How can parents help their transracial adoptees transition to college, and why can this transition be hard for both teens and parents? We talk with Dr. Amanda Baden, a Professor in the Counselor Education Program at Montclair State University. She is an active researcher and currently leads their Adoption Research Team. She is also a transracial adoptee and a member of the Creating a Family board.
In this episode, we cover:
This podcast is produced by www.CreatingaFamily.org. We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:
Please leave us a rating or review RateThisPodcast.com/creatingafamilySupport the show
Please leave us a rating or review RateThisPodcast.com/creatingafamily
Please pardon any errors, this is an automated transcript.
Dawn Davenport 0:00
Welcome everyone to creating a family talk about foster adoptive and kinship care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I'm the host of the show as well as the director of creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about how to prepare transracial adoptees for the transition to college. transitioning to college for transracial adoptees is a time that can be hard for both teens as well as parents. I am so thankful that we have Dr. Amanda Baden to talk with us today about this. She is a professor in the counselor education program at Montclair State University. She is an active researcher and currently leads their adoption research team. She is also a transracial adoptee and a member of the creating your family.org board. Let me also tell you that this show is the first and our Back to School series. Going back to school is exciting. We know that you know this new clothes, new shoes, new backpack, seeing our friends, again, all that it is so exciting for our kids. And for our parents because we're back into the school routine, that's a blessing as well. However, it is also anxiety producing for both kids and parents. And that is especially the case for foster adoptive and kinship kids at times. We are wanting you to understand that we know about your concerns, we have moved your concerns. And this series is going to bring you evidence based resources to prepare you and your child to help you prepare your child for the next school year. This show is one of many that you can find at our creating a family.org/back to school page. There are so many wonderful resources there. And come back next week for the new show, which is navigating Special Ed and the IEP and 504 process, a really important show, as well as in the following week, we will have a show on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So stay tuned and check everything out at creating a family.org/back to school. All one word, all smooshed together back to school. And I should mention that this show is a rare of a show we did several years ago. It was great then and it will be great now enjoy. So we're really going to be focusing on any year. Why is it transition for transracial adoptees something that parents need to think about in advance? So sure. All right. Now let's begin by talking about the major developmental milestones for all adolescents, that happened during the Choose an age range 15 to 20. Get so that we allow some variants as to what they are their own individuality.
Amanda Baden 3:04
Yes, that's, that's great. I mean, I think that one of the things to remember with adolescents who are adopted is they go through the regular sort of identity and development stages that non adoptees do. But there's an additional layer that can make things a little bit more complicated. And sometimes, it's not always obvious to them. And they don't always often don't know how to articulate that. And that can be one of the challenges because some of the ways they're thinking about their lives, thinking about their identities, and thinking about their personal histories can be a little challenging, especially if they don't know a lot of concrete information. And if they feel like they don't fit in, with what's expected of them, either in their own community that they live in, or in their birth community where they might think about how they might navigate their birth culture, for example. So some of the developmental issues. Of course, identity is one that is everyone thinks of when they think about adolescence. But we certainly know now, that identity doesn't just become an issue during adolescence. It's really a lifelong, ongoing process. But it does certainly become much more prominent and salient for folks during adolescence. And whenever we're thinking about kids trying on identities, like they try on clothes, so maybe one day, they're a jock, and the next day, they're preppy. And then there are golf, those are trying on identities, and it's perfectly normal. It doesn't always feel so though for some folks because if parents might not understand how they're how they're thinking about their identities,
Dawn Davenport 4:43
what about the the developmental milestone of separation? That's another thing that comes to mind when we think about what adolescence it typically normal, developing adolescent in those years separating from family and And it ties into identity developing their own identity as one of the hallmarks of that age. How does adoption add an additional layer to separation?
Amanda Baden 5:10
Oh, it does, it adds an additional layer because already transitions have often been hard for adoptees. So they're early, when they were first adopted, they had a transition from their birth parent, even if they don't have actual formed memories, specific memories. There's a lot of folks who believe that there's other kinds of sensory memory that adoptees have. So that transition from the smells and the sounds and the feelings in the womb, and then once out of the womb, once that that transition happens to a caregiver, or an adoptive parent, that's another transition. And transitions can be associated with trauma. A lot of times adoptees have experienced fair amount of trauma throughout their early years, and then at each developmental milestone, so that separation can mean that that the people who they've become most comfortable with the people that define them in certain ways, may no longer be there. And they will be looked at as different. So for transracial adoptees, it's particularly complicated, because they may have been raised often are raised in white families. And so they may, in a sense, feel pretty much like they live a white experience. And people who know them from their community are used to that and expect that, but going off to college means they're going to go there. Without that understanding, folks won't know that they were raised by white people, and they might not know that they aren't as, quote unquote, born as people might expect. There's a couple of major milestones that I think of with adolescents too. So you know, BJ lifting used to talk about identity hunger. And there's another term by sans called Genie illogical bewilderment. This often happens then to where folks are thinking about, what am I going to look like? Where do I get these traits? Where did I learn to have such a great sense of artistic talent that maybe I don't see in my adoptive family? I think Penny Partridge used to call it mirror hunger as well. And these different terms really show how identity there's this desire and draw for finding some sense of continuity through time. And so this, this change from living at home as a high school student to go into college, breaks up that continuity.
