What It’s Really Like to be in a Transracial, Adoptive Family

What It’s Really Like to be in a Transracial, Adoptive Family

When my husband and I agreed that adoption would be the route we took to build our family, we swiftly agreed to be open to transracial adoption.  After all, I had a cousin adopted from Guatemala, and we had several multiracial (adoptive) families in our church.  We had a support system and some knowledge, and we diligently learned more and more:  meeting with other families by adoption, reading books and blogs, and having in-depth, heart-to-heart conversations about race in America.

But parenting a child who was transracially adopted?  No book, no conversation fully prepared us for the questions, the second-glances, the assuming statements entrenched in stereotypes.

When our first child was just two years old, she began taking dance class.  I recall someone saying to me, “Of course she likes to dance!  It’s in her.”  Then there were the hair-touchers:  strangers whose curiosity led them to attempt to paw at my two daughters’ intricate cornrows with beads.  There were also those who would change the intonation in their voice when speaking to my daughters, ending their sentences with “girl,” appropriating Black dialect.

When my son, our third child, was still in toddlerhood, an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in a while remarked how much my son had grown.  I smiled and said, “Yes, he is a big boy!”  And her response was, “He’s a cute little thug.”  This was around the same time as our neighboring city of Ferguson was rocked by the death of Michael Brown, and 24/7 news coverage weighed on everyone’s mind.  #BlackLivesMatter emerged soon after.  Race in America has always been complicated, ridden with a violent and polarizing history, but the deaths of unarmed Black men amplified the good (we need change) and the bad (racism).   What used to be thoughts quietly mulled over became spoken and written word.

Once we entered a restaurant while traveling to see our children’s birth families.  We were tired, cranky, and very hungry.   As we sat down to enjoy burgers and greasy, salted fries, a restaurant employee who was wiping off a nearby table asked us, “Were your kids born drug addicted?”   And when our oldest was just a baby, my husband was at the grocery store with our daughter in the cart seat, when two women approached him and asked if the baby was my husband’s foster child.

We’ve been graciously affirmed by misguided strangers who “bless” us for giving our “poor children” a “good home.”   We’ve been asked, a thousand times, if our four children are “real siblings.”  Once, a store cashier asked, right in front of my two daughters, how in the world someone could give away such beautiful children.

Race and adoption, they are complicated.  Intricate.  Bittersweet.  Inseparable.  My children are my greatest blessing, and I am a mama bear.  The truth is, most of our interactions are overwhelmingly normal and positive.  But there are times when ignorance and stereotypes lead to uncomfortable and inappropriate situations.

Transracial adoption is an incredible, intricate, and tremendous responsibility.  Being a mindful, educated, and committed parent is not only helpful and healthy, but also a necessity.   Your child needs you.


In Their Own Voices:  Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories

Come Rain or Come Shine:  A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World

Written By
Rachel Garlinghouse

Rachel lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and four children.  Her favorite things are kitchen dance parties, coffee with a dollop of ice cream, and shopping at Home Goods.  Rachel is passionate about the intersection of adoption and race, sharing her experiences in her books and articles, on her blog White Sugar Brown Sugar, and via media appearances, including CNN, MSNBC, CBS, and NPR.   Rachel and her husband have been in the adoption community for a decade, encouraging others and simmering in hope, empathy, and education.  Contact Rachel and keep up with her family’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.