Transracial adoption isn’t just adopting a child with a different skin tone than yours. There is a lot more to it than that, or at least there should be. When I was 11 years old, my parents decided to adopt a baby. My older sister and I were adopted, and my parents were getting older. They really wanted another child and decided to specify the sex of the baby this time around. They wanted a son to carry on the family name.

I remember sitting inside the adoption agency while my parents discussed the details. When they were asked about race they said they had no preference. The lady told them that she thought she had the perfect fit. She said she had a baby available with a white mother and a black father. She said the couple already had a couple of kids and couldn’t really afford to have any more. My mother was briefly handed a photo of the birth mother, an image that would be burned into my head forever. An ultrasound had already shown the child to be a boy. My parents agreed that was the child they wanted.

The issues of race started right there in that office before my sister was even born. The adoption agency got it wrong. My parents were told her father was black, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. Her birth father was actually half African-American and half Hispanic, a fact she didn’t learn until she was an adult. It’s important for adoptees to know their own ethnicity. The accuracy of that information should have been a priority.

At the hospital the day the baby was born, the ultrasound was proven wrong. The agency gave my parents the option to go with a different child, one who was a boy. They refused, adamant that she was the child they were supposed to have. She was the most beautiful baby any of us had ever seen. I loved her immediately. My parents took her home and spoiled her completely. She had all of the nicest things, and between the four of us she was hardly ever put down.

The only real problem with the situation at that time was that when my parents chose to raise her as “their own,” they didn’t see her any differently at all. While in theory that may sound great, practically it was problematic. They were in complete denial that she was a different race at all. On medical or school paperwork, they checked the box for Caucasian just as they did for us. As a child I noticed that filling out forms that way was dishonest, but I had no idea how ongoing the ramifications would be.

When you adopt a child transracially you must let your child be their own race. It is possible to treat them like they are yours biologically while still recognizing and accepting their heritage. It is an important part of who they are, and therefore should be important to you. It’s your job as the parent of a transracial child to give them your support to ensure them the opportunity to be themselves.