Dawn Davenport 7:46
You know, when you talked about the transition itself, it comes to mind the moving in, and now you're in a new place, and you're standing out and at a time when you're not sure you want to your parents are helping you move into the dorm, and they're white, and you're not. And, and you're drawing attention and in your own circles, that where you've been raised, I always say we become old news after a while. People see our children and they see our children as as our children. Oh, that's Johnny, he's, you know, is Betty and Bob's son. So that we don't draw attention anymore, are usually as much, but just even the moving inexperience all of a sudden, there is more attention. And so it's not having to face that yet once again.
Amanda Baden 8:33
Exactly that that attention also means explanations are required. Yep. And one of the things I see in kids developing anyway is, obviously an elementary school kids have their parents there a lot. So there's those explanations happen there. But by the time they're in middle school and high school, parents aren't at the school as much. So sometimes the kids want that, because they don't want to have to explain and answer the questions that they find intrusive, insensitive. All of those things
Dawn Davenport 9:01
are is one of my kids said, boring. I don't want to. I mean, you know, I'm tired of it. And I'm past it. Yeah. So I get that. Now, let's go back and talk about some of the, the term I have heard is the honorary whiteness, that's a particular element for transracial adoptees. What do you mean by honorary whiteness?
Amanda Baden 9:23
Sure, sure. I talk about that a lot. Actually, I think it's partly goes with what we were. We were talking about before that, when you're in a community, people start to know Oh, that's the family with the two Korean kids, or that's the family that went to Guatemala to form their family. So they recognize who they are. So they're not taken as a non adopted person might be. So in a pretty homogenous community where there's only a few people of color, and they are all adopted, they can get that honorary white status and be treated like they're another white person because they are Betty and Bob's child. And so they They were raised within the white culture. And they kind of get that honorary status as someone who's going to understand and behave in the way that fits white culture. But if they didn't have that status, they might be looked at as an actual immigrant, or a foreign person who is unfamiliar and may cause some folks to feel discomfort. And so I think that what's challenging is, if that's not talked about, and acknowledged, then kids may go to college and not realize that they had this honorary white status, where they were really only friends with white kids and really didn't feel comfortable with people from their own ethnic groups, they go to college, and people don't see them as honorary white people and expect them to be a Chinese person like other Chinese kids there, or a black student who is going to be involved in activities that other black students are involved in. And so when they aren't prepared to know that it can feel very unsettling, and they can maybe feel like they don't know how to navigate the social element of college, because of some of those challenges.
Dawn Davenport 11:14
We have heard, young adults say they don't feel Chinese, just using that, as an example, Chinese enough for the Chinese kids. And all of a sudden, for the first time, they don't feel wide enough for the white kids. And so they are betwixt in between and finding their niche. Yeah, it's a situation where often that will not often our children will be perceived as if they were raised by a black family, by black parents are Chinese parents, or Korean parents, or Guatemalan parents, basically, that's the norm. And that's when I think back to the importance of what we tried to tell parents is it seems to me this is one of the reasons that it is so important for parents to make sure their children as much as possible, understand, know and feel comfortable in the culture of which they were born, because they're going to be perceived as being of that culture.
Amanda Baden 12:06
Absolutely. I mean, I've had in my practice, I'm also a practicing psychologist, when I have clients who went to college and struggled, sometimes they might say, well, they try joining the Korean Student Association, for example, and realize that their experience of in their families was qualitatively different than that of the other students in that group. So they might recognize that their parents didn't have the same expectations for them, or the same pressures. But also, they also didn't feel the same level of comfort with some of the cultural norms. So kids in the groups who might be speaking in Korean, for example, can feel off putting to an adoptee who hasn't had much interaction with people who aren't adopted, and are of their ethnic group.
Dawn Davenport 12:55
Mm hmm. That makes sense. Do you think the experience of transition to college is different depending on the race of the adopted?
Amanda Baden 13:04
You know, there's no data that talks about that. So I can't say for certain in terms of any research that's been done, but I can say that qualitatively, I think there can be differences. One thing that I've thought about is international transnational adoptees, sometimes the access to their people from their own birth culture. So other Chinese folks or other Koreans or other Guatemalans can be sort of big one of the gatekeeping functions is language skills. And so, adoptees who want to maybe for the first time really build a community of people of their own ethnic group may struggle because they don't, if they don't have those language skills, whereas a domestic adoptee of color, a black students, for example, black adoptee may have a little bit more ease in terms of at least language, although they may not have the same ways of interacting within the community. So I think all groups though, struggle sometimes to feel like they can fit in to that group. And they might have to do what I have called in my work re culturation, which really means that they are trying to reclaim some of the lost birth culture. And this is a prime time when it happens after after high school early in the college or post high school, when adoptees are in the world on their own, and don't have that honorary white status when they try and figure out do they want to reclaim some of that lost identity and be able to essentially pass as a member of their birth ethnic group.
Dawn Davenport 14:46
And parents sometimes view this as threatening to them and their relationship. What would you say to parents who are feeling that?
