Beyond Words: Sustaining Strong and Healthy Families

by TRJ Executive Director April Dinwoodie

Generosity and good heartedness are core values in the family system I was adopted into.  Throughout the year and especially during at the holiday season,  you’ll hear members of my family saying, "There is always room at our holiday table." It's a sentiment that suggests inclusivity and kindness and it feels good to open hearts and home to folks that may need a seat at your family table. 

With this spirit and with amazing cooks in the mix, on any given Sunday or holiday, there is a mix of family and friends, old and new, around our dining table. Laughter, love, and abundance fill the space and it’s hard not to feel blessed to have been enveloped into this warmth. At the same time, there were members of my family of origin that hung at the edges. As extended family and friends gathered round our table, I could not help but wonder where my extended family of origin were where? What were their holiday cultural traditions? And what was it like to look around a table and see genetic mirrors and physical resemblances?

Adoption is often characterized as a beautiful and transformative journey that brings families together. It is often accompanied by the sentiment, "There is always room at our table," reflecting the openness and love adoptive parents have for the children entrusted to them through adoption. However, when these words are spoken while family of origin are not welcomed, it raises important questions about the true meaning of inclusivity within the adoption experience.

The Importance of Family of Origin Inclusion:

Family of origin is an intrinsic part of identity and heritage for all human beings. Excluding family of origin from the adoptive family's table sends a message that their role and connection are not valued or acknowledged. It is essential to recognize that an adopted person’s story is not complete without healthy connections to the family that came before adoption. Excluding them not only denies the child their full history but can also create feelings of loss, confusion, and a sense of divided loyalty.

Adoption requires parents to center on true inclusivity and shift from merely extending words of welcome to actively fostering connections with family of origin. Here's how adoptive parents can challenge the status quo and create a more inclusive environment:

See Family of Origin as Your Family too:

I often hear adoptive parents speaking about an adopted person’s family of origins as “their family” when in reality, it’s really “our family.” Even with the complexities of family separation, abuse and neglect, there are ways to be in relationship with even the idea of family of origin with open, truthful, and age-appropriate conversation. In order to fully embrace family of origin, parents must first internalize their feelings connected to the kin of the child. This is big human work and with supports as needed, community to validate the difficulties, and with the best interests of children at the center, these important connections are possible.

Building Bridges, Not Barriers:

View the family of origin as potential partners and positive influences in the child's life. If healthy relationships are not possible, there are other complications with the contact and previous abuse and neglect, you may have to work hard to make sure there is at the very least a conversational connection to family of origin. By integrating the appropriate level of discussion and action surrounding family adoptive parents demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and recognize the value of the child's entire support network and the importance of healthy identity.

Celebrate Shared Moments:

For more practiced families, incorporation of the family of origin into significant events and milestones in the child's life can be transformational. Birthdays, graduations, and holidays can be celebrated together, creating an inclusive environment where a child does not feel they have to choose which family they want to celebrate with. If there is not an opening for connections to family of origin, you can engage in active dialogue about the family that is not always present to acknowledge and honor the child's roots, traditions, and cultural heritage.

Create Opportunities for Conversation:

Take the lead in fostering a supportive environment where children feel comfortable discussing and exploring their feelings about family connections. Encourage open conversations about adoption and provide resources that help them understand and navigate your unique family dynamics. By acknowledging and validating emotions, parents can help their children develop a healthy sense of self and identity. The November conversation cards help set the tone and guide discussions.

Remember, as adoptive parents, when you say, "There is always room at our table," are you truly open to any and all pulling up a chair? Inclusion goes beyond words; it requires active efforts to build bridges, promote open communication, and celebrate shared moments. By recognizing the importance of family of origin, adoptive parents can create a more culturally appropriate and nurturing environment for children. Only by embracing the full spectrum of a child's identity and heritage can we truly honor the spirit of adoption and create a more inclusive, loving, and supportive family dynamic.

I sought out my family of origin and am in connection with many family members on my maternal side but we have yet to all sit down at the holiday table together. My hope is that your children get connected to origins in whatever way possible with you by their side with open hearts and minds.

This post is from our November, 2023, 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.

