The Ugly Duckling and Transracial Adoptive Parenting

Remember the story of The Ugly Duckling? Where a baby swan was hatched and raised by a duck? The mother duck could teach the ugly duckling everything there was to being a duck, but she couldn’t teach him about being a swan.


The baby swan was perceived as an outsider and, therefore, believed he was ugly.  He didn’t realize he was a beautiful swan until he was an adult, but he had already suffered so much.


The story of The Ugly Duckling is about how a creature feels when he is not connected to his birth heritage or culture.  It’s a story about a swan in search of his place and his identity.


When I read this story to my children, I took away a deeper message as an adoptive parent. The story of the ugly duckling is similar to transracial adoption and what needs to happen within the adoptive family.  Like the ugly duckling, my children are in search of self.


I have found that one of the biggest challenges as an adoptive parent, especially as a parent to transracially adopted children, is that I cannot meet all of their needs.  I know each of my kids feels they belong in every possible way.  They know that each of them holds a special and unique place within our family.  They know they are deeply, deeply loved.  I can, have, and continue to teach and share my history and heritage with my children.


I do all I can to make their heritage and culture available to them, but meeting my children’s needs to discover their birth heritages and belong to them – as they choose, well, I can’t do that. Culture is lived. I’m White.  I can’t live my children’s cultures, but I can honor them – and do.  My kids know that I care how they feel and what they think about adoption and their race, ethnicity, and birth culture. (They all have different feelings and thoughts.) They know that they have my, and their dad’s, total encouragement to explore, discover, and embrace their birth cultures.  It is my hope that my children will continue to be happy and grow into confident and well-adjusted adults.


 What can you do as a transracial adoptive parent?


  • Be honest.
  • Challenge your assumptions about differences and identity.
  • Acknowledge differences. In transracial adoption, race is an obvious reminder that the child is not biologically related.
  • Make sure your child feels that she belongs; she is in her rightful place.
  • Help her to explore, discover and connect to her heritage.
  • Listen.

1 Comment

Filed under Adoption Issues, International Adoption, Multicultural Families, Parenting

One response to “The Ugly Duckling and Transracial Adoptive Parenting

  1. Judy, this is wonderful advice for every parent. Thank you! We’re hoping to adopt our third child from another country and I will keep your advice close at heart. I also think it is helpful to me right now as I want my daughter to understand and explore all cultures. We teach by example and love and I think your advice is something very important to keep in mind.

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