Amanda Baden 14:53
You know, I think I understand why they would feel that because they might not have ever experienced the press hears that their adopted children have the pressures around race the pressures around culture. Because, frankly, you know, for a lot of white parents and white people in general race has for their their personal race may not have felt so salient to them, because it seems like the norm. And so it may be hard for them to identify with it. However, I would say to the parents, too, that these kinds of identity processes aren't about their parents. And so if they personalize it, they're making it about them, and they're making their adopted children have to take care of them. And it's a hard enough process as it is, so that you shouldn't be asking their kids to take time out of figuring out their own process to take care of you instead recognize it's something that is helpful for them to feel some level of continuity in their life, and some level of connecting with a culture that people expect them to know. If they're out on the streets without their parents and they look somewhat adult ish or late adolescence ish, then people will expect them to know certain things. And that can be very difficult for adopted people. So I live in New York City. And so we have some very strong if the communities like Koreatown, or Chinatown, and I've had some clients who, who are really hesitant to go and eat any other ethnic food, except for that of their birth country, because they fear the interaction with the people who work there. And the expectations and that they will somehow be offensive towards the workers there. Or they will be embarrassed by them, or they will feel that they're rejecting the culture in some way. And so they may avoid it.
Dawn Davenport 16:55
Or in the embarrassment of being spoken to, and not being not being able to understand or the embarrassment of not really liking kimchi, and that's an affront to all of Korea. So I think such as that, in essence, I go back, I wanted to bring us back to what you said, for parents. It's it's so easy, and it's just because it's human nature. But as our children grow up, it's not supposed to be about us, right? It's supposed to be about them. And we should want our kids to feel as comfortable as they can in their skin and in this world. And if our kid thinks that this is what they need, and it quite reconsideration, it may be exactly what they need. It isn't about us. And it doesn't necessarily mean that we are losing them. I think that's the fear of parents have is that I will lose them. And you know, that's the nature of, I think all parents struggle a lot. Not all parents, many parents struggle, in their teen years when their kids are making forming identities and trying on identities that are not the parents are not the parents preferred identity,
Amanda Baden 18:02
you make a great point on and I think one of the things that parents might not realize is by allowing them to learn about themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin, they're actually going to prove their relationships with them. And it's those situations where the parents feel threatened and they can't or don't support their children's explorations where a lot of the conflict comes in, if parents can get some humility and recognize that they can't be everything for their kids, they can do a lot of things for them, and they've provided a great foundation. But some things have to be done. During our lessons, it's that launching period, where they are starting to learn to live in the world in their own skin in a way that makes them feel authentically a person. You know if it helps for a Chinese adoptee like myself, I'm from Hong Kong, to feel like I can really relate to what that means. I know what it means to be from Hong Kong. And I know what that culture is like and I know how to think about the people there in the in the community. It makes me feel less and it makes a lot of adoptees feel less on the outside
Dawn Davenport 19:23
and feel less on the outside in one area. In your culture, the culture of your birth. Does that carry over to making you feel less of an outsider in your your adoptive community and your adoptive family? Does it transfer like that?
Amanda Baden 19:38
I think it can. I think you know, the more you're comfortable in your own skin, the more you can build intimacy with folks. If you don't feel comfortable with yourself, it's hard to really be authentic in relationships, which helps build intimacy. And all of us needed that all of us need intimacy in some way.
Dawn Davenport 19:57
Yeah, absolutely. Are there specific things parents and transracial adopted teens should look for when they're choosing a college.
Amanda Baden 20:05
So when they're looking for college, that's a really big question, because I think you in some ways have to know not. There's the academic questions, and then the social questions. And then,
Dawn Davenport 20:18
and you're in the personality and the desires of the of the team.
Amanda Baden 20:23
Absolutely. And a lot of times kids have an image in their head of what college is going to look like. You know, it's been formed by many years of various movie watching and TV shows and internet searches. And so if they want that very typical New England College experience versus a, something that might be quite different in the south, for example, it's important to know, but one thing I really suggest to folks is to think about the diversity of the school, you know, most of the universities around the country are predominantly white institutions. And that means that there will be less representation of many transracial adoptees ethnic groups. So, you know, I have known, for example, adoptees who are domestic adoptees, and black who have gone to historically black colleges and universities. I've also known adoptees who are Asian, for example, to go to schools where it's incredibly white. And so that there's very few kids of color. And I remember one person I worked with, he went to a college where New England type of place where there were a lot of international students. And one of those challenges for that student that they had not anticipated was that those international students would look at the student and think, Oh, well, we can, we can connect, I see somebody who looks like me, I see somebody who I should become friends with. And let's invite that person to have noodles with us or to go to hotpot with us where that adopt, he did not feel comfortable with that had never had friends of their ethnic group and was a bit uncomfortable being singled out because of their race and ethnicity. And so, there had been a very strong attempt on their parent's part, to create a world where it was very colorblind, and with good intentions all the way, but it's not a realistic world. So one of the things that was really important for her was to be able to start doing some of the critical cultural and racial analysis that helped her understand her own discomfort and her own identity.
