Love is Not Enough – Parenting a Child of a Different Ethnicity
By Debbie Wender
While completing the application process to adopt, adopting parents are asked to indicate the age range, gender, and ethnicity of the child or children they want to join their family. Some families feel more comfortable with children of their own ethnicity while other families are open to any race. When I started the adoption process 25 years ago, I was one of those families that was open to any gender or ethnicity. Though I am white and grew up in a predominantly white society, I believed because I had friends and co-workers of different ethnicities and I had read books about the experiences of different ethnicities, I was prepared to parent a child who was different from me.
When my son, who is African-American, was placed in my arms the first time I was in love. I did not see a black baby, or the future African-American boy, adolescent or young adult he would grow up to be. He was my son. As he grew and I experienced reactions in public from whites and blacks, I realized that I may not have all the resources and skills that I needed. I looked for a support system and found other white families who had adopted African-American children and children of other ethnicities. After adopting my daughter three and a half years later, I began to look for social and community opportunities that would expose my children to their black culture. Through reading, attending trainings, and talking to African-American people, I increased my awareness of how racism impacts our children. Most importantly, as my frame of reference of being a white family with adopted African-American children changed to that of being a bi-racial or multi-racial family, I embraced my children’s culture. I learned about skin and hair care for African-Americans. I put African-American art in my home, as well as art from other ethnicities. I made sure that our Christmas and other holidays had representations of black culture. I still look for African-American Santas to add to our Christmas collection. When my children were young I bought them books about adoption, and I bought them books with children in the story that looked like them.
A national survey found of 372 adoptive families compared the long-term adjustments of Colombian, Korean, and African-American transracial adoptees with those of white children adopted by white families. The researchers, William Feigelman and Arnold Silverman, found that after six or more years of living in their different-race homes, adolescent and school-aged transracial adoptees were adjusted as well as their same-race-adoption counterparts. This national survey indicates that adopted children can thrive in a transracial family. However, it is important to be cognizant of your child’s need to not be the minority in their family or community. I have heard from some adult transracial adoptees how difficult it was for them to be raised in an all-white family and/or be the only Asian, black or East Indian child in their school. Those types of experiences can lead to feelings of isolation and not belonging. If you are considering adopting a child from a different ethnicity or culture, do an inventory: Do you have friends, family or co-workers who share the child’s ethnicity and culture? Are there community events and organizations that your child can participate in? Are you willing to embrace their culture? Adult transracial adoptees shared with me how their self image suffered when their parents refused to acknowledge their racial differences. It also eventually affected their relationship with their adoptive parents.
My children are now 24 and 21. They have a circle of friends from many ethnicities. I like to think that the efforts I made to expose them to their culture and the culture of others had something to do with this. They are both open-minded young adults who are accepting of others who are different from them. My daughter recently married and her husband is Mexican. Now it is time for me to learn more about the Mexican culture and embrace it, since my family’s ethnic identity is expanding once again.