Cultural issues for trans-cultural adoptions

Multi-cultural adoption

Objectives:

To assist families involved in transcultural adoptions by:

  • Defining transcultural adoptions.
  • Making a plan for a successful transcultural adoption.
  • Examining attitudes and beliefs about race and ethnicity.
  • Identifying issues that may concern trans-culturally adopted families.
  • Identifying successful methods for creating family bonds in multi-cultural adoption.
  • Providing families with a framework for a supportive environment.

Overview:

Transcultural adoptions, including overseas adoptions and local adoptions where parents of one race or culture adopt a child of a different race or culture, are increasing. This increase is usually attributed to a shortage of healthy infants of similar cultural backgrounds available for US adoptions. Transcultural adoptions are also on the rise between parents in the US and Eastern European countries. Often parents go into transcultural adoption believing that “love is enough.” While love is a great starting point for making the decision to adopt trans-culturally, it isn’t enough. The parent or caregivers of children of multi cultural families need to redefine their own traditional family. For a child of a different culture to adapt and evolve into an emotionally healthy and mature adult, the parent or caregiver must develop a multicultural family, one that embraces learning about the children’s cultures. They may even choose to bring cultural rituals into their family and adopt these as their own.

Trans-cultural adoption means many things to many families

Transcultural adoption isn’t always obvious from looking at the faces of adoption, and it doesn’t just refer to Caucasian couples who adopt Asian, Hispanic or African American. For a child of a different culture to adapt and evolve into an emotionally healthy and mature adult, the parent or caregiver must develop a multicultural family, one that embraces learning about the children’s culture. Rather, transcultural adoptions are all adoptions in which a child is removed from his or her own cultural traditions and heritage and placed in a family that celebrates a completely different set of traditions based upon heritage. This means a child of Jewish heritage who is placed in a Christian home is placed in a transcultural adoption. It also means a child of Polish descent, placed in an Irish Catholic home has been placed trans-culturally. Most often, transcultural adoptions create unique issues when the adoption is one in which the physical characteristics of the child and the adoptive parent or caregivers differs significantly. The issue of transcultural adoption also becomes important to the caregivers and child when a child is adopted at an age where memories of an early language or culture remain. Sometimes, potential parents go outside the US to adopt believing they can avoid this country’s open adoption laws or the possibility of a birth parent wishing to be included in the life of the child. These parents should be made aware that, as our world shrinks, overseas adoption is no guarantee that primary families will have no contact with their children. It is especially important for all involved in adoption to recognize that adoption issues that arise later with adopted adults often include the need to learn more about history and culture. For some, the only resolution to adoption issues is to search.

The unique need of children adopted trans-culturally

Before a parent or caregivers make the decision to adopt trans-culturally, it is helpful to prepare by learning about adoption issues that are unique to transracial or transcultural adoption. The parent or caregivers should examine their own beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity, think about their lifestyle, consider adopting siblings, and become intensely invested in parenting. When thinking about their own attitudes and beliefs, the parent or caregivers should think if they’ve ever made assumptions about people because of their race or ethnic group in order to check themselves to make sure this type of adoption is right for them, and to prepare to be considered different. The parent or caregivers should decide if they are comfortable with standing out as a family because of their differences and be prepared to deal with these issues. They should be prepared to cope as a family with racial biases that will likely occur at some point in their children’s lives. The parent or caregivers should consider their current lifestyle and decide if they’d be willing to make any changes in order to prepare for an integrated family. They should consider if they live in an integrated neighbourhood. If so, they should learn about integrated schools that may be available in their neighbourhoods. They might consider expanding their friendships to include members of different racial and ethnic groups, attend multicultural festivals and learn to share different ethnic foods. They will need to make all of these things available to the children. In thinking about lifestyle, the parent or caregivers will need to look at their own extended family. It is important that they know how grandparents, aunts and uncles will respond to their children. They can build a support system with those family members who share their values and parenting goals. While it is important for children of colour who grow up with a Caucasian parent or caregivers to be around many ethnic groups and to see role models who are of the same race and ethnic group, being placed with siblings of the same ethnicity allows children to have the security of seeing another person in the family who looks like them. Being together may mean internationally adopted children will be able to share their native language which may help them adjust better. A parent or caregivers who are intensely invested in parenting provide their children with the security of knowing they can talk to the parent about issues that occur. Even if the parent or caregiver cannot know what it feels like to endure racially-biased name calling or to understand some of the unkindness toward people who are different than the majority in our culture, children benefit from knowing that the parent or caregiver will work together with them to get through those difficult times. The parent or caregiver, in being open and honest with their children will empower themselves to believe strongly that their family belongs together. The parent or caregivers will have children who grow up to be confident, competent and who feel entitled to belong in their families. Most often, transcultural adoptions create unique issues when the adoption is one in which the physical characteristics of the child and the adoptive parent or caregivers differs significantly. The parent or caregivers should examine their own beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity, think about their lifestyle, consider adopting siblings, and become intensely invested in parenting.

Parenting techniques to build a strong sense of identity

The parent or caregiver who uses common sense to help their children become a stable, happy, healthy individual will also raise children with a strong sense of racial and cultural identity. The parent or caregivers should tolerate no racial or ethnically biased remarks, surround themselves with supportive family and friends, celebrate all cultures, talk about race and culture, expose their children to a variety of experiences so that they develop physical and intellectual skills and take their children places where most of the people present are from the children’s race or ethnic groups. If at all possible, the parent or caregivers should consider the importance of incorporating their child’s cultural celebrations and traditions into their own lives. For some, this may mean learning, along with the child, about the child’s heritage. They may benefit from finding or forming support groups that bring families with similar adoptive backgrounds together. It may even mean visits to the children’s countries of origin.

Talk about and celebrate all cultures

The parent or caregivers, who teach their children that every ethnic group has something worthwhile to contribute, and that this country was built upon diversity, will teach their children that diversity is their family’s strength. These enriching experiences can be obtained by participating in ethnic religious ceremonies and festivals. Talking about racial and ethnic issues will encourage children to see the world as it really is. This will also prepare children for coping in instances where they may find themselves treated differently by police officers, restaurant employees, social organizations, or government agencies. If the parent or caregivers are alert to negative messages, they can use natural opportunities, such as television programs, newspaper articles or school situations to help children understand and avoid fear when they’re treated in ways they don’t understand. Children in families where racial and ethnic issues have been openly discussed will know they can expect the parent or caregiver to stand behind them if they are victims of racial incidents or have problems in their community. They will have the communication tools to share insights and deal with the blows the world may hand them. Families that are created by crossing cultural boundaries are
strongest when the children know their strengths and weaknesses. The parent or caregivers should be prepared to compliment children on their strengths, drawing attention to the positive and building self-esteem on small successes and lots of acknowledgment.

Building multi-colour and multi-ethnic families

Cross-cultural adoption can be a richly rewarding choice for many families. It can also be complicated. It is important for the parent or caregivers to recognize that they are not white parents raising a child of a different culture, but they become a multi cultural or shared culture family.

If racism should occur

When a parent or caregivers have adequately prepared for the possibility of racism, they will be able to confront acts of racism in a positive way. To deal with problem situations, the parent or caregivers should ask:

  • What happened?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you say or do when that happened?
  • If something like that happens again, do you think that you will deal with it in the same way?
  • Would you like me to do something?

Legislation that works for multi-ethnic families:

While some adoption professionals have been opposed to cross-cultural adoption, saying that children available for adoption should always be placed in a family with at least one parent of the same race so that the child can develop a strong racial or cultural identity, some have supported it saying that if a loving family can meet the needs of a particular child that’s all that matters. The parent or caregiver who uses common sense to help their children become a stable, happy, healthy individual will also raise children with a strong sense of racial and cultural identity.

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