Dawn Davenport 22:41
That makes very good sense. Thank you jockey Big Family Foundation for providing us with scholarships for free access to five of our most popular courses. The website to find these courses is Bitly slash JB F support, that's bi T dot L y slash JBf. Su PP O R T. J to be the FME s are all capitalized. One of the courses that we have that is such a good word is parenting children who have experienced trauma. The guest expert is Karen Doyle Bookwalter. She is a clinical social worker specializing in attachment and trauma and the author of raising the challenging child how to minimize meltdowns, reduce conflict and increase cooperation. All three things that every parent especially parents and adoptive or foster children really need and what the website is Bitly slash J. d. F EFS hort. The other courses that you can find over there are raising resilient kids with Dr. Kay Ginsberg raising a child with ADHD to successful and healthy adulthood with Dr. Ned Halliwell, unexpected stresses for newly adopted parents and practical solutions to typical food issues with Dr. Couch around the feeding doctor. The website is Bitly slash JB F support. One of the things that has come up when talking about when we were brainstorming about the outline for this show is the use or the complexities that are involved with using a transracial adoption story as part of the ubiquitous college essay. So I wanted to talk a little about that because there is nothing more common and nothing that doesn't rise to the level of angst for both college applicant and parent who is trying to make certain their teen is going to get into the school that they want as the college essay. So let's talk a little about that. I think that it's an interesting dilemma about whether or not would be applicants use their adoption story, and whose idea is it to use their adoption story. So let's talk a little about the whole college essay and use of the transracial adoption storyline.
Amanda Baden 25:00
I'm glad you asked about that. And I think it's so prominent. It's very interesting to me. I'll get to the whose idea it is in a bit because one thing that it makes me think about is a lot of adoption groups have tried to institute mentoring programs for adoptees. And the way they look at that as older adoptees mentor younger adoptees. And that is a great idea, except it sort of assumes that the older adoptees have worked things out. My concern about that is just because they've lived longer doesn't mean they've understood themselves better.
Dawn Davenport 25:35
Until my kids that okay. There's yours in my little secret. All right. All right,
Amanda Baden 25:41
certainly, between us, thank you. But I think that that's what can happen with these stories, too. Because people say, Oh, your story is like a movie script or something like that. It's got a great plot development to it. And so maybe that's what you should write your essay about. But again, it it supposes that there's some insight, some growth, some awareness, and for an adoptee to, for the first time to be writing about their adoption, on their college essay, they may cause challenges in lots of ways. So I can see that, you know, someone's never really articulated their story and never really tried to assign meaning to that story. They can feel them for a bit of a loop. And it can also come across in a way that might make that person appear less insightful, more superficial, not unique. Because each person's story, although there's lots of similar, junctures where things occur. The way in which you make sense of your story in your home narrative, is something that's a long term process. So I don't necessarily think people should avoid writing about that story. But I think if they're going to it shouldn't be the first time when they do it for an essay. I think it'd be great if they've started to work on that and work it out much earlier. I also think that the ways in which people who are not in the adoption community directly look at adoption can carry a lot of unintentional stigma.
Dawn Davenport 27:22
Within pressure, yes, pressure to be grateful pressure to be happy pressure to be looking upon this is the, you know, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow type of thing.
Amanda Baden 27:31
Absolutely. I mean, when any buddy finds out, someone's adopted, it triggers all the adoption microaggressions that we know exist. And they're not because of bad intentions, they just are because of a lack of knowledge to but attention doesn't matter when it comes to these things. Anyway, in terms of how they write these stories, I think we have to think about how dimensional we want to be, I think all adoptees, anybody applying to college, I should say wants to stand out. They want to be memorable, they want to have something that can be linked to them, and shows them as someone who is a good fit. And so their adoption story for some folks really is that main thing, but it's not for everyone. Some people their adoption, just they have treated it like it's just another line on their demographics questionnaire. And they have not incorporated or internalized much of the insight that they could gain from it. And in those cases, it can make it a little harder for them to understand how to think about their adaption. They might be articulating in a way they've been told to articulate it, or the way in which the latest movie or the latest novel tells them. I think most adult adoptees, if you were to ask them, Who are 10 plus years out of college, I would say the way that they look at their adoptions at 18 is vastly different. vastly different than the way they look at it. 3040 50 years old.
Dawn Davenport 29:05
That makes sense, because they have more life experience. Interesting.
Amanda Baden 29:09
Yeah. I mean, adoption isn't always salient for adolescents at that age. They recognize it's a factor but things that are more salient to them might be finding a boyfriend or girlfriend or being popular or something like that. And so understanding their
Dawn Davenport 29:25
or their identity might be mo tied up in being a you know, good soccer player, or being a scientist or being a artist or that is more salient to them and seems more relevant to them.
Amanda Baden 29:38
Sure. And I mean, adoptees, who also have intersecting identities like our sexual or gender minorities may feel that's a prominent, an a more salient and more challenging identity for them to work through.
Dawn Davenport 29:55
And so it can easily be my bae. Yeah,
Amanda Baden 29:57
yes. So I think that doing The essay just on that can be a bit reductive for people.
Dawn Davenport 30:03
It also bothers me that it seems like that outro I shouldn't say if it is somebody else's idea, it is a college counselor or a parents counselor have this is your end, this is your this is what makes you it. It feels like that it should come from the adoptee wanting to do it not from somebody telling them, Hey, this is a good. This is a good story, like you say it's a good storyline, it's got a plot point here, you know, we've got our story arc going, that it should be if the adoptee wants it, then that's fine, because then it is salient to them. But if it's not, then somebody else telling them that it's almost like their story is being used in a way that they're not choosing.
