Sure, we were open to transracial placement. Sure, we’d done some research by reading some books, meeting with other transracial families, and checking out relevant blog posts. Sure, we had imagined the “what if” of bringing home a child of color.
But our true introduction was when we were handed our first child: an African American girl. All the sudden we weren’t imagining or supposing. We were LIVING.
All the sudden, we got attention. Lots and lots of attention. And not just because we were brand-new parents to a newborn, but because we were white parents to a Black baby. And that baby began to grow up. We dealt with hair-touchers and nosy questions and assumptions. Compliments were sometimes back-handed stereotypes and criticism. Other times we were thanked for adopting a “child in need” who certainly required a “good home.” We were either saviors or baby-stealers.
But really, we were just parents. Parents brand-new to transracial adoption and subsequent parenting.
Our first adoption was almost ten years ago. Now we have four children, all of whom were transracially adopted. And we’ve learned a thing or two about what it truly means to live as a multiracial family, created by adoption.
If you’re new the adoption or fostering journey and are considering inviting a child of color into your home, you need to know the reality of what you are agreeing to.
1: Love isn’t enough.
It’s critical to understand that love does not conquer all. Children of color come to you with not only their needs based on their personal circumstances (why they came to be in your care), but their racial needs. Just like you can’t love trauma out of child, you can’t love race out of a child (nor should you ever try to).
2: Representation matters.
When you bring a child of color into your home, your home needs to reflect your child’s race and racial culture. Remember, the sayings about home? “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where the heart is.” Home should be a safe, welcoming, accepting space for a child. So your home needs to have books, art, music, toys, etc. that reflect your child and send him or her the message that they matter, they are celebrated, and that they are safe to be themselves.
3: There’s no substitute.
You can have all the art, music, toys, and books in the world, go to festivals and exhibits, and tell your children they are wonderful just as they are, but without racial role models in their lives, your child is missing out on something critical. Face-to-face, hand-in-hand, authentic relationships with people of color is essential to your child’s well-being and arguably yours as well. You need those who share your child’s race to guide you in how you parent your child. This might also include hair braiders, barbers, medical professionals, and a mentor for your child.
4: Get woke, and stay woke.
You can’t give what you don’t have. Therefore, you need to understand racial norms in order to teach your child. Some great ways to go about this include having friends who racially match your child (including a mentor for yourself), reading articles and watching videos from news outlets that focus on your child’s race, attending conferences and workshops, etc. This isn’t for a season. Parenting a child of color means you’re committed to learning for the long-haul.
5: Think long-term.
It’s fitting to end with this point. You aren’t just parenting your child today. You’re making investments in your child’s future. This means from the very beginning, when you accept a child of color into your home, you know that this child will not always been a cuddly newborn or a bouncing toddler. A child of color grows up to become a preteen, then teen, then young adult, then adult of color. So again, love isn’t enough, and you need to make choices that build your child up as he or she grows up.
Rachel Garlinghouse is a mom of four by adoption, author, and speaker who blogs about her family’s adventures at whitesugarbrownsugar.com