by J. Brandon, B.S.W.
Transracial adoption is a wonderful way to begin or add to a family. Racial commonality between parents and child is in no way a prerequisite for quality parenting. There are, however, some important factors that a family should consider when determining their appropriateness for such an adoption.
The great majority of families who have adopted transracially would attest to the strengthening and expansion of the horizons of everyone in the family. Children and adults alike develop more openness and less fear about racial differences than they might have otherwise. Still, it should be recognized that such an adoption impacts the entire family, forever transforming it from a family of one race, the norm in our society, to an interracial family.
For the adopted child, maintaining an identity with his or her racial and ethnic background is one key component in building healthy, positive self-esteem. Parents should know that with the entry of a child into the family, also comes his or her birth culture. This does not mean that a family must turn itself upside-down in making changes, but just that room should be made to learn, promote, and celebrate another culture in the home. Methods for doing this include building new traditions from the child’s racial and cultural background, and including them in the family’s schedule. Parents can also put effort into helping a child learn about role models and historical figures from his or her race.
Having regular, ongoing relationships with others of the same race is an important factor in identity. A family should consider what opportunities for this are available in places such as the school, church, neighborhood, or child care center. If not readily available, is there a willingness by parents to seek out opportunities for relationships with others of the same race? It is also advisable for couples to consider another future adoption from the racial background of the first child.
Racial prejudice is a reality. Parents need to be able to adequately talk with and prepare a child for its presence in our society. Just by being an interracial family, each family member will find themselves confronting prejudice and advocating for racial and ethnic harmony. How will parents react to any prejudice directed at their child or family? Their role as educators, protectors, and advocates becomes a vital one. Also present are the less overt actions such as extended glances or curious questions from strangers. Even well-intentioned questions and comments can become annoying over time, and it is therefore advisable to consider one’s sensitivity threshold for such situations. As in other areas of life, an easy-going attitude and even a sense of humor can at times be a valuable coping skill.
Possibly more difficult are negative attitudes and prejudices that, in some situations, come from within the extended family. This should receive careful consideration prior to an adoption, preparing how potential problems will be addressed. Obviously, it is not always realistic to believe that we can re-shape attitudes or enlighten those around us. However, parents can be assertive in setting limits for which behaviors or comments are inappropriate. In assuring for the most affirming environment for a child, it may also be necessary to limit contact with the offending family member. Ideally, the extended family can be an excellent support system for the couple in their decision to parent cross-racially.
Another aspect to consider is the parent’s ability to meet any special skin, hair, or health care needs of a child. Parents are often able to adapt quickly simply by getting to know their own child and his or her needs. Advice from other parents can also be very helpful.
By assisting families in carefully considering pertinent issues prior to an adoption, our staff can only advance our agency’s ultimate goal: providing loving and positive homes for children.