There has been a lot of buzz lately about the enacting of anti-LGBT legislation in Oklahoma and Kansas as it pertains to adoption and foster care. These laws will permit agencies to discriminate against LGBT couples and singles looking to become foster or adoptive parents.
Same-sex couples are four times as likely to become an adoptive parent and six times more likely to be raising a foster child than heterosexual couples. This is huge. With an estimated number of 500,000 children in foster care in the United States, there is a shortage of homes as it stands. Removing qualified gay couples from this equation only keeps kids from getting a home placement and could prevent permanent placement, leading to more kids “aging out” of the foster care system without much, if any, familial support.
But that’s not really the focus of my article. I opened with that to show statistics of the high numbers of LGBT couples adopting (whether through private adoptions or foster care) and to continue to report that LGBT couples are also adopting transracially at a higher number than traditional couples. Adopting transracially is adopting a baby that is of a different race than you are. This happens in many ways but most commonly is white couples adopting children of color. I happen to fall into this category. Along with my wife, Brandi, we have four daughters who are racial minorities. Our older three daughters were born in Guatemala and adopted by my wife and her previous partner before we met. After Brandi and I married, we adopted a black infant in a domestic adoption. We have completed foster care classes but have not yet entered the world of foster care.
There were a few things I knew about adopting transracially before I adopted a black child. But the things I didn’t know far outweighed what I did know. I knew that it was a good thing that my wife and I already had black people in our lives. Not just people we pass in the hallway at an office but people who come to our home and whose houses we visit, as well. People who come and spend the night with us and bring their kids. People whose birthday parties we attend, who visit us when we are sick; people we love. I knew I would need to be educated about my baby girl’s haircare. I knew this education would need to come from black women. I knew I would need to have black dolls, books with black characters and movies with black actors. Some of these things I already had. I have always enjoyed R&B, Jazz and Blues, movies that had black women and black men in leading roles and, as luck would have it, I still had black dolls from my childhood that my mother had given to me. I felt pretty okay about heading into the throes of motherhood at that time. I mean, we had much more diversity in our lives than many of the people we knew. So, we were qualified, right?
When my daughter was about 5 months old, I decided to start doing a little research. We have an open adoption with our child’s biological mother; or as I like to call her, her mother. No, this doesn’t get confusing. There are different types of mothers. Our older three know this and so will our youngest. There are mothers who raise you, mothers who birth you. Sometimes those are the same person. Sometimes one is a stepmother. Sometimes you have a biological mother and an adoptive mother and a stepmother. What is really cool is when all these mothers can be on the same page about the love and care of the child. But, I digress.
I wanted to do my absolute best at this parenting thing. I knew that it would be my most important job in life, by far. Typically, when we start a job, we either have knowledge beforehand in our field with some type of degree or certificate or we get on-the-job training. I was already on the job, so I needed to get busy. I started joining adoption groups online. I started going to seminars on transracial adoption. I started talking to adoptees. The most important thing I did in each of these instances was that the groups I joined and the seminars I attended were created and administered by TRANSRACIAL ADOPTEES. I mean, what better way to learn how to parent your child of a different race than going straight to the source; those who have lived it and have grown up and are old enough and brave enough to freely articulate the good, bad and ugly about transracial adoption.
I have talked to adoptees whose parents were overtly racist. I know, I know. It shocked me, too. I mean, most of us white folks know plenty of subtle racist, people who wouldn’t use the N word or refuse to hire because of color but would croak if their daughter/son chose a black partner to marry. But I am not even talking about that. I am talking about down right, hateful, racist, white supremacy inside a home from parents who are raising (and reportedly loving) their black children. While I was utterly shocked by this, I found out that sadly, my black friends were not. I mean, why would overtly racist people go through everything it takes to adopt and purposefully adopt a black child? Because it has to be on purpose, right? You do not accidentally adopt a child, period. You certainly do not accidentally adopt a child of color. But I couldn’t come up with a good reason. Some adoptees I spoke to reported more work given to them than their white siblings. But mostly, it seemed that the kids had been used as emotional punching bags, victims of verbal abuse in the form of racial slurs and negative talk about their racial/ethnic groups, as a whole. Picture for a moment that your parents were consistently negative about people who weren’t like them but were a lot like you. For instance, imagine you were born left handed. Your parents are right handed. Every chance they get, they make jabs at people who write, throw, eat, do anything with their left hands, indicating they are less of a people and just aren’t doing things right. As a child, how would this feel? This isn’t a good analogy, even, because in this circumstance, you would still have the biological connection to your relatives which can provide a certain amount of unrealized security. People who are biologically connected to their parents often do not even realize the amount of security this brings to a child. We take it for granted because it’s something we had nothing to do with, it’s just something that IS. Adopted persons do not have this. So, when there is something else that further separates them from their adoptive families such as certain physical characteristics, it can be particularly alarming for them. If the adoptive parents do not like people who are like their child, how will they convince their child of their love? I have provided a transracial adoption checklist based upon what I wish I knew from jump and I am passing it along to you. Not every child is the same and they cannot all fit into one box. Letting your child lead in some of these areas is a good thing to do. If you are open enough and do not take things personally when it comes to your child’s needs for things “not white”, you will be more apt to get an honest essay of what your child needs in the areas of race and culture.
