Invisible Kids in Families Blended by Birth & Transracial Adoption

Dawn Davenport


8423143366_8c8789ab5e_nSomething Kevin Hofmann said during our book club discussion of his book Growing up Black in White really stuck with me as the mom of children by both birth and transracial adoption. By way of quick background: Kevin was the youngest of four close in age children and the only adopted child and child of color in his family. His parents moved the family to a predominantly black area of Detroit, and all the kids attended predominantly black schools. While this was one of the best decisions his parents made for him because he was raised with black role models, he acknowledged that it was not so great for his brothers, and they really resented this part of their upbringing. Of course I felt for his brothers, but my heart really ached for his parents. Parenting is hard, and parenting a blended family can be even harder, and parenting a blended transracial family can be harder still.

It was hard being one of only a few white kids in their neighborhood and school, and the brothers held it against both his parents and Kevin. They felt like all the sacrifices were made to integrate Kevin into the family and their society, while their needs were overlooked. This anger has continued into adulthood and has interfered with at least one brother’s relationship with his parents and with Kevin. Oh my.

Transracial adoptive parents are told that it is important to send our kids to schools with children of color, to churches with families of color, and to live in areas where there are people of color.  We want our kids to be proud of their race, and we want them to have role models for how to be black and brown adults in a race conscious world. But life can get tricky when our families have a few white kids mixed in.

I certainly know that when we decided to mix children by birth and adoption, I worried about creating invisible children—children who would feel less a member of our family, less important, less in general. Never did I worry, however, that the invisible child might be one of my biological kids. I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Hofmann felt the same.

A year or so ago, I interviewed Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters. He asserts that all parents have a favorite child, and that each child in the family know who is the favorite. I strongly disagreed with this, but he countered that all parents disagree even though it’s true. (You can read my thought on this at my blog post, Which is Your Favorite Child? ) I decided, with a fair amount of trepidation, to test this theory on my kids.

Me: I read this book that claims that all parents have a favorite child, and that every child in the family is aware of it.  So, I was wondering if you thought I had a favorite.

Son #1 (who is our second child): Sure, I’m your favorite; and yeah, I think the others know it.

Son #2 (who is our third child) was sitting in the other room, and overhearing the conversation, came to join us:  I don’t know what family you’re living in, but I’m clearly the favorite in this one.

Right about then, their younger sister (our fourth and youngest child) walked through the room.

Son #1 and #2 almost in unison: Oh man, it is SO her.  She is absolutely your favorite.

Youngest Daughter, after a brief explanation of the topic, shrugged and grinned knowingly (with just a hint of sheepishness thrown in for good measure) at both brothers, then pirouetted out of the room.

Sons #1 and #2 are mine by birth, Youngest Daughter is mine by adoption. Sons #1 and #2 are white, Youngest Daughter is not. When asked, my sons cited the usual privileges of being the youngest as proof of favoritism (allowed to watch PG 13 movies sooner, received a cell phone at a younger age, etc.). I thought back to this conversation after talking with Kevin about his siblings’ feelings. I don’t agree that my youngest is my favorite, nor do I really think my sons think so, but it did give me pause.

We parents of blended families have our work cut out for us. We have to make sure that our adopted kids get what they need, while at the same time making sure the needs of our children by birth are not overlooked. Do we go to the predominantly black church so that our African American kids have good strong role models, or do we go to the predominantly white church that our bio kid’s best friend attends? (And as an aside: why are churches so darn homogeneous?!?) Do we send our children to different schools or look for a school with a good mix of races? What racial mix do we seek in our neighborhood balanced against what we can afford and proximity to work?

On some level, however, isn’t this the lot of all parents with more than one child? Where do you go on vacation when one child hates the beach, while the rest of the family craves the sun and sand? One child has special needs which drains the parental time and monetary bank account. One child needs a calm structured environment, while another thrives on stimulation. How do we parent them all to their individual needs?

My goal is to meet each of my kids’ needs fully and … OK, I’ll admit it … perfectly. Alas, perfection, dadgummit, has eluded me. I think I’ll reset my goal to simply make sure each of my kids feels visible.

If you are parenting a blended family of children by birth and adoption, how do you meet the needs of each of your kids?


Image credit:  Muriel215

11/06/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 16 Comments

16 Responses to Invisible Kids in Families Blended by Birth & Transracial Adoption

  1. Avatar Robyn says:

    I’m catching up on all of the blogs I missed this spring, so I’m sorry for the late comment.

