Are you curious about transracial adoption? Wanting to learn more about the joys and challenges of parenting a child with a cultural background that is different from yours? Looking for resources to support your child and family? Read on for all of this information and more!

Deciding if transracial adoption is right for you.

The decision to create a multicultural family is not one that should be taken lightly. Race is still a very complex and emotionally charged issue in the United States, and as a parent in a multicultural family, this is something that you will confront daily. You will need to be very comfortable talking about race with your child as well as with many other folks who interact with your family. Your parenting will look different than if you adopted a child of your race, and you will need to be able to accept and embrace this. Here are ten other things to consider before adopting transracially.

Preparing for transracial adoption.

In my opinion, the two absolute most important things that you should do as you are preparing to adopt transracially is learn all you can from members of your child’s birth culture and learn all you can from adult transracial adoptees. Spend time getting to know these folks and listening to their stories. Keep an open mind and stop yourself from jumping in to share an opposing perspective too quickly. There are many books, articles, blogs, and documentaries on this topic, but nothing beats building relationships with people in your community who can provide wisdom and support along your journey.

If you are bringing an African American child into your family through transracial adoption, everyone will ask you about “the hair.” As the white mother of two African-American children, I can assure you that this is a very big deal. It’s not just about the style. It’s about embracing and celebrating your child’s cultural heritage. While you are waiting for your child to come home, consider how you can honor your child by caring appropriately for her hair and skin.

The process of transracial adoption.

As you begin the adoption process, you will need to consider which type of adoption fits your family situation best. Domestic infant adoptions, international adoptions, and adoption from foster care can each result in multicultural families. In domestic infant adoption, birth parents typically choose the family for their child with the help of an adoption agency or lawyer. Laws for international adoptions vary by country but typically require that hopeful adoptive parents work with an adoption agency. Adoptions through foster care are handled by public or private agencies that tend to be based on geography. In many states, once you are licensed as a foster parent, you are also licensed as a potential adoption resource for children.

After deciding which type of adoption you will pursue, you will need to choose an adoption agency. Ask other adoptive parents for recommendations on agencies to consider (or avoid) in order to make sure that your adoption is both legal and ethical. Next, you will complete the home study process. This will involve a variety of trainings, interviews, inspections of your home, physical examinations, and lots and lots of paperwork. After completing the home study, you will enter the waiting phase of the adoption journey. This is a great time to revisit those books you bought when you were first considering transracial adoption and maybe to consider some of the complexities of transracial adoption as you binge-watch This Is Us. The waiting season of your adoption journey may seem relatively short, or it may feel painfully long. In either case, eventually, you will get “the call” and feel the rush of emotions as you meet your child for the first time. In most adoptions, there is an adjustment period before you go to court, and the adoption is finalized. And then your work as a parent in a multicultural family really begins!

Challenges of transracial adoption.

Transracial adoption comes with some unique challenges for adoptive parents (and other unique challenges for adoptees as mentioned above. Please seek out the voices of adoptees, listen to their stories, and value your child’s perspective more than the opinions of any experts). First, if you choose to become a multicultural family, you will join the ranks of conspicuous families. People will notice you everywhere you go. Sometimes, there will be stares and whispers. Sometimes there will be innocent or intrusive questions from strangers. You will feel like you are on display—like you need to be “the face” of transracial adoption. Take a deep breath and relax. Other people’s opinions of you, your child, and your family only have as much power over you as you give them.

As part of a multicultural family, it is almost guaranteed that you will witness microaggressions and instances of blatant racism. The reality is that these things happen every day to people of color (again… please take the time to build relationships with folks who share your child’s ethnic heritage). Take some time to consider both how you will address these events when your child is young and how you will teach him or her to address these instances appropriately as your child gets older.

Joys of transracial adoption.

Along with the challenges, there are many joys of transracial adoption. The biggest joy is the relationship that you will develop with your child (and, if you are lucky, with your child’s birth family). Additionally, the relationships that you build with fellow members of the adoption triad (adoptees, birth families, and adoptive families) along your adoption journey will likely continue to enrich your life for years to come. Being part of a multicultural family also gives you the opportunity to expand your own worldview by listening to the stories of people from differing cultural backgrounds. And, though it may not always feel joyful at the moment, transracial adoption gives you the opportunity to help educate many people on issues of race, culture, family, and belonging.

Resources to help with transracial adoption.

As with all types of adoption, rest assured that you do not need to raise your child “on your own.” There are many resources to help transracial adoptive families. One great resource is adults in your community who share the racial or cultural background of your child. These men and women can be role models and mentors to your child and can provide a wealth of wisdom for you along your parenting journey as well. Invite them to share their stories and their knowledge with your family. Make them feel welcome in your home, invest time in your relationship.

I’ve found that an incredible resource for both myself and my children as members of a multicultural family has been our yearly trek to adoption camp. During this week, I have the opportunity to connect with adoption professionals and fellow adoptive parents (many of whom have adopted transracially). This gives me an opportunity to share both struggles and joys that even the most supportive folks outside of the adoption community can’t fully understand. It is a great week of conversation and learning. My kids also have the opportunity to play and learn alongside children whose families mirror their own as well as getting to know adults who share their cultural background. They are always sad to leave and eager to return the next summer. I highly recommend doing a little research to find out if there is an adoption camp in your area.

In addition to filling your child’s life with mentors and role models who share her cultural heritage, there are many other ways to embrace and celebrate your child’s race and ethnicity. The big thing to keep in mind is that there is no shortage of white “mirrors” anywhere in American culture. We see ourselves mirrored in movies and books, in art and advertising, on TV and on the floor of the Congress. Your child needs to see her culture mirrored too. There are many creative ways that you can help make this happen. Carefully select, read, and purchase books that celebrate diversity. Choose and display art from culturally diverse artists and artisans. Search out dolls, action figures, and other toys that mirror your child. Look for TV shows and movies that feature a culturally diverse cast. Learn about local, national, and world leaders who mirror your child. Celebrate the accomplishments of those leaders. You can also read this article about several other ways to celebrate your child’s racial background.

Transracial adoption is not for everyone. But it has been one of the greatest joys of my life. It is possible. It can be incredibly challenging. It can be extremely rewarding. Most days it is a little bit of both.

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