Masks, Masking, and Mental Health

by TRJ Parent Avril McInally

It’s now autumn. The leaves are changing color. The days are getting shorter. Some of us are getting ready to celebrate Halloween at the end of the month. Whether or not we participate in this holiday, we can all relate to masks for one reason or another. They’ve been used throughout the ages in religious ceremonies, as works of art, as occupational accoutrements and as protection from disease. A mask is a cover for the face or a disguise. It may be used to frighten, shock or simply amuse others. A mask hides what lies behind it.

The National Council for Adoption states, “The statistics are revealing. A third of adolescents referred for psychotherapy are adopted. Adolescence is the peak period for psychiatric referrals in the life of the adoptee. Approximately 5–17 percent of adolescent adoptees receive mental health services, although they represent only 2 percent of the population.1 While research suggests that these statistics may reflect the fact that for a variety of reasons, adoptive parents may be more inclined to seek out services for their teens, it is also true that many adopted teens need specialized support. Adolescence is a time when adoptees struggle with an extra layer of challenges related to their identity, their future, and their past. The “normal” or typical developmental tasks of the teen years are intensified by adoption, particularly if teens are being raised by parents of a different race or culture.”

As we think about the impact of loss, grief, and differences of culture and race it stands to reason that transracially adopted persons might wear masks more frequently than their non-adopted peers. October 10, 2023 is World Mental Health Day and we can dig deeper into the meanings behind masks and the practice or habit of masking for children with intersectional identities.  “Mental health masking means camouflaging or suppressing your mental health symptoms so you fit in with others.” “People mask their mental health symptoms because they want to maintain their relationships, keep their jobs, and be socially accepted.”  To put a finer point on this for our community, it’s been widely discussed that adopted persons often put on masks to shield their caregivers or because there is seems to be little validation or support when they do share feelings.  One of April’s prompts from her October suite of cards asks, “have you ever tried to hide or mask your feelings?” It’s a good question to ask. Consider also asking another of her prompts for the month “do you think people wear masks that we can’t see?”

Make time and space for having these conversations with your children. Use the props of masks and masking to help bring awareness to and support of your children’s mental health this October.

This post is from our October, 2023, 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.

Navigating: Moving Through Life with Clarity and Confidence

In September we focus on navigating to move through life with clarity and confidence as it can relate to our family's relationship to the calendar.  As we make our way through the year there are so many ways we can use the calendar to lean into conversations about the uniqueness of our families. Being thoughtful about how our families have to navigate the world differently and talking openly about what we might face can help ease the impact. 

The calendar is the perfect tool to:
• Celebrate the special moments and prepare for the harder ones.
• Honor every person in the family who is connected to your child and to you.
• Ensure you are making time each month to talk with intention about adoption and differences of race, culture, and class.

September 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 and available for purchase. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for September. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

September Pro-Tip for Parents: It’s a good idea to add the birthday of your child’s family of origin. If you do not know the dates make an effort to find out and if that is not possible, pick a day where you will honor them in some way and start to institutionalize that on your calendars every year. This will make space to honor those that came before you and while birth parents may not be physically present every day they remain attached to your child and your family in spirit. Make plans to have special treats on these days to celebrate the people that are connected to your children and to you.

Get more guidance on how to use these cards to encourage conversations with your child(ren) while preparing for your own thoughts and emotions related to each topic in our post: Where Did the Calendar Come From?

• Where are some of your favorite places to go?
• Why do you like certain places more than others?

• Did you remember a time when someone out in the world did not think we were together as a family?
• How did that feel?

• How does it feel when we are out in the world and people ask us questions about our family?

This post is from our September 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!

August is for Growth: Always Learning and Growing

It’s back to school time, but not just for kids! Parents can and should stay curious and committed to learning and growing especially when they are parenting children of another race. There will always be so much to learn! Having intentional and planned conversations about adoption and race will give everyone in the family an opportunity to get in touch with their thoughts and feelings and will augment the conversations you are already having.

August Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

Transracial Journeys invites your family to experience the calendar in a whole new way. With the help of the June-in-April Calendar Conversation Cards, each month your family is invited to use the cards as a tool for more regular and intentional conversations about identity, family relationships, and differences of race and culture.

