When I Don’t Look Like My Mommy- Part One

Transracial AdoptionA few years before I met my husband, I went to a New Year’s party. I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and sadly, (at least to me), I was the only single person at this party. Being unaccompanied was okay for most of the evening, but when 12 am rolled around, I was the only person in the room who was not lip locked with a significant other.

I remember feeling very alone and embarrassed. I was the minority in the room, and I felt utterly humiliated when it came to kissing time because I had no one by my side to ring in the New Year. Time seemed to slow down. While I desperately wanted to retreat, I also longed to belong to the dominant culture of the group.

In retrospect, I know that I am very lucky to have only encountered this one brief experience of being the “different” one who stuck out like a sore thumb in the crowd. What about people who experience this on a day to day basis with constant reminders that they look, sound or feel different? What about children from a different country or of a different ethnicity or color who are adopted into a family in which they bear no resemblance? What does this truly feel like?

Lacking a resemblance in appearance with family members or speaking with an accent due to moving from another country can create deep feelings of angst and compound sadness in an already potentially grieving adopted child. To make matters worse, outsiders sometimes make thoughtless comments when they observe differences between family members and their adoptive children. And this only further fuels the pain.

Imagine how the constant reminder of being “different” (whether that comes from the outside or the inside) must feel to an adopted child? On one hand, participating in the traditions of two or more ethnic groups might provide a unique, diverse and rich experience that few people encounter. On the other hand, it might sometimes feel like standing in two distinctly different or even competing worlds. With one foot in each world, it must be difficult if not impossible to feel truly immersed.

To whom should I be loyal? Where do I belong? How do or should I identify myself? Is there anyone else that feels this way? How do I make sense of this?

In the years I have worked with international, transracial or domestically adoptive families, I have encountered many experiences of grief- both by parents who feel the sadness of not being biologically related to their adopted children, and by adopted children who yearn to have been “home grown” in their adopted mothers’ tummies. Sometimes the sorrow behind that wish is very intense.

I strongly believe it is important for parents to be transparent and openly acknowledge any differences that exist between themselves and their adopted children. I also believe that healing is dependent upon understanding and honoring how deep the potential grief response can be for both parents and children.

The difficulties that frequently arise in transracial and international adoption can be very complex. Unfortunately, one short blog post will not provide a comprehensive “how to” for adoptive parents. However, there are several great resources available to adoptive families. The next blog post will delve deeper into the challenges of transracial and international adoption using a helpful book titled, in their own voices: Transracial adoptees tell their stories (Simon, Rita J. and Roorda, Rhonda M., 2000) as a template.

3 replies
  1. Tamara G. Suttle
    Tamara G. Suttle says:

    Suzanne, thank you for addressing this often-overlooked sliver of transracial and international adoptions. Coming from an entirely different place (as a lesbian), I can so relate to your New Year’s party experience and being the odd one out. It is difficult – especially as a child – to question who is “normal” and not have role models that look like you and share your same journey.

    I know your beautiful blog and thoughtful posts are going to start conversations for parents and their adopted children to learn about and from each other so that their families are stronger and healthier. Thank you for creating such a lovely space where we can all learn from each other! I look forward to following you!

  2. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    Hi Tamara!

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment on my post! I admire your transparency and honesty about being about to relate to the feeling of being the odd one out. I also so appreciate your kind words of encouragement and support!

    You have inspired a very important post topic for the future- what is the experience like to raise biological, foster or adoptive children and to identify as gay or lesbian- from the standpoints of both parent and child? The term “normal” is a such a prevalent and overused social construct. You have graciously given food for thought and have opened the door for rich discussion.


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