There are many places to receive education and training during the adoption process. In addition to books, online resources, and professional trainings, we want to offer personal experiences from some of our transracial adoptive families through an online Q&A panel. These parents offer just some of their personal perspectives for you to read and consider for your individual family situation.
- Introduce us to your family.
X family (requested names and initials be changed for confidentiality): Our family has 5 people. We, the parents, are white. We have one daughter (11) biologically, one daughter (8) through adoption from China, and 1 son (4) through adoption from China.
C family: We are white parents to 4 adopted children - Issac (black, 16 years old, boy, adopted through foster-to-adopt); Vivianna (Caucasian/black/Mexican biracial, 14 years old, girl, domestic infant adoption); Jayden (black, 13 years old, boy, foster-to-adopt); and Jasmine (black, 9, girl, domestic infant adoption).
- When starting the adoption process, what made you open to adopting a child outside of your race?
X family: Adoptive mother (AM) lived in China for a semester in college and had the opportunity to volunteer in orphanages, spent several years studying Mandarin, and ended up in a career teaching English to kids from around the world. Adoptive father (AF) was drawn to the idea of adopting a child in true need of a family and kids with special medical needs are at the top of that list. The China program fit. In an ideal world, no child would be separated from their biological family and adoption should not be a first resort. We really wanted to be a family for kids who didn’t have another option. Out of honor and respect for the trauma our own children have endured, we support the Unity Initiative by Love Without Boundaries that works in China to keep families together by providing for the medical expenses of kids with special needs so families don’t feel so desperate that they end up choosing to abandon (https://www.lovewithoutboundaries.com/programs/medical/unity-initiative/).
C family: We had been dealing with infertility, and were anxious to close that chapter of our life and become parents as soon as possible. So when we were being trained as foster parents, we were told the more open we had our home, the easiest we would receive a placement.
- What is something unexpected you have experienced, either positive or negative, as a transracial adoptive parent?
X family: On the positive end, we have gained a connection to our local Chinese community which has been so beneficial to our children. Our kids have access to Mandarin classes, Chinese Fan Dance, Kung Fu, and more.
On the negative end, there is a cultural movement that elevates racial identity above all to the point where adoptive parents are being labeled as colonizers for not finding a way to place a child with parents of their race of origin. We find this unfortunate because that often is not possible and leaves children waiting on an ideal that may never exist. We believe in a historic Christian, biblical view of race. We are one race - the human race, made in God’s image first, diverse in ethnicities and cultural practices. In our opinion, a child gaining a family should not be limited by their ethnicity.
C family: A negative is that people often think we adopted our kids as an act of charity. What we’re really doing is raising our kids just like any other parent.
- What have been the reactions from members of your community that share your child’s race? Any comments, questions, or experiences with them you’d like to share?
X family: We live in a predominantly Asian community (this is an intentional choice to support an integrated identity for our children). We have experienced acceptance by them and support in helping our children stay connected to their culture of origin. Our local Chinese school teaches them Mandarin, celebrates cultural holidays with us, and provides opportunities for cultural dance, cooking, and lessons in cultural stories and traditions. Local Chinese families have cooked traditional foods for my children as a gift. The Chinese Parents Association at my children’s elementary school invited me to join so that my kids don’t miss out of cultural events they host. They invite my bio daughter to join activities too.
The comments we receive most often from Chinese people are about how “lucky” our children are and how “wonderful” we are for adopting them because they would have “no future” in China given their special needs and orphaned status. We usually respond with, “we are the luckiest parents in the world to have these children.” While these comments are well meaning, they aren’t helpful. No child is lucky to lose their birthparents, to have little to no information about their origins, and to be raised in a family where they “stick out” as different. We are not saying that adoption isn’t good, just that it isn’t “lucky.”
C family: We occasionally receive unsolicited advice on our kids’ appearance. Especially Jasmine’s hair. We’ve been approached by strangers recommending salons and stylists we should try. Years ago, our reaction was total humiliation and devastation. But we’ve become more confident to stand up for ourselves and our ability to care for our kids and their appearance.
