How Can Living in a Multiracial Household Affect an Adopted Child
January 30, 2013 6:27 PM   Subscribe

I am of one race/ethnicity; my partner is of another. No kids. How will adopting a child from a third background impact him/her?

I am of one race/ethnicity; my partner is of another race; we currently have no kids, but would like to adopt a child. Domestic adoption has a 10-year wait in our region, and so we are considering international adoption (should we find an agency whom we feel is ethically caring for the children under its watch).

In our part of the world, the government agency responsible for international adoption limits it to a handful of countries - most of them are Asian (i.e. South Korea, China, Thailand) or African (Cameroon, Burkina Faso).

Neither of us are of Asian or African origin. If we adopt an Asian or African child, will having parents of completely different ethnicities to him/her but also to each other be too much for him/her to handle at such a fragile time in his/her life?

What about when he/she's older - and starts to notice how other parents look like their kids, (or at least, each other) - in our case, there'll be no resemblance whatsoever!

Obviously there are plenty of families that adopt children of other races, but is it possible that there can be too many races under one roof?

We are ready to love our child as our flesh and blood, no matter where he or she is from, and we couldn't care less about what others think - our concern is solely about the child: having to adapt to a new life abroad with new parents in a new culture is hard enough.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't make it a big deal, it won't be a big deal. My kids are biracial and sometimes ask me questions like "why are you white, daddy?" and then go about their business. That's about the extent of it.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:30 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

will having parents of completely different ethnicities to him/her but also to each other be too much for him/her to handle

I actually think it might help. Rather than "everybody's different from me," it's more like "everyone's different from each other."
posted by DoubleLune at 6:32 PM on January 30, 2013 [20 favorites]

As an adoptee myself - although not from another race - and watching my internationally adopted cousins (who were from a different race than their parents), I think you are maybe even in a better situation than one where the parents "match". The kid won't be the odd one out in your family - you'll all just be different.

I think one of the hardest things for my cousins was that they felt they didn't "match" the rest of the set (my uncle and aunt had biological children too). My own (also adopted) brother also found that hard, as he didn't look anything like the rest of us.

Plus, you will hopefully be setting a great example to your kid(s) about how race shouldn't matter and that everyone can love everyone else. PLUS plus, presumably at least one of you or your husband is not of the majority race where you live, which means you probably have more understanding of the racism or other issues your kid(s) may encounter.

I think you'll be awesome parents.
posted by lollusc at 6:33 PM on January 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

The main variables are your personalities, beliefs, and traits as parents, which are completely individual to you. Next might be the culture around you -- the people the child will meet; your friends, their teachers, etc., which will matter much less, but might be something to consider if there's a big problem with racism in your locale.
posted by amtho at 6:35 PM on January 30, 2013

Anything is better than being in the system. You're great people and I encourage you to move forward with an international adoption.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:36 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Although I've never thought of it that way, I suppose I'm "white" and I suppose my wife is "Asian" (I'm from Canada, she's from Japan).

Once again, although I've never thought about it, sometimes people comment on how our kids look "mixed" ("It's such a great combination!") but it doesn't happen often here in Canada.

I think the things that stand out are language and culture. My kids cross cultures every day - Japanese is spoken in the home, and we have a Japanese communication style. They go to school and they speak English.

When I was a kid (I graduated from high school in 1989), I would say that Asian kids were, to put it bluntly, bullied. They were often standoffish and quiet, and they were sometimes teased for being Asian.

That seems to have changed now (although my wife reports that she is still treated differently sometimes in shops, especially by older people). At my son's elementary school, no one cars that our sons are Asian looking, or half Asian looking, or have weird first names.

They do notice that my son speaks Japanese sometimes. But that's cool. My son identifies as "Japanese" when in Canada (he is a dual citizen for now).

Part of it might be that Japanese heritage is very present at home, from our books and the tv shows and movies we watch and the pop music we listen to, to the food we eat and the things we care about as a family.

