Under the Umbrella: 4 Tips for Transracial/Transcultural Families

Fans of the TV series Modern Family will remember the classic episode where six-year-old Lily (who is adopted by two daddies) is confused about her heritage. Mitch and Cam realize they know very little about her country of origin, so they decide to expose her to Vietnamese culture by taking her to a Vietnamese restaurant. What ensues is disastrous, if not humorous. Lily wants a cheeseburger, not pho. She is not interested in engaging with the Vietnamese waitress. The scene ends with a very defiant and even more confused Lily shouting, “I hate Vietnam!”
HiResCertainly Mitch and Cam are loving parents, so where did they go wrong?
Here are four tips to consider if you have completed or if you’re considering pursuing a transcultural or transracial adoption:
  1. Be prepared to answer questions and help your child respond. When parents and children have different races and culture, there is no getting around the awkward questions and comments. You see your child as your own, but the world around her sees her as “different.” It is inevitable she will be asked about her “real parents” or other intrusive questions that can chip away at her identity and sense of belonging.
  2. Understand that sometimes children just want to blend in. More often than not with a transcultural or transracial family, your child’s adoption will be conspicuous. Your child may tire of standing out, especially at ages where it is so important to fit in. You can help by keeping a strong focus on giving him or her consistent, positive affirmations concerning adoption and belonging.
  3. Teaching your child about her culture is a process, not an event. Weaving your child’s racial and cultural identity into the fabric of her daily life may help her develop a strong sense of self. It may be tempting to tell your child something along the lines of, “I don’t see color, I only see my beautiful little girl!” However, that message may come across as, “I don’t see you.”
  4. You can help celebrate all aspects of your child by doing your best to be as culturally diverse as you can be. Will your child see you having positive relationships with other adults of his race? Or does he see himself as the exception? Will he see others who look like him at school, church, the grocery store or in the neighborhood? Living, learning, and growing in a culture that is completely isolated from his own culture can mean that your child will lose a part of himself.

Adopting across race and culture can be beautiful and enriching when you are committed to addressing issues of racial and cultural identity and pride. Clearly, transcultural and transracial adoptions present challenges that your child is going to be faced with, perhaps on a daily basis. While the challenges may be tough, with additional support and education, you and your family can overcome.

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