My husband and I started foster care because of a deep desire and calling to serve children who don’t have a place to call home, whether temporary or permanent. Back then, it seemed pretty simple: a child is removed from their home and we provide them with one for however long they need one. And while yes, this is a good starting place in foster care, it certainly doesn’t paint the complete picture. Foster care and adoption are far more complex than simply providing a child with a home, as each child has a past and history that he or she carries with him or her. When we started on our paperwork for foster care, our agency asked us questions about what race, gender, and age of children we were willing to take into our home. We even had to narrow down the specific types of behaviors, diagnoses, and special needs we were willing to parent. My husband and I looked at each other, completely clueless about what kind of child we found acceptable to live in our home. Our initial parameters were as follows: ages 5-11, any gender, any race, and most behaviors. As new parents, we wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing first before committing to a child who had more intense needs. While we were filling out this paperwork, it didn’t feel difficult to mark checkboxes saying we were open to any race or gender. But we knew the weight of making that decision; we knew that transracial adoption would require educating ourselves and surrounding ourselves with people from diverse backgrounds, races, cultures, and ethnicities. We were excited about the challenge.
My college experience was quite enlightening when it came to my view of other races, cultures, and ethnicities. I did not grow up with many people of color, and so my perspective reflected that. As part of my Spanish major, I was able to travel to Valencia, Spain, to study abroad for four months, as well as read books about immigration and culture. This, in addition to studying the language, opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world. It helped me to broaden my perspective and see others’ perspectives that were completely different than mine. When I returned from my study abroad program, I felt a conviction and calling to surround myself with people who were different from me to inform my viewpoints to the best of my ability. This perspective shift was instrumental in my journey toward understanding all that would be required of me as a transracial foster and adoptive parent. It was my first small step toward understanding the importance that race and culture have on identity, and it impacted my decisions moving forward as my husband and I went through the necessary training to become foster and adoptive parents.
Although I desired to surround myself with different types of people, I didn’t know how to do so. My husband and I moved to a neighborhood in which there were many races and cultures represented, but we worked in a predominantly white church and school twenty minutes away from our neighborhood, which detracted from our ability to truly connect and develop relationships with our neighbors. It was during this time that we added our son and daughter, who are both Black, to our family, and we started to experience the negative effects and, quite honestly, the awkwardness caused by neglecting to provide them with a diverse community of people that included others with the same beautiful, black and brown skin. While living in a diverse area was certainly a good starting point, it didn’t mean much because the majority of the people we were interacting with were white. Finally—after two and a half years—we decided to change jobs and churches to provide our family with the kind of community we needed, one that would intentionally seek to include many different ethnicities, cultures, and races. This decision has positively impacted our family in a way that I can’t even put into words.
When we said yes to inviting children of other cultures, races, and ethnicities into our home, we also invited their culture, race, ethnicity, history, and community along with them. We cannot separate a child from their race, ethnicity, or culture because those are core elements of their identity; they make them who they are and they tell us who they will become. This is even more true when it comes to white parents parenting children of color, as these groups have often been marginalized and oppressed by a society believing that white people are superior to their black and brown neighbors. When we refuse to invite a child’s family, culture, heritage, history, and racial community into our homes along with the children we invite, we neglect the very children we have invited into our homes and whom we have claimed to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
Lessons Learned From Transracial Adoption
Every part of our adoption journey has been just that—a journey. It has required pit stops, reroutes, and U-turns. We have not arrived at an understanding of what it looks like to adopt transracially, but we have taken some small steps that have helped us to gain a more comprehensive awareness of what it takes to be transracial adoptive parents. Here are some of the vital lessons I have learned along the way.
If possible, we need to be embedded in the communities of our children before placement
As a mother, I have the profound responsibility and honor of loving my children and guiding my children in the ways of righteousness, goodness, generosity, kindness, and hard work. But because I am of a different race than my children, specifically a white mother of children of color, I will never be able to impart to them what it means to be Black, which is an important part of their identity. I can, however, surround them with their race and culture through community and art, like music, movies, and books. I can support the Black community by shopping in black-owned businesses and supporting the art that comes from the Black community. As transracial adoptive parents, we need to live near people who look like our children and provide them with other enrichment opportunities. For international adoptions, some families visit their home country or attend a camp with adoptees from their own culture, heritage, or race. For my husband and I, we need to allow our children to connect with role models of their race who can show them what it means to live a righteous, good, generous, kind, and hardworking life as a powerful Black man and woman. This part of their identity growth is vital, and so providing them with the community they need to grow in this area is essential.