A lot of this confidence has come from other black families who have supported us and given us great advice. “I’ve never had a black woman say anything about my daughter’s rough-looking hair at the end of a long week,” they tell us. “They said that because you’re white.” We’ve found this invaluable and encouraging.
- There has been a lot of learning, discussion, awareness, and conflict this past year regarding how people of color are seen and treated in our society. What lessons learned this year would you want to pass along to other families considering or currently parenting a child outside of their own race?
X family: We have been intentional from the start with our kids about helping them have an integrated identity. We want them to know that every part of them is valued in our family, including their first language and culture of origin. They attend Chinese school to keep their Mandarin alive. One of our hopes is that they will achieve bilingual fluency so that if they ever want to go back to China and look further into their story, they can do so without the complications of a translator. We celebrate Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Moon Festival. Since we live in LA, we also have easy access to cultural events.
We have also chosen to live in a predominantly Asian area where our kids don’t visually stand out amongst their peers. They have racial mirrors, young and old, whose presence communicates to our children a normality about being Asian American. Actually, our blond haired, blue eyed bio daughter is the one who sticks out. One year she communicated a longing for straight black hair and brown eyes so that she could be like her peers at school.
We would encourage any current or prospective transracial adoptive families to consider what the community around your children will communicate to your children about who they are. If they rarely see another person of their same ethnicity, will they feel connected to and comfortable with their dual identity or seek to suppress or even reject connection to their culture of origin in order to fit in with the majority group? What will this mean to them when they are older looking back? When they go to college or enter the workforce and are assumed to have certain identity markers specific to their culture of origin, will they feel lost - not belonging in any particular world? How will you prepare them for this?
C family: We regularly have conversations with our kids to be aware of micro aggressions targeted at people of color based on stereotypes that people still don’t realize they have. We always validate our childrens’ feelings and experiences, and teach them not to assume intention. We tell them, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions like ‘what do you mean by that?’ and ‘where is this coming from?’ or ‘why are you asking?’”
Alternatively, when people are overly familiar or intrusive, we encourage our kids to not feel an obligation to answer their questions or provide explanations. Their story belongs to them, and they have a right to share it or not share it with whomever they choose.
- What books, resources, or people have challenged you to consider your own racial biases?
X family: A powerful book for us was “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss” by XinRan. This book absolutely tears apart the dominant American narrative regarding Chinese orphans. They were never the “unwanted”, but instead were at the mercy of cultural, governmental, and societal pressures that led to the loss of their birth families. The pain of the mothers who have loved and lost their children will stay with us forever. This is a must read for families adopting from China.
We appreciate the voices of adult adoptees. The research they’ve taken part in and the forums they have chosen to participate in to help educate transracial adoptive families is so valuable. We would encourage adoptive families to seek out blogs, books, and research centered around adult adoptee voices.
We are thankful for real life friends who are Asian American who have generously shared their personal experiences, hurts, and challenges with living a dual identity. Their voices help us be mindful of what our children are experiencing and to be more attuned to the specific education, support, and empathy they need.
We have also been so blessed this year by following The Center for Biblical Unity which is founded by a friend of ours from Biola University who is a Person of Color seeking to frame the conversation about racial identity and racial relations/reconciliation around the Bible. You can find their resources at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com, and her podcast at https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com/all-the-things.
- What is something you wish you had considered or learned more about before bringing your child into your home, specifically in regards to racial identity development?
X family: We wish we would have been better prepared for how to respond when people make negative comments about our children’s country of origin. People have big opinions politically, ideologically, and otherwise about China and will voice them in front of our kids without a second thought. Sometimes these comments leave our children feeling rejected or that their country of origin is “bad”. We can certainly communicate to people close to us about how to consider the impact their words may have on our children, but ultimately our kids will bump up against this in the broader community one way or another. Some people have even thoughtlessly commented that they disagree with our desire to keep our kids culture alive for them, since it was that culture that led to their abandonment. We never want our children to feel that we reject any part of them. We teach them that all cultures have both beauty and fallenness. We celebrate the beauty, because cultures of the world offer unique reflections of God and amplify different aspects of His character.
