I totally get that our family doesn’t exactly look like everyone else’s.
Mixed race families are more common here in the Bay Area than I’ve seen in most other places, but I do understand why people wouldn’t at first assume that Rocky and I are Jonathan’s parents. We both grew up in families where we didn’t resemble our parents either, even though we were all biologically related. Rocky’s mother is petite and tan - five feet tall even with dark hair and eyes - while he’s 6’1 and looks like a poster boy for Dutch tourism. I’m paler than all my Mexican cousins, even the ones with one Caucasian parent like me, but I also don’t look anything like my mom with her blond hair and blue eyes. My niece and nephews are biracial. We like having unique families, and this whole mixed thing isn’t a new idea for us.
But even though Jonathan already has our odd sense of humor and has fit in with us from the moment he arrived, he IS of a different ethnicity. We don’t pretend this isn’t real, although sometimes I do forget. His skin is just Jonathan’s skin, his hair Jonathan’s hair, beautiful and dark. It is not only ok, but GOOD to acknowledge these differences and to celebrate his heritage just as we do our own. We don't focus solely on them, but we do make sure he sees and is around other kids and people that look like him so that he knows that all parts of his identity are loved and respected.
People do have questions and a natural curiosity when they see us, which is 100% ok.
I don’t expect anyone to pretend that they don’t. When I see other families with a mix of kids, even I still get curious. Wanting to know more about a person's story or their background is natural and healthy and good. It helps us get to know each other and builds community, which is so important, especially these days. I don’t mind questions or conversations one bit because I think that it’s so much better to know the truth and get past any assumptions or ignorance than to just keep quiet and pretend there’s no difference in anyone at all.
What’s been interesting to me is how some people have gone about asking me questions, or the comments made in an apparent effort to show me just how “ok” they are with it all. Some are genuinely curious, some judgmental, some just plain thick. I’ve had other foster/adoptive moms tell me similar stories, especially when out in public with their families with kids of multiple races, and yes, they’ve all heard the tasteless jokes about the Wal-Mart mom with five kids of different races and WIC checks.
Tact and kindness are everything.
Just like you wouldn’t (or really shouldn’t) walk up to someone and ask them their weight or what that thing is on their face, it’s really not the best idea to make comments and ask questions without first checking your attitude, and second, checking your tone. I try to keep my responses informative and calm, but I’ll admit that sometimes my mama bear senses get tingling and my temper gets short when I think someone might be insulting my kid. That said, I’m actually really happy to answer questions about our family and why we look different from each other. I want to encourage people to know our story and help them see why adoption is awesome. Seriously - leave me some comments or PM me if you have questions. I really do want to answer them!
Here’s a sampling of some of the actual things that I’ve been asked or that people have said to me. along with some suggestions on what might be better questions. Note: All of these are real and unchanged, although I might tweak some details about the circumstances or person asking in order to protect their identity.
INSTEAD OF THIS...
Q: Is he a foster?
MA: (my answer): Oh, his name isn't Foster, it's Jonathan.
This was asked the first time I brought Jonathan to a playgroup and was snuggling him as he fell asleep. The person kind of stuttered and stumbled after that, but I think they got it. Kids in foster care are not fosters, they are kids in foster care.
ASK OR SAY THIS...
Q: ARE YOU A FOSTER PARENT?
MA: YEp! (but we're more of an adoptive than foster family)
We totally support our friends who both foster and adopt, but we always went into the process with the intent to adopt, not specifically foster. Down the line we will reevaluate and will most likely invite more kids to join our home for as long as they need, but for now we want to focus on adoption.
Q: Where is his real mother/father?
MA: I'm/he's right here
Short answer: He is my baby, I am his mama, period, full stop, done.
When I'm not irked and feeling sarcastic (something I'm always working on, but never as successful as I'd like), I'll explain that he was adopted, so I am his real mother now. I change his diapers, I hold him when he's sick, and I get to watch him do amazing things as he grows up. That is being a parent.
Q: how cool is it to be a mother/father?
MA: I know, right? it's the best!