Amanda Baden 30:41
That's a great point. And I think, when you think about the fact that there's a lot of young people now, because some of the highest points of international adoption took place in 2004 2005. So many of those adoptees are applying to college in these years right now. And so if you see that, say 10 kids all applied and all told their adoption story, they're all got different China, then you're also then being compared to them. And you're the way in which you can write about your story. So it's I would encourage, trying to work it out of it. You know, I think a lot of times, adoptees, who are also in that situation, transracial, adoptees may have that figured out the issues around race that are very important in their story. And those things really change over time and the way people think about them, and articulate them.
Dawn Davenport 31:40
And make sense. Of course they will be being compared with other 18 year olds. No, absolutely. Not 38 year olds, so. Yeah. So it's not that you know, so their take on it will not be would not be expected to be the depth that it might be or the differences. That even if it's yeah, alright, let's talk about a common emotion for adoptees is dealing with the idea that they were rejected, regardless of what, in fact may have happened or no matter how, no matter how others try to interpret their story. Definitely adoptees can sometimes interpreted as I was rejected, how does that play out with adoptees applying, assuming that you're adopting is applying to numerous schools, and we tell them to do a stretch school? And so in other words, rejection is a very common part of the college application process. How does that play out with a person who has other issues with rejection as a part of their adoption?
Amanda Baden 32:43
can play out? That's a great question can be played a lot of different ways. One way I've seen it play out is that the adoptee might choose only schools they know they're going to get into so that they don't have to face that rejection. Others may have that that experience of needing to be accepted, be much more meaningful to them than actually the college. Acceptance could be or should be. So for example, if Princeton doesn't accept me, then no one will. We can go in that direction for some folks where they almost get into this all or nothing kind of thinking and they haven't factored in in a way that doesn't really fit. So for example, I guess, I'm thinking of adoptees who get rejected from a school that they thought was going to be perfect for them. Sometimes they may really take that to heart and it can feel more reminiscent of other rejections.
Dawn Davenport 33:44
So what can parents do knowing that this is a possibility? What can parents do to help their children?
Amanda Baden 33:52
I think it helps to help prepare the child that I mean, the teen I guess they're almost adults, most of them young adults,
Dawn Davenport 33:58
yet they don't want to be called a child. I said, child but young adult or adolescent or youth or something? Yes.
Amanda Baden 34:05
I think part of its even talking about that possibility. But when it comes to thinking about the challenges, rejection from colleges, that rejection from first families, and it's helpful to make that distinction, but also the, the framing of one's adoption as a rejection story, is very stereotypical. But also very commonly held. And,
Dawn Davenport 34:30
and parents are afraid to bring it up because they don't want to play into that store.
Amanda Baden 34:34
Absolutely. And one of the things I talk with folks about is that I get why people I mean, it's it is it's very personal. And I think a lot of adoptees feel like they don't have any control over that story. They can't dig into it because they can't get the access. But the challenge is to in a way because the adoptee feels like this has happened to them. It makes sense that they would think that this decision was about them. But for the most part, almost universally, I try and help adoptees realize that the relinquishment the abandonment wasn't really about them as people. It was an adult problem. It wasn't a baby problem. You know, babies don't have that kind of power. But adults don't always have the resources or choices that they should. It can be a political issue, it can be a societal issue. But personalizing the rejection as being some deficit in them can make it feel in a way like it's a little bit more in their control. Even though it's obviously not,
Dawn Davenport 35:41
no, but but it but that does. Yeah, I definitely can see how then that's a sense if I need control over something that didn't happen if it was my fault, and it means I had control.
Amanda Baden 35:51
Yes, exactly. And it's hard to it's hard to give that up because otherwise, then the world's not fair. And things happen without any good reason. That's hard to accept. You know, as human beings, we're always obsessed with fairness. And it just doesn't happen a lot. And control Absolutely. At adoptees have lots of control concerns.
Dawn Davenport 36:17
Interesting. This show as well as all the resources provided by creating a family could not happen without the generous support from our partners who believe in our mission of providing unbiased education and support to those struggling to create a family. Some of our wonderful partners include children's connection, they are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, as well as embryo donation and adoption throughout the US. They also provide home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas.
Now, can the transition to college be especially difficult for parents of adoptees and transracial adoptees? We've talked about one aspect of the transracial adoptee, which is that recall tration? That's the word you use? Yes. And that can be threatening at times, to parents. But what about just in general that transition to college of any adopted youth?
Amanda Baden 37:20
Yeah, I think it is challenging. I mean, for launching and sort of empty nest issues that any parent has with launching their kid that can be challenging, because they they're used to having a certain role a certain purpose. They like to be needed. There used to be needed, some people don't want to be needed anymore. But a lot of folks do. Well there
Dawn Davenport 37:45
and their identity, you know, it's shifting your identity, because you are, you're a parent forever. Yes. However, you are not an active parent, when your children are no longer in your house.
Amanda Baden 37:56
Absolutely. Another factor, I think is that, you know, a lot of transracial adoptees have been adopted by parents who have a lot of personal success in their lives. Not all, certainly, of course, but they're used to being able to make things happen. And some of them also take very active roles in trying to make smooth a path for their kids. And all we smooth the path and then they don't get to do that anymore. They have to allow their child to make mistakes. And that's hard for some parents, because they may question whether they've really prepared their children or not.
