The growth in recent years of transracial adoption has increased the need of adoptive parents to understand and share their child’s cultural heritage.
Often, however, parents don’t realize, or perhaps don’t understand, how raising a child of color in a white household can, and should, be different. Many take a “color doesn’t matter” approach, but avoiding discussions of race can be detrimental to their upbringing.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 4 in 10 adoptions are now transracial, up from around 28 percent in 2004. That equates to many more parents learning for the first time what raising an African American, Asian American or Latino American child can mean.
Too often, parents who adopt a child of a different race don’t know where to start discussions about cultural issues, or may not know how important the child’s native culture is to raising them.
While many aspects of childhood may never change – school cliques, extracurricular interests, learning struggles – children of different races may face these and other experiences differently.
How so? Without the knowledge gained from having a parent of color, children have only your guidance and understanding – one formed in an all-white upbringing – to lead them. When their native culture brings with it predetermined prejudices, they may struggle to overcome them.
That can be tough for white parents to cope with, especially if a child faces racism, bullying or other attacks on their character based on race or even the family who is raising them. And that’s why helping your child understand his or her heritage is important from the day you welcome them home.
So how can you introduce your child to his or her history and share with them the story of their lives, while also preparing them for hardships they may face based on their racial background?
Here are six tips to get started.
• Introduce your child to other children from diverse backgrounds – at school, church or your neighborhood. If you cannot find a welcoming community of other diverse faces there, consider other alternatives.
• Foster learning experiences based around their race and culture. Explore ethnic foods, events and destinations with your family, taking time to teach and learn about their culture in many ways.
• Openly confront racism, and teach your child appropriate ways to respond to it.
• Identify mentors and role models who share your child’s racial heritage. These people can be some of the most important people they know, outside of your home.
• When age appropriate, discuss societal issues, such as racial prejudice within law enforcement, for example.
• Make race part of family discussions, but encourage self-learning. Your child’s story will continue to evolve, and their understanding will continually progress, but fostering an atmosphere of learning will drive them to seek knowledge as they age.
Transracial adoption brings with it some challenges, but can bring great rewards, too. An open mind and a willingness to help your child understand the world around them are great places to start.