We asked our friend Andrea Young, author of a wonderful blog, Babe of My Heart, creator of the amazing retreat for adoptive mothers, Created for Care, and truly great mother to her precious children, to share with us about their experience with transracial adoption. She has a huge heart, full of godly wisdom and powerful love. It is an honor for Hope at Home to have her share on our blog--thank you Andrea! Enjoy.
Our Adoption Journey Began
In February 2007, my husband and I partnered with four other families in our area and started an orphan ministry in Ndola, Zambia. It was throuh our work with Wiphan Care Ministries that the Lord first opened our hearts to growing our family through adoption. I remember sitting up late one night talking with my husband about growing our family as my heart was being broken for children who needed families. We got up the next morning and visited an orphanage in Zambia to learn adopting from from Zambia wasn't an easy thing (that year in a country with an overwhelming number of orphans only 6 had been adopted internationally). We came home and continued to pray--but it would be several more years before our adoption journey began.
In the summer of 2009, Richard and I had a 4 year old son, 3 year old daughter and a 6 month old baby. Adoption at this point in time for most probably wouldn't make sense--us included. But it was then that we felt the Lord was asking us to follow Him in adoption--and truly our hands and hearts felt open to where ever and when ever. I remember the conference call where our agency was going over the areas of need--and at that time there weren't as many families adopting from Ethiopia or Haiti (this was before the hurricane also) so they asked us to pray about these two countries if we were truly open to anywhere.
Even as a little girl, I had always imagined adopting one day--I guess it's something God grew in my heart from the beginning. I lived in China for a time after college doing mission work, so naturally I assumed we would adopt from China. Our newly found agency's suggestion though challenged us to pray about two countries we had honestly never considered before--and while I knew my heart could deeply love any child--I immediately had questions for the sake of my child in his/her being adopted transracially.
Lots of Questions!
Would it be hard to have parents of a different race? What does it look like to not be raised in your culture and then move to a country where even those that do "look like you" have a completely different culture? Will my future child resent me for adopting him/her into a family that isn't his race? Will our family and friends...and community support us? What will my African American friends think? Will all my children--my adopted child included--hate me for making us a conspicuous family?
(There were so many questions at first; the interesting part now is--as I was writing this to share, I had to sit down and think REALLY HARD what my questions or fears even were just two years ago!)
We prayed for peace and direction, and with our ministry in Zambia--our hearts were just naturally drawn to Africa. And so, our journey began. We went in knowing that some adoption experts think its best for children of the same race to be adopted by couples of the same race--and knowing that some in our own community might feel the same way. BUT we also went in believing the best place for any child of any race is in a FAMILY. We took classes on transracial adoption (most every agency offers them) and sought wise counsel from some of our closest African American friends and transracial families. There were several things that were important to us to implement in our parenting then--some have remained top on our list for thriving as a transracial family and some of the others I realized weren't so important now--but they will be in later years. I do think there are some important things to consider when praying about adopting transracially...
Surround yourself with supportive family and friends...
I remember sharing our exciting adoption news with our friends and family. Most everyone was so excited, but unfortunately--I think in every circle you will always have one person who disagrees with whatever you do. I remember sharing with older family members our adoption journey and how we would be adopting from Africa, and some times someone would ask why were not adopting from this country or that--I could feel my heart already getting defensive. BECAUSE in my heart--I knew our child was in Ethiopia. I had to remember that the Lord had been speaking to my heart for YEARS about adoption and Africa--yet this was the first they had heard of it. It was new to them. I had to learn to extend GRACE and also understand how much our world has changed in the last 50 years. Adopting transracialy is very normal to our generation--but not to older generations, so I encourage you to extend grace when someone in your family isn't supportive at first. No matter where you adopt from, you need a strong support network--so its important for you to have other friends and family who support transracial adoption and who are excited about your journey.
Surround yourself with diverse friends and community...
We especially reached out to our African American friends, and because many of them are a big part of our lives--we wanted to know how they felt about our adoption. We shared with them how important we thought it was for our child to be with other families and children that looked like him--and to also grow up experiencing his culture. Not everyone is so fortunate, but some of our African American friends were also born in Africa which makes sharing culture with our child even easier! Our friends were very honest with us--and they shared that this might not be the best fit for every family--especially if you live in a community where there are not many transracial families or African Americans. And then...the topic of hair came up!