Dawn Davenport 38:34
And they undermine their child's sense of autonomy and capability and competence. If only mom and dad are able to make things happen. Yeah, I could see that as a problem, too. Yeah. What about that transition to college? The parents concern when their child leaves, they will emotionally not return. You know, parenting is all about if we do our job well, is we're launching, you know, we're it's planned obsolescence. And yet, we always want there to be a string doesn't have to be a rope. But we want there to be a string, that throughout our children's lives, we are all tied together. What about do parents adoptive parents have more often the fear? Have we grounded them enough when they leave that they will be able to store but maintain the string?
Amanda Baden 39:26
Yes, that's a good question. You know, it's it's a hard one to answer for sure. Because I think it also depends on the kind of relationship they build, and the kind of communication they're able and willing to have with their children once they are launched. Because if there's been a lot of conflict during childhood or adolescence, and if they haven't figured out a way to communicate effectively about it, it can be harder to learn that when they're not physically around each other. So I think one of the things I would recommend to parents is to, you know, it's never too late to become humble and willing to listen and to learn. I think the things that parents can do that's most harmful to the emotional return is defensive reactions and blaming reactions. And not being willing to learn about what they can do differently.
Dawn Davenport 40:24
Which is another way of saying, don't make it about you when it's not about you.
Amanda Baden 40:28
Absolutely, absolutely. Because, you know, a lot of the people that I've worked with who've had challenging relationships with their adoptive parents, a lot of it has been around communication around racism, around other family dysfunction, mental health issues, substance abuse, all of those things can come into play. So if parents have some of those issues, if they've had very contentious divorces, things like that it can be, it can add additional layers, where the adopted person may really struggle to figure out how to how to develop an adult relationship with their parents, because that's part of it.
Dawn Davenport 41:11
And I will say having, as a parent of children this age, I think, many parents struggle with how to develop an adult relationship with and that's part of what the this age, part of what college and the early 20s is all about is learning how to form an adult relationship with your child. And I can see how it especially in transracial, adoption, that that might be challenging, if you feel threatened, and are not open to listening to what your child is learning and this journey that they're on.
Amanda Baden 41:46
I think that's very true. Very true.
Dawn Davenport 41:49
You know, another thing that happens or could can happen during this time, is if an adoptee has not been raised in an open adoption, generally, the laws are such that birth parents searches can take place, usually at age 18, or there abouts. Or there the young person is, is autonomous enough, even if it's an international and there's not a law prohibiting it there, at this point, could be ready and able to do it. So it seems like that also can complicate this this time period and this transition to and the early years of college, if an adoptee is doing that at the same time.
Amanda Baden 42:25
Yes, I think that's very true. So birth parents searches, it's such a complicated issue.
Dawn Davenport 42:31
It's a show unto itself. It is it is,
Amanda Baden 42:35
it's important, it's very important. And there's often been a lot of conflict, even within the community about who gets to search and when they get the search. And I've met many adoptive parents who are trying to do the search for their children, even though their children don't necessarily know how to handle that. And what to do with that relationship. can be very complicated, I think is a lot of times they're not doing it with a supportive a professional. And they really should. And I don't mean a search professional. I mean, no mental health professional. Exactly. But I think that because identity so prominent during this time, birth parents search makes complete sense, because during adolescence, young adulthood, there's the family romance fantasy, where there's a belief that, you know, my other family would be this and my adoptive families this so one side's grass is always greener, in some ways. And then there's also some of the functions of just sexual identity and dating that can raise a lot of questions in adoptees about their own birth parents, romantic relationships and how they came to be adoptees who find themselves at the age that their birth mother was when they gave birth, can have a very unique experience of that, which may trigger that desire for search. The challenge with the search, though, is that sometimes folks think it's going to solve all their problems. And it often just gives you new questions, even with full contact. But I think that 18 Such an arbitrary number for when searches is allowed, because someone may be ready for a search when they're 16. And so when may not be ready, when they're 18, it may need to be 40. You know, it just depends. But I think doing both of those things at the same time can be challenging, but with support. And that doesn't necessarily mean that the adoptive parents are doing the search for them, but maybe are supporting the need for a therapist, for example, to help the adoptee do the search, and to figure out how they're going to connect or if they're going to connect would be really a helpful thing.
Dawn Davenport 44:49
And to not take it personally. I sound like a broken record. And to not take it personally if your child wants to search.
Amanda Baden 44:58
Such an important thing I think A lot of folks, a lot of adoptive parents, even though they may recognize that search is coming, it's still hard. It's a hard thing because they have their relationship with their adopted child, and they feel like it's going to change. But one thing that I've definitely seen, as you know, I don't think that the contact with the birth families really changes the connection at all with the adoptive parents, they still have their own unique connection, it may, in fact, often make it better, especially if it allows the openness to communication about adaption to be less complicated. And to be more upfront.
Dawn Davenport 45:45
Yeah, it makes such good sense to me. It absolutely does. You know, I do think that love is not necessarily a finite quantity, and you can love them. And we all love more than than one person if we're lucky in this life. But time is, and I think that is sometimes where parents get hung up as they're going to want to spend Christmas or birthdays are Mother's Day, who are they're going to go? I think that's sometimes what can trip up adoptive parents. But again, that's really our issue, not our children's issue. Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. Now, let's come to the practical part. Well, we've talked about lots of things during this transition period. So let's now talk about how parents can help their transracial adoptees make a successful transition to college and really into this next phase of life. But that may be a little to me, we'll be flying a little too high for this. Let's just keep it and make a successful transition into college. So what are some things that parents can do?
