Vol. 12, No. 2 • June 2008

A Reader Asks . . .
Dealing with Insensitive Remarks: Tips for Transracial Adoptive Parents

Question: I am the prospective adoptive parent of a multi-racial sibling group. Our racial differences are quite obvious and sometimes we hear insensitive questions and remarks from others. Do you have any tips to help transracial adoptive parents address issues associated with our unique family identity?

Though transracial adoptions are becoming more common, society does not always value or understand differences and diversity, which creates extraordinary challenges for transracial families. Our race-conscious society leads people to question the authenticity of a family unit when family members look different from one another. Often, transracial families spend a lot of time confronting these questions and validating the realness of their family. Transracial families must empower themselves with confidence to rise above these challenges and embrace the richness and rewards of diversity.

Realistically, parents cannot always prevent and protect their children from the slights of the world, so they must educate and prepare their children to recognize and manage these situations. Multi-racial families must learn how to cope and respond to the realities of racial biases on an individual and family level.

Know Thyself
In order to appropriately prepare children, parents of transracial families must become self-aware through the examination of their own prejudices, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about race and ethnicity. These beliefs and attitudes will influence your ability to parent a child of another race. Children can learn inadequate coping skills and model inappropriate behaviors if their parents have unresolved prejudices and racial issues. Parents of a transracial family must model patience, be open to working with diverse people, and create an environment that respects and values differences.

Be Positive
Addressing the issue of race should be done in a positive manner. While race and ethnicity are a part of our everyday lives, not every situation is related to these factors. As the parent, you must be able to talk about race and ethnicity so your children know that you feel comfortable discussing these issues, whether positive or negative. Use ordinary, day-to-day opportunities, such as a television show, to address the issue of race with your children. As a family, point out similarities and differences between family members to illustrate that differences are normal and acceptable, and despite these differences, family members have much more in common with one another.

Instill Pride
Transracial families must assess how their current lifestyle (neighborhood, schools, family friends, etc.) supports or denies their children exposure to diversity. Children should not be denied their innate sense of belonging or connection; they should be encouraged to explore and embrace their culture and to surround themselves with adult role models of various races and ethnic backgrounds. This will also help the adoptive parents increase their awareness and ability to understand the child’s experience. However, be mindful of the balance between supporting a healthy exploration of culture versus alienating your children by constantly reminding them that they are different.

Transracial parenting should include helping your children learn about their race and culture, instilling a sense of cultural pride, and building a healthy self esteem for your children. Although difficult to discuss, children need to learn about the historical images, beliefs, and stereotypes about their racial/ethnic group. This information allows children to truly understand their cultural history and defend their racial/ethnic background when confronted with stereotyped images. More importantly, increase your children’s understanding that all racial groups have good and bad historical figures that made both positive and negative contributions to society.

Teach Appropriate Responses
The family unit should not tolerate any remarks made in regards to differences in individual characteristics, whether it is race, culture, sex, disability, religion, etc. Parents should teach their children how to respond to racially-biased remarks in a manner that does not impose shame or lead to physical aggression.

Responding to an Incident
Should a racial incident occur, you must support your children and be prepared to deal with the situation immediately. Racism must be confronted openly. Failure to address the situation can be interpreted as acceptance or approval. Addressing the incident immediately will also provide your children with a rich learning experience as they gain the tools and problem-solving skills to deal with future instances of racism.

Talk about Feelings
Supporting your racially diverse family also means helping your children discover and express their feelings regarding their racial experiences. If age-appropriate, talk to your children about how you can support them when racial issues come up. This will increase your children’s overall confidence and capability in dealing with racial issues on their own.

Cultivate Support
Transracial families should surround themselves with support, which includes your immediate family, other transracial families, and members of your child’s racial group. A community of support will help stimulate your thinking, provide inspiration and ideas, provide cultural diversity, and challenge you in constructive ways. A support system can also help you come up with tangible resources, reactions and quips when dealing with insensitive questions. Talk with your adoption agency to learn about area support groups, meetings, events, training and/or counseling options for your family. There are also numerous books, magazines, journals, websites, and online groups dedicated to the topic of transracial adoptions and multicultural families.

Parents in transracial families must learn to be advocates for their children in all settings. Look for opportunities to educate others on transracial adoptions; give an adoption presentation within your community (schools, churches, or civic groups) to raise awareness. Through the efforts of transracial families, our society can learn to value the richness of diversity!

Response by Beverley Smith, Director, NC Kids Adoption & Foster Care Network.

If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina, please e-mail johnmcmahon@mindspring.com. We’ll do our best to respond to your question either in a direct reply or in a future issue of this newsletter.

Copyright 2008 Jordan Institute for Families