What Not To Say to Our Adopted Child

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Sadly, when it comes to transracial adoption, there are such things as stupid questions.

  1. Please don’t ask us “Where did you get her?!” She’s not a limited edition Marc Jacobs for Target handbag, she’s a human being.
  2. Assume our daughter hears and understands everything you say about her in front of her. She’s not deaf, she’s 5 and yes, we are quite white and she is not, so it’s safe to assume she was adopted.
  3. Please don’t tell her how lucky she is that we are her parents. We hope you don’t assume she’s merely lucky because she’s black & we are white. We know you probably mean well, but we don’t want to assume you are racist, so don’t assume our child is lucky because she’s with us. We could be awful parents!
  4. Please do ask, “May I ask you about your family?” Unless we are about to board a plane, in the middle of dinner, or a tantrum.
  5. Please don’t ask, “What happened to her real mother?” If she’s allowed to wake me up any old time she wants and wipe her runny nose on my shirt, then I’m allowed to be called her real mom.
  6. Please don’t get up in her cornflakes and ask her in a cute voice, “Are you adopted?” She’s NOT adopted. She was adopted. It’s not who she is, it’s one part of her big, fabulous story.
  7. Actually, scratch that. Please don’t ask her if she’s adopted. She is early in the process of discovering her life. We don’t want her to be self-conscious or feel there’s something wrong or different with her.
  8. Please, please do feel free to ask us privately anything you like. If our family story can inspire others to foster or adopt a child, we are thrilled to help.
  9. Please don’t ask if we are going to raise her “African-American.” We aren’t really sure what that means... but we are already sharing the incredibly rich history and culture of her race with her. Currently she’s really into hip-hop, Jackson Michael (what she calls him) and Esperanza Spaulding. And ninjas. And dogs.
  10. Please, please don’t get nervous or uncomfortable when (or if) we talk about race, either in general or in the (sometimes humorous) specific context of our family. We know and she knows she is a different race and we believe that acknowledging her skin color is precisely the opposite of racism.
  11. Please don’t ask her about her birth mother or family of origin ― again, she is five and this is a delicate, complex and deeply personal conversation we will be having for the rest of all of our lives.

PS: Pretending race doesn’t exist isn’t going to solve racism or race issues in our country. Talking about race, passive and active racism, experiences with race and racism is almost always awkward but, when honestly approached is vitally necessary ― after all, we are raising her to believe we are all in this together....

PPS: Nurture Shock is a fascinating book with a very surprising chapter on race. In a perfect world, every parent would be given this book upon the birth of their child. Nurture Shock was where we learned that families of color discuss racism with their children starting around age 3 ― because they HAVE to. Oddly, white people are the most uncomfortable discussing race with their children ― assuming that colorblindness is the easiest way to teach children that everyone is equal (without teaching them anything at all). However if we don’t teach our kids about difference and diversity, studies show they will automatically self-segregate by around age six. Who wants to live in a world like that?!

Open and direct communication about respecting skin color and diversity is key and crucial in all children’s development. Some day, one day, hopefully soon, a person’s skin won’t be the most and/or first quality that defines them.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable while discussing race. At least we’re discussing it instead of pretending that race doesn’t matter. Because as we all (finally) know, Black Lives Matter.

Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race― Nurture Shock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merriman― a very excellent book about all aspects of parenting and understanding children’s minds, www.nurtureshock.com/

Want to learn more about adoption? Visit PACT.org - an adoption alliance...

In Los Angeles we found Jeannette Yoffe, an adoption specialist therapist, who grew up in the NYC foster system. She founded the Celia Center, an inspirational network and support system for everyone affected by foster-adoption.

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