Deciding to adopt a child from another country is a serious commitment. It’s a decision that you’ll need to carefully weigh before putting ink to paper, before becoming attached to the child in that referral photo that you’re about to accept.
In addition to these 7 things you should know before choosing international adoption, consider these factors, as well. The factors discussed here have less to do with the logistics and processes of international adoption and more to do with managing expectations on the part of yourself and those around you—picturing what life will be like for the child once he or she is here with you—and anticipating any problems or setbacks. They also have to do with combating and directly addressing any potential racism before it has the chance to affect your future family.
1. “China, Korea. Whatever.”
If the child you adopt internationally will be of another race or skin color, does even a remote possibility exist that he or she may experience racism or discrimination by your friends/family members at some point in time?
Think carefully about this. It may be more possible than you think. Is it possible that any members of your inner and outer circles of friends and family will exhibit bias, racism, or discrimination against your child? If you think so, and maybe even if you don’t, be sure to sit down and have brutally honest conversations with your family members BEFORE you bring your child home (or before you even apply to adopt a child from that country).
The conversation will revolve around your expectation that the child will be loved and accepted by everyone in your life. This includes everyone from grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins to Great Aunt Matilda who you see twice a year, and your best friend’s husband who comes to your annual holiday brunch. And that friend of yours who keeps asking you when you’re traveling to China to pick up your child (and you have to keep correcting her, “It’s South Korea. South KOREA. Not China.”). Or that other friend at work who keeps forgetting which African nation your child was born in.
If you feel that your child—and his or her country of birth and home culture—won’t be loved and accepted and taken seriously by everyone in your life, you must think long and hard about whether you want to expose the child to that. Racism and white privilege are real and exist, quite possibly even in the company that you yourself keep (whether you know it or not). You must have these hard, honest conversations with the people in your life before you bring your child home.
If you think that the ideology or latent racism of your friends and family members may be a problem, think twice before adopting a child from another country. Or, be prepared to change the crowd of friends and family members who you hang out with. Yes, it’s that important to the rearing of your child. By not addressing this, and going on with life as usual, you’d be continuously exposing your child to racism—opening him or her up to a lifetime of pain and the risk of invalidating his or her very identity and existence.
2. “Being colorblind is a quieter form of racism.”
If the child you adopt internationally will be of another race or skin color, will you raise your child with the infamous credo that “love is colorblind”?
If so, please do not consider international adoption (or, adoption of any child of another race) any further. The only exception to this would be if you are prepared to put in the work to unlearn this credo and embrace a more truthful approach—one in which you openly acknowledge the very real physical differences between human beings. The untruth of the “love-is-colorblind” or “I-don’t-see-color-I-just-see-people” credo actually perpetuates racism. Narda Emett, author and adoptive mom of six, explains this succinctly in her article, Being Racially Colorblind Is a Myth:
“Everyone notices race. Being racially colorblind is a myth or perhaps a misnomer. I think some use the term “colorblind” to denote that they see everyone as human beings, as children of God, and don’t apply differential treatment based on color. But here’s something you need to know: Noticing race doesn’t mean you are racist. It doesn’t mean you apply typical stereotypes associated with that race. It means that you acknowledge that humans are unique in appearance . . . . Please, if you are becoming a transracial family, don’t be afraid to have racial conversations with your children. Have conversations with your children’s friends, with your extended families. Talk about what is appropriate and what is not . . . . There is nothing wrong with seeing color, seeing race. It makes us who we are. We don’t live in a racially colorblind world. Some people are racist. Some people are not—but they are not “colorblind”; they simply treat others with equality and respect. . . . Our children of color will feel different and be treated differently at some point in their lives because white privilege does exist.”
Another excellent article on this topic is Jon Greenberg’s article, 7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It. In this article, Greenberg takes a close look at one of the most classic catch phrases in the world of white privilege: colorblindness. He explains, “Unfortunately, colorblindness derails the process of addressing racism before it has even started.” And, he says, it narrows white Americans’ understanding of the world and leads to disconnection. It invalidates people’s identities and their own experiences of racism. It equates color with something negative and is disingenuous. “Colorblind ideology limits the stories that get told, keeping White America comfortable, but also keeping racism thriving.”
