Ask Lisa Advice: Does the Skin Color of My Future Adopted Child Matter?

This week, A Multiracial mom wonders about potential reactions if she and her White husband adopt a dark-skinned child.

Dear Lisa,

I am Biracial Black/White and I have three biological kiddos who are fair-skinned like my White husband. I have a huge heart for adoption/fostering. But my biggest hindrance is myself and how our family will be viewed. If I foster/adopt a child who is darker than me, folks will assume that I had another guy on the side. If I foster/adopt a Caucasian kiddo, I’m not necessarily helping the Multiracial kids in the system. Am I overthinking this?



Dear Y.J.,

I think it is important for all prospective adoptive parents to soul-search and think about the meaning of adopting a child who doesn’t look like them. Despite our relatively enlightened age, there are some who privately hope that they won’t have to discuss adoption with a child who strongly resembles the family. But adoption—the fact of parenting a child you did not give birth to, who has a different genetic background and, somewhere in the world, actual blood relatives who are not yours—must always be acknowledged and celebrated as the reality of your family. Failure to do so leads to feelings of shame and alienation in the child, no matter what he or she looks like.   

So, no—I don’t think you’re overthinking this. I think you’re being honest with yourself, considering possibilities that might make you or your future adopted child uncomfortable. As a Multiracial mom, you grew up in a family where color difference was a fact of life, creating a narrative for strangers everywhere you went together. It is only natural that you are pondering the assumptions people will make about your relationship to your future adopted child.

You are also right that there are many children of color in need of homes, and that White children, especially young infants, are adopted much more quickly. And who better than a Multiracial mom to parent a Multiracial child of any hue? The very fact that you are thinking about colorism and the impact of being different means you will be more attuned to what a darker-skinned child might be facing.

Regarding your second sentence: So what if strangers speculate about you having a guy on the side? I am sure that people will look, observe and create their own storylines about the picture your family makes. But do those outsiders really matter? Not if you hold your head high, modeling confidence for all your kids. Talk to them about those snarky “family-policers.” Provide them with loving support and words with which to defend themselves. No matter who adopts a child of color, there will always be awkward questions and scenarios. Likewise, no matter who you adopt, there will be issues to address as an adoptive parent. Regardless of anyone’s skin tone, you must be prepared to help your adopted (and genetically related) children negotiate the world. As I noted before, who better than you to teach the child to face down strangers’ curious stares, to answer their probing questions with dignity?

Granted, with three White-presenting children, a White dad and a biracial mom, you may not be easily identifiable as a Multiracial family. But as long as your family identifies as Multiracial, there’s no reason your home can’t be a safe and comfortable one for your future adopted child.  

That said, if you think all of this through, talk it over with your husband, and still have reservations about adopting a darker-skinned child—don’t go through with it. You need to be firm in your commitment before welcoming any child into your home. When I worked for an adoption agency, prospective parents would check boxes corresponding to the racial mixes they were comfortable with, but we could never guarantee how a given mix would appear. And don’t forget, skin tone can change over the years, as can hair texture and features. Whatever you decide, trust your gut instincts.

Best Wishes


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Published on: March 14, 2018

Filed Under: Advice

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