Amanda Baden 46:50
So I think that they can start by really trying to help them adopt the recognize, and be able to talk about racial issues, their comfort in their own birth culture, and with people from their own group. So one thing I always recommend to adoptive parents is to try and have people in their families lives that represent or reflect their kids. And so that helps them start to hear the stories and learn about how college life might be for a person of color. And when it's white parents who've adopted kids of color, their experience in college may be quite different because of their racial experiences, the way people respond to them, et cetera. And so, when there's those differences, you know, adoptive parents, all parents probably like to tell their stories of college or have transitions and their kids may not be able to relate to those. So I think it helps to help diversify their lives to make sure that there are people who might have some similar experiences. It also helps to have them feel some comfort in their skin around their community. So, you know, you'd mentioned my research team. I had a Korean adoptee on my research team, who've never had Korean food before. And I was felt like it was a great disservice that this was a master's student, this wasn't an undergrad, that I had to make sure that I took the student for Korean food. And to sort of start exploring that part of his identity. Not that, you know, the food is the only way. But that's the way culture culture is easy to celebrate. Because food music, festivals, those are sort of easy entries. But then the harder entries are developing real relationships with people from those communities.
Dawn Davenport 48:46
But food is an entry is a definite entry. Yeah. And a commonality. Yes, yes.
Amanda Baden 48:53
I've met people who said their parents won't eat the food of their ethnic group, because they don't like it. And I think it makes it then it others it in a way that makes the connection to the culture a little more challenging.
Dawn Davenport 49:07
And I'm just going to say there is simply no cuisine in this earth that you can't find something that you like, sent no cultural, ethnic food that you cannot find something that you like, if you try hard enough.
Amanda Baden 49:20
Yeah, absolutely. I always laugh because I said, you know, in China, they think hamburgers are gross. So
Dawn Davenport 49:28
Exactly. Yeah. And there's, you know, there is something. I mean, almost all cultures have have some similarities, and most will have a noodle of some sort, most will have something. And so you need to at the very least, do a little exploring even if you're a very picky eater. You can find something that you like, if you have if you haven't, that you really haven't tried very hard.
Amanda Baden 49:51
Another thing I can say too, is I think helping your kids make connections of other kids their age, who are a diverse group of friends, you know, so that When they get to college, as a Vietnamese adoptee to gravitates towards all the white students, yet the white students don't really let them in, it can be very challenging. And so it helps for, for them to have a community of other people who are living similar lives, that they can vent to, that they can get support from, that they can get a reality check from all of those things can be really helpful to making that transition easier. But finding the language to explain it to explain what's going on that there's some racial complications, or even that the honorary white status is not being recognized anymore can be really an important step for the adoptee to understand why they're feeling what they're feeling.
Dawn Davenport 50:46
So what a suggestion be for parents to bring this up and talk about it and the honorary whiteness, but there's another there are some derogatory terms that are also used.
Amanda Baden 50:57
Oh, yeah, absolutely. The banana, the Oreo, all of those things.
Dawn Davenport 51:02
Exactly. And bringing it up to our kids, even if they don't seem receptive. Because another hallmark of teenagehood is to not be receptive to your parents, deeper discussions, but bringing it up to prepare them to at least know that they have thought about it.
Amanda Baden 51:19
Absolutely. Yeah. And the way I suggest to parents is take your child on a long car ride. And that's when you can have real conversations.
Dawn Davenport 51:29
Mm, yeah. When you're strapped in,
Amanda Baden 51:32
strapped any day, we'll have to look at you looking at different direction.
Dawn Davenport 51:37
Also, when the lights are out at night, and you're giving a backrub and you're you're talking a give me a backrub. Although then they can say okay, Mama ready to go to bed, but they can't really do that. Yeah, so absolutely. Car cars even better. You're right. So bringing up specifically, the topics that we've talked about in this show about being not Asian enough are not black enough for the black kids and not white enough for the white kids or here's here's another issue that I also this is going back not on the tips that I have heard when we have talked with panels of transracial adoptees it's interesting because some find it as a plus and some find it as a negative and I think they probably all on some level find it tiring. And that is being the bridge between the white kids and the kids of color. And because in a way they are the bridge. And it's been interesting to me that some in this age when we've talked with young of this age, you know, the in their 20s transracial adoptees some find it as a yeah, this is a real leg up for me. Others find it as just a tiring nuisance about always having to do it. So I mean, that's something else to talk about, from a parent's standpoint. But also have you also seen that with transracial adoptees in this age?