Each month has four cards with conversation starters. The prompts and questions are designed to spark reflection and ongoing dialogue within your family as well as with extended family and friends. There is no prescriptive way to use the cards, sometimes parents or grown-ups can take the lead and ask the questions and other times, children can go first.

August Pro-Tip for Parents: Back to school is a time of transition for children and families. It’s a time to be thoughtful about what children need when they go into schools every day. A great way to prepare children from families that don’t match is by having intentional conversations about differences of race and ethnicity as well as family structure and culture.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY (child asking adult)
Close your eyes and think of being a kid at school: What is the first word that comes to mind?
• Can you describe what your school was like?
- How big was it?
- How many other kids were there?
• What was your favorite subject?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS (child asking adult)
• Who were some of your favorite teachers and why?
• Were there any kids or teachers who looked like me in your school?
• Were there any kids or teachers that were a different race than you?

• Did you ever see black or brown students being treated differently?
• How do you think your experiences in school were different from mine?
• What can you do better to prepare me for what I might face at school?

This post is from our August 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!

Fathers’ Day, Making Space for Fathers Absent and Fathers Present

by Avril McInally

A few years ago, while writing about Mothers’ Day for our monthly TRJ newsletter, I made the decision to move the apostrophe over to commemorate my child’s reality of having two mothers. This is no accident and not an error in punctuation. It’s my way of elucidating that my child has more than one mother, as well as my way of making space for and acknowledging my child’s mother of origin. I choose to move the apostrophe over for fathers too.

If only it were as simple as moving an apostrophe to signal these intentions in conversation. It can be exhausting and intrusive having to explain my family's makeup. It’s an exhausting, repetitive experience for all of the members of our family. When I do choose to have “the talk”, I’ve come to think about the people in my extended family of adoption as being present to hear what I’m saying, and to speak as if my child is listening too. How do I honor my child’s story and her right to privacy? How do I honor her birth parents' same rights?

The adoption journey and its coinciding conversations don’t get any easier as our children age. They continue to be complex in new ways. Should I attend that funeral service for Grandma or Uncle? If I do go, where do I sit and where do my kids sit? Am I a painful reminder of a painful separation? Is our daughter a painful reminder of a painful separation? Do the visiting family members even know an adoption in the family happened? I have to keep coming back to ask myself the most important question which is “am I being a healthy support to my daughter”? The answer begins with me asking her the question, “Darling, you’ve got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?”. A little of the Clash’s lyrics can go a long way ;).

Moving the apostrophe is simple, these crucial conversation usually aren’t. It’s my way of saying I recognize all of the parents who helped bring our child into and raise her up in the world. So, maybe someday, instead of asking me all of the usual, mundane questions about race or adoption, ask me about my punctuation.

As June is the month which holds our national holiday for celebrating Fathers’ Day, I’d like to invite you to move the apostrophe over in consideration of all of your children’s fathers and father figures. In order to make that space for more than one father, April’s conversation prompts for June are a good place to start not just on Fathers’ Day but whenever you or your children feel the need. Happy Fathers’ Day from me and from everyone on the TRJ board!

This post is from our June, 2023, 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.

March: Changing the Script on Adoption, Luck and Microaggressions

by Avril McInally

By now, many of you have probably experienced the “Lucky to be adopted” commentaries that society heaps upon adoptees and families formed or extended by adoption. It’s March, I’m thinking about St. Patrick’s Day with its accompanying themes of rainbows, pots of gold and luck.

When I think about luck and I look back on my life, I’m struck by the intrusiveness of luck conversations which began occurring after I adopted my daughter. So many strangers have said to my child, “you’re so lucky to have been adopted!” Sometimes, this commentary would include remarks that my daughter should be grateful for my “rescue” of her. As these assaults accumulated and I learned more about race and racism, I began to view them as microaggressions. As I processed and unpacked more of my daughter’s lived experience, I arrived at the basic fact that luck had nothing to do with her adoption journey at all!

Understanding Microaggressions and Their Impact

Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups. The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or macroaggressions, is that people who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them.”

This lack of awareness…this obtuseness has caused my children and my daughter’s family of origin cumulative damage and pain. Yet if I were to tell the commenters of the damage they were causing, they often would react defensively. They disregard and have no understanding of our children’s loss of their family of origin and their family of origin’s loss of their child! Luck has no place in adoption.

