For those outside of the adoption community, whose lives haven’t been directly touched by adoption, it may seem that adoptive families did things “the easy way.” In fact, adoption takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And that’s just the preparation. The work begins before any papers are filled out.
It begins with answering these questions: Will we adopt? Why will we adopt? Who will we adopt? Older children or babies? Domestic or international? Private or agency?
The questions are seemingly endless. But when an individual or couple feels it in their hearts, it’s undeniable: Adoption is for me!
Once the determination takes over, there are still things to think about—particularly if you are considering a transracial adoption.
Below is a starter list of things to consider and discuss before completing a transracial adoption.
How will I teach my child what family means? Close friends and family generally are careful with their questions and conversations. They know you are a family whether your children are biological or adopted. They see you interact as a family, and how each member looks isn’t a surprise to them. But when strangers see white parents walk in with a black or brown child, for some strange reason propriety runs out the door and their take over. Right in front of your children, the “reality” of your family is questioned: Are they real siblings? How did you get them? How much did you have to pay for your child? And on and on. And that’s if the stranger is in an inquisitive mood, not a hurtful one. We adopted our son when we lived on a tropical island. He is brown-skinned, and I am white. While we were out grocery shopping one day, he was sitting in the front of the cart and an island lady walked up to me, finger shaking in my face, and loudly proclaimed that I was stealing an island child. “He belongs with his kind!” she shouted at me. And my son heard that. When adopting transracially, parents need to have open communication with their children from a very young age that, yes—we look different. Yes—there are people who don’t understand. No—it doesn’t matter to me how you came to us, we are still family. If they are prepared for ignorance and see it as “their problem, not mine” then they will not only be less affected by it, but they will learn tolerance for those who think differently than they do.
Who will mentor my child? I’m white. I will never know what is like to be black or brown or yellow in a predominantly white neighborhood. I can’t know. But my child will. Seeking out a mentor of the same race as my child, and nurturing the relationship between the two of them from a young age, will give solid comfort to my child. When there’s an altercation between peers and my daughter is blamed because she’s black and everyone else is white, I may feel heartsick for her—but I won’t truly understand. Her black mentor will. It doesn’t mean we aren’t good parents if we enlist the help of others in raising our children. It means we’re wise!
How will I help my child connect with his or her birth culture? For some children, maintaining connection with their culture and heritage is comforting. It helps them feel a sense of belonging. For others, they feel completely a part of the culture they grow up in and feel no ties to their birth culture. Open conversation with your children throughout their growing up years is essential. Always remembering it’s all about your child will help you know what is best. Some children adopted internationally at an older age prefer a complete name change and to leave their past far behind them; others want to hang on to their history. Be knowledgeable about your child’s culture, then be prepared to share with your child to the degree they desire.