Transracial adoption is a choice that tends to need more thought put into it than people think.
When hoping to grow their family through adoption, many couples want to open themselves to as many possibilities as possible. So being open to a baby of a different race can seem like an easy choice. Why would the color of a baby’s skin matter? The answer can be a little more complicated and will involve looking at your environment and personality to decide if it is the right choice for you, but more importantly, for the child.
How Can We Have a Healthy Transracial Adoption?
According to VerywellFamily, “Successful transracial adoptions result from families willing to educate themselves and capable of recognizing they may not be able to be everything to their children—those children will likely need to connect with others who share their racial background.”
Currently, 40% of adoptions are transracial. While this makes transracial families more common, you will still need to be ready to deal with being a conspicuous family. For example, when you walk into a restaurant or down the street, people may stare and sometimes even ask inappropriate questions or make comments that you must be prepared to handle. How much you will deal with this will, for the most part, depend on where you live.
If you’re interested in transracial adoption, there are essential elements to follow so that you can help your child thrive. A few of these include learning about and respecting your child’s culture and finding ways to support their connections to it. Here are 4 tips on how you can have a successful transracial adoption:
- Talk to Family and Friends
When you’re wondering if adopting outside of your race is right for you, connect with your family about what becoming a multiracial family will look like. How will they react to the changes your adoption will bring? Are members of your extended family excited about your decision to adopt, and ready to support you and your child? Do you live in a community that appreciates diversity? Is the community likely to accept the child you bring into your family?
- Educate Yourself on Adoption
It helps to learn from other adoptive parents if you’ve considered transracial adoption, especially regarding life after adoption. Check out this webinar, highlighting the experience of three Lifetime adoptive moms, each with a different story of transracial adoption.
There are also some great books out there that you can use to learn more about transracial adoption, including:
- What White Parents Should Know about Transracial Adoption: An Adoptee’s Perspective on Its History, Nuances, and Practices
- I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World
- In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption
- Inside Transracial Adoption
Remember, transracial adoption isn’t just when “a Caucasian couple adopts an African American child.” If you are open to adopting a child who may not share race in common with you, it’s important to learn as much as possible on this side of your adoption story. Lifetime’s Transracial Adoption Q&A webinar is a great place to start!
- Consider Role Models for Your Child
Your child will naturally turn to you for guidance because you’re the parent. But they’ll probably have questions related to their race and culture that you can’t answer or issues that you can’t understand. Consider including adults in your child’s life who share their culture. It will give them the asset of positive role models!
- Make Connections
Adopting a child of a different race is an excellent opportunity to explore new resources and get involved with groups in your community. Consider:
- Seeking diverse schools in your district where you can enroll your future child.
- Participating in groups dedicated to racial justice.
- Joining a faith community that matches your adopted child’s heritage.
- Making connections with other transracial adoptive families with children.
Determine if Transracial Adoption is Right for Your Family
We might hope that those around us are color blind, and that racism is rare. Unfortunately, the reality is it exists, and in certain communities, it is common. You need to take a good and honest look at your community. As you consider if a child of another race would thrive and be accepted in your community, here are some questions you might ask yourselves:
- Is there a decent amount of diversity where you live?
- If you do not live in a diverse area, would you be willing to move?
- Are there community role models and friends of the same race as the child?
- Do you feel ready to acknowledge and talk to your child about racism as they grow?
- Are your neighborhood schools and churches diverse?
- Are you willing to research and embrace traditions of your child’s race?
- Will your friends and family be accepting of a baby of another race?
So, if you answer “no” to any of these questions, does that mean you should not adopt a baby of another race? Maybe not, but you will need to prepare yourselves to offset any of the negatives of your situation.
If you do not live in a diverse area, you will need to go out of your way to find and connect with role models and friends for your child. You may want to consider adopting a sibling group. There are ways to overcome some of these issues with planning and determination.
Potential Issues and How to Handle Them
As your child grows, she will notice the difference in your skin color, and it is important to acknowledge and celebrate your differences.