    I, too, believe that all parents have their favorites. I think their favorites can change over time, though. Case-in-point: My parents. My dad favored my sister for my entire childhood and adolescence. Seriously favored. My mother favored me… until I left for college. By going out of state and becoming independent I somehow fell out of favor and my sister became her favorite. Meanwhile, I moved back to CA while my sister moved away, so it would seem that I have now become my father’s favored daughter. My sister agrees with my assessment.

    • Robyn, when we were talking about this as a family, my husband joked that his favorite child was whomever was annoying him the least at that particular moment in time.

  2. Avatar Julie says:

    Our family struggles with this constantly. The family consists of our 2 biological sons and our Korean daughter who is the youngest. Our dd is different due to gender, cultural and she also has mild asd. Our oldest son, in particular, is sure that I love her more. I don’t. However, she does require more hands on care right now. I think older children forgot how much hands on care they received when they were younger.

  3. Avatar Rosa Maria says:

    I’m rather new to the thoughts…or thinking ways of adopting a child. Until I had read Nia Vardalos’ “Instant mother” I really only ever entertained the thought as a fancy that will go away of I work a little harder. Nia has however made adopting a tangible entity that I’m not merely side-lining. Her personal experience doesn’t cover any racial lines tho, and I’d be very interested in her opinion on the subject. It’s therefore that I’ve requested the question on the book report radio show (their facebook page) who have Nia as a guest on their show this Sunday. I’m hoping they can squeeze the questions in.

  4. Jennifer, it is a balancing act for sure.

  5. Avatar Jennifer says:

    We’re not a transracial family, but we have genetic and nongenetic kids to each parent, and I think it’s important for all kids to feel special and accommodated. I think we have a tendency to spend more time fostering a bond to the kid we do not have genetic ties to and it’s something we have to watch out for, because we don’t want to make the genetic kids feel less. While society at large tends to focus on the genetic connection, I think the opinion of society at large can matter a lot less than the opinions/actions of the parents, so it’s important to not spend TOO much time/energy counterbalancing societal messages. For us a good way to do it is to split things in an objectively fair way – each kid takes turns having a solo-time activity with a parent, each kid gets to take a turn picking the activity/dinner for family night, etc. That is much harder to do in a situation where you have a transracial family, because I’m imagining that it’s not often an option to move to an area/school district where none of your kids will stand out as a very small minority, nor do there seem to be very many racially heterogeneous churches out there. I think this is a part of the problem – I’m imagining the brother might have been less unhappy if he had been a part of, say, a 25% white minority in his school/neighborhood – still technically a minority, but not as isolated.

  6. Avatar Rayne says:

    I would have to agree. We decided to take the leap to save my sanity and fulfill my need to experience pregnancy. I tell my husband that I kind of hope they mixed up the stuff and our baby comes out looking like someone else. And I don’t say that to be cruel, I say that because I want the diversity in our family to continue and never want our 1st son to feel “different”. I know we will never treat him as anything other than our son, I just know how cruel the world can be. We will just try our best to provide to the best of our abilities. If that means doing things separately or incorporating our 1st son’s heritage into our daily life in one way or another we will. Just going to have to cross that bridge when or if we notice things being a problem.

  7. Rayne, with the advances in infertility treatment, I think more and more parents are wrestling with exactly what you are.

  8. Avatar Jody says:

    Thanks, as always Dawn Davenport. Adoptive mothers have so much to think about. It’s great to have each other for support.

  9. Avatar Rayne says:

    We worried about this same thing when we were considering trying ivf after years of wanting to add to our family again. I am not going to say that it isn’t still a struggle and I hope and pray that we made the right choice for our family. But no matter the color or how they came into our family they are a miracle and both were very much wanted and are loved beyond words. All we can hope is that we give them the best life possible and teach them to be strong, happy individuals. Blood or no blood these kids are ours forever and we couldn’t ask for anything more.

  10. Avatar Jerusha says:

    I blogged about this yesterday. Not the race issue, but balancing the needs/wants of my other (bio) kids against the ongoing anxiety and sensory issues of my son adopted from China who doesn’t often enjoy what the rest of us enjoy. Occasionally we split up, but more often he just gets exposed to the fun–against his will. 🙂

    • Jerusha, I always wrestle with the how much do we split up. I’m really big on doing things as a family, but sometimes the best thing for the family is to do things separately.

  11. Avatar Christy says:

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing. It is hard balancing all the kids and their needs.

    • I think it is something of an issue in general for families with more than one kid, but it is heightened with adoptive families because we are steeped in the knowledge that we need to work hard to help our adopted children. It’s easy to “forget” about the kids that are the non-squeaky wheels.

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