Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are probably the most famous couple with a large, racially diverse family. The majority of us with transracial families operate under a much smaller spotlight, thank goodness. But the make-up of our family is still the subject of public and private discussion. I have been asked many times why we decided to adopt and why we chose Asian countries. Most of the time I try to educate in as brief a manner that I can, but as my children have gotten older they are less interested in these discussions and only want us to be treated as a normal family. It is hard to know if we draw attention because we have 5 children (more unusual now than 50 years ago) or because we have biologic and adopted children. I think it is probably a combination of both of these.
We were not interested in creating a mini United Nations or in “saving” a child when we made the decision to adopt. We wanted the chance to parent a girl and Korea was one of the few countries open to families with biologic children. Although we learned about Korean culture at our adoption classes, there was not much discussion about race/ethnicity. My idea then about culture in my daughter’s life included some Korean food and dressing up in a hanbok (traditional dress) for pictures. Fortunately, transracial parenting involves so much more than that. She identified herself as different at 18 months and often pointed out any Asian people or pictures of Asian people that she saw. That forced us to see her not just as our daughter, but as an Asian child in a sea of Caucasians. 2 years later I was on a journey to find her a sister, believing that life could only be easier if she had a sibling to identify with. Although both girls are Asian, they are very different individuals when it comes to their outlook on ethnicity. This makes for interesting discussions about how they view other’s reactions to them when they are seen without their family vs. with the rest of us. Minnesota is the land of adoption, so many of our more negative interactions have occured when we are out of the midwest or out of the country. We have had Asians openly stare at us and people “thank” us for saving them from their birth country. Luckily, the majority of our interactions about race have been either positive or neutral and we have treated the remainder with humor and jokes. My youngest son, after becoming irritated with the constant refrain of “Are they adopted?”, once introduced himself to a teacher as the adopted child in our family.
I recently had a chance to discuss transracial parenting with a friend who also has 5 children – 3 biologic and 2 adopted biracial/African boys. We agreed that some days we are interested in educating others about how our family was created and other days we just want to get thru the check out line at Target. We compared stories about our experiences and found many similarities, but also a few differences. I have only been asked if I have an Asian spouse once, but she often encounters people who think she has an African American spouse. One of her sons has asked when he can have “peach skin” while my daughters take great pride in their ability to tan better than their friends in the summer. She has found it difficult to find a barber in suburban Mpls to cut their hair, while my girls use the closest hair salon. We both agreed that we have found the transracial parenting aspect harder than anticipated, but have found the best way to cope is to live in the moment and address each situation differently depending on the child involved and their age. Extended family comments can be a bit tricker. Often older relatives have very stereotypical racial views and don’t understand how their comments are perceived, either by the child or the parents. Acknowleding this and providing some education seems the least frustrating way to deal. Sibling understanding of race seems to be more gender dependent, with girls more tuned in than boys.
I have also had discussions with older adult adoptees, most of whom are Asian, about what they think helped or didn’t help with their ability to cope with their different ethnicity. Being raised in a diverse community was a frequent positive in addition to parents acknowledging how they were perceived as different when out in the public. Even if they were not friends, knowing other children who were part of a transracial family, helped them to understand that theirs was not the only unusual family. The personality of the adoptee seems to have a large effect also, with some adoptees liking the extra attention and others hating it.
America, and Minnesota, is becoming more diverse, less “white” and more “brown”. I think this will have the greatest effect in how our children are able to function in society in the future. Their personality will be more important than their outward appearance. I can never imagine what it would be like to have a brown or an Asian face, but I hope that soon it won’t matter.