By Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker
As a parent, how often do you wish you could read your child’s mind? What would you give if you could understand their thoughts and feelings? What would it mean for you to know what they really need from you?
If you are a white adoptive parent to a child of color, it may seem difficult to relate to your child’s needs. If you have not experienced life as an adoptee or a person of color or if you are not trained in the psychology of racial identity development, then as the saying goes: “You can’t know what you don’t know.” Luckily, there is a plethora of resources to learn “what you don’t know” as a transracially adoptive parent, so the narrative can shift to: “When you know better, you can do better” (abbreviated quote from Maya Angelou).
As a psychologist who specializes in transracial adoption, as a transracial adult adoptee, and as a transracially adoptive parent, I’m here to provide you with insight on how you can “do better” for your child. Here are the top five things I believe every transracial adoptee needs from their parents, based on my professional and personal experiences:
- Parents who recognize their own racial biases.
The concept of colorblindness is a myth, and any person who believes it is possible to be utterly free of bias is living in denial. We all have biases, and this includes racial biases. They stem from the interactions role modeled to us as children, stereotypical character portrayals in the media, and the entire context of systemic racism in our world. Being biased is not necessarily a problem, but how we choose to act on those biases can be. If you hold your child’s hand tighter when you cross the street to avoid a group of black teens, your biases are sending a message. If you laugh at jokes about Asian or Native American people in front of your non-white children, your biases are sending a message. If you complain about Latinx people not speaking English, your biases are sending a message. If you want to be able to send consistent messages to your children about your unconditional love for them, you have to be willing to dig deeper into why you cannot show similar love to the people who look like them. The only way to combat biases in our actions is to be deliberately aware of them and actively behave in ways that defy them.
- Parents who comfortably and frequently talk about race and racism.
You may not see your child’s race because of your love for them, but the rest of the world will always see their race, first and foremost. It is your job to prepare your child for the interactions that follow. Talking about race and racism from the time your child is a toddler is necessary for their survival and to help them build a positive racial identity. They need to understand the history of their race, how to interact with people of their race, how to interact with people who hate their race, and how to respond to racism. They need you to be comfortable explaining terms like microaggression, othering, intent vs. impact, police brutality, Asian fetish, racial mirroring, and all of the other harsh racial terms and stereotypes in developmentally appropriate ways. If your child had been raised in a family of their race, they would receive this education on a daily basis. As a white adoptive parent, it is your job to learn all that you can about race and racism so that you can teach your child what they are rightfully supposed to know. If you are searching for ways to learn more about race as a transracially adoptive parent, view my upcoming webinars and past videos: https://www.growbeyondwords.com/workshops-webinars/.
- Parents who stand up for them.
If you are white, it is easy to hide behind privilege and avoid confrontation when you see racism in action. If you are a transracially adoptive parent, your child is watching you and learning how and when to stand up for themselves when a racial incident occurs. They are learning their worth from you – whether they deserve to speak up and have their voices heard, whether they are allowed to stop someone from emotionally or physically harming them because of their skin color, and whether their feelings matter. You have to show your children that they are your priority. You do this by expressing your distaste when someone tells a racist joke, educating when someone promotes a stereotype, and cutting people out of your lives when they refuse to be educated or change their ways. If you don’t stand up for your child of color because you are afraid of confrontation, you are teaching them that your discomfort is more of a priority than their existence.
- Parents who understand the importance of daily racial mirroring.
When it comes to racial mirroring (relationships with people of your child’s race), there are no substitutes. Period. You child cannot be surrounded by whiteness and develop a healthy racial identity. They need diversity and racial mirrors to understand who they are, how others perceive them, and how to be strong and confident as a person of their race. They must have friends and role models who look like them, and they must see themselves reflected in the faces of those around them. Being raised in a white family in a predominantly white area will hinder the development of a healthy and positive racial identity. You must surround your child and yourself with true diversity and people of your child’s race and ethnicity.
- Parents who help them build relationships with other adoptees.
Being an adoptee is like being part of a club. While there are factions within the club (i.e. domestic African-American adoptee, international African adoptees, international Korean adoptees, domestic same-race adoptees, etc.), there are unspoken bonds between the members. Your children deserve the opportunity to build friendships with others who “get it.” You have to create opportunities for them to meet other adoptees and develop relationships organically; you cannot assume they will get along with every adoptee who shares a similar story to theirs, but the more opportunities you provide, the more likely they are to find their safe space to belong.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a foundation for successfully parenting a transracial adoptee. It is a place to begin, learn, and grow, so that you can “know better and do better” for your child.
Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is a licensed psychologist, adult international/transracial adoptee, and transracially adoptive parent. She provides counseling and evaluation services, as well as adoption education, through her private practice in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about the resources available from Dr. Wirta-Leiker at http://www.growbeyondwords.com.