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Exploring Transracial and Transcultural Adoptions

When you adopt transracially, you adopt a child of a race different than yours. Adopting transculturally means that your child comes from a different culture than yours. If you're one of these families, you're going to have — in addition to the regular, run-of-the-mill adoption issues — other issues to deal with that are unique to your situation.

You hear it all the time: "Things are so much better today!" "There just isn't as much prejudice as there use to be." "Everyone is equal now." Yes, attitudes are better, but don't fool yourself that there isn't still a long way to go. And don't think that just because your neighbors oohand aahnow over how cute your baby is that they'll want her to grow up and date their son. A lot of prejudice is still present in the United States, and your family is going to be a lightning rod for bolts of bigotry.

Children are not chameleons. They don't change color to match their environments. To ignore your child's racial difference is to do her a great injustice. As soon as your child enters school (if not before), she'll be questioned about the racial differences in her family. You need to provide your child with coping mechanisms to handle the curiosity and questions from others.

Helping your child cope with questions

What can you do when people ask questions related to racial differences? First, educate your child that she doesn't have to answer personal questions if she doesn't want to. A woman once overheard a young child asking her daughter a series of questions that included, "Who is that lady with you?" "Where is your real mom?" "Where did you come from?" "Can you speak Korean?" And on and on and on. You could tell by the daughter's curt answers and her body language that she was not enjoying the exchange. It was also obvious that these questions were repeats of previous conversations with other children. The woman later tried to explain to her daughter that there's nothing wrong with saying, "I don't want to talk about that" or "That's personal."

If your child does want to answer questions, work with him to decide what he might say. One person's son says he always went through the same "routine" when he met new people. His pat answers included, "I was adopted when I was 6 months old," "South Korea," and "Those are my real parents." He has stated that he liked to get the exchange over with and out of the way early on in his relationships.

Dealing with people who are hostile

Becoming an interracial family may make your family less popular. You may be surprised to see family, friends, or neighbors react negatively to your choices. Sometimes complete strangers even have opinions. You may encounter curiosity, nosiness, rudeness, prejudice, bias, and hostility, and maybe all of these on the same day! Even nice people can really get on your nerves. You can only take so much of people approaching you to tell you "how wonderful" you are.

How you handle these people and these situations may change with your mood, but always keep in mind that your child will learn how to react by watching how you react.

Following are some suggested responses to racist comments:

  • "I am offended by what you just said."
  • "I am sure you don't mean what you just said, because it would be cruel to say something like that in front of my child."
  • "What do you mean by that?"
  • "Why did you say that?"
  • "Why do you feel that way?"
  • "Short of listening to my dog howl along to 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' that is just about the most asinine thing I've ever heard."

When hostility is blatant or potentially threatening, removing yourself from the situation may be your best option. You certainly aren't going to be successful in changing those attitudes, so arguing won't help. Having a good sense of humor can help when encountering the truly ignorant people.

Preparing your child

A lot of the work related to dealing with the race issue needs to be done at home, not on the spur of the moment in the middle of an altercation. Some things to do:

  • Talk to your children about racism. Explain your theories of why people act this way.
  • Make sure that they understand that stereotypes, racism, and discrimination are wrong. Educate your children that they don't deserve to be treated badly.
  • Talk together about comments or behavior they may experience. Discuss possible responses to these situations.
  • Always remind your children that you're there to help when needed. If they feel threatened or afraid, tell them to come to you for help.
  • Intervene when necessary but honor your child's request if he begs you not to get involved. Sometimes an enraged parent can be more humiliating than the original problem.

You're going to react differently on different days, depending on your mood, the situation, whether your child is with you, and any of a number of other things. When you're in a patient mood, you may try to answer ignorant questions in a friendly way that also educates the questioner. When you're in an impatient mood, you may be curt and a bit less friendly. And, let's face it, occasionally, you're going to lose it entirely: You may embarrass your kids, scare the neighbor lady, and cow everyone else into silence. But take heart: Years from now, when you and your children sit around your kitchen table talking about how crazy things were when they were little, you can bet that little episode will be one your kids will retell, with equal touches of amusement, embarrassment, and pride.

Dealing with family and friends

Zero tolerance is a catch phrase frequently used to describe the policy that parents should follow to protect their children. It means that you will not tolerate anyone devaluing, ridiculing, or embarrassing your child. You can take the intent a step further to mean that you will not tolerate any racially or ethnically biased remarks about anybody. Zero tolerance is an easy policy to follow with strangers, but not so with friends and family.

Even though doing so is hard, if you notice problems occurring in conversation or the actions of your friends or family, you must address the situation. If someone says something blatantly racist in your child's presence, you should challenge the remark. Your child is listening. If the problem is ongoing, take time to talk to this person alone. Describe how his remarks make you feel and how they affect your child. Ask for this person's help in protecting your child. If the person doesn't take your comments seriously, you may have to explain that you can't bring your child into situations where she's not treated with respect.

Here are examples of actions or speech that will hurt your children:

  • Telling racial jokes that degrade your child
  • Making comments that imply your child isn't really part of the family
  • Excluding your child from gifts or giving unequal gifts to your child
  • Openly hesitating to touch or show affection to your child, or frequently touching your child and examining him as if he were a novelty
  • Acting as if they don't trust your child
  • Frequently suspecting or blaming your child

Always ask yourself the question "How is this behavior affecting my child?" If your relationship with family or friends is hurting your child, and if your pleas for change are unheeded, end the relationship. Your child must come first.

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