. If a friend or family member will not change the comments they make and are severely impacting the self-identity of your child, you may need to cut that negative person out of your child’s life for their best interest. Adoption is a beautiful way of building a family, and anyone who does not attempt to understand that should not be in an adoptee’s life.
Talking with family and friends about adoption can certainly be complicated, but it’s important that adoptive parents are strong-willed to shut down any negative comments and, if necessary, address these sensitive topics. If you ever have any questions about adoption relationships with unsupportive friends or family members, please contact your adoption specialist at 1-800-ADOPTION.