Deciding to Adopt Transracially

I am happy to introduce you to my friend Kurt. He is an adoptive parent who chose transracial adoption. I invited him to share with us how and why he and his wife made the decision to adopt transracially. Read on for his first guest installment on Blended.

The high school where I grew up had a pool. The highlight there, of course, was the high dive. From the ground it was easy enough: a few steps up would bring the payoff of a fun jump. But once you were at the top everything seemed a lot scarier than it did from below!

My wife and I adopted our son, of Mexican-American heritage, as a newborn. Not unlike the high dive, deciding to adopt transracially was also both easy and hard. It was easy because:

  1. It gave us options. We knew that it increased our pool of matches, so we would likely be matched sooner.
  2. We are open-minded. We are interested in other cultures and have travelled, providing us with an openness to embrace our future child’s heritage and encourage him on his path.
  3. We live in a racially diverse area. We knew that our child would be able to make friends of his race and there would be chances to meet mentors who looked like him.

But we knew that not everything would be easy.

When standing at the edge of the high dive our knees start to knock because we begin to imagine a frightening conclusion to our jump: a belly flop. The same is true for adopting transracially. We have seen that there are significant areas of difficulty–and they aren’t going to go away.

Adopting transracially shapes your identity. Because he is my son, my identity is now wrapped up in his. Our lives are forever connected and entwined. This means, among other things, that his problems are my problems. Things I could ignore before I cannot any longer. The front lines of racism have moved from somewhere “out there” to my living room.

Like it or not, we now have a foot in another community. We have become advocates for our child’s racial or ethnic family. We must explain, dispel myths, and break down destructive attitudes–and convince even our extended family that their identity has changed. Because he is our son, no doubt, we’ll have some showdowns in the family.

For example, at a recent event a member of my family made an offhand, unintentional racist remark. The unspoken belief of this family member was that, “of course it’s ok to say this because [our son] will never fit that stereotype.” But comments can be racist even if they weren’t intended to be. Alarm bells went off for me and my wife. As much as we want to consider ourselves beyond racism, it is alive and well sitting on our living room sofa–even if subtle or unintentional.

We had to lovingly but boldly correct this family member’s attitude to not make our son the “one good one” of his race. It was scary to do so, but we had to. Our whole family’s identity has changed. Our family now includes our son’s race/ethnicity. It is no longer “them,” but it is forever going to be “us.”

Adopting transracially means personal displacement. To displace means to move something from its usual place or position. On some level our son has been displaced to be in our family. Therefore, there must be times where we will purposefully put ourselves in situations where we will be displaced. Usually this means becoming the minority.

For example, having an open adoption initially feels like the more difficult choice. Although not all families have this option, we do. We will therefore make a point to displace ourselves physically and culturally to secure open communication with our son’s birth family. This impacts our son’s quality of life for the better.

Or, even though our city is diverse, we take extra steps to put ourselves in situations where our son will meet people from his ethnic background that he can look up to and emulate. This also is not easy at times.

While there is much to discuss in transracial adoption, these are the top two issues I am facing today. These days when I look at the view from the top of the high dive, my knees sometimes still knock, but I take great comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be a perfect dad, just continue to go on up there, take the risk, and jump.

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