As I look back so fondly on our adoption experience, I want to share some lessons that have come out of our multicultural family, created through transracial adoption.
As I learn more, I will do more. We work hard every day to be the best and most supportive parents that we can be. As a mother, a middle-Eastern woman, an activist, and a Citizen of the World, I have a base knowledge and first-hand experience of the issues surrounding racism but adopting our daughter was a new experience for both me and my wife.
We approached our decision to adopt a Black child easily because we believe, like many people, that “love is love”, “all you need is love” and that “love has no color”. Love is undeniably important, but it is not enough. In the case of our transracial adoption, it quickly became apparent that these sentiments are naïve, and lined with a cozy layer of privilege.
We need much more than love to be the best parents that we can be to any person. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about a resourceful awareness, the willingness to foster the growth of the child as an empowered individual, and the ability to use our own experiences to make life the best it can be for the future of our adopted children.
We must push our own boundaries, go outside our comfort zones, and help our children build their own racial identities, with all of the complexities that come with that, from day one. That is how we honor them.
In this article, using my own family as an example, I will highlight 7 ways in which you can honor the identity of your adopted child, our daughter, Ella, in my case. As I do not intend to lump all people of color into the experience, I will speak only from the perspective of our cultures/ethnicities.
1. Learn the Facts.
As a multicultural family who adopted through the foster care system, we received little training from our agency regarding transracial adoption. We were given book suggestions about the subject, but the lack of emphasis left us ignorant to what it all meant for our child. Focused insight is necessary and crucial to prepare families appropriately to raise a child who is not of the same ethnicity and/or culture as them, or who is a person of color that is not the same as the rest of the family. As a result, I had to learn ways to honor this need for my child and our family.
Our children are adopted into our families, and that is often not their choice. Providing a safe space for children to find their own identities (in my daughter’s case, as a Black woman) would be egregious to ignore.
We read books about adoption, tell stories of the day we brought her home, and talk about how special her Adoption Day was. Keeping her birth parents in her story is crucial. They are where she came from. They gave her life! This will not ever be ignored. This is part of honoring who she is.
2. Understand the issues surrounding our child’s ethnicity.
I must be direct when I say that when adopting transracially, it is crucial to be educated about the issues of ethnicity (perhaps one about which you know a little beforehand), and an understanding of ethnic-racial challenges both now and potentially, in the future. Adoptive parents need to make the extra effort to allow their adopted child an opportunity to experience people who can be mirrors for them, and where they can feel a true sense of self and community.
In order to do so, learn the correct language/terminology (racism, cultural appropriation, transracial, for example), and use it, openly, as a mirror for others. Depending on where you live, this can be a real challenge.
Adoptive parents have fears that the child will identify so much with people who are the same ethnicity as them that they will leave their adoptive family. When our children grow up knowing that they can trust us to put their needs first, that will not happen. This is the best way to offer that knowledge.
3. Make community connections.
Give them racial mirrors. Children need to see themselves in others. This includes people who are the same color as them. I will go anywhere and do anything if it is in the best interest of my child. I attend a radically inclusive church. It was started by a gay man, is attended by same-sex, adoptive, and biological families, transgender people, people of color and those with diverse backgrounds. They celebrate diversity at every service.
Since I am a stay-at-home-working-mom, and my daughter does not attend daycare or preschool yet, my wife and I have joined programs that provide child development and enrichment classes across our city. This has given us the opportunity to meet many different families and experience diversity in safe settings.
I have joined parent groups that enrich our experiences. For example, we participated in Black History Month events at our LGBT Center this year.
Now that our daughter is a mobile and aware toddler, I watch her notice when she sees mirrors of herself. I watch her love it. If you don’t have these kinds of activities in your local community, drive the distance.
I cannot emphasize this enough! Join in-person and online support groups. There are many amazing groups out there, and many more families like yours than you might realize. I am a member of some incredible online transracial adoption groups. TAP 101 and Transracial Adoption Perspectives are two of the best that I’ve found on Facebook. If there is a shortage of the type of support group that you need, start one! You can be a change-maker.
As with any online engagement, consider the history/politics/conflicts of these groups by having dialogues with the admins and founders. If they are open, honest and willing to engage, you’ve found your place.
Gaining the education and tools you need can be the enrichment your child needs to face the challenges that come with being a transracially adopted person. We have the power to empower. Read. Research. Do.
5. Provide the opportunity for open conversation about race, culture, racism, and community.
For our very verbal 2-year-old, conversations are simple but meaningful. We talk about the different types of families that we see (two daddies, two mommies, a mommy and a daddy, siblings, one very strong mommy or daddy). We read books about the colors of us. We talk about different things that other cultures value and care about, and we ask her lots of questions. It’s amazing how much she answers back with her own thoughts! When she notices someone that is also Black, she feels comfortable sharing this, and we encourage it.
Our hope is that discussing adoption and ethnicity, and all that comes with it, is so natural for her that she won’t remember some big talk about these topics.
Get books with characters that look like your child. We have some wonderful books that provide mirrors for Ella, and they help encourage her to express thoughts and feelings in a way that we cannot. She loves to pick out which hair looks like hers. She’s starting to pick out people who have the same skin color as herself. I knew it was time to start styling her hair with twists and pigtails because of the conversations during story time.
Share other adoptee stories. There are many online and written opportunities in the form of blogs, memoirs, online spaces, and transracial perspective groups. There are spaces online to begin and advance knowledge.
6. Every family is unique. Have your own traditions.
Along with engaging in our own local community, we travel, learn about the world, and are developing our own family traditions. When we travel, we look for experiences which are unique to the culture of where we are visiting. The experiences have been rich and plentiful for all three of us. It has special to see the world through the eyes of a child.
We live in a major metropolitan area with a multitude of opportunities. We have the privilege of living in a diverse neighborhood, playing with children of color, have multicultural experiences, and will send her to a diverse school, when the time comes.
We also honor our family unit. We are unique in our own ways, and that is something in which my girl takes pride and joy. We have traditions around the family table, our own backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. We take pride in these traditions and our toddler already acknowledges how much that means to her.
7. Discuss Challenges.
Use examples from their own experiences, those of the people of color in your world, as well as those out in the world at large, and throughout history. As I hear more and more about the racism and civil injustices of the Black community in our country, I realize just how important this is. We have books about the challenges and successes in the Black community, from slaves to civil rights activists to lawyers, doctors, scientists, and artists, and we have already begun reading them.
I anticipate many more lessons as our daughter grows up. Steps toward knowledge and empowerment allow us the opportunity to minimize the challenges, or at least allow her to feel heard and supported as she faces and embraces them. We want our daughter to know about herself as a Black woman, where she came from, and to make her own decisions about where to go with it all. I hope that she becomes an empowered woman, with a strong sense of Self.
This article was first published in theParentVoice.Com, an online magazine for multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural families on (date). It is republished here with permission.