Parenting an adopted child requires extra attention to issues you might not need when raising biological children. Additional layers exist when you are preparing to adopt a child of another race. As you prepare for this adoption, it might feel impossible to be sure you are ready for transracial adoption. However, there are several questions you can ask yourself to help your preparations for the adventure of transracial adoptive parenting.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Transracial Adoptive Parenting
The good news about the questions we want you to consider is that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Instead, this is a thought exercise to help you evaluate what skills you need to hone and where to glean resources or support to help you meet the needs of this child. Many of these questions come from several recent podcasts with Dr. Gina Miranda Samuels, in which she talks about the trauma of transracial adoption and how kids develop their racial identity.
1. Have you dealt with your own “stuff?”
Do you have perceptions about adoption from previous experiences that might impact your current view of adoption and parenting? You and your partner should talk about how you came to adoption to build your family. For example, have you dealt with the losses you have experienced if you came to adoption after infertility, pregnancy loss, or another unexpected path?
How has your attachment style from your family of origin impacted how you handled these challenging experiences? Do you and your partner avoid or go silent when uncomfortable topics arise? How do you plan to overcome that tendency for your child’s sake?
2. How do you balance opposing thoughts?
Balancing opposing thoughts can be sticky because it might challenge your ideas about how race matters in culture. Try drilling down on these questions to get yourself started:
Can you find a way to acknowledge that your child’s race will simultaneously matter and not be a big deal at the same time? Have you talked about how to find the balance between “this is who we are” (a transracial adoptive family) and “this is something I need to pay attention to” (my child needs my support as a child of color in our home)?
Can you and your partner work together and hold a balance that keeps one issue from overriding another while respecting that your child’s balance might look different than yours? How might that play out in daily interactions with your child?
3. Are you learning about the development of racial identity?
Do you understand that your child will have a unique racial identity different from yours? That you have a racial or cultural identity? (These facts are neither positive nor negative.)
Fostering your child’s identity development might mean changing your daily life and community. What are you doing – or willing to do – to facilitate that development? Adult adoptees often recommend that parents provide racial mirrors that kids can access when parents cannot answer their questions.
Have you surrounded your family with people and resources that provide a context for your children as they grow?
What tools are you aware of in your community that will support you in shaping a child’s maturing identity?
Can you find safe adults to help you equip your kids to face and process racism and discrimination across their stages of development?
4. Are you up for the hard conversations of transracial adoptive parenting?
Becoming a transracial adoptive family will impact each of you differently. The learning curve for managing hard conversations while you learn will also look different for each of you. Consider your ages, stages of understanding, and how you currently tackle the complex topics of race, culture, and bias. Think about the following:
What research skills can you employ to find reliable resources from which to learn?
Do you need to sharpen your listening skills? Can you ask questions and hear answers that make you feel uncomfortable?
Where might you learn to get comfortable with your discomfort around talking about racism or bias?
Do you have friends or mentors to show you how to talk about race and identity?
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Remember that the children in your home need to sense that they are safe to learn, grow, and ask hard questions when discussing these issues as a family. Model for them how to learn, listen and ask questions even while they feel discomfort.
5. How diverse is your community?
Many adult adoptees report a sense of benefit to growing up in a diverse community. We often hear it said that your child of color should not be the only person of color with whom you have a relationship. So, look at your neighborhood and where your child will attend school, church, extracurricular activities, and other social events.
Will your child be the only child of color in the classroom?
Are you connecting in other spaces with people of different races or cultures and forming meaningful relationships?
What are their thoughts on what successfully raising a child of color means to them?
Do the professional service providers you currently use, like doctors, dentists, orthodontists, tailors, hair salons, and clergy, represent diversity?
If not, how can you make some changes now before you adopt?
6. Do you have a diverse home library?
Books, music, and movies are excellent tools for increasing your family’s knowledge and exposure to diversity. Your family’s multi-media library should be full of diverse lead characters portrayed as inspiring, brave, and principled. Are examples offered of self-advocacy and championing the marginalized, or are they shown as victims or secondary players?
Speaking of diversity, you should also consider how your home media and library represent those with physical and emotional differences. These resources are easy paths to teaching kids to celebrate diversity and differences. You can add to your library as you learn together.
7. Can you be an ally?
An ally is someone with privilege who acts on behalf of those without privilege and who belong to a different social group. Your transracially adopted child will need you to be their fiercest ally. He needs to know you believe him when he tells you about bias, discrimination, or racism at school. She must know that you will always have her back while she figures out who she is. You should ask – and keep asking – yourself if you are willing to hear what “ally” looks like to your child as they grow and form their identity. How you show your child that you are their greatest ally might change frequently. What won’t change is their confidence that you will be present for it all.
The Answers Are as Unique as Your Family
As we said, there are no answers to these questions because it’s impossible to have a “one size fits all” response. When you are in a transracially adoptive family, your identities work together to create your family’s unique identity. You will learn the balance for yourself and your child as you work together through the issues along the way, as long as you are willing to keep asking yourself these questions.