One of our own adoptive parents recently shared with RaleighMomsBlog her experiences of having a family and how she has empowered her 5-yr-old daughter with the skills to be strong, proud and respond when questions and comments by the curious arise. (Original Blog Post by Cindy Stranad, November 26, 2018)
“Mommy, you’re peach, and I’m brown,” she said.
“I know honey, is that ok?” I asked.
Without hesitation and a smirk running toward the toy box, “Of course mommy, don’t ya know.”
In 2012, I adopted my daughter as an infant. I suppose you could say my biological clock didn’t strike midnight until around the age of 40. After much research and sitting on the fence, independent adoption was the right choice to build my family.
A little older than the average mom, it wasn’t uncommon for many questions to pop up from strangers as our twosome toddled around the neighborhood or headed off to the pool or grocery store. What was evident is that I adopted as a single parent by choice and my baby was a different race than myself or that of my family.
The wish I had for my daughter had nothing to do with race. It is what we all want for our kids no matter of their ethnicity or gender – “Be strong in who you are.”
Ever-present in my mind still today – is playing out a strong sense of self for her because we are confronted with it often – I am single, she is adopted, and she looks different than me.
What I did not know in the beginning and equally as important, was the notion of letting the questions come. Not only to listen intently to the question but embrace each one with a smile. (OK, the smile may be a stretch.) Not only fielding this variety of questions from strangers but from friends, family and — between us — as mother and daughter. What I did know was questions would come surrounding our reality, and I had to prepare her to answer them with confidence.
This year, my daughter started Kindergarten. A first for both of us, I had to trust the snapshots of conversations we have had about our transracial family, and our collective response to all those questions over the last five years has prepared her to stand proud, to have the answers for the moment.
Here are three things I did to prepare for the questions:
1. Start the conversation.
Don’t wait. Ask your child a leading question, don’t wait for them to ask you. They may not want you to be uncomfortable or know exactly the question to ask. It may be something like, “Look there are another mom and daughter who looks like our family. What do you think about that?” or “Does anyone ever mention that you and I have different color skin?”
Open the dialogue. Let them know it’s okay to talk about it.
Be careful not to create a defensive posture. Role-Play with your child on how a conversation may go with a friend if they ask about skin color or other personal questions. It’s like practicing a talk for training at work, a lesson plan at church or perhaps a job interview. It’s about anticipating the question, so you have an answer.
3. Plant another family tree
I was taken off-guard during preschool when she brought home the family tree. This child exercise scared me. Will she be compared to other families unfairly? I had to let go of my insecurity, and teach her to make room for different types of trees in the family backyard – birth parents, stepparents and single parents, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles from each of these family connections. Moreover, there is your village of close friends and godparents. Most of us probably have something that looks more like a sprawling vineyard than a simple tree.
I say all of this because I had to trust myself. And, I am encouraging you to trust yourself. Release the adult definitions of family and wake up to the reality of what your family looks like from your child’s perspective.
As we celebrate gratefulness during November as National Adoption Awareness Month, remember that open and honest talks across the board on adoption, race and family diversity will go a long way in building your child’s self-esteem. You may even be surprised at some of the reactions and aha moments created as we all widen our thinking about the beauty of transracial families.