When you think of the term ethnicity, diversity may come to mind. You may think of ethnicity as an experience that only happens when you interact with people who look different. While that is true, ethnicity is shared culture, practices, and beliefs passed on from generation to generation. Speaking from my experience, I grew up in a predominately white community in the suburbs of Atlanta. However, opportunities may be limited based on your location. I often get asked about strategies to help adoptive families create adequate cultural accommodations for transracial adoptees.
“We live in a racially homogenous community with very little diversity, but we are open to adopting a child from any background. What can we do to accommodate our children if they have a different ethnic origin than us?”
Here are five helpful strategies to help create a more multiethnic experience in your home. This is based on my experience, not a comprehensive list. However, these are some practical ways to enrich your child and family.
- Design your home
- Be intentional, switch it up, and have fun
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Take advantage of online and offline resources
- Lead the conversation
Design Your Home
Have you considered your home an opportunity to create a multiethnic environment? High School was the first time I was exposed to other teenagers who looked like me. But it was also the first time I was introduced to black literature. I’m not lying when I said I couldn’t tell you much about my heritage then. This was not because I wasn’t interested but because I didn’t have much experience with black art, music, or history. Your home is where you spend most of your time outside of work. Do you have any artwork, music, books, or foods representing your child’s origin? You may have heard me mention this before, but as I grew up, I desired to unpack my culture of orientation to make space for my culture of origin.
Be Intentional, Switch It Up and Have Fun
Pick a restaurant that represents your child’s culture of origin; depending on the restaurant, this could be an excellent opportunity for exposure to the sights, smells, sounds, and foods of a particular culture. If you could even commit to visiting one every few months, you would be able to turn something strange and different into something familiar and normal. This is a bridge-building opportunity for yourself and your child too good to pass up.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Although your child may not know their origin story because of their age, you may have a good idea of their background. This is a huge advantage. If you do live remotely, incorporate cultural outings on your family trips. This may take a bit of intentionality, but most major cities across the United States have enclaves with some ethnic representation. If, for example, you adopt a child of African American descent, strive to build relationships with community staples such as the local restaurant, salon, or barber shop. For instance, I did not learn how to take care of my hair until my mid-teenage years. Build those relationships early.
Take Advantage of Online and Offline Resources
When I was adopted in 1986, some of the best resources could be found in the library. Today, the social environment is conducive to discussing complex topics. Many resources are available both online and offline. With a few simple online searches, you can unlock transracial adoption issues and topics in discussion boards, forums, and groups.
Lead The Conversation
You may feel like your role in your child’s racial, ethnic, and identity development is to be passive support as the conversation arises, as you will. However, adoptees, like all kids, don’t know what they don’t know. As adults, we are not only able to process and break down complex ideas, but we can also help guide our children to make meaning of their experiences. I encourage you to prompt and guide discussion as you learn and think when your child is ready. This way, you and your family can learn by discussing difficult topics while drawing out and discovering complex nuances.
I often share with families that I did not feel well-equipped to interact with others or talk with my family. Creating exposure opportunities at an early age is the best-case scenario, but not always possible. You will have to get creative in a more ethnically homogenous community with little diversity. Transracial adoption can be a wonderful experience, and the multiethnic dynamic adds layers to the development process you and your child can unpack together. For me, reconciling with my heritage has become a lifelong journey of discovery, fusing those values with the values I admire from my upbringing and finding balance.