Going public - Becoming a transracial family


Tanya Donahue
Focus on Adoption magazine

Mom Tanya describes how her family lost its privacy when she and her husband adopted transracially.

Before we became a transracial family, we were accustomed to a certain degree of privacy; now, all that’s changed.

We brought home Ellie, our first Haitian daughter, when she was two-years-old. Along with this adorable little one, came the reality of transracial adoption. The change was immediate and drastic. We became visible. Going to the grocery store, bank, or the mailbox, meant people scrutinized us. Endless compliments were given regarding Ellie’s hair—and everything else about her—people even felt entitled to touch her braids. As I went through checkout lines, ate lunch in a restaurant, or watched my sons’ soccer games, I found myself answering adoption questions: What happened to her parents? Was she living in a orphanage? How come she was there? Why did you adopt? How did your boys adjust? How much did it cost?”

Walk away
I can walk away, or ignore what I hear.

It's private
I don't have to share information with anyone, and I can say that, even to adults.

Share something
I can share something about my adoption sotry, but I can think carefully about what I want to let others know.

Educate others
I can educate others about adoption

At the time, our youngest son, Jonah, was four. I remember driving down the road and looking in the rear-view mirror to see him silently crying in the backseat. Through sobs, he confessed that he didn’t want his sister to come to school with us. “No one even says ‘Hi’ to me when Ellie is there, they just want to see her, and think she’s so great,” he sobbed. After that day, I made an effort to keep Ellie closer to me, or leave her with my husband at school drop off and pick up time.

Ellie became accustomed to being the only one of our three children that strangers would praise. One day, much to her shock, a woman commented that both she and Jonah were cute. Ellie’s face contorted and she announced, “Jonah’s not cute. I’m cute.”

Teagen, who was then six, reacted with humour, when someone complimented Ellie. He’d wait for them to leave before whispering to me in a gushing tone, “I just love your hair! Did you do it yourself?” We also taught Ellie to say, “Thanks, I take after my mom,” whenever she heard, “You’re pretty or beautiful.” It always brought about a laugh—even if it was just me laughing.

We didn’t just attract positive attention. There have been times when, due to misbehaviour, one of our children did not receive pop or popcorn at the movies, or maybe they didn’t get a slushie at baseball. Imagine these two scenarios when the one missing out on that particular day is the only black member of our family. Teagen has asked if his sister could no longer get in trouble uptown because too many people stare. I also saw the disapproving glances from individuals who were probably concluding that we treating her unfairly.

Now, when people approach us, we are polite. However, we set the parameters of the conversation. We have accepted being a family of interest and love to encourage others in adoption; therefore, we offer a lot of grace for intrusive questions. If I am not in the mood to talk, I give simple one word answers. I’ve also found that not making eye contact keeps us less approachable and makes it easier to discipline the kids in public.

As for the whole Donahue family, consisting of six of us, what a gift we have been given. In the face of an all encompassing range of social views, our children watch and learn the importance of not conforming to societal pressure. Teagen, Jonah, Ellie, and Addy are empowered because our values and beliefs are consistent, family is first, and each member is of immeasurable worth.