Talking About Transracial Adoption: A Guide

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten this memo.

Susan Kuligowski June 01, 2015

 

As adoptive parents, we sometimes find ourselves on the receiving end of horrible unwanted questions and unwarranted comments from strangers and even—gasp—family and friends who catch us off guard in the school parking lot or over a cup of coffee. Regardless of whether the horrible remarks are made accidentally or on purpose, they can be difficult to process. Here are some of the horrible things people say about transracial adoption and things they should have said instead.

“Are they adopted?”
1. “Are they adopted?”

Should Have Said: “They say it’s supposed to be a hot one today.”

While we are very open (to varying degrees) with our children, family, and friends about our/their adoption story, it is inappropriate for a stranger to ask this question in front of adopted kids. Why? Because if you don’t know us, it’s probably none of your business. While there is no shame in adoption, it’s private just like any other family matter. Don’t get me wrong, depending on the time and place, there are ways the subject may present itself. Most adoptive families don’t have a problem sharing more with someone they’ve shared more than a passing glance with, but circumstance is everything.

There are days my kids are all about talking about where they come from, and other days they just want to blend in with the crowd. Use common sense and discretion when asking such a personal question, even if the answer may seem obvious. I suggest avoiding sticking your foot in your mouth, and instead stick to talking about the weather.

“You know, there are plenty of kids right here in the United States that need to be adopted.”
2. “You know, there are plenty of kids right here in the United States that need to be adopted.”

Should Have Said: “So, what made you consider adopting from another country?”

With millions of orphans around the world, the question may seem silly. Although it may feel as natural as the sunrise to an adoptive parent, some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around adoption, much less international/transracial adoption. In their opinion, a child adopted from a foreign land may as well have come from Mars. While it’s not up to an adoptive parent to open minds, you can remind these folks that every child deserves a home. It makes no difference if they live around the corner or around the globe.

 “Wouldn’t she be better off with her own kind?”
3. “Wouldn’t she be better off with her own kind?”

Should Have Said: “Is transracial adoption challenging?

Hmmm…ok, I had a hard time coming up with a "Should Have Said" for this question, which basically comes across pretty hurtful no matter how you word it. If this kind of comment is made in front of an adoptee, than all bets are definitely off. There is some merit to it, as scholars, psychiatrists, social workers, civil rights activists, and politicians have studied, debated, and ruled on this very issue in recent history. As crude as it sounds, the asker is not the first to question transracial adoption. The reality is, the law today is very much behind transracial adoption as well as transracial families in general. There is absolutely no study proving that a child would be “better off with her own kind.” Studies do prove, however, that children are better off with a loving family than without.

“Why didn’t you adopt a white child?”
4. “Why didn’t you adopt a white child?”

Should Have Said: “So, what made you consider transracial adoption?”

While some may argue that it’s anybody’s business, I believe there are many people who truly are curious about this one, and maybe the key to breaking down racial boundaries is to break them down through educating the curious masses. Take a deep breath and answer from your heart.

“Was he less expensive than a white baby?”
5. “Was he less expensive than a white baby?”

Should Have Said: “I’ve heard adoption can be expensive?”

See the previous statement regarding it not being anyone’s business. While this question may push many parents into smack down mode, the truth is, people hear things and they wonder. Again, while you don’t have to share your personal experience, you can bore them with the basics regarding adoption fees and the fact that it can differ from state to state, country to country, and/or private/agency adoption compared to foster to adopt until they wish they’d never asked the question to begin with. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2014) the average cost of raising a child born in 2013 up until age 18 for a middle-income family in the U.S. is approximately $245,340 (or$304,480, adjusted for projected inflation). Regardless of race, adoption fees are pretty much a drop in the bucket when you look at the big picture.

“Oh, does her daddy have dark skin?”
6. “Oh, does her daddy have dark skin?”

Should Have Said: “Your daughter has beautiful skin.”

This question also can be applied to different hair types, facial characteristics, height, etc. While some may argue that even the “Should Have Said” is inappropriate, my children noticed very early on that they were “brown,” while mommy and daddy were (in their words) “peach.” They would often say they wished they had skin like ours, to which we’d reinforce that their skin was beautiful just the way it was. Compliments are a good thing and never hurt anyone. Know that as adoptive parents, we get it, we don’t share physical qualities with our kids. While we’re adults and perfectly fine with this, some of our kids are not. These are issues we definitely talk about at home, where they feel comfortable opening up. Please tread lightly around kids who “look different” than mom or dad. They most likely are very well aware of this and don’t wish to be reminded of it while shoe shopping.

“She is so much better off with you.” (Rather than in her native country/state/zip code).
7. “She is so much better off with you.” (Rather than in her native country/state/zip code).

Should Have Said: “We are all lucky to live in such a great place, huh?”

Twists of fate are a strange thing and often out of our hands, and most definitely out of an adoptee’s hands. We all have an unwritten loyalty or bond to our relatives/hometown/stomping ground/home team—no matter their batting average. Maybe she is better off and safer away from war/drought/poverty/crime. But maybe there was just nobody there able to provide a safe family environment for her. Adoptive parents often make life books or photo albums and share stories of the good and not so great parts of their child’s early beginnings. Chances are our children will grow curious at some point in their lives. They may want to return to or seek out relations at some point in their lives. Having a strong sense of self and being proud of where you come from is important to healthy child development and leads to strong self-esteem. Don’t mess with the hometown.

 “He is so lucky that you saved him.”
9. “He is so lucky that you saved him.”

Should Have Said: “Congratulations.”

There is really no luck involved in adoption. Adoption is an involved process that can result in having wonderful, silly, loving, and healthy children, as well as parents who are able to reciprocate that same energy and love to their children. It also comes with all the hardships and pitfalls that all families face on a day to day basis. No situation is perfect and luck is just a fraction of what makes for a healthy family.
Any question or statement can sound offensive depending on how it’s worded or how you interpret its meaning. Transracial families tend to stand out in the crowd, so you can expect to be on the receiving end of crazy, weird, and unwelcome questions and comments. The real question is, how will you respond? If you think your family, friends, or the nosy woman in Aisle 3 is, well, a little too nosy, don’t be surprised if your children are just as curious and you may be answering some of these same questions for them someday.

Being a Parent
10. Being a Parent

Any question or statement can sound offensive depending on how it’s worded or how you interpret its meaning. Transracial families tend to stand out in the crowd, so you can expect to be on the receiving end of crazy, weird, and unwelcome questions and comments. The real question is, how will you respond? If you think your family, friends, or the nosy woman in Aisle 3 is, well, a little too nosy, don’t be surprised if your children are just as curious and you may be answering some of these same questions for them someday.

Race is a real issue as are many other issues related to transracial adoption. While your initial instinct may be to go on the defensive, remember the long-term goal of becoming a parent is raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted kiddos who grow up to be confident adults. Acknowledging your family’s differences and being prepared to respond to appropriate questions and comments, while calmly and confidently shutting down those peppered with racially charged language will go a long way in helping your family to grow together and make your way through the minefield that is the transracial adopted family.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and a adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.


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