What is transracial adoption?
The basic definition of transracial adoption is an adoptive placement in which the child’s race/ethnicity is different from the adoptive parent’s race/ethnicity.
A few years ago, IAC developed an online training for our families considering this type of placement when working on their adoption profile. We found that many of our adoptive families wanted an open profile in the hopes that they would find a placement more quickly, but they were not adequately prepared for parenting a child whose race/ethnicity did not match their own. In fact, in one of my earliest cases I had a couple that was Mexican American and they adopted a child who was Caucasian. It was not acknowledged (at the time) that they had a transracial placement and there were some situations that they faced as a result. Often times when transracial adoption first comes up one thinks Caucasian parents adopting children of other ethnicities.
Perhaps the biggest part of being properly prepared for a transracial placement is not an individual’s beliefs about race and ethnicity, but being able to view the world through their child’s eyes. While it is important to be open-minded, that is just a starting point. This is why it is so important to look at cultural diversity in your neighborhood, church, schools, kids activities, as well as amongst your friends and family. Not to mention looking at your own ethnic identity.
Your child will face situations and comments as he or she grows up, and even if those comments are not derogatory in nature, they can still reinforce to your child that he or she is “different” than many of his/her peers. As a parent it becomes your responsibility to give your child the tools to handle this type of situation. It could be a simple question like, “Why do you have a sister who is black?” In the early years, you will more than likely be with your child and you can model how to appropriately respond.
I always like to tell new clients that they are becoming “Ambassadors for Adoption,” even if they do not adopt transracially. This is because we cannot guarantee that if the adopted child is the same race/ethnicity as the adoptive parents that the child will actually look like their biological offspring! Think of the blonde hair/blue eyed couple that adopts a full Caucasian child who has brown hair and brown eyes. So, for someone just starting the process, it is a good idea to prepare for a transracial adoption just to get insight about how to address comments or questions from other people.
I often reflect back to my own experiences in being part of a mixed-race family. I am biracial Caucasian/African American, as is our adopted daughter, and my husband and son are both Caucasian (yet our kids have the same birthmom).
There was the time in the grocery store when all four of us were checking out and the kids were still very young, and the checker thoroughly checked us out (not just the groceries) and then asked me if my daughter was my husband’s child! I responded “Of course she is,” but the experience was quite unnerving.
Another time when the kids were school-aged, we were ordering lunch inside a fast food restaurant and our (biracial) daughter ordered a chocolate shake and our (white) son ordered a vanilla one. This was followed by laughter from the cashier who replied, “Well, that makes sense!” All four of us found the humor in his observation, but not everyone would have.
Of course, as an agency we cannot teach you everything because your individual experience will be unique. Part of your preparation is to develop a better awareness for the world around you that will become your child’s world. Also, remember to take advantage of the expertise and support of your counselors, as well as peer support from other adoptive parents as you prepare for living as a multicultural family.