Other families where he is from Canada and she is from Japan are a little different, I've found, but the difference is the kids just identify as being Canadian.

I think we're probably lucky that we live in this part of Canada, right on the Pacific Rim, with so much exchange between Asia and Canada. I'm not quite sure what it would be like on the other side of the Rockies.

But like I said, it's not really about race, it's about culture.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

You might want to check out the blog Love Isn't Enough. I think they've recently stopped publishing regularly, but there are a lot of archives. It's a blog specifically focused on race and adoption.
posted by jaguar at 6:44 PM on January 30, 2013

Don't make a big deal out of it, and from day one, treat it as if race is another difference between people that is no more remarkable than the fact that some people have blonde hair, some people have brown hair, some people are 160cm tall, some people are 190 cm tall. It would help a lot if you reside in an area with a great deal of ethnic diversity such as San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, etc.
posted by thewalrus at 6:49 PM on January 30, 2013

I would love to be able to say that if you don't make it a big deal that it's not a Thing. But the problem is that even though it may not be a thing between you and your child, you can't help how stupid the outside world is going to be about it, and in the USA, race is still a Thing.

This is all just hearsay from when I was reading about international adoption but I think you need to ask people who are international adoptees (or look online for the blogs and articles by those people) rather than asking people who are parents of biracial children. I remember reading some articles where adopted black children actually became angry at their adoptive parents for pretending that race was not a big deal because it really isn't the truth that they found in the rest of their lives, and they felt unprepared to deal with other black people, not understanding black heritage and culture because their parents had always told them everyone was the same and that race wasn't an issue.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:07 PM on January 30, 2013 [28 favorites]

I do think you need to be realistic about what being of race X might mean for your kids if these are experiences you don't have. Of course you want to teach your kids that race is not the defining facet, but be realistic about racism that they will potentially face in the real world and be purposeful about giving them tools to deal with that, or giving them the opportunity to interact with adults of their racial or ethnic background who have insights that you would not.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:07 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

My opinion is to respect the child's origins and the parents origins but don't over think. You can make an amazing family, no matter your races and use the diversity to teach and experience much more.... Open your heart and home. And roll with whatever you are given. It will be wonderful.
posted by pearlybob at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2013

A Caucasian friend and her husband adopted two Asian boys (one from Vietnam ,one from China) with her husband . They have kept their given names and make a point of being involved with the kids' culture of origin.
posted by brujita at 7:52 PM on January 30, 2013

I once knew a white guy who had three sisters and a brother, and one of the sisters was adopted Korean while the rest were biological, basically this was a family of New England Wasps. He said his adopted sister hated it when the Korean American student group at college approached her to join, like she was offended by the association. Now I don't know the details of how she was raised, but I feel like if you never mention it at ALL and don't sort of talk through things with the kid and approach them as they come, this could happen. I just don't think never mentioning the differences at all is a good plan.

Just be in touch with the kid's culture and make them in touch with yours, and I think you'll do great.
posted by sweetkid at 8:02 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My family has technically four - my husband is chinese, I'm white, and four of our kids are Vietnamese (Cambodian-Vietnamese which is culturally quite different from Vietnam-Vietnamese) and our youngest is eurasian. I know at least a dozen families where by adoption or step-parenting there are 3+ cultures/races in the family.

The biggest factor will not be inside your family - it'll be the way you deal with the world around you. You'll get asked if you're the nanny, who the real parents are way more than families that can "pass". Racism and personal stuff about adoption will be shoved at you whether you feel like answering or not. One of my kids routinely tells his classmates that I'm a teacher/aunt/nanny, rather than deal with the questions. Another kid is matter of fact about her open adoption, and I found out when visiting her school that she did have classmates who were adopted but it was The Big Family Secret, and they came up to whisper questions to me about adoption - they were the same ethnicity as their adoptive parents. With transracial adoption, hiding the adoption isn't an option usually, which I think is a good thing.

