Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Discerning Transracial Adoption

First comes infertility.

Then comes discerning whether or not to adopt.

Then comes:

To transracially adopt or not to transracially adopt?


When John and I first set out on our adoption journey, we were pretty unsure about transracial adoption.

By the way, when I say "transracial adoption," I'm talking about specifically about White parents adopting Black children. While transracial is defined as "across or crossing racial boundaries," and this can cover tons of different combinations, the transracial adoption we've discerned only relates to us adopting a Black child.

Also, I mean no offense using the terms Black and White. I prefer to use Black over African American since a child of color may not have any connection to Africa. Also, I make it a point to capitalize both Black and White because it makes it more formal and respectful when you do it that way. Hope you don't mind!

Alright. Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the heart of it...

At first, John was actually a fair bit more open to transracial adoption than I was. We had discussed it a little bit, but I was just so scared of doing something so different that I basically ignored it as an option.

During one of our home study visits, I remember saying to our social worker, "Adopting a child of a different race just seems too... foreign to me." I think that was my polite way of saying "I'm uncomfortable." The honest truth was that I just hadn't given it much thought yet. Which I think happens to a lot of adopting couples. It's not that they couldn't adopt a child of another race. They just hadn't really given it much thought since it's not how "normal" families look.

And that's where I was about 5 months ago. Until one special day, when I received one ever-so-slight call from above. All it took was a moment downtown, realizing that all people, no matter their color or race, need love and care and Mommies and Daddies. Seeing the diverse crowd around me changed my heart. My eyes were opened.

That's really when our discernment process began.


Now that we're on the other side of our discernment and I can firmly say, "We're called to transracially adopt," I feel comfortable writing about this. But while we were still in the middle of processing, it was hard sharing these many feelings. No one wants to seem close-minded, or disrespectful, or even *gulp* racist. So I get it if you're feeling that way too. Lucky for you, there's hope yet! Be assured that as long as you go about this the right way, you are likely none of those things.

I hope you don't mind me sharing a few things we've found helpful while discerning transracial adoption. While we are not experts by any means, and will spend the rest of our lives becoming experts on this stuff, I have a few things to share that we have enjoyed discovering in our discernment process. If you have any points where we differ or have other observations, please feel free to chime in in the comments.

Think: what would Jesus do?
John and I recently went to a great talk about discernment. During this talk, the priest recommended this as the first step in any discernment process. Actually, he said it's more like: "Think: what did Jesus do?" Or basically, go grab a Bible and start reading! We've got many stories from Jesus' life to reference as prime examples of how to live a good life, so let's turn to them when we're trying to figure out what to do.

Ok, so here's where that gets complicated. Jesus never had children and he definitely didn't adopt. BUT, what I do know is that he loved children. This verse points directly to that:
"And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.' Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them." Mark 10:13-16
He loved them so much that he said the Kingdom of God belongs to them and then embraced and blessed them. That's some serious love he's showing those kiddos. And when I think, "Would race have changed the way he interacted with/loved those kids?" the answer is a loud and firm: "NO WAY!"

While it's not exactly the same as adopting, it's the best we've got from Jesus' life. We'll take that into consideration as we ponder the next points.

Talk to the experts.
Ask your agency to connect you with couples that have already adopted transracially. These folks have been great resources for us in our discernment. We've asked them several question including: If you could start all over again, would you still choose transracial adoption? What have been some of your biggest challenges? What hurtful comments have you heard from strangers? And so on. Every transracial adoptive family we've spoken to has been nothing but kind, and honestly, all of them are still very happy with their decision to transracially adopt. You won't trust me 'til you hear it for yourself, though. So call your agency today and ask them to help you make a connection.

Read the experts.
Some experts aren't available to meet up for chats at the nearby coffee house, but they have still some great books you can read. While I haven't finished an entire book about transracial adoption yet, two of the ones I'm reading through (and highly enjoying) are:

Come Rain or Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children by Rachel Garlinghouse
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent's Guide to Raising Multicultural Children by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

The first book is specifically about White parents adopting Black children and all that that entails (from how to care for Black hair to how to incorporate elements of Black culture into your family). The second is written by a White mother who married a Japenese man and therefore has multicultural children. She interviews several multicultural families in the book, including adoptive families, so many of the points made, while not always directly related to adoption, are very helpful.

