Love makes a family.
For LGBTQ+ families, the road to parenthood is unique. Beyond the “birds and the bees,” there’s also lawyers, adoption agencies, doctors, and the government. Because our families are formed in a variety of ways, we are often a kaleidoscope of different life experiences.
For white parents adopting children of color (sometimes called a “transracial adoption”) the family formation journey has the added complexity of navigating different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Luckily, there are a few key steps you can take to make this process a success!
Build Your Village
The LGBTQ+ community has a longstanding history of being intentional about who we surround ourselves with. We are known to create communities of loving, accepting people—friends, co-workers, and neighbors who all come together to create a chosen family. This “village” that so many LGBTQ+ people turn to for love, support, encouragement, and insight is especially important in transracial adoptions.
Additionally, who is in your village is just as vital as the roles they play. Diversity is key. With transracial adoption, ensure that your chosen family includes people of similar races, ethnicities, and/or cultural backgrounds as your child(ren). Giving your child(ren) the opportunity to see themselves reflected in your chosen family will positively impact their experience as well as yours. Further, creating family relationships with adults who have first-hand cultural insight can be validating for your children.
For you, these supporters can be a resource and a confidant. Build a solid relationship with them based on transparency, trust, and mutual respect. This “villager” must know their role and understand the level of support you seek. And remember: a flourishing village has several members with varying roles. One person does not and can not speak for a whole community of people. They can only share their perspectives and experiences. Expand every aspect of your daily life with a variety of food, music, art, and life experiences.
Tip: When it comes to adoption-related topics, the motto is, “Nothing about us, without us!” Listen to the experiences of transracial adoptees through books, blogs, videos, and other resources.
Find the Joy
We all grapple with self-confidence at different times throughout our lives. For people of color—living in a white-centered society—this struggle is intensified. From TV commercials to Capitol Hill, we are inundated with direct and indirect messages that whiteness means beauty and perfection.
So, parents must intentionally cultivate self-love and self-appreciation in their child, regardless of their gender. As a transracial family, find joy and bliss in your child’s race, ethnicity, and culture. Teach them to celebrate the magnificence of their skin, their hair, and their facial features. Help them celebrate their strengths. Show them that they are perfect just the way they are! Seek out opportunities to commemorate and honor people in your child’s racial and ethnic community.
Show Them Their Roots
Most people are curious about where they came from. In transracial adoptive families, you may have limited information about your child’s biological family. So, focus on what you do know about your child’s roots, even if it’s general or broad. Cultivate an appreciation, respect, and admiration for your child’s background. By celebrating their roots, you are celebrating them!
At first, you may struggle to celebrate a part of your child that you have no association with. But, these differences do not make your family any less valid.
Be open to learning and exploring together. Your child is not your teacher. Like anyone, they may want to know where they came from to know where they want to go!
Ways you can observe your child’s culture:
- Recognizing the holidays
- Cooking the foods
- Listening to the music
- Learning the language
- Visiting places of worship, landmarks, or museums
- Expanding your “village” to include members of this community
In the United States especially, the majority of our entertainment, media, advertising, and educational materials center on the stories, experiences, and histories of white people.
Even materials developed for young children—like cartoons, toys, books, and movies—focus solely on white leading characters. These direct and indirect messages about race shape implicit biases about ourselves and others.
So, curate a different narrative. Children of color need to see themselves in their favorite superhero or fashion doll.
Something as simple as finding a toy that looks like you is a tremendous victory for kids!
Seek out books, movies, toys, and characters where the leading character is a happy, brave, courageous, smart, caring, and kind person of color.
And, be wary. Far too often, the only diversity in children’s media comes in the form of villains and antagonists. Obviously, this reinforces harmful, already pervasive stereotypes. Your child needs to see themselves as the hero who finds the solution, solves the crime, and saves the day!
Parenting is full of challenging discussions. Where do babies come from? Is Santa real? Why do people do bad things? As always in these conversations, you—as the adult—set the tone. It’s up to you to create a climate where your child knows that any and all conversations are welcome.
Talking about race, ethnicity, and culture might be uncomfortable for you. But imagine how challenging it is for a child to navigate these complex topics without tools, skills, or context! Having open, honest discussions as a transracial family about race, community, and culture can help your children feel validated and understand more about the identities they occupy. In order to facilitate these conversations, remember:
- Take risks, opening yourself up to hard or challenging questions.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not have all the answers.
- Recognize that these conversations are continuous and evolving. With so many layers to these topics, there will be different ways of having this discussion at different points in your child’s life.
Depending on your own race, you might not fully understand the experiences that your child holds. But, you can always be there to listen.
Understanding Your White Privilege
If you are a white person adopting a child of color, be aware of how your has afforded you certain advantages over communities of color. Understand that when your child is young, your white privilege may extend to them. Daycares, pediatricians, and neighbors see you together. They associate your child with you. However, the older your child gets, the more they will be entering society independent of you.
For example, the coach from middle school might not know that you’re their parent, and so they may treat your child differently than they would treat you or your white peers.
Educate yourself on race relations, white privilege, white supremacy, and the systemic oppression of marginalized communities. Then, educate your child about these social dynamics so they are better equipped for the challenges they may face in the future. It won’t be easy to talk about, but there are many ways to keep these conversations age-appropriate as long as you continue to evolve the dialogue throughout your child’s life.
We all have different identities and roles we play in our family, community, and society as a whole. You are essential to helping your child navigate the complexities of the world their living in, and the role that they play in this society. Kids are resilient and smart. With your guidance, support, and encouragement, they are sure to triumph!
The beautiful fabric of your family is created, in part, by the challenges you overcame to create it. Different life experiences came together to create a gorgeous family tapestry filled with various colors, perspectives, and cultures. How cool is that? Now, all you need to do is ensure that you’re creating a home for your child that is filled with safety, love, warmth, and belonging. You got this!
And, remember: Above all, love makes a family.
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