When my husband and I were trying to adopt a child from Kyrgyzstan, we encountered a lot of what we thought at the time was simple excitement about the unknown. Kyrgyzstan was a small, former part of the Soviet Union, and being smack in the middle of Russia and China meant that a child we adopted could look as European or as Asian as either ethnicity tends to imply.
To us, it didn’t matter. I would giddily dream that I’d have a beautiful little girl with gorgeous Asian eyes, but only through watching friends who were able to go through with their adoptions can I see the challenges of interracial adoption, and my own ignorance about the topic.
Through networking with adoptive parents, we learned that there are issues to navigate through when adopting internationally as children come with different challenges, and ignoring your child’s differences will not equip him or her with the tools to deal with those challenges.
I have many friends who have adopted daughters from China, and I wonder what that does in family dynamics, as well as what it tells those outside their family. Do the girls sometimes feel isolated or excluded, or do they feel every bit as precious as they are? If watching from afar makes me wonder, imagine being the adoptive parent.
Gabrielle Shimkus is a friend of mine who was able to adopt her son, Azamat, from Kyrgyzstan. He is named and known by Aidan now in their family, and it took many years of fighting international red tape for her and her husband Frank to be able to bring him home. Gabrielle is also a therapist in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and she says that there are so many layers to international adoption when it comes to race and culture.
Gabrielle says that families are often (and validly) so focused on the thought of loving a child and bringing them into their home and family, they often are not aware of the racial and cultural implications that may affect their whole family. My husband and I didn’t even think of any race/culture issues when it came to choosing countries simply because we’d longed for a child to call our own for so many years.
But the impact on both the adopted child and the family can be very significant.
Gabrielle says that for the child, they are brought to a place where people look, smell, talk and act very differently than what they’ve known to be real their entire lives. She says that alone is impacting on the child, and parents sometimes, in the hope of being ‘colorblind’ and treating everyone ‘the same’ don’t acknowledge that not everyone *is* the same, and different people have different needs.
The therapist in Gabrielle says that it’s important for children to have their differences acknowledged because if they are not, it can be a breeding ground for shame and identity crises. Sadly, in parents’ quests to treat their children ‘the same’ and behave in a ‘colorblind’ manner, the less an opportunity a child may have to learn who she or he is, and how they fit into this world.
Gabrielle also says that the more open a family is when it comes to race, adoption and cultural differences, the better off the child will be. When parents take the time to learn about the child’s culture and people, they can then help the child learn about that as well. This will allow the child to feel more peace with themselves, and lessen the emotional damage that the upheaval of adoption once lay on their lives.
When parents do this, however, they find that they too are faced with making judgments and decisions as if they are wearing a whole new set of lenses — those that look at the world through their child’s eyes — and they begin to see the world differently than they once did.
And that change of perspective can be as beautiful a gift as the adoption itself.