Transracial adoption, or adopting a baby that is not of the same race/ethnicity/cultural background as their adoptive parents, is becoming increasingly common in the United States. While the common approach is to “not see race or ethnicity” of your baby, this can cause problems down the line. Race and cultural backgrounds do matter in the modern world, as unfortunate as that is.
Your baby could grow to have a positive racial/ethnic identity, even though you may not be a part of that race. There are multiple ways to embrace these differences and create a positive, multicultural household. Friends in Adoption and your adoption team are always here to provide you with resources and answer questions about transracial adoptions. Here, we provide some tips to approaching transracial adoption and creating a multicultural family.
Talk With Your Partner & Family
Conduct some research with your partner, if you are adopting with them. This will help you both learn together about the potential changes that your baby might encounter later in life. It can also enlighten you as to any potential important cultural differences to be aware of as a family.
If you are a single parent adopting, talk with your close inner circle. Will they be welcoming to a baby of a different race or culture? Will they be supportive of you on this journey? Considering these questions could point to any underlying bias or assumptions present, giving you time to educate yourself and them.
Also take time to consider what your deal breakers are here. For example-
- Is there any naming convention in your family that differs from your baby’s cultural background?
- Do you want your baby to have a name common in their culture?
- Are there any holiday traditions that are very important to you and your family? Your partner’s family?
- Is religion an important part of your life? Do you want your baby raised in this religion?
By considering these difficult topics before adopting, you ensure that everyone is on the same page. It encourages your personal traditions while welcoming your baby’s cultural traditions as well.
For example, say that you are looking to adopt an Asian baby as Caucasian parents. Will you name your child a common Asian name, or after a family member? Will you raise them in their birth parent’s religion or your own? Having these conversations may be difficult, but it will help ensure that your child is coming to a comfortable and supportive environment.
Friends in Adoption can also help facilitate these conversations. Your adoption team can work with you by offering counseling services and other resources. They can also facilitate communication with the birth parents about their traditions/experiences.
Importance of Role Models & Mentors
We all need someone to look up to. Consider giving your baby a role model or mentor that looks like them, to encourage representation and connection to their community. This provides them with someone who can answer any questions with no hesitation or uncertainty. Plus, their mentor will have experience with growing up, discrimination, and/or challenges and can help guide you and your child through them.
You can even make their mentors or role models their birth parents if you are comfortable doing so. Their birth parents will understand any cultural differences and problems they may be experiencing at different times in their lives. Check with the birth parents to see if they are interested in serving in this role.
Consider Your Community
Is your current community culturally and racially diverse? If the answer is no, you may need to evaluate how your baby will learn about their own culture. You don’t want your child to feel as though they are standing out simply because of their race or cultural background. You can join community groups with diverse members, racial or social justice groups, or join clubs/activities that have diverse members.
Examining your community can also help you as a parent. You can connect to different and more diverse groups as well! This can be incredibly helpful/supportive, since community members can advise you on cultural aspects of your baby’s life. For example, if you are a Caucasian woman with an African American baby, a diverse community could teach you proper hair and skin care.
Embrace New Traditions
Embrace opportunities for new traditions! Your baby is a wonderful gift, no matter their race or cultural background. Create a new life by combining their culture with yours, forming new traditions and events special to your family. These new traditions can include:
- Joining new community groups or volunteering for racial/social justice organizations
- Attending festivals and parades based in your child’s culture. For example, if you are Asian parents raising a Latina baby, consider visiting Day of the Dead festivals each year.
- Introduce traditions of their culture into your life- including languages. Say you are a Hispanic couple adopting a Native American baby. Look into traditions from their tribe and introduce them into everyday life. You can even learn their tribal dialect together.
- Food! This is one of the most effective and tasty ways to create a multicultural household. Treat food as a conversation, opening up time to have conversations about their culture and yours.
- Incorporate at least one meal from your child’s culture into your week. If you are Caucasian parents to a baby from South America, try incorporating meals from their region.
- Celebrate their holidays, too! Don’t just celebrate Christmas. If your baby is from a culture that highly values Jewish holidays, consider celebrating those!
By incorporating your baby’s cultural traditions in with your own, you can create a multicultural environment that allows your baby to celebrate and flourish within their cultural identity, while also ensuring family traditions.
Pay Attention to Representation
Representation continues to be a significant problem in the United States. After all, how can children feel comfortable in their own skin and proud to be themselves if they don’t see role models or mentors anywhere?
Offer your baby a variety of media as they grow up, especially that which shows their race or ethnicity positively represented. You can look for representation throughout:
- News media
- Social media
- Historical figures
Make sure your child has access to media that positively represents their background or people of their ethnicity. This will help them build a positive relationship with their self-image and racial/cultural identity. Friends in Adoption can also help you on this path, with book recommendations and media options.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Have questions about hair care? How to prepare a certain meal? How to have conversations about discrimination and racism? Don’t be afraid to ask. Reach out to community groups, your baby’s birth parents, friends, family, or your adoption professionals. They can all offer advice and insight into how to approach issues you may never have faced. Asking means you continue to learn and grow, which will only benefit your baby down the road.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Introducing and cultivating a multicultural family can be extremely challenging. Some common pitfalls or problems adoptive families can face include:
- Not “seeing race or ethnicity”: as we discussed earlier, while you might not see it, the world still does. By ignoring it, you may be ignoring problems that your child is experiencing. Acknowledging their race or cultural background means that you are opening the opportunity for conversations with your child.
- Too much focus on differences: While you should acknowledge that differences exist, remember to discuss similarities too. You are a family, and you want your baby to feel as though they belong. By exploring similarities between you and your baby, you establish your own connection, while encouraging your baby to have a multicultural family identity.
- Dismissing discrimination: You may not have experienced racial or cultural discrimination. Unfortunately, your child might. Be open to having conversations and become a positive representative for them.
Transracial adoption can be challenging, no matter your background or your baby’s. Know that it is a continuous process. You’ll always be learning and growing with each new experience. Ultimately, know your baby can grow to have a positive cultural identity and strong connection to your family. You simply need to help them do so.
Have more questions about transracial adoption, support resources, or general inquiries about Friends in Adoption? View our resources for adoptive families now to see how we aim to help you and your family grow.