August 17th, 2017
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Adoptive Parent Perspectives on Transracial Parenting

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Adoptive Parent Perspectives on Transracial Parenting

Are you interested in a transracial adoption or hoping to learn more about transracial parenting? Below we have compiled some experiences and thoughts that adoptive parents have faced when parenting transracially.

Transracial parenting is when a parent or parents are legally responsible for a child that has a different ethnic or racial background. Transracial adoption and transracial parenting have steadily increased in more recent years, in part due to domestic adoptions, international adoptions, interracial marriages, and more. In 2016, one study determined that approximately 40% of adoptions were transracial. More than ever before it seems, families hoping to adopt are open to the possibility of transracial parenting.

Though transracial parenting can be incredibly rewarding, it also comes with some very unique challenges as well. As the number of transracial families began to rise, families weren’t always acknowledging or embracing ethnic or racial differences within the family. So, over time, according to Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, “An extreme majority of transracially adopted kids … grew up wishing they were white or thinking they were white, not wanting to look in mirrors.”

Being raised in a family that looks so different is bound to affect how a child views the world, but the way adoptive parents approach it can determine whether the child sees their transracial background as positive or negative. If you are interested in learning more about transracial adoptions and parenting, below are the different ways families have tackled these issues along with the invaluable memories and lessons they learned from their experiences.

Transracial Parenting Photo courtesy of bcadoption.com

Common Challenges
Children are largely shaped by their surrounding environment, which includes the behaviors they see, language(s) they speak, people they interact with and more. A family’s cultural practices can have a huge impact on a child and in the case of adopted children, the family’s cultural practices may not match the practices of those who share the child’s ethnicity. Knowing this, a common struggle that adoptive parents may face is raising a child without ignoring the child’s ethnic heritage.

While there is no “correct” way to approach the matter, there are many measures adoptive parents have taken to instill cultural awareness and pride within their children. Experts recommend engaging with a community of the same ethnic background, joining multicultural neighborhoods, seeking same-race mentors, and visiting the child’s homeland. It can be comforting and empowering for children to meet and learn from people that look like they do.  One family describes how they simultaneously celebrate their own traditions and their adopted son’s culture by merging Hanukkah with Kwanzaa every year. It was a fun and creative way to teach him about his culture while maintaining their religious traditions.

Another challenge that many interracial families may encounter is how to deal with racism. It can be difficult to ignore and even detrimental to do so, which is why many families foster open conversations about such a sensitive topic.

Parent educator and coach, Judy Miller, explains how she initiated the first discussion about race and confronting racism to her children. She says, “My kids have been talking about their differences since they could talk. Their differences are part of who they are and their differences are also part of who we are as a family.” Miller also advises parents to talk to children about racism before any problems arise, so that they’re aware of how people aren’t always treated fairly because of their skin color and how to confront it.

Parents can also teach their children how to answer questions about their transracial family and encourage them to recognize and stand up to institutional racism. Terry Keheler, an adoptive father, recalls, “When parents at my son’s racially diverse school learned of a proposed policy change that would make it easier for the district’s wealthier and whiter schools to obtain more computer equipment, we started a petition and presented it as a group to the school board.”

Lessons Learned
Throughout the process of raising their children, many adoptive parents believe they learned a lot as well. For example, by integrating themselves into diverse communities, they were able to meet people, experience new cultures, and gain a better understanding of different communities and the world as a whole. One mother from a transracial family explains how she came to realize how significantly economic circumstances and religious associations impacted her child’s life, when she previously thought that race was the only major factor that differentiated him.

Another point that many families learn along the way is that while they can influence their child’s perspective of the world, their child will eventually take control of their own journey and cultural identity. While you can expose and involve your child in their birth culture to foster a strong sense of identity, some children may pull back or resist learning about their heritage. What matters is that the child has the opportunities and resources to learn more about their culture, so they have the tools to explore and embrace their heritage, when they are ready.

Advice from Adoptive Parents
Though it may require more deliberate efforts, incorporating diversity into parenting benefits children overall, transracial or not. Regardless of how you decide to undertake the responsibility of raising a child, it’s important to remember every situation is unique and there is no “right” way to go about it. Many parents advise to keep in mind that your child is the focal point of your efforts and whatever activities or customs you adopt can always be adjusted to their needs. Whether you’re taking a trip to their country of origin or perhaps buying specific products for their hair type, parenting is ultimately about supporting your child in any way possible.

Transracial parenting can be challenging, but worth every second. Although you may face surprising challenges you never expected, you may also learn and gain more than you could imagine. All families are different depending on parenting styles, communities, cultures, etc. but a family’s shared values and love for each other ultimately binds them as a family.

If you have more questions, comments, or concerns about transracial parenting or transracial adoption, there are many resources available.  Adopt Help can also help if you’re interested in adopting. You can learn more here or contact us at 1-800-637-7999.

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