I have been an adoptive parent for over 20 years now. Our adoption was a same-race and culture adoption, and though my family does not have to cope with the complexity of transracial adoption, I am still learning ways to up my game as the parent of an adopted child. For many of us, long gone are the days of relying on how our own parents raised us to guide how we raise our diversity of children. This is even more dynamic for transracial adoption. So many things come into play in this complicated mix of love, racism, parenting, trauma, education, white privilege, relationships and multi-culturalism. There are a few of these that I would like to explore in a series of three articles. Here, in the first article, I will share ways you can increase bi- or multiculturalism in your family’s life.
Finding Role Models
Holt has recommended for years that parents find a role model of color for their child and themselves. A way to get better at this is to have that role model be a mentor for the entire family, not just singling out the child/ren of color for time with their friend. Invite a family of color to join your family on local outings, or over for dinner. Seek out preschools and schools that have strong diversity programs in place. As you contemplate this idea of diverse schools, what comes to mind? Often, kneejerk reactions tend to be that those schools don’t rank as high as your child’s local school, or it is too far to commute to that school every day. These may seem like very real and valid concerns, but as white parents in the majority, we also often don’t understand how important it is for our kids to be around others who look like them. We take for granted our experience of blending in where ever we go. This is a privilege we don’t even recognize. For our children of color, attending a more diverse school may mean that they do not have to cope with standing out because they look different — allowing them to put a lot more energy into learning and growing.
Becoming a Multicultural Family
Adopting a child of color doesn’t mean that the burden is now on the child to learn to fit into your family and culture. It means that the family is now a bi- or multicultural family, and providing your child of color the unspoken message of all families — that they are a part of your whole unit — will take significantly more thinking and planning. Similar to first-generation immigrants who keep their culture alive while learning their new culture, but in reverse, parents will need to embrace their child’s culture as their own and weave it into their family’s everyday life. Extol the virtues and contributions of multicultural inventors, teachers, community leaders and, of course, the ever-popular sport stars. This same mindset works in multiculturally guided activities or discussions of what is in the news, on TV or trending on Facebook. Dinner conversations should include at least one cultural item of relevance to your child. It is so easy to think, ‘my child needs to assimilate and learn how to be successful in the culture where she has landed.’ This will happen regardless, without much effort on the part of parents.
Another way to foster biculturalism in your family is to choose multicultural holiday cards, stationery and commercial products. Let your child witness you requesting these at stores. Try volunteering at your child’s school to celebrate ethnic history months, and present on all the contributions that your child’s culture has given the world. Make it fun with food, music, dance, books or art. I hope you are getting the idea that being a bicultural family is not that you mark on your calendar a celebration coming up or the annual Korean picnic. It is living the lifestyle of your adopted child’s culture as much as you do the majority culture in this country.
Empowering Your Child
Some parents worry that their birth children will get lost in all of this multiculturalism. These kids do fine. They belong to the majority culture and in the course of everyday life have countless experiences of what this means to them. How you view things going on in your community, nation and the world should now be from two perspectives. In minority families, there is a lot of discussion about what the majority is doing and how it affects them and how to respond. Your child needs this kind of critical thinking and perspective so that when they are young adults, they know how to cope when they encounter racist judgments and stereotypes. As young adults leaving home, transracial adoptees have often expressed that they don’t feel like they fit in anywhere. Research shows that they don’t feel accepted by their ethnic groups or “white” groups. But by fostering multiculturalism in your family and embracing the culture and complex identity of your adopted child, you can help lessen the lifelong impact of transracial adoption — and empower your child to feel more comfortable in their own skin.
Abbie Smith, LCSW | Former Holt team member