It's often not jerks or secrets though. Last week, a cab driver kept asking questions about the age gap for my kids that seemed really abrupt and rude, but it turned out he wanted to confirm our family structure because he too had a very large age gap between his kids, and he wanted to talk to someone who understood.

If you live in a diverse community with contact with other adoptive families and ethnicities, then you'll be just one more quirky group among others. I cannot stress how important it is for kids to not be isolated. I was the only white kid at school for a few years, and that was largely 'positive' racism. I would not willingly raise my kids in a mono-culture where they had no access to their own culture, especially with adoption. So much is gone already.

And that means more than a heritage camp once a year. Seriously consider moving to a diverse neighbourhood and learning the language.

South Korea btw has serious ethical issues regarding international adoption, China has different ethical issues. If you're in Canada, ask about adopting from the US fostercare system - I've heard from friends that it can be much faster.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a super common phenomenon amongst families at my kids' school and the only reason I'm even realizing that is that you're bringing it up. It's truly a thing I only think of when someone brings up the context.

It may vary for you if you don't live in a city, but most likely if you and your partner both feel comfortable where you live, so will any given child you raise in that community.
posted by padraigin at 8:27 PM on January 30, 2013

Race means a great deal to a person not of the dominant race. I think wherever you adopt from you should familiarise yourselves with the children's culture of origin - and be ready to learn how to deal with things you may never have thought of. Be ready to talk through racial issues with them as they grow up. And, how to put this, general grooming - make sure you know appropriate ways to treat their hair, washing, moisturising, plaiting etc. I can't emphasize enough how important this is for Black kids.
posted by glasseyes at 9:22 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

As long as the kids know they were wanted and are loved and treasured by the family, they'll be fine. Kids are adaptable, and they'll accept the ordinary day-to-day reality they grow up with as totally normal. Yes, mixed-race families get some outside questioning that single-race families don't; yes, there are still jerks out there who think their racist opinions matter to your family. Just be honest and matter-of-fact with the kids.

The only thing I HATE HATE HATE about adoption is the way some people continue to refer to it forever and ever --- for instance, even though Ronald Reagan adopted his son Michael three days after he was born, Michael is STILL referred to as "Reagan's adopted son", never just "Reagan's son". I'm certainly not saying hide the fact of adoption --- and in a multiracial family that might be impossible! --- just that adoption is an event, not a descriptor: i.e., "my kid was adopted", not "my adopted daughter". Continuing to refer to a kid as an adopted son or daughter sets them apart from the rest of the family.

(At this point, my own family encompasses every racial group on the planet --- we like to joke that it makes it easier to ID who's who in group photos.)
posted by easily confused at 3:02 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

As long as the kids know they were wanted and are loved and treasured by the family, they'll be fine. Kids are adaptable, and they'll accept the ordinary day-to-day reality they grow up with as totally normal. Yes, mixed-race families get some outside questioning that single-race families don't; yes, there are still jerks out there who think their racist opinions matter to your family. Just be honest and matter-of-fact with the kids.

I think this is key. I'm of the darker persuasion. I grew up in a foster home (with a white family) and with my biological father (very dark skinned) and his wife (European). Now I am married to a person is of different ethnicity (white-anglo prot.) then I am - our kids are mixed. I would have to say that there is a difference today then there was in the 70's and 80's over mixed race families. When I was growing up, there were not a lot of families that looked anything like mine. It's natural for kids to look around and notice they don't match. If you live in a largely homogenized community, that's a problem - I did and it sucked. But if you live in a community with all sorts of families, your kid will be fine. Every once in a while people used to ask my husband (when kids were babies and he was alone with them esp. since our kids have a darker skin tone then his blond hair/blue eyes), if kids were adopted or even if he was with them. It used to really piss him off. Nowadays we see lots of families that look like ours and it literally never comes up. But make sure you tell your kid how much you love them. While love won't conquer all the problems of the world, it means a lot to a kid - adopted or biological, but esp. adopted. I think those of us who don't have a traditional family route are sensitive to that. BTW my foster family was awesome, my bio. family not so much. I'd rather have been adopted.
posted by lasamana at 5:15 AM on January 31, 2013

I don't think it's possible to answer this question generically. It all depends very much on what the ethnicities are, and what the local culture is like.

