I will be the first to admit that I went into transracial adoption completely uneducated. Though if you’d asked me at the time, I would have told you I was prepared. However, my eyes were quickly opened to reality and I spent the first little while afraid that I was going to “ruin” my son. (Okay, in all honesty, I still worry about that. But I worry about that with my biological kids too. It comes along with the role of motherhood, I suppose.) Over the years, I have learned that transracial adoption has its own special needs and there are a few things you can do that will guarantee to ruin it.
1. Totally ignore your child’s race. You want to ruin your transracial adoption? Pretend you don’t have one. Proclaim that “color doesn’t matter,” and profess to be “colorblind.” Don’t acknowledge it or talk about it. This will ensure that your children grow up feeling as if something is wrong with the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, and the texture of their hair.
2. Keep your child away from those who share their ethnicity. Don’t allow them to have any racial mirrors. Don’t expose them to anyone of their race who might be a positive role model or mentor. Tell yourself that you can “educate” your child on their culture and customs without the input of those who actually live it. Let television, movies, radio, popular music, and other forms of media educate your child on “who they are.” Your child will only ever know the stereotypes of who they “should” be.
3. Don’t worry about hair or skin care. It doesn’t matter. They are kids. Who cares if they stand out? Eventually they will figure it out on their own–right?
4. Act as if racism no longer exists. Don’t worry about teaching your children how to be safe in a world that distrusts them due to their differences. They will be totally fine. Don’t go to bat for them when they are being singled out. I’m sure nothing was intended.
5. Take offense when members of your child’s race offer advice. How dare they try to tell you how to raise your child? Why would their ideas, perspective, or input matter? This is YOUR kid!
6. Don’t bother to educate yourself on the history of race in your country. It’s in the past, so it doesn’t matter anymore. Be all about moving forward, being colorblind, and acting as if racism is over. Tell yourself that learning about race-relations is “too distressing,” and walk away. It doesn’t matter that your child will have experiences with this their entire life, and due to the color of their skin, they can’t choose to take a break from it. It is their reality. But, if it makes you feel uncomfortable by all means, just ignore it.
So, what are the opposite of these things, and why are they important?
1. Celebrate your child’s differences! Don’t be afraid to talk about race. Show them that all skin tones, eye shapes, and hair types are beautiful. Embrace their race with open arms. Recognize and celebrate it.
2. Provide your child with lots of exposure to their culture and community. For children adopted into transracial adoptions, racial mirrors are imperative. Seeing people who are educated, successful, hardworking, talented, and kind–who also look like them–makes a huge difference in their lives. They see who they can become. They see that they aren’t as different as they can feel. They feel empowered and able to do good things.
3. Take time to educate yourself on how to properly care for their skin and hair. It is different than your own, and products that may work for you, may not work for them. Ask for recommendations, and be patient with yourself as you learn. The learning curve may be difficult, but don’t give up. Your child needs to learn how to properly care for themselves and it’s up to you to learn so you can teach them.
4. Racism still exists. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone away. The face of racism has changed and for the most part it isn’t blatantly obvious to those of us who haven’t ever experienced it. But, it’s still very real. Learn to see it and learn how to respond appropriately to it. Teach your children what it looks like and how to protect themselves. Make sure your child knows that it isn’t okay and that you will fight for them!
5. Don’t be offended by advice. Accept it with graciousness and humility. Understand that you don’t know everything, and that they have lived it, so they know. Most of the time, it comes from a place of good intentions. They see a need and want to help you give your child the best. Recognize that it does, actually, take a village. Learn to accept and love the new village you are being introduced to.
6. Educate, educate, educate. Listen to those who have experience and learn from them. When you start to feel uncomfortable, don’t run away. Stay. Understand that you need to do this for your child. You need to understand the history of what your child may be up against. Recognize the level of your own privilege and don’t become offended by it. Just accept it for what it is and know that an entirely new world is about to emerge before your eyes. It’s always been there, but until you became the parent of a child of another race, you didn’t see it. Just sit back and let all the things you are learning marinate in your soul.
It’s going to be okay. As parents, we all make mistakes, and as parents of transracial adoptees, we have a lot to learn. We owe it to our children to do all we can to help them feel confident in who they are and who they can become.