Amanda Baden 52:53
Oh, yeah, definitely. But the bridge status also means that they have to kind of understand both perspectives. And I found that sometimes adolescent adoptees, they want to emphasize what's similar, not necessarily what's different. And so it's sometimes we're not ready to be the bridge yet, because they haven't figured out the way in which they might experience oppression, for example, or people are experiencing microaggressions. They may not yet be there. I think kids that were with, with the internet with social media, they are more aware, things like Black Lives Matter and other movements on for racial justice, have been really helpful in helping kids start to articulate that. One of the tips that I was going to say as well is that all of these suggestions for parents to talk to their kids, presupposes that the parents have the skills to do so. And so I guess what I would any suggestions? Well, I think one of the things I asked parents to do is to practice. So some people you know, we know that some parents have some, I'll go ahead and say white fragility around talking about race, or even just discomfort in general. And so one of the things I recommend they do is practice, practice, practice, and not with their kids necessarily first, but to practice with each other, or with someone else who gets it, maybe find some friends of color, who they can learn from and who they can then learn to be more open about these issues with their kids.
Dawn Davenport 54:33
So another tip for parents would be to start working on their ability to talk about race. Absolutely. And that can go back to even picture books I mean time but that's that's going too far back for somebody who's listening to this now who has a child who's going to be going to college in a couple of months. That's probably not not a helpful suggestion. Although there are so many wonderful why a books I mean, just not necessarily whether some with treasure I shall adoption But they're just some really good. Why a books coming of age books, Jacqueline Woodson is just right, so many of them, but there are many others as well, that you could read with your team. And listen, if and if nothing else, the book gives you a door into having the conversation about race, because you were talking about the characters in the book.
Amanda Baden 55:20
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, there's a lot of great books out there for parents to learn from how to be anti racist, white fragility. Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the cafeteria?
Dawn Davenport 55:33
We just published it. It's four tips for raising an anti racist kid. And we listed books, both for parents, and then books for resources at different ages of kids and then additional resources. I'd have to pull it up there. So I mean, there's an almost overwhelming number. So we use some help in deciding communities of color helped us narrow our list down because the options are endless, which is good, that's good. No, it is. It's a good problem to have.
Amanda Baden 56:02
But it is hard to direct people when you don't have Yeah, clear direction.
Dawn Davenport 56:06
Right. fragility is a great beginning. There are some, there are some others. Fantastic. Coates has got a great one that he wrote for his son, and I'm blanking on the name Between the World and Me. Yeah, yes, yes. Another good one and directly relevant to this age, because he was writing it when his son was what 16. So another good one in all of that, when both of those are listed in the four tips for raising an anti racist child, you can find that on our website, creating a family.org. Okay, so any other tips for parents who are launching their kids off to college or their transracial adoptee off to college, we've given some good ones here.
Amanda Baden 56:43
I would say make sure that, you know, one of the challenges, I think a lot of kids who go to college during this time can be I see that social issues are one of the biggest challenges. Now, during this pandemic, you know, I can't take that into account right now. Because that's created its own social issues. But in general, normal under normal times, if we can ever have such things, I think figuring out who you want to identify with, and what kind of friends you want to have, what kind of person you are, will be a challenge. So for example, I've had clients who themselves aren't interested in substances. And they find it very hard when the people they're meeting are all going to parties a lot and drinking or using drugs, and they don't want to be part of that. So then they don't necessarily know how to build that intimacy elsewhere. And so one of the things I recommend to them and to their parents is to help them recognize like to start to learn how they can build those out of communities that they haven't been in all the time. So they talk about their previous lives, if they've lived in the same town there. For most of their lives. They haven't had to build new communities until that point. And so putting themselves taking some risks by going to join different clubs and try and find more intimacy and just the way you speak to people with good judgment, of course, I think that can be a good help to kids who are struggling with the social issues.
Dawn Davenport 58:19
And do you find that the struggle for social issues is more relevant, more more pertinent to transracial adoptees? Or is that more of a general suggestion for all children, including adoptees?
Amanda Baden 58:29
I think it's both. I think that transracial adoptees, because of the racial issues may struggle a little bit more, figuring out who their home people are, if you will, you know, so they might find, you know, I've had parents talking about how their adopted teen doesn't feel like they're going to be accepted fully by the white kids, even though that's the people they might most identify with. And so then they have to figure out a group that will accept them, and where they can feel some sense of comfort.
Dawn Davenport 59:00
And vice versa. I've actually, I've heard it more, but just a bit, you will have more experienced in this. I've heard it more where they're not sure they will be accepted by the community of their birth culture. Because they stand out. And that's very true, too. Yeah. And so they it's that twigs and tween feeling where they're being pulled towards their birth culture, because they want to be there. They want to learn more, they want to fit in more.
Amanda Baden 59:23
I guess I should caution that that's really I found that it's South Asian kids, black kids who may struggle with the white students accepting them. Asian kids may gravitate towards white students and not feel like they could because of that gatekeeping language issue because of some of the other cultural norms and skills that they lack.
Dawn Davenport 59:44
Yeah, that makes sense. By race at different rates. Yes. Yes. Well, we have really covered this has been such a important topic and a fascinating one. Dr. Amanda Baden, thank you so much for being with us today. To talk more about this, to get more information about Dr. Baden, you can go to the Montclair State University site, you can get more information about her research and I believe there are links off of that site that will take you to some of her research and it is well worth three. The views expressed in this show are those of the guests do not necessarily reflect the position of creating a family, our partners, our underwriters, and keep in mind that the information given in this interview is general advice, understand how it applies to your specific situation. You need to work with your adoption or foster care or mental health professional. Thank you for joining us today. And I will see you next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai