Potential Challenges for Children of Transcultural or Transracial Adoption

In the past, multiracial families,including adoptive families, were stigmatized. Today, with the growing number of transracial and transcultural relationships and marriages, multiracial and multicultural families are becoming more common. Multiracial and multicultural families through adoptions also are more numerous. Nonetheless, race and culture are important factors in adoption and thus understanding the impact of transcultural and transracial adoption on children is essential.

According to the Donaldson Institute for Adoption, "Transracial adoption in itself does not produce psychological or social maladjustment problems in children." However, children adopted transracially or transculturally may face additional challenges related to fitting into their families and communities and in developing a healthy racial or ethnic identity.

Children adopted domestically into communities that are very different from where they previously lived with biological or foster families may feel disconnected or even alienated from both communities. Children, especially teens, may be confused about where they fit in. Friends from where they once lived may tease them about having parents of a different race or culture or tell them they no longer fit in with friends from their old neighborhood. Children of a different race may feel their adoptive parents don't understand where they come from or how they experience the world differently. They may feel their parents don't understand what it means to be a member of their racial or cultural group. They also may feel their parents do not understand the prejudice or racism they encounter or will encounter as adults.

One reason is that the family does not have a regularly structured opportunity to allow for such discussions. Parents often think children will tell them when something happens because of their race or ethnicity but the children don't share it with them. Building identity is not the same as having a strategy to deal with being different.

Families should have meetings on a set schedule to discuss race, ethnicity or culture. The meetings could include watching a movie where someone was discriminated against or taking a story from the news for discussion. It means setting aside time for communicating openly related to this topic. It is about building a safe family space where children can participate in a discussion about their differences with their adoptive family. Remember, if you don't ask, they won't tell.

Older children adopted internationally will probably experience issues related to their cultural identity. Older children brought to a new country by their adoptive parents after living in their home countries for five, ten or fifteen years will almost certainly experience culture shock. All at once they must adjust to a new family, new culture, new language and new diet. This is a dramatic adjustment for an adult, let alone a child! These children must contend with learning not only about their new nation's culture in general, but also how people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds fit in. help your child adjust by teaching him English or learn some words in his native language before he comes home. Ask your agency if your child will receive any English language classes to prepare him for adoption.

Children with a different cultural background from their parents and siblings may not understand holiday traditions or he meaning of the holidays that their family celebrates. Take time to explain these traditions and the meaning of the various holidays to your adopted child. If your child was brought up i a different religion, celebrate the holidays of his faith as well. show him that you value his religious upbringing by learning about his earlier religious faith, holidays and traditions. Make all the holidays (his and yours) fun for your transculturally adopted child by baking together, doing arts and crafts projects and listening to holiday music. Involve your biological or same-culture adopted children in participating in their adopted siblings' holiday traditions.

Reprinted from the book Adopting Older Children, A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four, by Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, Gloria Russo Wassell and Victor Groza, with permission of the authors. Copyright protected, all rights reserved.