I have mixed-race parents, and I barely noticed when we were living in a cosmopolitan city, but when we moved to a mostly white suburb of a more provincial city it became a much bigger deal. I was very confused the first time I was asked aggressively "Why did your parents get married!?" and just said "I suppose they were in love": it had never occurred to me that the marriage was considered offensive and wrong by some people.

My sister, who looks like she's just of one race, changed schools and managed for a long time to keep my mother from visiting: she was desperate and resistant to my mother turning up to a school event and revealing her secret.

It adds an extra layer of complexity onto childhood and teenage stuff. As a boy you will definitely have to fight physically and spar verbally more often than if you were "normal". Emotionally it wasn't that big a deal for me, but I was in touch with family members on both sides. I imagine it would be even more complicated if you don't know any other people who look like you.

Even apart from language, there are all kinds of subtle differences in how people from different cultures talk and act to each other: words, body language, table manners, etiquette and so on. Not knowing these will make it a lot harder for the child to interact with people of that group: they will stand out.

I agree with others that you need to talk to chidren rather than parents in this situation. Parents are often fairly unaware of the problems that come up. If your parent asks you "how was school" you tend to say "fine" rather than "I had to stab someone with a compass because he called me a dirty ****".

I don't want to sound too negative, because it can work fine, and in some places it might not even be a big deal. But it's definitely something that adds an extra layer of complexity, and love doesn't make that go away.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it would be wise of you to make sure you live in a multicultural multiracial community in which a substantial portion of the population is committed to getting along.
posted by mareli at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2013

First, where I'm coming from: I'm an American white woman with a white husband, and we are parents through international adoption to two kids from east Africa. I'm also not a huge fan of international adoption, at this point, given a lot of what I've read about it. So, I'm not all "rah-rah adoption!" (like some adoptive parents).

It's great that you are asking this question. Transracial adoption is a serious issue, and it's good to consider it carefully. However, I'm not sure the issue of you and your partner being of different races is, in and of itself, a specific concern. Presumably one of you has had the experience of being a minority, which could help you understand your child's experiences.

In any case, I think more important than the composition of your household is the composition of your community. Look at your neighbors and the kids in your local school. If you live in a relatively homogenous community, I don't think you should raise a kid of another race in that community. I don't think it's fair to ask our kids to move around the world for us if we're not willing to move across town for them.

I didn't live in a black neighborhood when we adopted our kids, but I live in one now (well, technically, it's a gentrifying, integrating historically black neighborhood, but there are many Africans and African-Americans here, and especially in the local school they attend). This was a specific choice we made because we didn't want our kids to be 'the black kid' in a mostly white neighborhood.

But, I will also echo what an earlier commenter said: the people to ask about this are not adoptive parents, or transracial couples, or whatever. The people to ask are adult adoptees. In fact, you don't have to ask them: plenty of them write about this on their own!

I particularly recommend the work of Jane Jeong Trenka, and especially her excellent memoir The Language of Blood.

Jae Ran Kim is another adult adoptee who is also a social worker and advocate for adoptees. She posts news stories to Facebook and blogs as Harlow's Monkey. Her blog is back after being on hiatus for a few years, but she has some excellent content, and it's worth combing the archives.

Good luck with your decisions.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:24 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just popped in to point out that President Obama is a biracial man (who identifies as black) who grew up with a white mother, an Asian stepfather, and a white-Asian sister. He has managed to do pretty well for himself and is close to his family.

This is not to say that there won't be problems--but it's obviously not a recipe for a disaster. Please don't let this scare you off--a kid is always going to be better off with loving parents of any color (or gender!) than in an orphanage.
posted by elizeh at 8:30 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

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