- Take Inventory of Your People
I am not sure how to say this eloquently so I won’t. DO NOT ADOPT A BLACK CHILD IF YOU DO NOT ALREADY KNOW AND LOVE BLACK PEOPLE. There. That should be at the top of your list. If you are at the age to plan a family and you do not already have good relationships with people of color, please do not adopt a person of color. Seek and develop these relationships first. It seems like common sense that you will need to be able to have healthy relationships with people of different racial and ethnic groups if you are going to parent someone of a different racial or ethnic group. If this ship has sailed, please do not go out and attempt to recruit black friends to be mentors or educators for you (unless someone offers, then offer to pay them, as it is a skill you do not possess.) Find a church, hobby group, parents group, or recreation group that has members who are the same race as your child and form these friendships organically. Hire childcare workers who are racial mirrors for your child. Get people of color into your lives going forward but not for them to do “the job” of being your diverse group of friends. Be authentic. Be genuine in your mission to diversify your peer group. Realize that regardless of having a child of color, you should have been valuing relationships with people of color since long ago.
- Be Mindful of How You Speak
It’s very important for parents like us to take note of how we are speaking about persons belonging to our child’s race or ethnic group. When the local news depicts a mug shot of the latest criminal and they are black, do we make generalizations about the black race? Do you assume they grew up in a single-parent home? What if the person looks to be of Hispanic descent? “They look like they are illegal”, parents or grandparents of young kids of Hispanic descent might say. To the kid, the person looks like them. Do they “look illegal” also? Being mindful of how you speak about people who look like your children is crucial.
Think about who you speak fondly of. Is it an actress, a singing group, a poet, an artist? How many of these people whose art you enjoy are people of color? How many are representative of your child’s culture or ethnic group? When you talk about who is beautiful or handsome on television, how many times are you speaking of a man or woman with dark skin or for whom English is a second language? Our kids first idea of what is beautiful will come from our influence. If we don’t see the beauty in people of color, how will they? How will they learn to see it in themselves?
- Assess Your Child’s Environment
One of the hardest things, according to transracial adoptees, in growing up in white spaces is simply always being in white spaces. Can you provide your child access to schools, sports teams, dance classes or music classes in which they are a racial majority? Sometimes this means driving out of your neighborhoods (even though it would be ideal if your neighborhood is diverse enough to have these things handy.)
What does your home look like? Do you have artwork, books, dolls and toys that reflect your child’s race or ethnic group? If you celebrate Christmas, what color is Santa Claus? We are big decorators when it comes to the holidays and have many Santas. Several of them are of a black or brown skin color, as are the people in our Nativity (this isn’t just representative but truth, as the Holy family could not have been white.) What magazines do you subscribe to? Are you considering the opinions of people of color when it comes to decorating and fashion? Show your child you value the advice of people who look like them. Remember, these things have been reported as important from people of color who were raised by white parents.
In choosing a realtor, a coach, a pastor, a dentist, how many times do you actively look for people of color in these fields? It’s important that your child finds representation in authority figures and professionals. It can provide great vision for your child to see someone who looks like them in a teaching position, as a physician or a religious instructor. Often, mainstream media portrays people of color in negative stereotypes, if at all. Watching movies and T.V. shows that have protagonists which mirror your child is also good for your child to watch with you. This doesn’t mean that every professional in your lives must be a person of color. It just means there should be plenty of representation in those areas. It means consider these things in your search. Make sure your pool of professionals has people of color in it.
- Give Them Their Space
Providing spaces where your child can be around people of color without you is important, as well. Especially as your child gets older, being able to be in spaces of color without their white parents is essential. Your child is likely to experience many instances of racism or xenophobia. There is overwhelming evidence that your child will not tell you about many of these events. Reasons for this include our children knowing we will not understand, wanting to protect our feelings and not wanting to stir up trouble in the family. Being able to blow off steam about acts of overt racism, xenophobia and micro-aggressions without having to tiptoe around white feelings can be very freeing for your child. If your kid is apprehensive about this arrangement, maybe a person of color that you know and love (you DO know and love some, right?) would be available to accompany them.
- Be Teachable
It’s important to understand I am no expert in being a transracial adoptee. There is no way I can speak for them. The education I put forth for other adoptive parents comes from things I have learned from transracial adoptees themselves. Most of the subjects I touch on are issues that have been consistent in the transracial adoptee community. Occasionally, I do run into those who report no interest in being a part of a community of people of color and say they are completely comfortable in White spaces. These individuals are more uncommon, but their voices need to be heard also. The most important thing to do if you are planning on adopting outside of your race is to prepare. Be open, educate yourself, get out of your feelings and most importantly, listen to your child. Listen to others who have grown up similarly to the way your child will grow up. Ask what went wrong. Ask what went right. Be teachable.
Parents, especially adoptive parents who have no “surprise” pregnancies, spend lots of time and preparation for their child’s arrival. Choosing names, researching schools, buying clothing and gear; that’s all part of the process no matter what the parent/child dynamic looks like. Parenting a child of a different race requires special preparations to make sure you provide the best life possible for your child. Having a strong sense of identity is key to self-worth and self-esteem, especially in adolescents. Growing up with a healthy view of people like them can make a huge difference in their view of themselves and ensure a closer relationship with their parents. That must start right after the basics of food and water. Some transracial adoptees might argue it’s even more important than that. Please join some transracial adoption groups online. Turn up your listening skills and turn down your sensitivity to constructive criticism and prepare for the toughest but most important job there is; parenting.