Finding Culturally Appropriate Role Models For My Child

Our kids need racial mirrors.

Maya Brown-Zimmerman February 17, 2017
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When my husband and I were doing the educational portion of our home study, we were counseled to consider our friends and neighbors before deciding to agree to adopt a child of another race. “Your child should not be your first black/Latino/Asian friend,” we were told. That was about the extent of counseling we received on transracial adoption.

It’s definitely true that you should have other friends of the same ethnic background as your child. However, it’s more than that. Our kids need lots of racial mirrors (meaning people who look like them) and within those, a number of role models. Having your “One Black Friend,” or a handful of people of color in your church that you don’t actually talk to is not going to cut it. Ideally you’d have a community that’s not super white around before adopting, but what if you didn’t? How do you find culturally appropriate role models for your child?

1) First of all, realize that doing so means putting yourself in the minority. This may feel uncomfortable, and you’ll learn to deal with it. It is, or will be, uncomfortable for your child to be in the minority. As parents we put our kids first, so it’s better for us to be the odd ones out.

2) If it’s possible, move. I love the town I grew up in. We thought about settling there when we moved back to Ohio from California. But, it’s over 95% white. I knew I wanted a more diverse area for my kids to grow up in, and I made that a priority when we chose a neighborhood to buy a house in. Finding role models is easier when there is a wide pool to choose from.

3) Are you part of a community of worship? Befriend families of color there. Invite them to dinner or on play dates. If your church/synagogue/etc. does not have many families of your child’s ethnicity, could you consider changing congregations.

4) Look for babysitters who match your child. Websites like care.com and sittercity.com can help with this.

5) Take your child to a barber shop/salon run by people of their culture. This is an especially important element of black culture. It’s worth a drive if need be for your child to have this place to develop relationships with other adults.

6) Is your child involved in sports? Coaches can make excellent role models. Look at nearby city’s recreational leagues if they have a larger black/Latino/etc. population than your town.

7) When possible, take your child to a doctor, dentist, etc. who is a racial mirror for them.

8) Help your child look for role models on a broader scale, too. Make sure your home is full of books that feature characters of color, and not just books that talk about slavery and civil rights, either. Talk about leaders, athletes, musicians, artists, and inventors who look like your child. They need to be able to see themselves in any career.

What other ways have you found culturally appropriate role models for your children?

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Maya Brown-Zimmerman

Maya Brown-Zimmerman is a mother of three, both biologically and through adoption. She has been blogging since before it was cool, and is passionate about everything from open and ethical adoption to special needs advocacy and patient-physician communication. In her spare time (ha!) she's on the board of directors for a medical nonprofit and enjoys medical and crime dramas. You can read more from her on her blog, Musings of a Marfan Mom.


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