I also recommend the following blogs, written by mothers of transracial adoptive families:

Grace in My Heart
Isaiah 55:8-9
Small Things with Great Love
White Sugar, Brown Sugar (by the author of Come Rain or Shine)

Think about your family and friends.
This one hit hard when we first reflected on it, so don't be surprised if the same happens to you. I think it's normal.

Think about your family. If you had to summarize your whole family (including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents), would you consider it White, Black, or mixed?

Now do the same for your friends. Are your friends mostly White, Black, or mixed?

These are the people your child will be spending the most time with, so it's important to consider what races will be represented when they're around their loved ones.

If you're like us, your family is all White and your friends are almost all White too. That worried us a bit at first, but what's most important to consider here is how accepting your family and friends (no matter their race) would be. While it's important that your child is not surrounded only by White people all the time, it's most important that they're surrounded by loving, accepting people.

So consider if there are members in your family who would (sadly) be racist or not accepting of your child. You would need to be willing to cut ties with this family member. I've heard from a few people that the family members or friends they're most worried about end up falling in love with their little one once they join the family, 'cause... who doesn't love a baby? But still, it's something to consider.

Think about your community.
The same applies to the community you live in. What is your neighborhood like? How about the schools you'd send your kids to? Your church? You want to make sure you'd be open to sending your children to schools that are diverse, attending Mass at a parish that is well mixed, even moving to a different neighborhood so that more races are represented. Your child needs to feel like they are a real part of their communities, and they're going to do that best in churches, schools, and neighborhoods where there are folks who share their race.

Think about how you'll handle negative (or positive) attention in public.
This was a big one for us. I'm an introvert. I don't really like interacting with strangers much and I certainly don't like being the center of attention. But realistically, adopting transracially will make you stand out. You will always be on display. You will not be able to hide the fact that your family was formed in a non-traditional way. (Unless, of course, most strangers assume you're the babysitter, which does happen to transracial adoptive families... but that's a story for another time.)

While I am not entirely comfortable with this prospect of extra attention on our family, I'm willing to do it for our child. That is something you must consider for yourself though. What would you say if someone said something offensive about your family? How would you feel always getting attention going out in public, even if that attention is mostly positive? What sorts of responses should you have ready for the personal questions folks are going to start asking? All worth pondering!

Answer this: Would you be open to a second transracial adoption?
I read this advice in Rachel Garlinghouse's book, Come Rain or Shine. If your first adopted child is Black, would you be open to adopting a second Black child? I assume, though I haven't exactly done great research here, that having two (or several) children of the same race in a family would be very helpful for both (or all) children. They would feel less alone in the challenges they'll encounter (e.g. growing up having parents of a different race) and be able to face their non-traditional worlds together. In my opinion, this would be one of the best things you could do for your transracially adopted child. So, ask yourself: If you are open to adopting transracially once, would you be open to it again after that? The answer here should be yes. While it may not be entirely in your control, you should still be open to it.

Really think about why you want to transracially adopt.
We were really blessed to find an adoption agency that does not charge different prices depending on the race of the child. This is becoming all too common with other adoption agencies and it makes me sad. Because Black and biracial children are less adoptable, agencies will lower their charges to make their adoptions more attractive. But folks, this is the wrong reason to adopt transracially! It's also wrong to consider adopting a Black child because the wait is shorter. I understand why both of these reasons are so tempting; a shorter wait and lower price tag sound great! But imagine what the child would think if they found out you adopted them because of those reasons. Instead, make sure your desire comes from a good place: wanting the best for that child. If you're sure that's it, then the lower costs and shorter wait will just become lovely little (but not necessary) bonuses.

Know that love is actually not enough.
So, many folks have said to me, "If you love that child like they're your own, it'll all turn out just fine." Have you heard this before? It makes me roll my eyes.

First of all, they will be "my own," so we can just crush that right now, thanks. And second, the old "all you need is love" adage is really, honestly, truly just not enough when it comes to transracial adoption. Sure, love is HUGELY important here, but you HAVE to be committed to do more than that.

For the rest of your life, you must be dedicated to learning about transracial adoption. You must be willing to research all the best tips and advice for raising a well-adjusted transracially adopted child. You must be committed to spending every step of the way continuing to read the experts, finding support in the right people, including Black role models in your child's life, and finding the best communities for your child to flourish in. You could definitely chalk all that up to love, but I'm not sure it's what we traditionally refer to as "love." So be aware that your journey will be different and traditional love will not "just be enough."

Bring it to prayer.
This one goes without saying, right? Pray before you even start discerning, pray through the entire discernment process, and then pray once you think you've come to the right decision. Pray, pray, pray! With any hope, you will have a peace in your heart once you've truly made the right decision. If God is with you through the whole process, He won't steer you wrong.

To conclude, I must stress again that we are not experts, not by any means! In fact, we know we'll spend the rest of our lives trying to become experts on transracial adoption. This is all just the tip of the iceberg. I suppose that's all that discerning is -- smartly deciding whether or not it's alright to dive in. But once you dive in, it's a whole new world ahead of you, bringing with it lots of unknowns and curveballs along the way. I'm hoping that's part of the fun, though!

Also, please keep in mind that I have certainly not covered everything you need to discern here in this post. These are just the big points that came to my mind now, but I'm sure there was more to it for us and there'll be more to it for you too. If you have already discerned this and would like to add some important points to consider, I'm sure we'd all be happy to hear your input in the comments!

Transracial adoption seems like one beautiful, scary, loving, joyful, challenging, awesome, life-giving adventure. If you're starting to think the same, maybe it's meant for you too!

St. Joseph, pray for us!


  1. I think it is absolutely wonderful that you are called to transracial adoption! Our friends have adopted two beautiful black children and these children have brought so much joy to their lives and family. They were both exposed to drugs/alcohol as well and because of their nurturing environment...they are thriving. I think you and your dh are going to great parents and very informed parents. My dh won't read anything about adoption for it causes him anxiety...where for me...I feel the more informed/educated I am, the better parent I will be. I am looking into finding some kind of parenting a newborn class for people who are adopting...I don't think I can handle being in a room full of pg women...I hope that is not my only option. Praying for you!!

    1. Oh, if you find a newborn parenting classes for adoptive parents, please let me know! I guess I just assumed they don't exist. But surely some adoption agencies out there run their own newborn classes, right?

      Sorry to hear your dh gets anxiety when he reads up on this stuff. Hopefully he'll be able to do more research once your forever baby is home with you! Praying for you both as you continue waiting. Hugs!

  2. Thanks for this post! Great book recommendations! What other books are out there that those thinking about adoption should read? I am trying to compile a list to order off Amazon.

    1. Glad you liked it! Those books are both great. :)

      The only other one I've read not related to transracial adoption is "Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It" by Dr. Ray Guarendi. It's in Q&A format, making it a very easy read! I highly recommend it.

      Also, I'd recommend stoping by your library and seeing what they have available. We did that and were shocked by how many adoption books they had. While I didn't end up loving any of them, they were still great resources at the time. And free!

      Any one else have good adoption book recommendations?

  3. Stephanie, I absolutely LOVE this post! Thanks for compiling all of your knowledge so that newbies (like me) can 'get their feet wet.' I am definitely sending your post to my husband. Thank you thank you! Prayers for you and John as you continue to (joyfully, expectantly!) wait for your child!!!

    1. Aww, thank you, Emily! I'm so happy you liked it. I'm worried it may offend some folks, so it makes me feel better to hear positive feedback!! I hope it's helpful for you and your husband. I just wanted to list the steps we took when we were discerning and the different topics we pondered. Not sure it'll help everyone, but hopefully it's a good place to start. Prayers for you guys too, especially as you discern adoption. :)

  4. Well said! You are well informed and prayerfully informed as well! Thank you for posting this and I am ordering that first book right now! Now that we are matched with a black baby, I need to read up! The only confidence I have so far is that the birth mother picked us to place her baby with. Us. So it clearly doesn't matter to her what our race is but I still need to be prepared, thanks again!

    1. I'm so excited for you guys!! Also, it's good to know we won't be going through this alone. How fun!! I'm glad to hear this was helpful. :) Hopefully you'll like that book. Let me know what you think!

  5. Love this post! After we talked about this this weekend, I can say with full confidence that you have written something beautiful here. Whatever child God brings to you is going to be beautiful and know that he or she is loved beyond any shadow of a doubt!

  6. This is an awesome post and very much needed. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!!

    1. Thanks, Mary Beth! Glad to hear you enjoyed reading. Hope it's helpful for you and your husband! :)

  7. Love love love this post!!!

    We did not start out to be a transracial family. In fact, my husband didn't want to "stand out". Well, God had other plans and we were blessed with a Korean-American baby girl and our hearts melted. Most recently, our third adoption, Jack... he's Black. Not at all what we had planned... but so perfect for us.

    A point I wish was discussed more is that as a transracial AP you will always be "wearing your adoption story on your sleeve". I can't run to Target without someone stopping me or asking questions. Or simply people staring. We look different. You don't see many 40 year old moms towing a Korean 3 year old, a Caucasian almost 3 year old, and a little Black boy. We are different. Most people are kind... they may use the "wrong" words... but they are curious. My point--- you are never invisible so you have to be okay with it. Personally I am proud and don't mind it... but for someone not willing to be open, it might be hard.

    PS- one quick funny.... Cable man was at our house doing something and he started asking odd questions that made no sense. Finally he came out and said "this is a daycare, yes??" I nearly burst with laughter but didn't want to embarrass him. Apparently we look like our own mini daycare :)

    1. I'm so happy you commented. I was hoping to hear from a transracial adoptive family. :) Your quick funny really cracked me up!! I've heard from a few folks that they often get asked, "Are you the babysitter?" so I had a feeling that's what the cable man was getting at when he was asking odd questions. Ha!! Too funny.

      Thanks for stressing that it's important to remember you will be wearing your adoption story on your sleeve when you go out. There's just no hiding it. You are never invisible, so you have to be ok with it. Glad to hear you're proud of it. That is so beautiful to me!!

      God really has blessed you with your perfect family. His will be done!!

  8. Such a wonderful post!!! My DH have discerned transracial adoption before, but this is so helpful to read again! I'm so glad you shared!!!

    1. Yay! So glad this was helpful for you. :) I would love to hear your thoughts on transracial adoption some time!

  9. My SIL is black, and our youngest niece is mixed-race. They've gotten some really nasty comments, but most people have been supportive.

    1. Sorry to hear they've gotten nasty comments. That's terrible. Racism is still out there, for sure. And it makes me sad. But I'm happy to hear most folks have been supportive. I suppose something I'll need to learn is to let the negative comments roll off my back, while cherishing support from family and friends.

  10. These are such great posts to consider! My DH and I have been open to transracial adoption from the start. We are a mixed ethnicity couple and we live in SoCal which is full of diversity so it's never been a second thought for us.

    Although as the adoption process gets more real we have had to think about our friends and family and how they may react. We did let our family know we are open to any race just so they know and they all seem to be fine with it. We do have to have a serious conversation with our parents though to make sure they are really ok with their grandbaby being from another ethnicity.

    Thank you for the book recommendations I definitely want to look into those!

    1. Oh yeah something I really like about our facilitators is that even if the couple is open to any race they still try and pair bmoms and adoptive families that are similar ethnicities because they want what's best for the child, not to say they wouldn't show a bmom the profile of a different race they just want to make sure that the bmom feels like there are a good amount of races represented to her and let her decide from there.

    2. Great feedback! Thank you. I agree that the best situation for the child should always be first in mind! Unfortunately, the number of Black children waiting to be adopted and the number of Black (or biracial) families waiting to adopt do not match, at all. So, that's when White families (or families of a different race) need to seriously discern transracial adoption. I hope the information in this post is helpful to you, especially those books! I love hearing that you're both very open to any child, any race! Warms my heart. :)

  11. I have seen other moms out on the town. I bet there are groups in the area for you to join!!

    1. Yes, me too! I've seen them. In fact, I met one of them at an adoption conference in St. Louis. Small world! There's a group called 1.17 Moms that meets once a month to hang out and talk about their lives as adoptive mommas. I've been invited, but feel a little weird joining at this point since we're still sans baby. Hopefully that'll change soon though! It's nice to know we have lots of support in the Memphis community!

  12. Yes! I was going to say you are in a great area for transracial adoption, but it could also get tense. But I don't feel the tense in the "street" just around the area. Know I got your Catholic side covered and will love any baby you are blessed with! Very exciting! :) Maybe joining now wouldn't be a bad idea?? Then you have support right from jump street! :)

  13. My adoption agency did things a little different. They gave us a checklist of things and asked what we could handle. They had health issues, race, weight, age, and behaviors on the list. I discovered that adoption was like falling in love. You really don't know what your heart needs until you meet the child. Love is all that matters.

    Ayesha Covert @ ChildNet Youth and Family Services

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