I took the kids to the park the other day, and I was seated just close enough to the play structure that I could faintly overhear a conversation that occurred between Kembe and several older kids. At first, I had a hard time understanding what was being said, but something about Kembe’s posture caught my attention. Typically, he’s a relatively
cocky over-confident kid with a lot of swagger., even around older kids. But in this setting he looked . . . almost cornered. He seemed intimidated and a bit helpless. As I strained to hear, I though I heard one of the kids saying, “That is NOT your real mom.” I had an immediate pit in my stomach, and tried to check myself. Surely they are not ganging up on him about adoption, I thought. I stood up and started walking casually towards them, so that I could hear the conversation and intervene if needed. Sure enough, this is what I heard the four other children saying to Kembe:
“That is not your real mom”
“Yeah, where is your REAL mom?”
“So you are adopted"?”
“You HAVE to be adopted”
“No way that is your mom”
“What happened to your real parents?”
I don’t think these kids were trying to be cruel. But the way that they were surrounding him, asking questions and refusing to accept his answer as he repeatedly pointed to me as his mom, made the situation feel confrontational. Kembe looked embarrassed and I decided to intervene. I approached them and tried, in my most friendly and casual voice, to introduce myself and then asked if they had some questions I could help with.
“We were just wondering what happened to his real parents, “ one of the kids asked. I told them that this was a personal question – that it was up to him if he wanted to share but that it might not be polite to ask. They seemed to get that. We talked a bit more, and the kids were all very nice, suddenly seeming to take quite a friendly interest in our family. The only girl in the group, who I’d guess was about eleven, starting gushing about how great it was that I adopted him.
“It’s SO NICE you took him in. Because orphanages are a really bad place. They just make you clean all day long, and then people come in but they might just be pretending to be your real parents for money.”
It was clear her only education on orphan life and adoption was the movie Annie. Then, the clincher. Another kid – a boy of about 10 – seemed relieved that I came over to explain this whole mix-up of our family. His actual words:
“I mean, I could tell that something was wrong. Something was not right about that”
I corrected him then, my patience running a bit more thin. “There is nothing wrong. It’s different, huh? Most families match and we don’t. But it’s different. It’s not wrong.”
This isn’t the first time my kids have been questioned on the “realness” of their family by their peers. I suspect it won’t be the last. I know I can’t expect every single kid to have been educated on adoption, and inevitably my kids will be the ones educating their peers. But is it too much to ask that other parents, whose families don’t have exposure to transracial families, take a couple minutes and explain it to them so that my kids aren’t always the center of the After-School Special on Adoption in the school playyard? Because it’s already getting old, and we’ve got a long ways to go.
In fact, I will make it really, really simple right now. Here’s a script. You can ad-lib. Frestyle it. Or just say this:
1. Sometimes kids have different skin colors from their parents. It could be because they are adopted, or because their parents are different races, or because they have a step mom or step dad. It’s no big deal. They are still real families. There is nothing wrong or weird about families with different skin colors. (Insert examples from your own life here. Or have a come-to-Jesus meeting about diversifying your friendship circle).
2. When someone is adopted, their mom is just a mom. The person who gave birth to them is called a “birth mom”. Both of them are real moms.
3. It can be nosey or embarrassing to ask a kid if they are adopted or ask what happened to their birth mom, especially if you don’t know them. That could make them feel bad, so don’t do it. If you are curious, ask me about it and if I know the answer we can talk about it.
See? NOT HARD.
And while you are at it, you can throw in a bit about how some kids have parents that don’t live together, or have two mommies or daddies, etc. Because no child from unique family circumstances deserves to be singled out on the playground because we’ve failed to explain the world to our kids.
Another really easy way to explain adoption to kid: books. Here are a few good ones:
Or, you could watch the Disney Channel show Jessie, which features a transracial family. Could be a good conversation starter, as well as a way to normalize racially mixed families.
There are also several movies that explore adoption that could further the discussion:
On the flip side, if they’ve seen Tangled or Annie or any other number of Disney movies, you may have some deconstruction to do about what adoption is really like and what language is appropriate.
I know we’re all doing the best we can, and that there are a million things we are trying to impart to our kids. But taking a minute to talk normalize adoptive families with your kids would be doing my kids a major solid.
In the meantime, we’ll be continuing our role-plays at home, in which I play the nosey kid on the school ground and I help my kids come up with comebacks that they are comfortable with. Jafta’s favorites:
You don’t have a very mature understanding of adoption.
Does she look like a fake mom to you?