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Adopting a Child from Another Race

It’s normal for adopted children to have to deal with identity issues. Experts agree that to achieve a sense of self-worth, adopted children have to reconcile both their biological and adopted roots. This process can become more complicated when you throw in race into the mix.

If you’re a parent who has adopted a child from another race, it’s important that you do not sidestep race as part of your child’s identity. Your child, as well as his peers, will likely notice the difference in their and your skin color and features early on, and will start asking questions. It is important to be prepared for questions, in order to facilitate your child’s personal and social adjustment.

An important thing to remember is not to make racial identity an either/or thing for your child. Your child does not have to choose one specific racial identity.

Here are some things that you can do to help your child navigate their identity better:

Talk openly about race in your household. Some parents downplay racial difference for fear that it might make their children feel isolated. But while intentions are good, this move can backfire on parents. Kids might perceive your tension as avoidance and rejection. They might jump into the conclusion that there’s something wrong with them.

Discuss race in your household; don’t make it a taboo issue. Use positive and sensitive language, and underscore the value of diversity and acceptance. When your child can see that you’re comfortable with the issue of race, you’ve already set the foundation for more meaningful talks on the topic later on.

Read up about your adoptive child’s racial heritage. Educate yourself! The more you know about your adoptee’s racial heritage, the better you can talk to them about it. You may even be their source of primary information about what it means to be part of that race. Think of it as a learning opportunity for you, as well as a way to be part of your adopted child’s life.

More importantly, educating yourself about particular values, traditions and beliefs held by a particular race, can help you sort out the trickier aspects of parenting a child from a different race. For instance, what if your own values conflict with the values dominant in your child’s race? Information is a prerequisite to compromise, so read up!

Provide your child opportunities for cultural exposure. Fact: your adopted child can’t rely on just you alone to learn about his racial heritage. But don’t worry, this is more than okay. You’re not expected to be their primary resource.

To better help them navigate issues of racial identity, sign them up for festivities, get them learning materials, and encourage them to interact with other people of their own race. And don’t worry if you find that they’ve attached themselves to a role model of their own culture --- it’s normal. It’s not replacing you in any way.

At the end of the day, we can never really provide everything our child needs to understand their cultural heritage. But what we can do is provide the raw materials so that they may better appreciate themselves and racial diversity. So just be there to answer your kids’ questions, and to provide a safe base for them to explore their cultural identity. And all will be well.

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