Taking some liberties with the article “Microaggressions are a big deal: how to talk them out and when to walk away" by Andrew Limbong, I made some edits in order to reflect our particular perspective.

Oftentimes people of color [, adoptees and children] are asked to educate white [non-adopted, adults] people on issues that the person of color [adoptee and child] has lived with and thought about for their entire lives. That can be very psychologically and emotionally exhausting for a person to then have to care about the white [non-adopted and adult] person's feelings and to take those extra efforts so that they can learn something that they should have — and could have — learned throughout the duration of their life.”

Microaggressions from the Perspective of a Transracially-Adopted Child

In most of the literature I've read about microaggressions, the status of the adoptee is not considered. So, I took the liberty (with apologies to the author) of viewing this theme in particular from the perspective of a transracially-adopted child. There’s not a lot written about microaggressions in adoption. That’s why I’m talking about it here and why I’m shining a light on a useful article called “Helping Your Adopted Child Handle Adoption Microaggressions” at Not only does the article identify microaggressions towards adopted children, but it gives some scripts you can rehearse with your child to prepare them for these intrusive comments and questions.

Being Our Children's Allies

At the heart of the matter, we need to be not just our children’s parents, but their allies. When they’re old enough, we can ask them how they would like us to respond in situations like this. Until they’re old enough, it’s up to us to stand up for our children. The adults in these conversations often unwittingly challenge or harm our children’s identities. These conversations are not ok and the children entrusted to us will mature into adults that may still need their elders to stand beside them.

After having read and researched this month’s feature for our newsletter, I’ve come to see the term microaggression is falling from favor. In the book How to Be an Antiracist, author Ibram X. Kendi writes, “I do not use ‘microaggression' anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts - ‘micro’ and ‘aggression.’ A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term ‘abuse’ because aggression is not as exacting a term.” Dr. Kendi is clearly addressing racism here and not the intersectionality of the adoptive status of our children, but we can call it out for what it is.

These luck conversations and savior conversations are abusive.
Whatever you call “it”, Dear Reader, recognize it for what it is and continue to protect and love your children.

For help starting conversations about the "luck" language with your adopted children, see Preparation: Transracial Adoption: Be Ready! and refer to our post last year, The Luck Code.

What can help is to hold some space for having a conversation with your family about this month’s prompts. The conversation starters on our cards could help when it comes to others’ reactions to our children and families, as well as the ensuing comments of luck and saviorism that may also be aired.

This post is from our March, 2023, 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.

Create Gates and Doors for Your Family with the Calendar

Happy New Year and happy January! With the dawning of each new year, many of us make pacts or contracts with ourselves to either do or not do something, so we make New Year’s resolutions. The Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named, comes to mind. He is depicted as a man with two faces, one face looks forward and the other looks back.

This two-headed depiction of an old, Roman god may resonate with those of us living in families experiencing multiple dualities ourselves. Families like ours, formed by transracial adoption, experience dualities of identity in which there are several intersectionalities. Race, gender expression, religious beliefs, class, disability and adoption are but a few of these intersectionalities.

Janus was also the guardian of gates and doors. He presided over the temple of peace, where the doors were opened only during wartime. It was a place of safety, where new beginnings and resolutions could be forged.” How you manage your gates and doors this year to promote your own temple of peace may take some planning, some resolve or some resolution.

Parenting with the calendar

April gives some great tips for January and nurturing this type of intentionality in her deck of cards: Read January Relationships: Honoring the Whole Family

  • “Think about culturally diverse holidays that can be added [to your calendar] and make a plan to learn about these new holidays together as a family.”
  • “Work together to decide the best way to honor both the fun days and make room to honor and prepare for the harder ones.”

Parenting with the Calendar: Gateways and Doorways

As parents, we manage gateways and doorways constantly. Think about the calendar year ahead, and write down some gateways or doorways you may want to nurture opening, guard and keep closed or crack open a little? How do we purposefully navigate our dualities? Like Janus, how can we look back and how can we look forward? How can we honor, celebrate and mourn as families where we have been and where we are going? Using our calendars to light the way can be a start.

For more ideas about governing your calendar read our previous post, The New Year and Hard Relationships.

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