It is important to note that if we sign up for transracial foster care or adoption and invite children of different races into our home, we also have a responsibility to the community of their race. Future transracial foster and adoptive parents should be deeply embedded in diverse communities before children ever enter their home because this way of life should be a priority for them. However, perfection is not the goal; education and relationship are the goals. And education and relationships happen in small increments, ultimately leading to a broader understanding of what our children need. And so, if you are already a transracial foster or adoptive parent seeking to make a change, I applaud you for that. As long as you are pursuing and seeking understanding, you are on the right track. Your children will notice your efforts and it will be worth it—not just for their sake, but for yours as well.
We need to listen
Because adoption is complex, it requires a humble spirit. As adoptive parents, we do not own the experience of our adopted children. Adoption is accompanied by grief, loss, and trauma, and so it is important to listen to the voices of adult adoptees and former foster youth. Adopting transracially adds another layer of complexity. Since we are not of the same race, we do not and will not have the same experiences. Therefore, listening to transracial adult adoptees, former foster youth, and people of color is essential.
As I have navigated these deep, complex issues, I have found it necessary and helpful to listen to the perspectives and experiences of people of color. When I listen to their perspectives and hear their stories, I can see the world—and my children—through a different lens. Our children do not yet have the words to describe their experiences, but I can gain some kind of knowledge of their feelings through the eyes of adult people of color that I am listening to. Although we should already be listening to people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures, adopting children of another race gives us a sense of urgency and accountability. If you are overwhelmed at the prospect of this, it might be helpful to consider what you are already doing and start there. Do you listen to podcasts? Seek out a podcast with a person of color as the host. Do you love watching movies? Watch a movie with people of color as the stars. Are you a book-reader? Delve into some books that will inform you about another culture’s perspective.
We should be informed and educated about race and culture before we start the foster care and adoption process
When my husband and I were in our foster care training, we had to take a class on cultural competency. They gave a very basic presentation about respecting other cultures, prioritizing diversity, and providing children with role models of people of their race. As we sat in the class, my husband and I both thought we were moderately prepared for inviting a child of a different race into our home. We had decided that diversity was important and that we wanted to surround ourselves with people who looked, thought, and believed differently than us, but we still found most of our relationships were with people who looked like us. We started to make small decisions that helped move us in the right direction.
Learning comes in bits and pieces, and while I wish we had been more informed on racism, injustice, and ethnic hair and skincare before we started, I am so glad we said yes to our kids. It’s allowed us to model humility to them—to show them what it looks like to be always willing to learn, to hear from different kinds of people, and to see the beauty in diversity. As transracial adoptive parents, we must be willing to educate and inform ourselves about the past and culture of the children who come into our homes. That willingness is the first step toward understanding. We don’t have to know everything, but we must be willing to learn and listen to others along our parenting journey.
There is beauty in diversity
Within the adoption community, there is plenty of controversy surrounding the idea that love makes a family. Some say that adoption just requires love, while others say that adoption—especially transracial adoption—requires much more than love. They argue that it also requires an understanding of trauma, culture, race, grief, and loss.
I would argue that these things are not mutually exclusive. Maya Angelou says, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Parenting requires this kind of radical, sacrificial love, a kind of love that includes understanding our children’s history, honoring their first families, surrounding ourselves with a diverse community, becoming informed about trauma, and educating ourselves about the history of their race and culture in our country. In doing this, we show our children that we love and value not only their current selves but also their future selves. By being willing to immerse ourselves in diverse communities, we show our children their worth. We show our children their beauty.
People often tell me that my family is beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree. We didn’t adopt our kids to teach ourselves the importance and beauty of diversity, but that has been the outcome. Parenting often brings with it unexpected lessons and blessings, and I am so thankful for the ways that my children are constantly teaching me and pushing me to reach outside of myself, to see things from a new perspective, and to love with a love that does not recognize barriers. It is only then that we will arrive at our destination full of hope, as Maya Angelou so beautifully stated.Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.