Transracial Adoption

When my husband and I began our adoption journey, we did a lot of research and took all of the classes necessary, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about adoption and parenting, you’re never done learning. When we adopted our daughter, who is black, we had a lot of learning to do and we continue to learn new things each day and to ensure that she is represented in everything from home décor to books, tv, and toys. We have reached out to adult adoptees for their help and I have enlisted an amazing group of black women to help me as I navigate caring for and creating culturally appropriate protective styles for my daughter.

What is Transracial Adoption?

Transracial adoption is when people adopt a child that is a different race than them. There are many ways this occurs and there are a lot of mixed emotions about it. Though I completely understand how it would be better for a child to remain with a family that looks like him or her, I also know that birth parents choose various people to raise their children–in my case, we were chosen to parent our daughter by her birth mother. I see both sides to this, but however you feel about transracial adoption, the reality is that it occurs and that families look different than what was considered more traditional in the past. In some instances, parents aren’t just a different race than their child, but are different races than their child. Many cultures are combined in one household. Due to this, there is a need to be willing to learn and share with your child about their culture and work towards representing your child in and outside of your home. For us, this meant ensuring that books, toys, etc. represented our daughter, that we chose doctors that represented her when we could, and even choosing to send her to a school outside of our own district. Race, ethnicity, and culture all are important when considering adoption and while parenting. 

Why is understanding Culture Important when Adopting?

It is important for your child to remain connected to their culture, particularly as they get older and begin to grapple with self-identity like we all do. When speaking with adult adoptees who were in transracial families, if they didn’t get exposure to people who looked like them or in a similar culture, they often felt loss and found it difficult to connect with people from their own race and culture. Not everyone’s lived experience is the same, but allowing children to come to know more about who they are, where they come from, etc. will help them as they navigate understanding themselves and their family. 

How to Support Children Adopted by Parents of a Different Race

I have had the added benefit of living in multicultural cities, teaching in global environments and working with cultural competency prior to adopting my daughter, but I still knew that I had a lot to learn. I wanted to ensure that she was dressed in a culturally appropriate manner, and most importantly, I wanted to make sure that I was helping her hair to grow and that I was styling it in a way that was appropriate and healthy for her growth. Though there are books that can help, I also found out very quickly that research and YouTube videos weren’t going to suffice in parenting my daughter. 

Finding People to Help

For me, and for other parents who have adopted children of a different race, one thing that helps is reaching out to people who can help your children with experiences they know about that you may have limited experience with. I know a lot of wonderful black women who have been there every step of the way in my hair care journey for my daughter. I can call or message them for product help and they have gone as far to Facetime me when I’m working on intricate hairstyles or come across breakage, etc. and really need guidance. 

I have reached out to adult adoptees to ensure that I’m doing my best to understand things that I need to be doing to help my daughter navigate various situations at school, in the community, and these individuals have helped me when she has questions that I don’t feel equipped to answer. Having people in your life that look like your child is important. You may not already have people that do look like them, but you can try to find doctors, teachers, librarians, etc. that you come into contact with in your community on a regular basis that can allow them to see themselves in others. And as difficult as it is to think about, coming to terms with why you don’t know people that look like your child is something to address early on in your parenting. 

You can also take your child to cultural events and if you’re able, travel to other areas for them to be exposed to a variety of cultures, family situations, etc.. If you are or are preparing to adopt a child of a different race, it’s important that you take every opportunity you can to be exposed to other cultures, learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to be ready to help your child understand who they are in relationship to their race, culture, and being your child. 

Resources about Transracial Adoption