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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

Baby Steps to Becoming a Transracial Family

At first, I thought it was the pink, sparkly crown.

My two daughters, Josi, 4, and Lilah, 2, have a little game they like to play. When we read a book or watch a movie, they choose which character they want to be for the duration. "That's me," Lilah says about Thumper, for example. "That's me," Josi says about Rapunzel. Or Cinderella. Or Aurora. While Lilah's open to choosing to be a range of characters, Josi usually aligns herself  with the blonde in any story or show. Josi is what popular culture would falsely call all-American. She's got her daddy's big blue eyes and long, blond, wavy hair. Being blonde has always been important to Josi. In a family of brunettes and a ZIP code filled with the diversity that exemplifies the real all-American, she has gotten lots of attention for being blonde and blue-eyed.

Too much attention, I'd say. Don't get me wrong: I think Josi is gorgeous. Of course, I do. (I suspect that we all feel that way about our kids, as we all should.) But I also think that getting attention for being blonde is different than getting attention for being smart or kind or even beautiful. It carries with it a certain preference—or, at least, aesthetics—that make me uneasy.

So you can imagine my surprise when a sudden shift occurs. "That's me," Josi says about the princess in the Little People storybook. The illustrated princess, with her black hair and dark eyes, looks Asian to me. Yeah, but she's still the princess, I thought. The blonde on the page is the jester.

It keeps happening, though, to the point that now whenever there is a female Asian character, Josi chooses her immediately. Lilah, the younger one who gets to choose second by default, is now "stuck" being the blonde. The more we talk about Dylan, the son we're waiting to bring home from Seoul, the more Josi seems to identify—in narrative, at least—as Asian. I don't think it's a coincidence, but I don't know exactly what it means, either. I'm choosing, for now, to read it as just another baby step on our way to becoming a transracial family.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Just before we brought our youngest daughter home from Ethiopia, our then-4-year-old started choosing more books with African-American or darker-hued children (we already had a diverse collection of books, but they were not favorites). She also started drawing a more color-full people, purposely using different shades and pointing out “this one is like me, this one is like my sister.” It certainly seemed to be part of her process of understanding the adoption and changes in our family

By ithacamom on Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:17 pm.

Hi Megan,

    Its great that you are thinking about and trying to understand what your daughters may each understand or not yet be ready to understand about the changes you anticipate because you are adopting transracially.  Helping adoptive parents understand how children in adoptive families—both the adopted kids and their non-adopted siblings—develop racial-ethnic identity is a major part of my work in adoption.  Hopefully, I can help you consider what may be percolating inside of your girls, and what you and your husband can do to help.

    Although children see and react to racial differences far earlier than most people—even many researchers in this arena—give them credit for, they do not even start weigh racial-ethnic differences positively or negatively until and unless they are in multi-cultural environments at school where they are exposed to social messaging. Developing racial-ethnic identity takes a very long time and happens in stages.  The process is not really consolidated until early adulthood, although some facets of the process are lifelong works-in-progress,

  Young children do, though, tend to identify with superficial characteristics such as hair, eye, and skin color because they are taking in and then reiterating what others notice and say about their looks.  They also observe their parents’ reactions to, and statements about racial-ethnic characteristics—for example, when you speak proudly and with excitement about anticipating the adoption of a “Korean” son, and your interest in Korea and Korean culture/language/music, etc…, then they mirror your interest and excitement in all-things-Korean, including people who are described as being Korean.  They want to be valued and so, try to be what and who you, as their parents, value.  We have to be watchful that they not become the “vanilla” kids because they are pushed aside when their adopted sibling’s racial-ethnic and cultural heritage is spotlighted as exotic and fascinating while their heritage is common and therefore, of little interest or importance. 

      Children develop racial-ethnic identity by first getting familiar and comfortable with individuals and groups who have particular racial-ethnic group membership through frequent, regular immersion experiences and the development of personal relationships with adults of particular racial-ethnic group heritage.  Its caught and not taught. In other words.  they need to have those “I wanna be like you” feelings about adults of color because they know them, feel safe with them, feel liked by them, and feel close to them.  It is THEN that they begin to develop independent interest in the cultural heritage of that/those adults, and start to incorporate their cultural ways into their knowledge base and skill set.
    Seeing a few, carefully selected representatives of a particular racial-ethnic group a few times a year, without developing a real relationship with them is hardly the same thing, and eventually does exactly the opposite of what adoptive parents think that they are doing (nurturing cultural heritage).  That culture, racial-ethnic group is then experienced as exotic, not-like-me-and-my-family, and inferior.  That is the LAST thing that youngsters want to be identified with.

