Yesterday while I was picking up Daniel from camp I overheard one of his friends (also African- American) ask him, "How come you are brown and your mom is white?" Daniel didn't answer, and his face got very stiff and angry. So on the way home I counseled him on how to answer his friends questions about our family. We've had this conversation several times before, but he's just not comfortable enough with his adoption story to confidently share it with other kids. (I'll be speaking to his counselor this morning about helping him during their "share time".)*
Most young children don't have the language to educate their friends about different kinds of families. I feel strongly that is OUR job as parents to help our children understand that there are lots of different kinds of families, and lots of different kinds of people, in our beautiful world. Seems simple right? Sometimes not. So here is a handy guide for the next time you are in the playground with a family that looks like ours (and different from yours).
First of all, we should encourage our children's questions about diversity. When we bring our children to another part of the city and they ask, "Why are the buildings so tall!?" we don't say, "Shh.... it's not polite to ask questions!" or whisper ,"I'll explain when we get home." So if your child asks you to explain the presence of a family/person who looks different to them, answer them!
Just a few weeks ago Daniel asked some questions about a family made up of two dads and a little boy (adopted). We used it as a great opportunity to educate him on the variety of families that are possible. At first he was incredulous, but then he got it. Kids usually do. They know better than adults do that Love and Trust are what make a family.
Of course, we can teach our children to ask questions politely. There is a big difference between "What's wrong with him!?!" and "Why is that man sitting in a wheelchair?"
Here are some common questions we get in the playground, and the answers I give.
You may notice that I answer without telling strangers my children's personal stories.
How come you don't look alike?
Daniel and Lily were adopted. They were born in Ethiopia so they look like their Ethiopian family.
What does 'adopted' mean?
Adopted is how some children become part of a family. Most kids are born into their families. But sometimes the mom and dad who have a baby can't take care of him or her, so the baby/child is adopted by another family.
Are they going to go back?
No, adoption is forever. Once a family adopts a child/baby, they are a family forever. (No need to start talking about adoption disruption or people putting their kids on one-way international flights.)
Is that your real mom?/dad?
Yes, we are a real family. There are no fake mommies around here!
Are they adopted?!
"She was adopted," not "she is adopted." Same as: "she was born" not "she is born."
First mother/father or birthmother/father, not "natural" or "real" mother/father.
"His first family made an adoption plan." not "He was put up or given up for adoption."
And also... there's no need to whisper. Adopted is not a "dirty" word. :)
And Thank You!
* Update: not only was the counselor very helpful, it turns out there is a girl in his group who was also adopted from Ethiopia! Small, wonderful world!