FIVE ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR TRANSRACIAL ADOPTIONS
Parents who adopt a child whose race or culture is different than their own face unique challenges. They have the extra responsibility of helping their child form a healthy racial identity and a positive self-image as a member of their birth heritage, as well as the heritage they claim when they become part of your family. Below are some guidelines for multi-racial and multicultural families:
- Your child looks different from you … and that’s a good thing! Your child has a different skin color, facial features and hair texture, and many parents want to ignore these things out of love for their child. They want to find commonalities, not differences. Parents say, “Why do I want to remind my daughter that she looks different from me?” or “What does it matter if we have different skin tones?” It does matter, and if you ignore the differences, someone else will point them out, and not always in a loving and positive way. So take the sting out by celebrating those differences. Hold your white arm up to his brown arm and tell him that you look like two scoops of ice cream in a sundae. Tell her that her black curly hair is beautiful. Tell her you admire her almond-shaped eyes or his full lips. Ignoring the differences can unintentionally send the message to the child that being different is bad; talking about the differences gives you the opportunity to pour encouragement into your child and let your child know that you love him exactly the way he is.
- Racism is real. The world will see your child’s outward features – skin color, hair texture, facial shape – and make assumptions about his or her character based on those features. It is not comfortable to talk about the challenges your child may face as a result of his or her race, but we do our children a disservice by not preparing them. Talk about stereotypes – Asians are good at math, Latinos are hot-tempered, black people commit more crimes. Help your child understand that racism is borne of ignorance and help your child think through their response when confronted by a racist attitude. Ask your child, “What do you think of the idea that all Asian people are good at math?” or “What would you say to someone who believes that black people commit more crimes?” Talking about racism helps prepare them for the world outside your home. A recent study showed that black teenagers are five times more likely than white teenagers to be followed by store security, and that percentage increases to seven times if the teen is walking with their hands in their pockets. It is a sad fact that your child will encounter people who will judge them poorly based on their race. The greatest armor against this is high self-esteem, which allows your child to approach the world with confidence and resiliency.
- Look at the diversity in your own life. Think about your neighborhood, your school, your church and your home. Are people of color part of your life? Here we can distinguish between meta-diversity and micro-diversity. It is important that your child go to school with people of his or her same race (mega-diversity), but are people of other races coming over for dinner to your home (micro-diversity)? You may live in a neighborhood with people of many races, but when you go to the neighborhood pool, do you sit with the other white families or with families of all colors? You may take your child to celebrate Chinese New Years, but what color are the angels on your Christmas tree? What faces are on the covers of the magazines you read? It is not enough to expose your child to diversity “out there.” You need diversity in your own personal social circle, among your own friends and support system. How can you claim to love all people, regardless of skin color, if you only have friends of the same race? And how can you claim that differences are good if you surround yourself only with people who look like you? Being a multi-racial family means living a multi-racial life.
- Your child needs a mentor and role models. Let’s face it: you probably have never been a teenage Indian girl, so it is hard for you to understand the world from her perspective. Give her people in her life who have walked in her shoes and can help her navigate. Find people who will invest in your child and assist you in building their racial self-identity. And also be intentional to find people in leadership positions who are the same race as your child, someone your child can admire and aspire to be like. How can you tell your Haitian child that he can be a doctor if he wants when he grows up if he has never met a black doctor? If the only Asian people your daughter meets are the ones who own the Chinese restaurant, she may think this is the natural path for her life. Expose your child to lots of people, in lots of positions and careers, to help him understand that his world does not have to defined by his race.
- Arm yourself with resources. Learn as much about your child’s race or culture of origin. You don’t have to learn to speak Amharic, but you can research Ethiopian customs and traditions. You can experiment with cooking authentic Indian food (hint: it’s more than just covering everything in curry powder). You can – and must – learn about hair and skin care for African and African-American children, including finding a local stylist for your child. There are great books that address this issue, including Inside Transracial Adoption (Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg), Come Rain or Come Shine (Rachel Garlinghouse) and Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? (Donna Jackson Nakazawa). Listen to podcasts from Creating a Family (www.creatingafamily.com). Search for this topic on the web site www.adoptivefamilies.org and you’ve find a wealth or articles. Join a Facebook group and learn from other parents’ experiences. You don’t have to know everything; you just have be teachable and willing to learn.
Psalm 139:14 (NIV), says, “I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Tell your child that she is beautiful in your eyes and in the eyes of her Heavenly Father. Listen to your child when he says he thinks the other kids are making fun of him because he has white parents. Validate his feelings and encourage him. Let your child know that he or she is a blessing from God and that you thank God He put you together in this family.
This article was written by Diane Hood, Clinical Supervisor with America World Adoption, and the Director of Social Services in our Georgia office. Diane has more than 20 years experience in the adoption field and she is a parent by birth and by adoption.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website here, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.