Reluctant Relatives


Sometimes the whole family isn’t completely on-board with the decision to adopt, especially if the adoption is aFamily transracial adoption—a child that differs ethnically or racially from the adopting parent(s). One such experience my husband and I had was with his dad.

My father-in-law was “concerned” when we shared that we were adopting a child from China and mentioned it to my mother-in-law, who in turn shared his reservations with both my husband and I. He kept his feelings to himself, trying to support us. This that alone spoke volumes about how he felt. My father-in-law was a man I respected and loved deeply, but was known to tell the occasional off-color joke and share his perspective about people who weren’t “like him.”

The Indiana chapter of Families with Children from China created and sold a beautiful annual calendar with pictures of Chinese children, sometimes with their siblings or friends; adopted by families all over the world (they still produce the calendar). My mother-in-law was given one by a co-worker, a gift for the adoptive grandmother-to-be. Unknown to us, my father-in-law spent a lot of time pouring over the images and absorbing that his newest grandchild would resemble the children within the calendar.

In short time he said, “I can’t wait to meet my granddaughter!”  She was the topic of discussion until we traveled to China ten months later. 

When we arrived home with our daughter, my father-in-law was at the airport to greet her. He was the second to hold her, after our son. And she went right to him, allowing him to kiss her. My father-in-law held her close. His face was infused with love and joy. He came over the next morning, but our daughter pushed him away after feeling his beard. She didn’t like the feel of his whiskers. He returned later within the half hour, clean shaven, and she snuggled up with him, falling asleep in his lap.

My father-in-law was able to recognize his biases and deal with them, so much so that he had no reservations when we adopted again from China and then Guatemala. There has continued to be no favoritism between any biological and adopted grandchildren. 

The above story has a positive outcome. Something we all hope for. But I could also share stories that aren’t so positive, of family and friends we no longer see because we have no tolerance for intolerance. 

Adoptive parents, especially those who adopt transracially, may find that there is reluctance—on the part of one spouse or partner, family members, extended family or friends. What can you do to help someone embrace your child and family?

  • Acknowledge that they may have concerns and fears
  • Encourage discussion
    • Encourage them to speak up now
    • Ask others to examine their assumptions
  • Educate others
    • Share why some of why you made the decision to adopt
    • Talk about adoption and adoption language
  • Be firm and let them know what you expect
    • Fair treatment of your child
  • Ask for support
  • Give them time; after all, you want them to come around to make peace with adoption/transracial adoption.

Parents: Have you experienced reluctant relatives? What have your experiences been? How did you handle it?

~Photo by Ryanrocketship

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

LeMira October 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm

While I am not looking to adopt transracially (am I using this term correctly?), this post has hit me where it counts. This summer while discussing our adoption plans, my mother-in-law was very tight-lipped and said, “I know it’s not my decision; I don’t say much.” I realize that I need pry into her thoughts and let her express them and work through them. The last thing an adopted child needs is a grandmother who makes him/her feel out of place. (Deep breath) Now to figure out how to approach this issue.


Judy October 13, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Sometimes grandparents need time to adjust. And if they don’t then the parents need to make some tough decisions, like what they can and cannot live with. You’re aware and that’s the first step. I hope you are able to get it all resolved.


Mari December 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Thank-you for your post and the love you share with all your children! We have two adtoepd and four biological children and in the process of bringing two more little ones home. My oldest daughter is much taller than us. People will often ask her where she gets her height from. Until recently she was not ready to talk about her adoption so I’d just jump in and say “she get’s her height from my personality!” We know once the boys come home we will get a lot more questions about adoption and I’m embracing and dreading he questions at the same time, especially as it will bring it upfrount for my oldest and youngest children.Occasionally we will answer as a family and say “Yes we are all adtoepd” and try to turn the conversation towards our need for a loving father to free us from the bondage of sin.. but still people want their curiosities satisfied..even at the obvious expense of our children.We are excited about bringing our sons home and becoming an even bigger mix of expereinces and cultures.Thank-you again for your experience and encouragement.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: