Tag Archives: Racial Identity

transracial parenting

When I was a very young girl, I didn’t think much about being adopted. I didn’t think about the physical differences between my white parents and I. Since my parents and almost everyone around me were white, I thought of myself in the same way – white. This became a problem when I entered kindergarten and realized that my physical appearance was different than the other kids around me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a predominantly white area, Bossier City, Louisiana. Our neighbours were mostly white, middle-class families. There were African American families, too, but I knew that I wasn’t black. There was prejudice and discrimination all around me. I was too young to understand the implications of such bias. In my family, we never talked about race, my race, my adoptive parents’ race, racism, prejudice, etc. But I perceived very early that whites were “superior” to other races. It makes me very sad that such racism existed (and still does) where I grew up and, furthermore, within my own family. I often wondered how my adoptive mother felt about me when I heard her make racist remarks toward others of a different race. It made me struggle and lose respect for my mom. I thought silently that she was a hypocrite.

At my current internship, I spend time with families who adopt children transracially through the child welfare system. These are typically white families who adopt African American, biracial, or Hispanic children. Maybe it’s me, but I am always surprised at how little time is spent discussing with adoptive parents issues of race, culture, and identity. Couples in the process of adopting seem to minimize the importance of these issues often thinking that because the child(ren) who will be placed with them permanently are so young, they have time to plan how to manage such issues. I would dare say that parents of internationally adopted children receive even less education on race, culture, and identity (less overall required training in general) than families who adopt through child welfare. Prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a 10-week training at many Arizona adoption agencies called PS-MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Arizona is a little more diverse than Louisiana, but still mostly White at 84.3% of the population (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/04000.html). I would hope that White adoptive parents would want their adopted black or Hispanic children to grow up with a strong sense of identity and connection to their cultural heritage. I personally believe that, in the best interest of the child, children should be placed with families of the same ethnic/racial background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, African American and Hispanic families who adopt children from the child welfare system, at least here in Arizona. I wish that we could recruit families of African American and Hispanic descent who are financially able, willing, and have the emotional/psychological capacity to adopt children through child welfare. I do believe it’s better for a child to be adopted into a family capable of providing the kind of love and care necessary regardless of race rather than languish in the system.

We would like to think that racism does not exist. We would like to believe that love is enough. Some would like to embrace the idea of being colorblind – that we are all human beings and that the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But in our society it does matter, and being colorblind does not really work. Racism is alive and well, granted that some areas of the country hold to racist views more than others. There are potential risks inherent in transracial adoption. Adoptive parents must develop cultural competence and the tools necessary to help their adopted child(ren) manage and integrate cultural differences. There are children’s books that discuss race at a level meant for very young children. Family discussions held regularly on issues of race and culture are another way to prepare children for racism and/or discrimination and to help children develop a sense of ethnic pride. Proactive is better than reactive. Studies show that adoptive parents who demonstrate a high regard  toward their adopted child’s race foster within their child(ren) a greater sense of ethnic pride.

Transracially adopted persons will explore their ethnicity sooner or later. Familial support, especially during the adolescent years, will help transracially adopted children develop a greater sense of self and ethnic identity. It may seem insignificant, but how race, culture, and identity are negotiated in a transracially adopted child’s developmental years will undoubtedly affect his or her psychological and emotional adjustment across the lifetime.

 

honoring one’s cultural roots: the invisible red thread

TheInvisibleRedThreadSome 8,668 children were adopted into U.S. families from abroad in the 2012 fiscal year; 105 international adoptions took place right here in Arizona (U.S. Dept. of State, 2013). Although declining in number since 2004, intercountry adoption is still prevalent throughout the U.S. and is so often misconceived. One of the most complicated areas of transracial adoption is the development of identity. I read somewhere recently that identity is defined both by what one is and what one is not. Identity is affected by all members of the adoption triad. Adoptees who are born into one family, a family who will probably remain nameless to them, lose an identity then borrow one from the adopting family. Birthparents are parents and yet are not. Adoptive parents who were not parents suddenly become parents. Adoption, for some adoptees, precludes a complete or integrated sense of self. Adoptees may experience themselves as incomplete, deficient, or unfinished, or may lack feelings of well-being, integration, or solidity associated with a fully developed identity. We often lack medical, genetic, religious, and historical information and may be plagued by questions such as: Who am I? Was I merely a mistake, or an accident? Why was I relinquished? Do my birthparents ever think of me? This lack of identity may lead adoptees, particularly in adolescent years, to seek out ways to belong in more extreme ways than many of their non-adopted peers. Furthermore, adoptees may wish to search for their birthfamily or reconnect with their birth country.

To honor the cultural roots of an adoptee is a necessity. We must make every effort to help adoptees develop a strong sense of identity, to help them navigate through the process of identity development, to maintain the cultural connection to an adoptee’s birth country. This can be difficult, as we know that the tendency to assimilate to the predominant culture is strong (although having a parent of the same ethnic background or who speaks the language of the country from which the adoptee was born lessens the cultural disconnect).

In an attempt to address these needs, we are hosting an event, Honoring One’s Cultural Roots, on Saturday, June 1st. We will screen the film documentary, The Invisible Red Thread, written and directed by Maureen Marovitch of Picture This Productions in Montreal, which I’m very excited to see. Following the movie, Stephanie Withrow, M.S., LPC, will facilitate a discussion as we explore the intersection of adoption, culture and identity and what it means to honor one’s cultural roots. Stephanie and her husband have three adopted children from China. The event is for the whole family, although the film is recommended for children 10 and older. Admission is $10/person; children under 12 receive free admission. Reservations and pre-payment are also required. To make reservations, please contact Mj Nguyen at mjnguyen7@cox.net. For all the details, click on the The Invisible Red Thread- An AZ Premier link located above.

The Honoring One’s Cultural Roots event will be held at The Chandler Public Library, 22 S. Delaware Street, Chandler, AZ 85225, in the Copper Room (2nd level). Please join us for what I think will be a memorable and exciting event! I hope that many will leave feeling a greater sense of community and understanding the importance of honoring adoptees’ cultural roots. Please see the Honoring One’s Cultural Roots facebook page. Screening of The Invisible Red Thread is made possible through Picture This Productions of Montreal, QC (Canada).

what adoptive parents should know

I just returned recently from a trip to Orange Co. I stayed with one of my best friends who adopted a 15-month old little girl from China in 1997. Her daughter is now 15 years old, the same age as my own daughter. We had some interesting discussions on adoption. I realized during our conversations that my views on adoption have evolved since I first learned of my true ethnic identity, reunited with my birth family in Taiwan and dug into the psychology of adoption. I talked to my friend about the documentary, “Struggle for Identity,” which neither she, nor her husband, had heard of. In this post, I wanted to share some more insights from the film on an important topic discussed: what adoptive parents should know… I know you may have read articles and books pertaining to this very topic, but I think that the more it’s discussed, the more awareness will be brought to the importance of this matter.

This portion of the DVD was especially candid, which I totally appreciated. Michelle, an African-American adoptee adopted by white parents, addresses the the topic of “what adoptive parents should know” in this way:

“What parents have to understand is that this is a painful process, a very hurtful process. In many cases, there are going to be issues at every stage of this child’s life that are painful, and you’re going to have to be able to deal with that– a lot of rejection, not necessarily of you, but of your culture and the microcosm of a racist culture.”

Michelle does not mince words. She’s forthright, and I like that about her. What she shares comes from a place of honesty and experience. As difficult as it may be for some to hear her perspective, I agree with her. It’s not that adoption can’t be successful. The fact remains, however, that adoption can be a painful and hurtful process for all within the adoption triad: birth mother, adoptee and adoptive parents. I read somewhere that adoption is a process where all involved suffer loss, whether it’s due to infertility or separation trauma. Likewise, it’s important to understand that adopted kids do not develop in the same way biological kids do even if they are raised by the most loving, stable, well intentioned parents. Identity formation is one such area where development is complex. When I was studying to become a social worker, I wrote a research paper on “Racial and Ethnic Identity in Asian-American Adoptees.” There have been numerous studies conducted in the U.S. over the years. Researchers, Huh and Reid, studied 40 school-aged Korean adoptees (Intercountry, transracial adoption and ethnic identity: A Korean example, International Social Work, 2000). Based on their research, they devised a four-stage model related to age as a framework for understanding ethnic identity development. Although I think it’s hard to “fit every child into the same mold,” I thought their research was interesting and informative.  Click on this link to read the entire article: intercultural transracial adoption. Another researcher, Vonk, approached racial and ethnic identity formation in transracial adoptees by exploring and defining the concept of cultural competence as it applies to the role of parenting. She devised a three-part definition of cultural competence for adoptive parents: 1) racial awareness, 2) multicultural family planning, and 3) survival skills (Cultural Competence for transracial adoptive parents, Social Work, 2001). Click here to read the article. I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of research and statistics, but I think it’s evident that raising a transracially adopted child is different from raising a biological one in many ways.

From the perspective of an adoptive parent, Beth, a white adoptive mom of two domestically adopted children, one bi-racial and the other African-American, comments,“You have to look at your family and decide your family is not a Caucasian family…”  She also says:

I think that as the adult, you have to be willing to change. I don’t think it’s the children who have to change, it’s you. When you show the changes in the way you’re dealing with things, your kids will do the same thing that you do.”

I found her point that adoptive parents must adapt and be willing to change for their adopted child profound. After all, adopted kids have not only suffered the trauma of being separated from their birth mothers (which is far too frequently minimized), but cross-culturally adopted kids are also coming from a different  culture, often country, and rarely speak or understand English. It seems logical that just as transracial adoptees must adapt and assimilate into a new culture, so must adoptive parents adapt and adopt their child’s country of origin in a very deliberate and demonstrative way.

John, a bi-racial adoptee, poses this thought for adoptive parents:

“Before they adopt, parents need to think about why they want to adopt a child of another race. How will they answer that question at different stages of the child’s life?…when your kid totally rejects you and goes back to their culture of origin? What is your motivation, which is really significant?”

Perhaps not all tranracially adopted kids/adults will totally reject their adoptive parents and go back to their culture of origin, or at least not forever if it occurs. More to the point– are adoptive parents willing to think long and hard about these questions? Are they prepared to face the reality that their adopted children will struggle with identity and will they be equipped to help them?

Michelle’s sister, who is also an adoptive mom, comments on the role of parenting a transracially adopted child:

“One useful strategy is humility, which is to say, I’m not going to be able to do all of these things myself. Some of these things I’m going to have to provide the child with from other places that they can find coping strategies.”

In my opinion, adoptive parents do not receive enough education, support and counseling pre- and post-adoption. I have a good friend who has a son adopted from Korea and an older daughter adopted from China. She and her husband are both white. We’ve had a few discussions on adoption, and she agrees that after the child is adopted, there are not enough services or follow up provided to help adoptive parents, especially if the adoptee is experiencing difficulties (with anger, bonding and attachment, and grief, etc.). It’s crucial that adoptive parents recognize that their adopted child will have challenges at some point, and that’s ok. What’s important is identifying the problem and getting help through a support network or therapist who specializes in child development, or better yet, works with adoptive families. I believe that every adoptive family should seek out therapy for their adoptive child if possible– even at a young age (6 years+, give or take a few years), especially if the child is showing signs of developmental delay, behavioral and/or emotional issues, distress or grief. There may be financial obstacles, or the chance thought that your child doesn’t need therapy, but I think it’s extremely beneficial for all involved if you can get it.

By writing this post, I’m hoping to inform and not give the impression that I’m telling adoptive parents how to raise their children. On the contrary, as an adult transracial adoptee, I’m sharing my own views from what I’ve experienced and from what I’ve seen some of my friends who are adoptive parents experience. I welcome your thought and comments (as long as they are respectful).

For more information on the film documentary, or to purchase “Struggle for Identity” and “Struggle for Identity: A Conversation 10 Years Later,” follow this link.