This is a guest post from Rachel Garlinghouse – an author and adoptive mom of three shares from her experience about the 5 things you need to consider before adopting transracially. She writes with lots of wit and humor – and you’ll see her passion for transracial adoption. I know you’ll enjoy this! Take it away, Rachel…
Six years of transracial, adoptive parenting has taught me a thing or two about the interesting, complex, and joyful situations that can arise along this journey. I shared the many intricacies and possibilities in my book Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children.
One thing is for certain, parenting transracially isn’t for the faint at heart. One needs an incredible amount of patience, empathy, drive, and education.
If you are considering adopting a child whose race is different from yours, here are five things you need to consider:
1: Adapt to your child, not make your child adapt to you.
You are the parent. Your child didn’t choose you or your race, culture, and environment. The parent’s job is to step up the proverbial plate and demonstrate to the child that he or she is wonderful as-is.
Not only is the child wonderful as-is, but the family is adapting and evolving to embrace and incorporate the child’s racial heritage and culture in the home. This might mean making many changes and even big changes. You might need to move neighborhoods or towns or even states. You might need to choose a new place of worship.
You may need to have some serious heart-to-heart conversations with family members who might not been keen on your adoption announcement. Many transracial adult adoptees have shared that the best way a parent can mess up a child is by ignoring racial differences, the child’s individual needs, and refuse to adapt to the realities of the adoption situation.
Too many adoptive parents work to stay personally comfortable rather than make the necessary changes for the benefit of their child’s well-being.
2: Understand your child’s racial culture.
There are several ways adoptive parents can prepare themselves to understand their child’s culture. The first and foremost way is to have a diverse group of friends which includes people who share your child’s race.
Friends provide the necessary support system you will need to parent transracially. Your friends can teach you, encourage you, and advise you.
Second, you need to engage in the child’s racial community. This is most easily done when you choose to live, work, worship, and play in diverse communities.
Third, you need to stay abreast issues that are important to your child’s racial community. This means reading blogs, books, and articles written by those who share your child’s race. This means knowing your child’s racial history and how history impacts the future. This means learning what is valued in your child’s racial culture and implementing those things in your home. (For example, learning how to care for and style hair if your child is Black.)
3: Get humble.
Learning to ask for help (advise, support, education), value that help, and implement that help, is crucial when you adopt transracially.
For example, when my oldest was a baby, my husband and I had our daughter in a cart at the store. We were browsing greeting cards when two Black women approached us and said, “That baby’s hair is dry.”
I was embarrassed and defensive. How dare these women talk about my baby girl like that? But a few seconds later, the women said, “Come with us,” and took off down the aisle.
Out of shock and curiosity, we decided to follow them. For thirty minutes, they talked to us about hair products and skin care, showing us various products. Had we have held on to pride, we would have missed the opportunity to learn and grow.
Since that incident, we have learned to listen and learn from Black people who choose to bestow their knowledge upon us. We are better parents because we’ve chosen (and still choose) humbleness.
4: Be ready to develop a thick skin.
Not everyone is going to approve of your decision to adopt transracially. Additionally, we live in a country that has a lot of racial problems.
There are so many injustices, tensions, and inequalities, and these are things your family will deal with on a daily basis. You will learn who your true friends are, you will stand up to racism, and you will personalize things that happen to people of color, because you are raising a person of color and empathize with the struggles of your child’s racial community.
Developing a thick skin comes with time and experience. You will learn to respond to questions and comments with grace, education, and confidence. But if you choose to let every little thing bother you, you will waste time worrying instead of enjoying being a parent to your child.
Today, more than ever before, opinions are spewed (shared, Tweeted, broadcasted), and you cannot let opinions stand in the way of doing what is right for your family and your child.
5: You will become an adoption educator.
If you adopt transracially, your family will often feel as though a spotlight is upon you. Because your adoptive family status will be obvious, you will be approached with comments and questions.
You will encounter second-glances and stares. Many individuals are simply curious, while others are rude and racist. You will be called upon, at the most random of places (think Target and in an airport bathroom), to educate others on adoption.
Please know, it’s ok to refuse to answer a question or reply to a comment. Please know that you can simply tell the person, “It seems you are interested in adoption. You can contact an adoption agency to answer those questions.” It’s very important that you respect your child’s right to privacy, both in person and online.
You do not need to share intimate, irrevocable details of your child’s adoption story (or your fertility journey) with any person, no matter the person’s intention or level of niceness toward you. Your obligation is to your family and your child, not to a stranger, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or extended family member. When you do choose to share personal details, do so with discretion and discernment.
Rachel Garlinghouse has written the following books:
Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children and
Black Girls Can: Empowering Stories of Yesterdays and Todays.
Her adoption experiences and education have been featured on MSNBC, Huffington Post Live, and NPR, as well as on The Daily Drum National Radio Show and in Essence magazine.
She blogs about transracial adoption, attachment parenting, open adoption, and adoption ethics over at White Sugar, Brown Sugar. She writes for several websites including adoption.net, Scary Mommy, Babble, and My Brown Baby. Rachel lives in St. Louis with her husband and three children. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.