One thing that is very important in our country to African Americans is HAIR. One of my precious African American friends jokingly told me, "It's alright if you want to bring home an African son or daughter--other African Americans are cool with that. UNLESS...you mess up the hair!" While she was joking, I know now that there was quite a bit of truth to that statement. Taking care of African hair is QUITE the learning curve, and truthfully--to the African American community, it's how others can easily look at your child and know he is well taken care of. This was VERY intimidating for me, but this is ALSO where surrounding yourself with supportive friends comes in! I made my African American friends teach me everything they knew about hair care. I went in beauty salons they suggested and sought advice. And I stocked up on more special shampoos and hair products than I had ever used in a lifetime on my own!
My children's godmother who is African American volunteered to take our child to the barber--which I was thankful for not only for getting the right style done, but it was important for us to know we could give our child opportunities to not always stand out. Once a month, he could go to the barber and ice cream with his auntie--and although he is too young to notice any difference now, I think this will be a special time for him as the years go on. (I take the advice of those who know more than I do about things like this and apparently every boy needs to have the barber experience! Don't know what I'm missing--but it'll be his special time.)
As I listened to my friends talk about hair and the barber--we knew it would also be important to make sure our daily community and surrounds were diverse. We just happen to live in a neighborhood that is VERY diverse--we are the only caucasian family in our culdasac. We also live in a city that is very diverse, and the pastor of our church as well as many of it's members are African American. We feel this is very important to having a transracial family--that in most all of our circumstances in many ways we fit right in and our child will never be uncomfortable or stand out. Every family might not be as fortunate to have all these things in place, but I encourage you to try to look for ways to build diversity in your family's life if you are considering adopting transracially.
Celebrate the culture of your child's country as much as possible...
Most every country has a strong, unique culture--and this was one thing we really wanted to bring into our family for the sake of our child. We bought books on Ethiopian culture and cookbooks on how to cook Ethiopian food. We frequent Ethiopian restraurants, and we live in an area where we have even made several Ethiopian friends who have taught us about different holidays and special celebrations. Because the Ethiopian calendar is completely different than ours, we celebrate almost everything TWICE! Christmas, New Years...and other holidays---we try to incorporate traditions and go to festivals when they are nearby.
Even if you adopt transracially right from your state, African Americans have a strong, rich culture here--so I would encourage you to teach your child some cultural differences so he can experience and embrace his culture and history. I'll never forget when one of my African American friends told me about the first time she went to a caucasian's funeral. It was a HUGE culture shock for her! We have to realize it is very likely for our children to marry someone of their same race--and we do not want the first time for them to experience church, funerals, weddings, etc as adults or to feel uncomfortable or struggle again blending with their new family one day.
Keep the lines of communication open and talk about race...
Talking about race to your child lets them know you are comfortable with your racial difference, and they can be too. There will come times when your child overhears someone talking about your transracial family or when a young child says something inappropriate about your racial difference or worse--when an adult makes an uncomfortable statement with your child standing right beside you. The more you have talked about race with ALL your children, the less awkward it is for everyone because you have already addressed many things together as a family and you have your "go to responses" to uncomfortable situations. When someone does say something inappropriate or uncomfortable ("Are you babysitting?" "Is he a foster child?"), and we have to use one of our "go to responses"---we also talk about it again later as a family to keep the lines of communication open. (We ask how a comment made them feel, what would have been a better thing for them to say, what we know to be true and how we might better respond next time.)
Truthfully, we rarely have strangers say uncomfortable things, and the questions we once worried about are non-issues for us as we have surrounded our family with a strong, supportive community. We also started a community group in our home where about 25 other families who also have adopted transracially join us once a month for a dinner social and a time for the kids to play. Even the older familiy members who once didn't understand our adopting transracially are completely smitten and in love with our son--and our four children have a bigger perspective on what it really means to be a family. We are so thankful that God called us to be a transracial family through adoption!