Rachel Gilbraith explains Why Color Matters in an article titled as such. “Being colorblind is a quieter form of racism. It ignores an individual’s beauty. It minimizes his or her life experience.”
3. “You’re not just adopting a child; you’re adopting a country.”
If you plan to adopt a child from another country, be fully and seriously prepared to expand the diversity of your circle of friends and your very way of life. This probably means stepping outside your own comfort zone. Learning new cultures. Celebrating new family holidays that honor the traditions of your child’s birth country. Are you ready and willing to do this?
What do I mean by this? Well, consider your friends and family members, and the people with whom you regularly spend time. What do they look like? If your future child is of a race or skin color that is different from your own, remember that you need to surround the child not just with people who look like you but also with people who look like your child. See it from your child’s perspective. Before we adopted our son from Korea, we didn’t know many Koreans or Korean-Americans. We do now. We are part of a Korean adoption playgroup. We celebrate Korean holidays as well as American ones. Our world has become so much bigger, our life so much richer, because we expanded our circle and accepted South Korea as a part of our family—because that’s our son’s birth country. That’s where he came from. A giant part of our hearts now lives in and joyfully accepts and loves the country of South Korea—also known as the Land of the Morning Calm.
Over the holidays, we took our son to see a classical music concert featuring a world-famous Korean pianist. The concert was sponsored by the Korean Embassy. That night, my husband and I were two of just a handful of Caucasian faces in a sea of literally thousands of Korean faces, our son’s beautiful face being one of them. When we arrived, he comfortably plopped down in the theater seat, looked around, and proclaimed, “Whew. There are a LOT of Koreans here.” And then proceeded to take his coat off and asked where the restroom was.
Author and adoptive mother Elizabeth Curry sums it up like so in this article: “When you adopt a child from another country, you are adopting that country as well. It is a part of your child. If you cannot love and appreciate that country’s culture and heritage, how will you be able to communicate these things positively to your child? No country is perfect, and the mere fact that your child is here and not there is an indication of that fact. But your child also needs to feel a sense of connection to and pride regarding the place they were born. If you do not like the country, your child will be quick to connect the dots and intuit that you do not like him, either.”
4. “Seeking a healthy infant? Don’t rely on international adoption.”
If you are looking to adopt a young, healthy infant, international adoption is NOT the option for you.
I often feel like I need to repeat this statement several times before it fully sinks in. SO MUCH has changed in the international adoption community, especially in very recent years. In the current adoption climate, most people who adopt from other countries become parents of older children or children with medical or other special needs. Even as recently as 2009 (the year my husband and I adopted our son at 10 months old), adopting a healthy infant from another country may have been a norm and not an exception—but, not so anymore. And with some countries, like Korea, the adoption requirements have gotten more stringent, the paperwork even more complicated, and the wait times even longer. Hence, older children.
Adoption author Elizabeth Curry explains this reality in no uncertain terms: “Healthy infants are extremely rare. If you are choosing international adoption because this is the way you think you will find your healthy infant female baby, I am asking you to think again. International adoption is mostly populated with children who are older or have special needs or both. If you cannot see yourself being a parent to this particular demographic, international adoption is not for you.” For more information on still other things to consider seriously before adopting a child from another country, see 8 Things You Must Know Before Adopting Internationally.
Conclusion: Look Before You Leap
International adoption was and continues to be such a wonderful blessing and a gift to our family. The long waits, the paperwork, the expense—all of it was worth it. He was worth it. Our son has completed us in ways we never thought possible. And we have adopted not just our child, but also his birth country’s rich, beautiful culture.
However, all of that having been said, the famous “look before you leap” adage is appropriate here. Proceed with caution, think carefully and proactively, anticipate any issues or problems NOW and address them head-on, and make the wisest, most realistic choice (one that is in the best interests of the child). If, after that, you are ready to take on the serious commitment of adopting a child from another country, then, by all means, LEAP! Your life will be forever enriched by the love you’ll find at the other end.