Single Parents and Transracial Adoption



When you decided to adopt a child as a single person, you bravely took on the  full responsibility for raising your child on your own.

You also chose to take on the extra issues of transracial adoption because you are a single parent and because you and your child are obviously not of the same ethnic or racial background, you get to face the task of meeting curious people’s challenges about whether or not you and your child are a “real” family.
Redefining the single parent transracial family is different from the two-parent family in only one way: there’s only one of you calling the shots. Single parents we have worked with have taught us that there are advantages in not having to reach consensus with a partner when facing complex situations. This autonomy can free one to act more quickly and, perhaps, more decisively. But single parent or not, you face the same challenges as any other trans-racial adoptive family. You’ve got to build a sense of family identity, unity and strength in the face of challenges, express or implied, from those who doubt you’re “really” a family.

The most effective way to come to feel like family is to act like family: parent takes care of and provides for child; child responds to and is attached to parent. It’s when you act like a family, and not just some unrelated group, that others will see you as family. In part, this means that even in the face of intrusive questions, you put your job as parent first and foremost, taking care of the child’s and family’s needs before responding to outsiders.

Feeling Guilty

What is clear is that this experience is different. It is possible to build delightfully intimate and enriched relationships between parents and child, while it is also important that roles stay clear, allowing the child to remain a child without slipping into the role of companion to his parent. It seems a waste of time and valuable energy to lament being only a single parent; instead, that energy and time can be used by creating positive activities to strengthen your family. Increased challenges simply creates more opportunity to grow. Sometimes having more can be a special gift.

Providing Role Models

While single parents can create wonderful families, it is particularly important in single-parent families that children have significant relationships with other adults who offer them support and involvement. For children of single parents, opposite gender role models are essential. For children of colour with white parents, cultural role models are essential. The challenge for single parents is to develop relationships with adults who can become family friends available to the child. This task often means expanding one’s outreach into the community, even when the obligations of work, childcare and family life seem to leave no time for anything beyond that. Nevertheless, it is important for your child and yourself that you develop these relationships.

The ways and means are as individual as the personalities involved. What matters most is first to make the commitment to the process of making new friends or deepening relationships with old ones; then, staying committed to making time, both family time and adult time, to spend with these important people. All this is easier said than done, we know, but if we were to tell you that between your child’s birth and her 18th birthday you only have 6,570 days with your child, (and you have already spent a portion of them), you might feel increased urgency about getting connected with folks your child needs in his life. There is not a day to waste. Your child needs these role models as much as he needs air and water—and so do you.

Reprinted from “An Insider’s Guide to Transracial Adoption” by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall.