How will your family members react if you decide to adopt a child who looks very different from them and from you? They may be shocked and upset, or they may be accepting and positive. Or, more likely, they will be shocked and upset at first, and accepting and positive later.
One book that offers many practical and helpful suggestions to people who adopt transracially is Inside Transracial Adoption (Perspectives Press, 2000), by adoptive parents Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall.
Luckily, time seems to be a positive factor when it comes to transracial adoptions. As your extended family members become used to your child and get to know him or her as a person, they will likely become more accepting and loving. However, there might always be some family members who cannot or will not accept your child. If you feel that your child is being treated negatively by certain relatives, you may have to adjust or curtail your visits. Before you take such a drastic step, however, confront the issue head on with the offending relatives, just don't do it in front of the child. Maybe there is something about the adoption or the child that they don't understand or that confuses them, and you can clear it up. Give it a try—communication is often a problem between extended family members, and it's best to resolve it when you can.
Some strangers or acquaintances will always ask rude or inappropriate questions about your transracially adopted child. You may be especially annoyed when strangers ask you intrusive questions like where you “got” your Chinese child from, making it sound like you either tripped over her and thus found her, or maybe you illegally purchased her.
First, try to keep in mind that most people are not trying to annoy you or violate your privacy. You could answer such questions by saying that the child was adopted from China, but if they persist, wanting to know what agency she was adopted from and other details, you could ask why they want to know. The answer might be that they are interested in exploring adoption themselves, or they know someone who is. In that case, you might want to provide information or recommend a parent group. If it's just nosy busybody stuff, you could say—if you are religious—that the child was sent from God, as all children are.
As your child grows older (older than two or three), she'll start listening to what you tell people about her. Maybe you don't want to be so forthcoming about her adoption anymore. So what should you say?
Real Life Snapshot
When Mona was asked where she “got” her baby from, she said, “Texas.” But the person said, “No, I mean, what country, since I know from TV that there are no white babies in America, and you can only adopt mixed race crack-addicted ones.”
Mona, a quick thinker, quipped, “Well, he's actually Swedish and came from a small town, called Nordstrom's” the name of a popular department store in Texas. The other person foolishly believed her.
Here are a few choices:
- Tell the questioner that you can't talk right now.
- Give them the name and phone number of your parent group.
- If it's someone you know and you want to discuss the adoption with them, ask them to call you later.
- Tell them that you will call them later. If the person is a total stranger and wants to offer his or her phone number—and you're willing to do so—then you could call later or have a parent group representative call instead.
- Tell them that you're really in a rush and just don't have time to talk about anything right now.
- Sometimes people will say that you are “wonderful” for adopting this “poor little orphan.” Turn that statement around by saying that you are very blessed to be the parent of your child.
Keep your sanity intact by remembering that the most important thing is to educate yourself, listen to the advice of others, choose what works for you, and follow your own gut-level instincts. Do what is right for your child and for your family.