Positive Practices in Transracial Adoption Parenting
From an Adoptees' Perspective
Parenting adopted children comes with its own unique set of challenges.
And when it comes to parenting transracially adopted children, there are often additional layers of challenges for parents to navigate and overcome.
As a transracial adoptee, I know firsthand how these unique challenges can affect the life of a family. Based on my lived experience, I believe there are some best practices in transracial adoption parenting:
1. Be willing to ask for help.
When they say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” this applies to all children, adopted or not. It truly does not matter how many books you have read in preparation to parenting a transracial adoptee or how culturally competent you feel, you will still need additional support. I have found that professional counseling and mentorship are incredibly beneficial to families that adopt. I suggest counseling individually for the adoptee and counseling for the entire family.
Counseling for your adoptee will provide a safe space for them to share and process things that they may not feel safe sharing with you. It will also give them an opportunity to work through any trauma connected to their story.
Counseling for the family is just as important, as it will make home a safe place for your adopted child and any biological children in the home. Navigating the complexities of adoption is hard not just for the adopted child, but also for the siblings. Counseling provides the opportunity to navigate those challenges together, and in the presence of someone trained to facilitate those hard conversations.
Another great resource for adoptive families is connection with other adoptive families. Parents and families who are also navigating transracial adoption or have already raised adopted children can walk with you on your journey. They can be an incredible wealth of knowledge and can speak into and encourage you in ways that non-adoptive families cannot.
Ultimately, please do not feel like you are equipped to navigate transracial adoption parenting alone, because you are not and that is okay.
You do what is best for yourself and your adopted child when you take advantage of the resources available to you that will equip and empower you to raise a transracially adopted child well.
2. Do not wait for your child to bring up topics surrounding adoption.
Many adoptive parents think it is best to wait and let their child bring up the topic of adoption and ask questions about their adoption story. I believe that creating a safe space for these conversations is essential, but I encourage parents to initiate those conversations. Obviously, we want to make sure these conversations are developmentally appropriate so tailor them to your child’s age and maturity level.
Many adoptees can be afraid to ask questions or openly share feelings about their adoption story or their birth parents out of fear of how it will be received. Your child needs to know you will welcome those conversations, even though they can be hard.
Some adoptees may desire to have these conversations but not feel comfortable starting them or not be able to articulate their needs. It is your job as the parent to take the first step; your child needs that.
Initiating conversations about adoption with your child is a vital step in them knowing that those conversations are safe, welcomed, and encouraged at home. When your child knows that home is a safe place to share, they will be more likely to share.
Ideally, we want home to be a place where transracial adoptees feel they can share, ask questions, and process all aspects of their adoption story, even when it feels messy.
Initiating conversations can be as simple as asking questions such as:
I wanted to ask if you’d be interested in learning more about your birth culture? I saw there’s a group in the community for adoptees from where you were born. I wanted you to have the option if that’s something you think you’d like. How does that feel?
I noticed the book you picked from the library is about an adoptee who is interested in finding her birth mom. I know that might be hard to talk about but I am here if you want to talk about it or we can find someone that feels safer to share with.
I noticed the summer camp you went to last year didn’t have many children of color. How did that feel? I want to make sure you always feel included and like you belong everywhere you go. Would you like me to look for another camp?
3. Support and encourage choice and autonomy for your adoptee.
Allow your child the space to navigate and own their story and give them a voice to ask for what they need. Here are some ways you can do this:
Allow your child to decide what they want to share about their adoption story with others. There is almost always the pressure for transracial adoptees to feel they owe everyone their story simply because they look different than their families and people ask.
Encourage your child to know they do not owe anyone their story. If your child is asked their story or questions about their adoption in front of you, let your child speak and share what they want to share.
Allow your child to decide whether or not they want to connect with their birth culture. Another assumption for transracial adoptees is that they need to be connected to their birth culture and maintain those cultural ties and it is the parent’s job to ensure that happens. This can be huge pressure for parents who want to parent their transracial adoptee in a culturally informed manner. This decision is your child’s; give them the option but do not pressure them. It is okay if they opt-out of that — I did.
Allow your child to decide what they want to do with knowledge and information about their birth parent(s). As a parent, you may feel strongly one way or the other — desiring your child to connect with their biological parent(s) or not wanting them to at all. You need to create space for your child to navigate that without overly influencing them. It is a sensitive and delicate topic that requires grace and care.
Provide your child with all the necessary and appropriate information and allow them to make that decision on their own or with someone safe like a counselor or mentor. Please also be aware that your child’s views and preferences may change over time in regard to connecting with their birth parent(s) or family. They may initially not be interested but that could change later in life.
Keeping the door open to that conversation is crucial, so you can always be there to provide support.
Allow your child to decide what places feel safe and unsafe and respect that. There will be places that may feel triggering or overwhelming to adoptees because they foster feelings of disconnection and make them feel like they do not belong. It could be parts of town or communities where they feel they are pointed out or stared at or even certain people that always ask triggering questions.
Encourage your adoptee to identify safe and unsafe places and make it a priority to avoid the places they feel unsafe in.
When my parents adopted me from India in 1995, they were not provided resources or given much advice and support in parenting a transracial adoptee. I know they ached for information like what I have shared in this article.
If there were a few final thoughts I could leave with a parent of children through transracial adoption, they would be: You should always be learning.
Best practices in adoption and transracial adoption parenting, especially as it relates to language and culture, will continue to evolve and be refined as time goes on. Be open to continuing to learn so you can love and support your adoptee well.
Lastly, you are going to make mistakes, and that is okay. Transracial adoption parenting requires you to change the way you see and interact with the world around you. That can be hard, it is a learned skill. There will be times you do and say the wrong thing. There is grace and forgiveness for you in this space. You are doing the best you can.
Ramya Gruneisen is a transracial adoptee living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has found a passion in sharing her story and educating adoption agencies and adoptive/prospective families on adoption. She works in Public Health for the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). She works in the Refugee Medical Screening and Refugee Health Promotion programs where she educates service providers on culturally informed and trauma informed care to refugees and immigrants, as well as monitors and reports on public health data for new arrivals. She has found it to be the most lifegiving and humbling work. She loves spending time with her friends and family, climbing mountains and watching the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues play.
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