When any parent decides to start a family, there tends to be some thought and preparation involved. For biological families, they may focus on mainstream parenting books, articles, and educational videos. However, when it comes to adopting transracially there tends to be a few things the average parenting book doesn’t cover—like how are you going to handle racism? How will you do your Black child’s hair? What does your friend group look like; do you have enough racial mirrors?
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And as a transracial adoptee, I believe these are all essential topics to address before moving forward with transracial adoption. In the ’90s, back when I was adopted, there weren’t a lot of resources for prospective parents who were thinking about transracial adoption. Luckily, today there are so many more resources available. To help, I’ve created a list of seven topics to consider before adopting transracially.
1. Evaluate how many meaningful relationships you have with BIPOC
Adoptees of color notice when we are the only People of Color in our families. If your first meaningful relationship with a Person of Color would be with your adopted child, that’s a problem that could have lasting effects. Children need racial mirrors (mentors whose race “mirrors” the race of the child whose race differs from their parents) to help foster strong identity development.
2. Listen to adult transracial adoptees
Adoption agencies, the media, and even birth mothers all have a stake in how adoption is portrayed. But adult adoptees have the lived experience of how being a transracial adoptee has truly affected them. Many adult adoptees are providing valuable insight into how transracial adoption has been difficult for them and what their white adoptive parents could have done to make it better. By listening to adult adoptees, you will gain valuable insight into how complicated it is and the different nuances that make each experience different.
Now listening to these perspectives isn’t always easy. Especially when so many people go into adoption viewing it as “saving” a child. This is a problematic viewpoint often referred to as white saviorism, which refers to the practice of “rescuing” orphans-in-need when the media portrays so many babies in poor third-world countries in need of homes.
The reality is that there could be between 1-2 million couples waiting to adopt children and much fewer in need of homes. Research has shown that there are about 100,000 children in foster care in the United States who are available for adoption, and yet some couples still prefer international adoption where they can adopt babies.
3. Understand systemic racism is a huge factor in the adoption industry
Are you ready to acknowledge how systemic racism plays a role in the adoption industry? Have you thought about why the cost of adopting a Black child is less than that of a white child? Have you thought of why mixed children are preferred? And did you know that America frequently adopts babies out to other countries? And that most of those babies are Black?
There is a reason so many Children of Color are in the foster care system and why white adoptive parents choose to adopt Black, Brown, and Asian babies from poor countries. And there is a significant reason why some birth mothers prefer to have children placed outside of the United States.
Before adopting, it’s important to do research into the history and sometimes unethical practices within the adoption community. Facing the history of adoption is a crucial step to take before further considering transracial adoption.
Additionally, if just starting your journey into social justice and anti-racism, you may need to take some time to learn a lot more before adopting a Child of Color. It’s important transracial adoptive parents are comfortable discussing white privilege, white supremacy, and other racial injustices before adopting.
4. Plan how will you address racism and microaggressions in your own family
There are always a few people in the family who are stuck in their ways. And normally we don’t like to call them out for racist comments, but it is especially to do so in front of your adopted child.
Prepare to address friends and family when they are being racist immediately, and not as an afterthought. A child needs their adoptive parents to be willing to protect them from racism, and yes that includes within their own familial relationships.
A child needs their adoptive parents to be willing to protect them from racism, and yes that includes within their own familial relationships.
Some relatives may be willing to change after discussions and education, but some will not be. Think about whether you are willing to sever ties in order to protect your child from being exposed to racism within their own family.
5. Remember your child’s story is theirs to tell
Many adoptees prefer to choose when and where we choose to share our adoption story. But with the rise of social media, many adoptive families are not respecting the boundaries of their prospective adoptive children.
I’ve seen posts from prospective adoptive parents divulging TMI about children they are hoping to adopt or saying that a child was “meant to be.” Adoptees generally don’t want to hear that it wasn’t meant for us to be a part of our first families.
When others co-opt our adoption stories to suit their preferred perspective it can be very painful for us to see. So if you plan to adopt or have adopted, respect the adoptee’s right to privacy. Do not overshare on social media, and value all insight adoptees provide you with, even if it isn’t always positive.
6. Avoid adoption fundraising
Many adoptees and even birth parents often consider adoption fundraisers as exploitive and just another way systemic racism plays into the adoption industry. After all, why are people so willing to give to a cookie-cutter adoptive family raising money to adopt transracially or even internationally when a fraction of that money could help keep the first family together? If adopting to help a child in need, shouldn’t that also include helping a mother keep her child?
If you are adopting a Child of Color, consider how they would feel if they found out they were adopted because of the support others gave to your family and not their first family. Consider how confusing that situation will be for a child. Also, consider the lasting effects fundraising has on the adoption agency industry.
7. Be honest about why you want to adopt
There are so many other motivations parents have for wanting to adopt, but as a transracial adoptee, I ask you reconsider if any of these are part of your motivation;
To prove you are not racist.
You want to expose your other children to different cultures.
You believe BIPOC aren’t adopting.
Adopting a Child of Color because the process is cheaper.
Because you feel bad about being privileged.
Transracial adoptees are simply children in need of homes, and the truth is there are way more couples looking to adopt than there are babies available for adoption. Babies only make up 4 percent of children in foster care. So if your motivation is to help children in need, consider fostering older children as an option too.
What else can adoptive parents do to support their adoptive child?
Transracial adoption can seem like a challenge, but there are so many helpful things adoptive parents can do. As a transracial adoptee who talks a lot with other transracial adoptees, here are some things adoptees think their adoptive parents have done well;
- Made efforts to incorporating their child’s birth culture by reading books, making traditional meals, or taking a yearly trip to their birth country when possible.
- Talked openly about adoption and encouraged their child to share how they felt about their adoption story.
- Kept original adoption paperwork and made sure their child had access to their original birth certificate.
- Maintained an open relationship with the birth family as long as it was safe and what the child wanted.
- Joined and encouraged family therapy to process adoption trauma.