  In adoptive families with one or more children who were born into the family, and at least one child of a different race from the other family members, the aim is to develop MULTI-RACIAL and MULTI-CULTURAL identity as a family.  Additionally, to remember that kids who are White ALSO have racial-ethnic identity and need to positively claim that.  There needs to be balance: if the family celebrates/learns about/ immerses itself in Korean (or Chinese, Haitian, Mexican, etc,,,) groups and culture, then it also needs to pay attention to the racial-ethnic and cultural heritage of those born into or married/partnered into the family.  The transracially adopted kids, at a certain point in their lives, tell me that they “get it” that their parents make a big deal of their cultural heritage to compensate them for not being White.  That is NOT our aim, but it is our unintended result when there is no balance. 

Jane A. Brown, MSW
Director-Adoption Playshops! Program
(602) 690-5338

By Jane Brown on Friday, March 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm.

Hi Megan,

Just to give this topic a different “spin”, I want to tell you a story that started out as a ethnic identity story, but then took an interesting turn.

We live in a beach town full of blue-eyed blondes. My children were in a school that was more ethnically diverse than the island we live on, so there was a good mix of different races.

One day when my daughter was about six, she came home from school very sad and crying, so I invited her to sit in my room with me in a comfortable chair where we had many important discussions.

When I asked her why she was so sad, she said, “I’m the only girl who’s not blonde in my class”. I’d been to her class many times so I knew this wasn’t true. To get her to say more, I said, “sweetheart, your best friend is Asian like you, so what is truly making you sad”?

Crying harder she said, “I’m sad because I have a hole in my heart where my birth mother should be”. I just held her for a moment to think about this important topic because this was the first time she had expressed her sadness.

I had not told my children much about my own birth mother who had died many years before, because there was not much that was positive about the story. I don’t know why I chose that moment to share my story with my daughter, it just seemed like the right time.

I said to Stacee, ” I haven’t told you much about my birth mother because it was a very painful experience for me. She was often unkind to me and difficult to get along with. So, despite the fact that I had a birth mother, I have a hole in my heart too.  Perhaps this is the reason we are in each other’s lives, we are filling each other’s hearts”.

This seemed to make her very happy to give her an even stronger sense of our connection.

Because my children are now young adults, I have many stories to share and love talking to adoptive parents on my blog as well.  You could talk to me at


By JaneBallback on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm.

I think it is great that you are noticing this change in Josi.  Kudos to you!  It definitely is a baby step thing to becoming transracial/ multi-ethnic.  I have to say that I disagree with Part of Jane’s (the social worker) comment.  Any exposure to other cultures is better than none at all.  Some regions just simply do not offer regular diversity.  I would add that all children benefit from experiencing many levels of diversity (ie. Racial, religious, physical, and socioeconomic).  For example (non-race related) it would be better to have your children help raise money for f gifts for a family at the holidays than to not do it at all.  I know this seems unrelated, but other cultures are difficult to understand from the outside and so sometimes infrequent contact is all that we can provide.

Additionally, I do think it is a big deal to make a big deal out of your child’s ethnic background.  White dominant discourse does not offer other races as much visibility or mobility in society still in the 21st century.  This also will keep your Caucasian children from feeling “vanilla”.  Society and social norms do not allow it.  You need not worry about them feeling left out somehow.  I am not suggesting paying more attention to your Korean adopted child, but instead paying more attention to their race dynamic overall during their life. Their are studies that show that even though parents tried to portray healthy images for their Korean adopted children the children felt the societal pressures to fit into the “norms” and associate with the Caucasian images portrayed in media and, by no fault of their parents, the successes within their Caucasian families.
Your advantage is that you are thinking about it now.  You also see more images in print and live media of Asians and Asian Americans than ever before.  You are on the right path!  Everyday for the rest of your life will be a learning experience for you and your family and you will all be better off because of it!

Therapist, Korean Adoptee, and Transracial Adoptive Mom

By cnroberts05 on Friday, March 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm.

Sorry for errors.  Auto correct and lack of it on my temperamental phone smile

By cnroberts05 on Friday, March 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm.

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