Biracial adoption

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 14th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. November is National Adoption Month.

Throughout Scripture, God shows His favor over adoption. It’s a reflection of how he grafts believers into his family. But hurdles abound for families who want to adopt: piles of paperwork, hours of training and plenty of expenses.

EICHER: And then after a child comes home, different challenges. Some children grapple with grief, separation anxiety, feelings of loss and confusion about their identity.

Today, WORLD Radio’s Katie Gaultney tells the story of two adoptive families who face an additional challenge: raising children of a different race.

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Rachel Leos is an attorney in Dallas. When she’s not at the office, you may find her at home, playing cars with her sons:

AUDIO: [Sound of Rachel’s boys playing]

Rachel is a petite redhead. Her husband, Jesse, is Latino. And they’ve adopted three black sons. Her transracial family prompts plenty of questions from strangers. Sometimes, all she can do is laugh.

LEOS: I’ve gone to places where someone…asked me if they could have my phone number so that I could babysit their children because obviously I was running a daycare. I kindly told her I had enough children of my own, that I did not need to babysit anyone else’s children. [laughter]

Amy Kahn also lives in Dallas. She’s an emergency room physician. Her children attend the same private Christian school as the Leoses. The Kahns recently put a basketball goal in their driveway, and they’re making the most of it, shooting hoops as a family.

AUDIO: [Sound of Amy’s family playing basketball]

Amy and her husband, Andy, have four children: Three biological daughters and a 5-year-old son, who was adopted from Congo. Her husband is Asian, which gave Amy some insight into the way some people view minorities. But adoption opened her eyes in new ways.

KAHN: All of the sudden I have a completely new worldview and… I can see a ton of places where the world is just not fair. And I’m a little bit embarrassed for all the things that I didn’t see before, but really, really, really thankful that God has opened my eyes.

Both families knew going into the process that adoption is unpredictable. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and adopting a child from another country, culture or race can come with a particular learning curve. Both women told me they’ve had to learn everyday things, like caring for their sons’ hair and skin. Amy recently realized the stocking caps that some African-Americans wear aren’t just a style statement; they protect a hair type that’s more prone to breakage:

KAHN: I had no idea that you couldn’t just put a baseball cap on.

And Rachel remembers the aftermath of a recent playground trip with her boys.

LEOS: But I’ve spent like two different weeks getting wood chips out of Hawke’s hair because him another little boy are just like dumping wood chips on each other’s hair, and wood chips are … everywhere. [laughter]

Amy and Rachel’s families went through plenty of training before adopting. Some things they were ready for. But other things, they didn’t anticipate.

In the last two years, their city of Dallas has seen a slew of tragedies involving people of color. Last year, a police officer in a Dallas suburb shot and killed a black teenager who was leaving a party. That officer was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. And just this September, another Dallas police officer shot a black man in his own apartment after the officer mistook him for a burglar.

LEOS: I remember reading something that said, um, the people that say, “Oh, your black kids are so cute”—they may see your black teenager as a threat. And I think that’s kind of the biggest thing on my radar. How do I shape their future?… I can’t protect them from everything.

Rachel is teaching her children some of the hard lessons that African-American parents have long taught their children. Like we’re not allowed to have water guns in public.

LEOS: He’ll get a little upset about that. “Well, why can’t I have that?” And I’m like, okay, we talked about this. Why? And he’ll say because people could think they’re real. And so I think just those things that I have to teach him are heartbreaking.

Amy can relate. Since her son is only 5, Amy is able to protect him from a lot.

KAHN: He’s at his sweet little school where he is known and loved, and he’s at our house, and he’s at our church.

But she knows this is temporary. As he gets older, Amy won’t be able to control his environment as much as she can now, while he’s in kindergarten. So she’s training his big sisters to stick up for him in the future.

KAHN: Like he has to grow up, and I find myself telling my daughters all the time, um, as he gets bigger, you know, like if we’re ever not with him, you have to stand by his side and advocate for him if anything ever happens.

Amy imagines all kinds of scary scenarios down the road. What if he and his friends get pulled over? Will his white friends know how to respond appropriately?

KAHN: If he’s in the car, they need to be 10 times more respectful than they would be if he wasn’t. Because he’s not gonna be given the same privilege.

Another thing Rachel and Amy say they couldn’t have predicted is just how many questions they get from strangers. Rachel has been asked more than once if her three black sons are brothers. She knows what people mean—they are wondering if the boys are biologically related. But it stings.

LEOS: I don’t want them to ever wonder if they’re not brothers. And so I just feel like it’s unnecessary. It’s frustrating to me that people feel the need to ask things because our family doesn’t look like every other family.

For what it’s worth, both women say they’re happy to answer questions about adoption. But, Amy cautions, time and place matter.

KAHN: Like if you have a deep question that you want to know, like asked me, schedule it, we can step aside, um, or I can nicely tell you that we aren’t going to answer that question. Um, but definitely don’t ask me in front of my children.

Rachel sees plenty that encourages her, too. She loves when friends buy their children toys and books that represent different races.

LEOS: It kind of makes me feel like my kids are being seen and valued…It’s just helpful to have that representation and acknowledgement of your skin is brown and, you know, God made you exactly this way.

For both Rachel and Amy, adoption has been more than a way to build their families. It’s been a lens for a new way of seeing. They hope to pass that knowledge on to their friends. Here’s Amy.

KAHN: Now I just want to beg all my white friends to see the things that I didn’t see, um, so that we can make a difference, change things.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Katie Gaultney, reporting from Dallas, Texas.

(Photo/Rachel Leos)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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