Adopted Children and Their Native Roots

by Katharine Swan

It’s not uncommon for gay and lesbian parents to adopt children from other countries. International adoption is a common practice for a variety of reasons – because it’s easier to get a baby via international adoption, because it’s often less expensive than open adoption within the United States (another way gays and lesbians can adopt an infant), and because of humanitarian reasons.

Global Children

Even in domestic adoptions, gay and lesbian parents often adopt across racial and ethnic lines. There are far more ethnic children in foster care in the United States than there are ethnic parents looking to adopt. As a result, many adoptive families are ethnically diverse.

The Importance of Ethnicity

In April of 2008, the United States started requiring parents who are adopting internationally to go through training and counseling to help them understand and deal with differences in culture and language. This is evidence of the changing attitude toward ethnicity – the realization in our society that an adopted child’s native roots are important and deserve to be celebrated.

Adoption agencies and adoptive parents didn’t always welcome ethnicity. Several decades ago, international (and interracial) adoptions were much less common, and parents who did adopt internationally tended to be less willing to address issues of ethnicity and culture. For instance, one group of Korean Americans who were adopted internationally when they were children reports feeling the loss of their cultural heritage in their upbringing. In an era when adoptions were almost never talked about, racial differences between parents and children were even more taboo – even when the evidence was written all over their faces.

Of course, treating adoptive children’s ethnicity as some kind of dirty secret hurts everyone involved – but most of all it hurts the children, who never have the opportunity to learn about their native culture. Adoptive kids have every right to a sense of pride in their heritage.

Dealing with Discrimination in a Mixed-Race LGBT Family

When raising a child from a different culture or ethnicity, one of the biggest issues to deal with is dealing with discrimination – especially when you and your child are noticeably different in appearance. Most likely you will be frequently fielding questions from strangers and acquaintances who don’t already know the situation, and your child may encounter a lot of curiosity and prejudice at school. Of course, gay and lesbian parents are no strangers to discrimination, and your child’s cultural heritage is just another issue to talk about as you teach him or her the necessary skills for coping with discrimination.

GLBT Families: Celebrating Diversity

Many gay and lesbian parents are already in a position to appreciate diversity, so welcoming their adopted child’s ethnic and cultural heritage into the family should be a rich experience. The entire family can learn about the child’s native roots and attend cultural events relating to the child’s heritage, such as celebrating the Chinese New Year as a family. This should be viewed not as a chore, but as an exciting opportunity for fostering learning and a bicultural identity in the child.

Although common sense tells us that adoptive children whose ethnic identities are respected and encouraged will do better than those who aren’t, the studies are actually not that clear-cut. For instance, in Black American children who are adopted domestically a strong cultural identity is connected to being better adjusted throughout their childhood and teen years; Black kids whose (white) parents identify them as white generally don’t do as well. On the other hand, kids who were adopted from Korea tend to be less dependent on their cultural identity; while a strong sense of bi-culturalism is important to them when they are young, it becomes less so as they grow older.

This isn’t to say that encouraging a racially diverse atmosphere in your home isn’t a good thing; in reality, taking the time to show appreciation and respect for your child’s ethnic heritage can only be beneficial. Whether or not it actually causes your child to be better adjusted, celebrating your child’s native roots is actually about celebrating your child. Each and every child is unique, and it is your job as a parent to celebrate what makes your child different – whether that is something as simple as the little habits and mannerisms that endear you to him, or as complex as the people and the culture that brought him into this world.


Website for Finding Families for African American Children

Website for Raising a Child with Roots in China

Website for Ethnic Identity Development of Internationally Adopted Children and Adolescents

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