There are excellent resources available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s website. In addition, there are several amazing books out there for children of all ages. Start reading these to your child from a very early age. It will help your child open up and ask the questions they might have but aren’t sure how to express. Some books we recommend include:
- We Match on the Inside: A book to help your child answer questions about adoption
- Beautiful Shades of Blue
- Mommy and Me Don’t Match
You will experience racism, whether subtle or blatant, intentional or accidental. So, you must be prepared to respond to any occurrences and explain these situations to your child.
Be your child’s most prominent advocate and never tolerate racist statements or attitudes. You will need to make sure your child feels safe to share their feelings, ask questions, and know that whatever their feelings and fears are, you take them seriously. You may not know exactly what they are feeling, but you can tell them that you support them and take any concerns seriously.
Transracial adoption can be a beautiful, life-enriching way to grow your family. You can smooth out some of the road bumps by preparing for issues before they occur. Families come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. All are beautiful and should be celebrated.
Encourage Your Child’s Heritage
To help your adopted child become proud of who they are, adoptive parents must celebrate their culture and heritage. Learning about their heritage makes it possible for your child to understand their origins. It also helps them develop positive self-esteem.
How can you effectively combine your child’s culture with your family’s after the adoption? Here are four tips on how to encourage your child’s heritage in a transracial adoption:
- Associate With Others
A culture camp, playgroup, sport, or dance class are places that’ll help your child connect with other children. These activities can assist in bringing your child together with others who share the same experience of being adopted.
It will help your child to see kids whose families look like theirs and who face the same challenges. Meeting up regularly with other adopted children can help them find a place where they belong.
- Practice Multiculturalism Every Day
Activities that recognize your child’s heritage should occur daily, not just during special events or holidays. You can practice multiculturalism regularly in simple ways: maybe it’s cooking some traditional meals each week or watching shows and movies with characters from your child’s background.
- Focus on Your Child’s Preferences
Many couples who became parents through transracial adoption seem to focus on traditional foods or attire. But what’ll make this celebration of culture special to your child is to tailor it to them.
Think about your child’s interests when you plan cultural activities. For example, if your son or daughter is artistic, you might take him to an art gallery showcasing work from an artist who shares their heritage. If they’re into movies, take your child to a show that represents their race positively. One adoptive mother, Hayley, shares, “Our daughter loves going to her weekly ballet class! So, we recently took her to see a Misty Copeland performance.”
- Keep Balanced
Even though it’s excellent to incorporate all this cultural education, some adoptive parents get a little too intense about making sure their child learns about their birth heritage. Take a step back if your child’s calendar is completely booked with cultural activities. Remember to tailor things to your child’s interests and needs.
A Transracially-Adopted Child’s Bill of Rights
by Liza Steinberg Triggs (Pact Press, Fall 1996)
Adapted from “A Bill of Rights for Mixed Folks,” by Marilyn Dramé
- Every child is entitled to love and full membership in her family.
- Every child is entitled to have his culture embraced and valued.
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that this is a race-conscious society.
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that she will experience life differently than they do.
- Every child is entitled to parents who are not looking to “save” him or to improve the world.
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that being in a family doesn’t depend on “matching.”
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that transracial adoption changes the family forever.
- Every child is entitled to be accepted by extended family members.
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that, if they are white, they benefit from racism.
- Every child is entitled to parents who know that they can’t transmit the child’s birth culture if it is not their own.
- Every child is entitled to have items at home that are made for and by people of his race.
- Every child is entitled to opportunities to make friends with people of her race or ethnicity.
- Every child is entitled to daily opportunities of positive experiences with his birth culture.
- Every child is entitled to build racial pride within her own home, school, and neighborhood.
- Every child is entitled to have many opportunities to connect with adults of the child’s race.
- Every child is entitled to parents who accept, understand, and empathize with her culture.
- Every child is entitled to learn survival, problem-solving, and coping skills in a context of racial pride.
- Every child is entitled to take pride in the development of a dual identity and a multicultural/multiracial perspective on life.
- Every child is entitled to find his multiculturalism to be an asset and to conclude, “I’ve got the best of both worlds”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 6, 2021, and has since been updated.
Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).
Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.
“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!
Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.
I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.
It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”