Written by Rebekah McGee a New York Adoption Consultant with Adoptions from the Heart. She and her husband adopted an infant son from Ethiopia in 2012 after a 2.5 year adoption process.
In our family, my husband and I are Caucasian and our adopted son is African-American. When he was a baby, we often received positive comments or smiles from strangers and frequently received comments about how lucky he was to be adopted by us. We were educated by our adoption agency about becoming a conspicuous family and knew that our family would now stand out a little bit. Some people, especially curious kids, want to know why we do not look alike or what is the story behind how we came together. I feel like we were prepared on how to educate others, respond in a respectful way that stuck to our boundaries, or just ignore the comment/question if needed.
The tricky problem with our family has been that our sweet little boy has become a large kid, and he has autism. We don’t really receive the adoring comments that we used to hear, but instead we are often met with stares or even negative comments when he is in a meltdown mode because he is overstimulated or having a hard time processing his environment. There’s nothing quite like feeling the depth of your conspicuous family like being in a public theme park, trapped on an airplane, or trying to make birthday memories at the zoo while your child draws a lot of attention to himself! I can think of a lot of moments where I felt very aware of being a white mom with a black child and wanting to blend in so badly just so people would stop looking at us, especially if we were in an environment that was more ethnically diverse!
One thing I have learned through our special-needs journey is that I have to tune out what I think others are thinking of me. Because he can be unpredictable with his autism, I know that we can suddenly draw attention through some of his stemming behaviors or meltdowns. What my son needs most from me is for me to be fully present with him, instead of worrying about the judgment of others. Unfortunately, autism does not have a marker, so some people may think he is just being unruly or undisciplined when really, he is out of control because of his brain. I know that I must meet him at eye-level and support him even if others might be judging me!
If I could offer advice to other transracial families, especially those who are walking the special needs journey, I would encourage them to trust their gut as a parent and give yourself a lot of grace. My son’s autism has changed a lot about the way that we parent him as we have learned to be flexible yet prepared. And if other people are staring at us as we work through the good and hard parts of being a special needs family, so be it. We are a picture of a loving family that sticks together and tries to make family memories, even if it means that we have to work a little harder to make them. If anyone else can see us love our son even when it is challenging (if you’ve ever been through a major autism meltdown, then you know what I mean!); it can be a positive picture of adoption too.