Families come in all colors and shapes and sizes. Back in the 1970’s, then-president Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Family declared there is not just one definition for the many types of families that exist in the world, and that is certainly more true than ever today. Forty-odd years have passed since Carter’s commission, and few people question a family made up of different colors. However, because a small part of society still has the assumption that “like adopt like”, transracial adoption can cause some uncomfortable situations. Having some strategies for handling the questions that come just makes life simpler for all concerned. Though these situations can be frustrating, look at them as teachable moments which can help ease stereotypes and allow you to be an advocate for families simply as units of love.
A transracial adoption simply means that the children adopted are not of the same race as the parents. Because the children are of a different race, the adoption is more obvious and assumptions can be made. One common assumption is that the adopted children were adopted internationally. In reality, many transracial adoptions are done by choice within the adoption network of the United States. People will ask if your child is from Africa or ask what country is your child from. In these situations, it is often easiest to simply reply with the state your child was born in, if you feel up to sharing. When said with a smile and a willingness to share, many who hold stereotypes about adoption can get a free education from a teachable moment.
Seemingly Offensive Questions
Because people are often oblivious to how things sound, someone may see an “obvious” adoption due to differing skin tones and say, “I see you are an adoptive parent.” The best response is to say, no I am their parent — you don’t need qualifiers. Having answers to questions that can feel offensive as well as intrusive eases the stress and affords an opportunity to educate others to the reality of what a family is, and possibly make them rethink the next time they go to ask an intrusive question. Not all families look alike and that is a good thing.
Some people may think your child belongs to the nearest person who looks like him or her. In parks, at school, at the movies, people talk to each other and sometimes that awkward moment arises. Some people will make the mistake of assuming you are a nanny or babysitter. Having grace under pressure assures all that the situations can be handled quickly, with no lingering awkward moments.
Even doctor’s office can bring the question are you a babysitter or a foster parent because your family is of different races. Insurance cards suffice in this situation, period. While some who are not familiar with the procedure may ask, you should never have to share your “adoption papers”.
Keep it Simple
You have a beautiful transracial family and that should be that. However, we know that nothing worth having is ever easy, so having some strategies to deal with what others do not understand is a great way to smooth out the bumps society throws out there.
Simple, short answers are the best because they do not invite conversation and they address the stereotypes that still remain. Be your child’s advocate; remember the power of words and take advantage of teachable moments.