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Transracial adoption isn't a secret

Jill is a sometime runner and expert wine taster from sunny San Antonio. She has a degree in social psychology, one husband and three children. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Babble and she's regular...

Don't assume parents are secretive and sensitive about adoption

My family was built through adoption: My husband, daughter and I are white. My two sons are from China. Although adopting our boys was a deliberate move, we didn't give much real consideration to what day-to-day parenting of children of a different ethnicity would look like.

Our pre-adoption education covered parenting children of other races and stressed the importance of learning to accept and embrace another culture. No manual can really prepare you, though. Sometimes, it’s complicated. We hear things like:

"We don’t see color."

"People are just people… I don’t notice race."

These comments are normally made with the best of intentions. But, I call B.S. Everyone notices racial differences, no matter how we react to them. It’s impossible to be truly color-blind.

Our family is sometimes treated differently. It can be subtle, but I notice, even when I pretend I don’t. We get stared at more than your average family and sometimes, people ask nosy questions about our family makeup.

"So, is your husband Asian?"

Our family is the subject of curiosity in ways that families that "match" don’t have to deal with. White moms with white kids probably don’t get asked about genetics while standing in line at Target.

While I find nosy adults to be annoying, I have no problem with a child’s curiosity. A boy of about 6 approached me in a doctor’s waiting room and asked why my son’s eyes were shaped differently than his. He was just old enough to understand that we inherit physical traits from our parents. He was trying to process information by asking questions, as kids do.

I started to give a simple explanation on Asian physical traits when his embarrassed mom halted the conversation by shushing him. She apologized to me without making eye contact. She seemed uncomfortable that her child was drawing attention to our family’s differences.

My kids have been victims of stereotyping. Like any mom, I’m convinced my kids are brilliant, but it’s a little weird when someone else assumes it because of ethnicity, for example: "Chinese kids are so smart! I bet he’ll get really good grades!"

I hope the part about the grades is true but what if my kids suck academically? What if they want to be on the basketball team, not the chess team? What happens when they don’t fit into someone’s preconceived idea of what a Chinese boy should be?

There may come a day when someone picks on my kids because of the shape of their eyes or the color of their skin. I worry that I’m ill equipped to prepare them for discrimination because I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against.

As the kids get older, we’ll seek out more opportunities for them to interact and connect with people they can racially identify with. We’ll strike the right balance of acknowledging our family diversity and giving our boys what they show us they want and need. And, like any family, we’ll make it up as we go along.

I’m proud of our adoption story and I’m teaching my kids to be proud of their heritage as well. I probably can’t prepare them for the discrimination they may someday face. I can teach them that racism is all about people being afraid of what they don’t know, and that’s at least a starting point. Our adoptions aren’t a secret. I’m a tuned-in, self-aware mom who will always be there to hold my kids’ hands as they navigate through the parts of life that are sometimes just plain confusing. That’s what being a mom is about.

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