Adoption is no walk in the park: both parent and child have to adapt to their new-found reality, and it can be even tougher when race is added to the mix.
Clinical psychologist Jean Luyt, of Newlands, is a parent of three children, two of whom are adopted, and she has started therapy classes to help adopted children and adults, adoptive parents and those looking to adopt navigate the many issues they are likely to face, including discrimination and feelings of abandonment.
Jean says the government favours same-race adoption, but many children are placed into families of a different race because there are simply more abandoned children than there are parents looking to adopt.
The child then has to adapt to an atypical family environment. And in a country still grappling with a post-apartheid identity crisis, members of a multiracial family frequently feel the sting of racism, whether at school, the shopping mall or some other public setting.
“A difficulty we have is being a conspicuous family,” says Jean.
“Mostly we have a positive response, but other times you’re in Pick * Pay, you just want to be doing your shopping and you don’t need people engaging you. For some people it’s harder to tolerate, being visible. You can see people trying to work out how this works.
“You have to worry about people’s assumptions. There have been some negative comments made directly to us. Some people are well meaning and want to give you advice, saying, ‘Don’t do the hair like this.’ Some of this stuff is helpful but not from a stranger in Pick * Pay.”
Jean says the language people use around adoption is often hurtful too because there is a notion that only a biological child is your real child, so many will not refer to her children as her own.
Parents of adopted children also have to help their children deal with issues of abandonment and identity.
“We decided right from the outset to talk to our kids about adoption. We talked about his biological mother quite a lot. We don’t know much about her, but just the idea that she exists and she is important. It’s easy for us, as society, to have a negative perception about the adoptive parents and the choices they made.
“My son had this idea that when he grew up he would turn white. He had this idea that children were born black, and when they got older they would be white because we, as parents, look a particular way. We told him you got these qualities from your biological parents. He’s quite tall and I’m not, and he’s quite sporty, so we tell him about these positive traits that he got from his biological parents,” says Jean.
Adopted children need extra careful parenting because they have more emotional vulnerability due to feelings of early abandonment, Jean says. So being extra considerate of this is crucial.
Interacting in a multiracial setting is important for families with an adopted child to ensure the child is familiar with various people from various cultures: your child cannot be your first multiracial friend, says Jean. They need to see you treating everyone like equals.
She says couples looking to adopt need to make sure they are both on the same page to avoid a scenario where one partner ends up resenting a decision they don’t feel they were part of.
And seek support, she says, from the community or on social media.
“Share your experience with other people, it can be a lonely walk, but it doesn’t have to be.”
To find out more about support for adoptive children, or adopted adults, contact Jean Luyt at 082 872 0192 or email her at email@example.com