When Your Child is of a Different Race

Openly talking about race, racism, and your child's birth culture will help them come to terms with their adoption and develop a strong racial identity.

A parent talks about race with his transracially adopted child

Most parents who adopt transracially see the world at first through rose-colored glasses. “Race doesn’t matter,” they say. “I love my child and that’s enough.” Or maybe they believe the world has changed, that their child will never feel the stigma of prejudice.

By the time a child is old enough to start school, most parents have become more realistic. Maybe their son comes home with a story of playground insults, or their daughter hears a nasty remark about “Chinese people” in history class.

Talking about race with your transracially adopted child is important. You can’t ignore the fact that your child is of a different color from most of those around him. The world won’t. Far better to build a positive image for your child so he can maneuver in the world we live in.

How best to do this?

Acknowledge that racism exists. Talk about it, and help your child develop defensive strategies.

Embrace your child’s culture. Do you own books — for adults and children — about your child’s country of origin? Do you serve food from their native culture or dine at restaurants that serve their cuisine? Do you have ethnic art in your home?

Make friends and acquaintances who are of the same race as your child. Role models are crucial, if only so a child can think, “So that’s what I’ll look like when I grow up.”

Build bridges to your child’s ethnic community. Look for a mentor, someone who can give you advice on raising a child of a different race. Their counsel may be far-ranging or as simple as how to braid hair or where to find a good karate instructor.

If your child is adopted from overseas, plan to revisit the country when your child is old enough to understand the journey.

Join groups in which your child isn’t a minority. Whether it’s at a Chinese or African-American church or group, there can be great relief in looking like everyone else.

Nurture your child’s special talents. When self-esteem is at risk, having a skill or talent to fall back on can make all the difference.

Be an ally. Help your child brainstorm about things he can say if he’s stung by a racial remark. Don’t deny, explain away, or make excuses if your child experiences racism.

Validate your child’s pain. You can’t always be there to protect your child, but you can empathize.

The Payoff

Children who are raised in transracial families often look at situations from more than one point of view. They’re creative in developing solutions to problems and likely to follow their own instincts. It’s not an easy road you’ve chosen, but you can make the journey a success by talking about race openly and honestly.

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