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Single Parent International Child Adoption

Some of the unique challenges faced by the single adoptive parent of a foreign child.

by Patricia Lazar and John Edward Gill

There are many important elements of international adoption, especially if the children are of a different race than that of the parents. A lot depends on the age of the child when the child is adopted; whether or not this is a child adopted at birth or an older child.

There will be different adoption issues. A child who is adopted from birth grows into a family and thinks that he or she is just like that family until one day they develop an awareness that they look different from their parents. These feelings can escalate from self-doubt and insecurity into a full-blown identity crisis.

Many children, including my adopted daughters, have said things like "I want to have blond hair like my mother", or, "I want to have blue eyes". This is something that can become a real psychological problem. At first, newly adoptive parents may not be aware of this because they are so child hungry and so happy just to get that child. And a very young child may not be prepared for the lurking issues of racism yet to come.

On the other hand, children who are adopted at an older age, such as my own daughters, already have an identity, and already know that they are different.

Adjusting To Children Of Different Races and Cultural Backgrounds
Older children have instead issues regarding things they have had to leave behind. It's tempting to think something like 'Isn't it wonderful that I'm adopting these children and bringing them to a better life.' This mindset can obscure an understanding of what the child loses. Left behind are family and friends and relationships and the origins of their ethnic identity. Adoptive parents may get some training from their adoption agencies. But often the agencies don't truly understand it, either.

Integrate Adopted Children Into Their New Communities
If you are adopting a child of a different race, it is imperative that the child see himself or herself reflected some way in their community. If you adopt a child, let's say, from Asia, and then put that child in an all white neighborhood, in the long run that's going to be really problematic for a number of reasons, even if it appears at first as though the other children accept your child. For many people, it's covert, it's very insidious, this whole thing called racism. I, myself, have experienced this with my two adopted Asian girls. We have received a lot of backhanded compliments that kind of let you know and understand what people are really thinking and feeling about your child. For example, another parent might say something like, "Oh gee, she is really pretty."

And the implication is "Oh gee, she's really pretty even though she's not white, or even though she is different." Of course, they don't realize what they are saying at the time, but it's those kinds of statements which can be a problem. I even had a situation where one of the other mothers was comparing some kind of grade on a standardized test and one of my daughters scored higher than her daughter. Her response was something like, "Oh my God, she actually got a higher grade than my daughter". Again, the implication is that your child, for whatever reason, is somehow a child of a lesser God and, therefore, should be getting lower grades. They are puzzled if this different race child can actually achieve more or meet the same standard as the rest of the children. It's all these little comments that tell the story about problems in raising ethnically different children.

Adopted Children Sometimes Might Overachieve
Some people's attitudes and their value judgments that they make about your adopted child can be on two levels. On one level superficially - "Oh, it's so wonderful." But even that has strong implications - "Oh, isn't it wonderful, you saved this poor little orphan.

There are many comments that you will experience as the parent of a child of a different race that might shock you at first.

For example, I was at a gathering in East Meadow on Long Island in 1995 when I had first gotten my daughter, who was seven at that time, and an older gentleman looked at my daughter and said to me, "So, you couldn't get a white kid?" It was kind of funny because I said to him, "I didn't want a white kid" and I was going to go on to explain why, but he was so upset by what I said that he just walked away. It's crazy, but up to that point, I never really realized that she wasn't white. I suddenly realized that it mattered to some other people. I never saw it because I am so thrilled with having her.

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