Sharp Edges of Exclusion that Come with Adoption, Family Separation and Differences of Race

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

“Where is she from?”

“Does she look like her dad?”

“Do you know who her real parents are?” 

These and other questions came hard and fast at my mom and me when we were out in a world that wants us to match and did not understand the realities of adoption, family separation, and the impact of trauma that comes with both.  

As a kid, I never quite understood why folks were so interested in my family, why my mom would get kind of mad when these things would happen, and why I felt so weird when it did. Why did anyone care what we looked like, why I was brown, or how we came together as a family?  Also, what were “real parents” anyway?  None of it made sense and over time, unwanted attention based on how I looked and where I “fit” within the family that surrounded me was constant. In a majority white community where families matched, I was singled out and often wondered if I belonged anywhere.  

In addition to the comments about how our family looked there were comments about how lucky I was or how lucky our family was.  Lucky? Why was I lucky to have what everyone else had, a family?  It did not make sense and it made me feel uncomfortable.  We rarely unpacked these things as a family so I was left to wonder why my family was so different, why I was different and why I should feel the least bit lucky about any of it?  

Sitting next to all of this were my complex feelings of sadness and confusion about my family of origin and looking so different from the people around me.  While I truly loved my family and  these feelings were not all-consuming, they were serious distractions as I navigated the world.  I simply wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else and to feel like I belonged.  

There was no bright or easy path to true belonging because those closest to me did not realize the weight of my reality and most others were too busy expecting me to be grateful.  I needed a community like TRJ to help my parents know and do better and I needed to be around other children and families.  

This year TRJ’s camp theme centers on inclusivity and belonging.  As always, we will create space for deep learning and development as well as moments for joy and community.   Together, we will work to soften the sharp edges of exclusion that come with adoption, family separation and differences of race.  Together, we will co-created the brightest path to belonging for the children entrusted to you through adoption.  

This post is from our March, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Preparation: Transracial Adoption: Be Ready!

Have you had strangers ask inappropriate questions of you and your family?

“Is she/he/them yours?”

“Where are they from?” -

“Your child is SO lucky”.

These invasive questions are part of being a family that does not match and where differences of race are obvious to the world around you. It is important to be prepared for these intrusions.

March Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for March. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

March Pro-Tip for Parents: Make sure you have thought about specific times when moments of intrusion or inquiry have happened to your family. Think about the conversations you have had with friends and extended family when they were reflecting on how they feel or think you and your children should feel about adoption. These are intricate and complicated realities and thinking about them and talking about them will help ease what often lives under the surface.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• Do you feel lucky to be my parent?
• Do you think I should feel lucky to be your child?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How do you explain our family to friends and family? How about to strangers that ask about us?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some unlucky things about adoption?

This post is from our March, 2024 e-newsletter.  Pictures on the website are from Family Camp. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, with Family Camp updates, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for our main event;  Transracial Journeys Family Camp!


Reflections: Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose as an Adoptive Family

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

As I reflect on my younger years as a transracially adopted person, I am filled with so many wonderful childhood memories with my sister, brothers, my parents and extended family. I am also filled with the memories of feeling isolated with my feelings and thoughts about adoption and differences of race.

My parents, busy as they were looking after us, were not in tune, and rhythm with some of the needs that I had as a Black/biracial transracially adopted person. We didn’t talk enough about the realities of separation from family of origin or differences of race, and I was left to navigate these big real realities mostly on my own.

Conversations: An Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose

Today, I can confidently say that the entry point for living fully with authenticity and purpose as an adoptive family where difference of race is present, is grounding conversation that is ongoing and ever present in your daily life.

Adoption is both a journey rooted in love, and it’s also a path intertwined with unique challenges, especially when it involves racial differences. It’s crucial to recognize that adoption doesn’t just create your family; it weaves together origins, cultures, and backgrounds that may be vastly different.

Encouraging an Environment of Discussion

Start by encouraging an environment where questions and discussions about adoption and race are welcomed and encouraged. It’s important for children to feel safe in expressing their feelings and curiosities. This always starts with you.  So often, I hear parents say – “my child never asks me questions” or “they never really want to talk about adoption or our differences”.  Almost always the questions are there but the space to explore them is not. 

Getting more into the flow of ongoing conversation requires commitment from parents and caregivers as well as resources to support the effort.   Use books, movies, and cultural events as tools to celebrate your child’s heritage and your family’s multiculturalism. This not only helps them connect with their roots but also aids the whole family in understanding and appreciating culture, ethnicity and heritage more holistically.  Check out our book corner and conversation cards as you continually add to your tool kit. 

Connecting With Other Adoptive Families

Another way to scaffold your family is to connect with other adoptive families, especially those with similar dynamics. Sharing experiences and insights can be invaluable for both parents and children.  Transracial Journeys is excited to remind parents of a partnership that began in October 2023 with Adoption Network Cleveland to bring our parents the  Transracial Adoptive Parent Support Group. Join us Thursday, January 18, 2024 7:00pm-8:00pm and third Thursdays of each month.  Registration details can be found on the Adoption Network Cleveland website.

And finally, do not be ashamed or afraid to seek professional guidance from counselors or therapists, particularly those who specialize in adoption and multicultural families. They can provide strategies and support for navigating complex emotions and situations.  Here is a state by state directory of mental health professionals who identify as adoptees and work with adoptees /adoptive families in a variety of public and private settings. This list was curated by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker and I encourage you to visit her website to learn more. 

Remember, these conversations are not a one-time event but an ongoing dialogue that evolves as your child grows. It’s about building a foundation of trust, understanding, and respect for your child’s unique identity and your families unique reality. 

This post is from our January, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


January Embracing: Live with Authenticity, Purpose and Joy

January is a time when folks traditionally take stock of where they are and may even make some resolutions for a new diet, more time exercising, or commitments to spending quality time with family and friends. For families that extend through transracial adoption, January can offer a time to think about the year ahead and together as a family, continue the expansive journey of authentically navigating family and differences together with purpose and joy.

TRJ Conversation Cards

Our Executive Director, April Dinwoodie, has created conversation cards that help families make space for ongoing conversations about adoption and differences of race and culture. The Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions, that parents can use for quiet reflection. Some families leave the deck somewhere visible and pick a card at random, some families follow the monthly prompts. No matter how you use your cards, you’ll find a pathway to a more active and authentic holding of the complexities of transracial adoption so you and your family can live with authenticity, purpose, and joy. Below are the questions for January. Before getting started, read the parent tip. Families that attend our annual camp receive a set of the cards and if you’d like a set please email info@transracialjourneys.org.

January Tips for Parents: Do some pre-planning so that you have time to process some of the harder anniversaries or days on the calendar before discussing with children. Have some ideas to share for new dates to mark on the calendar so your children can react and be inspired to think about what they’d like to add as well.

CARD ONE: Identifying with the calendar as individuals and as a family

  • What are your most and least favorite holidays and why?
  • What are some of your most and least favorite times of year and why?
  • Are there holidays that you’d rather not acknowledge but feel you have to?

CARD TWO: Relationships

  • What are ways you can celebrate the happiest days of the year?
  • How can you honor the saddest days and find ways to prepare for what might be hard?

CARD THREE: Embracing and Facing Differences of Race and Culture

  • What are some holidays that you have not traditionally celebrated that you could add to the calendar?
  • What do you need to know about any new holidays that you might add to the calendar?

This post is from our January, 2024, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


December – Reflections: Evolving Traditions 

The December holidays give us an opportunity to think about traditions tied to different cultures and religions. Regardless of what you and your family honor and celebrate, we can be inspired to take a closer look at what traditions mean to us and how we can expand our thinking and actions.

Read some of our previous December posts from over the years to help guide you and your family through the ideas of evolving traditions:

December Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send out cues for conversations each month. Our Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions. Below are the questions for December. Before getting started, read the parent pro-tip each month.

December Pro-Tip for Parents: Resist the urge to hold tight onto traditions that may be holding you back from fully embracing new ideas that may better honor your child’s culture. Also think about simplifying or modifying some of the traditions you now honor to make room for new ones.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• As a kid, did you celebrate any December holidays?
• If so, which ones?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Were there things that you would do year after year as a family during the month of December or maybe other months of the year?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some new traditions or holidays you’d like to learn more about and/or try?

This post is from our December, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


July Freedom: Exploring our Unique Identities

As we all learn more about our history and what freedom really means, July 4th gives us much to contemplate. Who is really free and when? Freedom related to adoption and exploring the truth of who we are as individuals and families is foundational and important.

July Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for July. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

July Pro-Tip for Parents: Do your research on the complexities of July 4th and be ready to steer confidently into the conversation with your child/children. Create space to process the emotions that may come up as you prepare to have the conversation about freedom and enslavement with your child. Even if it is hard, don’t shy away from moving in the direction of openness related to hard topics like this. It is only when we are confident and centered in the truth of our histories both collective and individual that we can be truly FREE!

Freedom

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• What does freedom mean to you?
• Have you always felt free to explore who you are?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Why do you think it is important that we all have the freedom to ask questions and explore everything that makes us unique and amazing?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• Can you help me understand why the 4th of July might be complicated for African Americans?

This post is from our July, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.


June Fathers’ Day: Claiming Family Realities

Fathers’ Day came a bit later than Mothers’ Day and there are many of the same things to think about and reflect on as we come to this day and the men that are part of our lives as fathers and father figures. (See our post last month about Mothers' Day for some additional thoughts around the complexities that adoptive parents can face.)

June Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for June. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

June Pro-Tip for Parents: As with May it is important to spend some time reflecting on how you hold Fathers’ Day for yourself and how you might be better equipped to hold your child/children as they experience their own version of the holiday. Best to have planned time for conversation with trusted loved ones and/or community members before, during, and after your family conversations.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• How do you identify with Fathers’ Day?
• What are the different feelings you have about Fathers’ Day?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How would you describe your relationship with your father/fathers/father figures?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some things that fathers of different races might have in common and what are some things that may be different?

This post is from our June, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.


Mothers’ Day: Claiming Family Realities

As a country we have been celebrating Mothers’ Day since the 19th century, honoring women who play a pivotal role in the lives of children of any age. For some, Mothers’ Day can bring the feelings of both celebration and complexity in very poignant ways. We can both celebrate the mothers/mother figures that are active in our lives and we can also wonder, and have emotions surrounding, the mother that is not in our life as much, or at all.

May Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for May. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

May Pro-Tip for Parents: : Be sure to build in time for you and your child to process all of the feelings that may come about surrounding Mothers’ Day. Resist the urge to expect gifts and instead give yourself something special to honor yourself as a mother or mother figure. Be prepared to help your child hold the both/and of this holiday.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• How do you identify with Mothers’ Day?
• What are the feelings you have about Mothers’ Day?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How would you describe your relationship with your mother/mothers/mother figures?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some things that mothers of different races might have in common and what are some things that may be different?

This post is from our May, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp - registration is open now!


April Beginnings: What’s in a Name?

Your name is central and significant to who you are and, in essence, can be the keystone of identity. When your child is adopted, there’s another world, another narrative, and perhaps another name that accompanies them along with their “who am I?” journey. The way in which we build a strong and healthy identity often begins with our names as one of our central building blocks.

April Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, presented to parents at Family Camp 2021. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for April. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

April Pro-Tip for Parents: : Becoming more fully aware of the deeper elements of adoption related to names will prepare you to authentically hold the realities of identity formation experiences. Diving into these delicate topics may evoke strong emotions. Have confidence in yourself to take steps on this journey. As part of the TRJ community, you have the support, love, and guidance of this community to commit to moving toward complexities in service of a healthier, fuller experience of adoption for your child/children, your family, and for YOU!

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• How do you feel about your name? Love it? Dislike it? Have never really thought about it?
• Did you ever change your name?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How did you choose my name?
• Do you know if I had a different name before I was adopted?
• Did you discuss my name with anyone in my family of origin?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• Does my name have cultural significance?

This post is from our April, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.


February Intersections: Love and Black History Month

With St. Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, this short month brings so many foundational elements of transracial adoption to explore.

February Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families that attend Family Camp. The card deck contains three converstion cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for February. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

February Pro-Tip for Parents: Be extremely honest with yourselves about what may be a real lack of knowledge and experience with differences of race/class/culture prior to parenting transracially. As you think about this, also think about ways you are addressing and will continue to address this lack.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• What is one thing you love about yourself?
• What is one thing you love about me?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Who was the first person you loved?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What makes us different?
• What makes us similar?
• What are some new ways we can honor and celebrate Black Excellence, Joy, Resilience?

This post is from our February, 2023, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.