C family: We learned that finding like-minded families is the most important aspect to being in a community. Other black families have black parents and black kids, so they don’t match our family dynamic in the same way other multi-racial or adoptive families do.
- Do you have any good resources to share on how to learn more about your child’s racial experience in the U.S.?
X family: Again, the most important experiences for us to listen to for the sake of our children are adult adoptees, who have a unique experience that differs from typical Asian Americans. We enjoy the these transracial adoptee resources at “Yes I’m Adopted, Don’t Make it Weird” that is a vlog (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmNviK-KxPVfU4iZD82oQ-A) and Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2154616001461723). The Empowered to Connect Podcast covers the topic of transracial adoption in episodes 17-20 through adoptee interviews as well.
- Do you have any children’s books that you’ve read to your child regarding racial identity and/or adoption that you would recommend?
X family: We hired an artist to do basic illustrations of the life story of our children so that they could understand the narrative of their own history from a young age. There are pages for: birthparents, finding place, orphanage, receiving a care package from us, the day we met, the day we arrived in the US, and a picture of us standing in front of our home.
We own many adoption books, but the favorite of our kids is, “God Found us You” by Lisa Bergren.
We also have several children books featuring Asian characters (not about adoption specifically). Our kids particularly enjoy “The Mermaid” by Jan Brett, The Moon Lady by Amy Tan, and Really Rabbits by Virginia Kroll. Our older daughter enjoys books by Grace Lin, particularly “Where the Mountain meets the Moon.”
- What has been the biggest challenge for you as you learn to parent a child outside your own race?
X family: The biggest challenge for us is feeling the weight of the division in our culture around race relations. There are competing ideologies at play, but the dominant narrative being pushed is humanistic rather that biblical. We are trying to frame ourselves around a historic Christian view of race, anchoring ourselves to the truth of the Bible and relying on God to help us participate in true reconciliation and healing among races through the redemption and family offered in Christ. We are looking forward to reading a recently released book on this topic from a Talbot Seminary professor, “Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth” by Thaddeus Williams. See the book preview including the ethnically diverse group of contributors here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCuAkzHuRFE
C family: Honestly, we don’t often have these challenges because we’ve approached adoption and race issues very matter-of-factly with our kids. We are always working on finding the right balance between recognizing how out-of-the-ordinary our family is with how we’re just like everyone else.
For example, we don’t all agree with the athletes kneeling for the National Anthem. We’ve even had some heated debates. But we have boundaries and mutual respect for each other’s opinions, and we can laugh off the differences.
- What do you see is the main role a parent can play in the lives of their child concerning their racial identity development?
X family: Help them keep both parts of themselves alive and integrated - the culture of origin where their lives began and the culture of adoption where their lives are now. Do this together as a family. Learn the language with them. Cook their cultural foods together. Find community members who can help educate them about their culture of origin or even about what it means to be an American with dual cultural identities. Listen to adult adoptee voices. Keep conversations about race, injustice, identity and truth a regular part of family life and stay grounded in the gospel.
C family: Be educated! Educate yourself, and those around you. Reach out to mentors within your child’s race for their perspective on social issues.
- Anything else you want to share that wasn’t covered by the questions above?
X family: Don’t get swept away by the pressures being put out there by social media, media in general, or the dominant cultural narratives about race. Have real life, genuine relationships with people of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds and approach the things you don’t know or haven’t experienced with humility. Listen, learn, and most importantly - stay grounded in Jesus who is the ultimate answer to the fallenness we see all around us.
C family: Please check your motives in choosing transracial adoption. Be careful that it is not your attempt to prove to those around you that you are anti-racist. It is not your child’s job to fulfill a dream for you or to bring diversity to your life. This is actually a form of micro aggression. Adoption should be about finding the best family for a child, not the other way around.
If you are interested in hearing from two more families on this topic, please check out our blog post Transracial Adoption Panel 1.