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Transracial Adoption: 5 Awkward Situations You May Face


I’m a mom of four via domestic, open, and transracial adoption. With each child we added to our family, we faced circumstances related to both adoption and race. Because the transracial part makes any adoption far more obvious, both adoption and the transracial aspect are intertwined, sometimes creating uncomfortable and sticky situations for families. Here are some situations you may face if you choose transracial adoption:

1: People speculate your children belong to the nearest person who racially matches the children.

One day I was at our local YMCA with my friend and her two children, all of whom moved here from Ghana. Two of my children were sitting on a bench with my friend and her two children. A woman strolled in who attended my friend’s church, and she looked puzzled and said to my friend, “I didn’t realize you had four kids!” My friend laughed and pointed to her two children saying, “These two are mine, and the other two kids are hers”. She gestured toward me, standing nearby. Though this situation isn’t necessarily offensive, it does create an “othering” situation for our families. We often have to explain that families don’t always match.

2: It’s assumed your children are adopted internationally or via foster care.

Almost every person who asks us where our children are “from” assume they are from an African country or were adopted from foster care. In fact, most children in foster care are white. When I’m asked, “What country are your children from?”, I usually chuckle and say, “Missouri”. Again, this isn’t terribly offensive, as it gives me the opportunity to educate people, but it can be intrusive.

3: You’re thought to be the nanny, the babysitter, or your children’s friend’s parent.

I remember when my second child went through a “call my parents by their first names stage” after she realized that she got a lot of attention when she referred to us as “Steve and Rachel” instead of mom and dad. We would be at the park, for example, and my daughter would call out, “Rachel!” instead of mom. In addition to these interesting stages, it’s often assumed that I’m the children’s friend’s mom (especially if there’s a white child playing with my kids) or the nanny. I simply say, “I’m their mom”. Likewise, at times I’ve been asked a question about a nearby white child (“Oh, how old is she?”) to which I have to say, “I have no idea. She’s not my kid”.

4: Medical appointments can be awkward.

On three different occasions, my husband and I have been asked by nurses if we’re our kids’ foster parents. When we say no, they say, “Oh, adoptive parent”. This is when I always say, “Nope. I’m their mom”. It’s not that we’re embarrassed or ashamed of our adoptions, because we aren’t, it’s just that the qualifiers aren’t necessary. When one of my kids has a bad dream in the middle of the night, she doesn’t call out for her “adoptive mom”. I’m just mom. We’ve also been asked to produce our “adoption papers” as proof that our children are ours, this same demand not made of same-race families. I am always very firm and blunt in these situations. I fully disclose pertinent medical history and my insurance card which lists all my children on the card. That should be sufficient!

5: Diversity isn’t always present.

Toys, books, videos, hair products, extracurricular activities (leaders), barber shops and hair salons, and music options featuring kids of color aren’t always present in situations where there’s a predominantly white community. Thankfully, we live in a community where many adoptive families live, and there are people of different races not only in our neighborhood and local schools, but also in our entire community. Families need to be cognizant and diligent when choosing where to live when the family opts to adopt transracially.

Some of these situations are unavoidable, since a transracial family by adoption can attract a lot of attention. However, it’s important that the parents advocate for their children’s privacy and insist that “othering” a child (and family) is unacceptable. If the family is educated on transracial adoption and surrounds the child with a village (including other families by adoption and people who share the child’s race), sticky situations can be navigated with confidence and grace.