I love being Jonathan's mom - just ask any of my poor coworkers who have to hear the stories of his newest word for the tenth time, or that have to sit through yet another video of his latest funny thing. In fact, let me tell you all about how he...wait. Where are you going? What do you mean you have a meeting to get to? I have a photo to show you! Come back!
Q: do you think you'll tell him about his birth mother?
MA: yes, as he's able to understand it all
Unlike many kids who look like their adoptive parents, Jonathan will not really ever question whether or not he was adopted, so I will share bits of information as he is able to understand them, presenting it to him in a way that is appropriate for his age/stage.
Think of it as a variation on the "birds and bees" talk - you only communicate the things that are needed and able to be understood by your kid in that moment. He does absolutely have a right to know about his birth mother and his extended family, and when he is old enough, I will give him full access to what information we have. Plus all the cool superheroes need an origin story, right?
Q: Why did he get taken away? What did his mom do?
MA: His birth mother was unable to give him the care he needed
This is usually a follow up to the question above. Long story short, addiction is cruel and sometimes people make poor choices when they're hurting. While I'm okay with sharing the details of his birth mother's struggles with Jonathan's teachers, doctors, and our close friends, I have committed to not disrespecting her OR him by airing her dirty laundry. To shame her is to shame a part of him, and that would not be ok.
Some people also make the assumption that kids in foster care have done something to deserve it, when nothing could be further from the truth! Children have no say in their circumstances or the decisions made by the adults entrusted with their care, and should not be blamed for it.
Q: did you adopt because YOU can't HAVE kids OF YOUR OWN?
MA: He IS my own kid. the judge said so.
One of my favorite quotes is from Oprah Winfrey, sister of someone who was adopted. “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”
While it is true that I am physically unable to bear children, to me, there is absolutely no difference in the way I feel about Jonathan than I would any other child I could have grown in my own body. The fact that another woman went through the physical process of giving him birth is a humbling, beautiful, and, well, kind of irrelevant to me in some ways. There are definitely things I wish I could have experienced, like feeling him kick inside me or getting to nurse, but we found our own ways to be close. We bonded during his bottle feedings, and he certainly kicks me plenty now when we wrestle and play! For the rest of his life, Jonathan will know that we chose him, making him extra wonderful to us.
As soon as the adoption was final and the judge banged the gavel (and after we had our Lion King moment, of course), legally Jonathan was no different than any biological child we could have had. He was even issued a new birth certificate with us listed as his parents. How cool is that?
Q: tell me about your decision to adopt. was the process hard?
MA: it was long, and kinda painful. But then I've heard labor is too.
We explored many different options, from private to international to reaching out to local churches, but ultimately what worked best for us and what we felt called to do was to work with our local foster care system.
Navigating that system is not easy, and changes in legislation have made it even tougher. I used to tell people once we were licensed that I was "paper pregnant." While I never had to go through an episiotomy, I did have my share of paper cuts from completing mountains of paperwork. I had to go through invasive interviews and questionnaires instead of invasive physical exams. But the rewards are so, so beyond worth it, and at the end I got to take home my beautiful son. For the rest of his life, Jonathan will know that we chose him, making him extra wonderful to us.
And just like after childbirth or getting tattoos, you forget the pain of the last one, and focus on the hopeful anticipation and excitement of the next.
your baby is adorable! omg freaking out ahhhh so cute and fluffy i could just die!
MA: yes, totally me too ahhhh!
Jonathan really IS the cutest thing I've ever seen. And admit it, he's probably the cutest thing you've ever seen too. Go ahead, look at him. LOOK. Just bask in his glorious cuteness.
I don't care if my next kid has orange skin with purple polka dots and green hair. God made us all in His image, and clearly, He loves variety. Just like there isn't one color of flower or only one "right" kind of fish, there is no better or worse color of human. There is no uniform required to join this family.
I have a friend who was out with her mix of her kids, and someone commented that they looked like a miniature U.N. That sounds awesome, and something I'd love our own family to look like someday. A beautiful mix of colors and cultures, celebrating all that God has made.
I always hoped my son would marry a Black woman. They make such cute babies!
MA: I literally do not know how to respond to that.
This was a fun one and was a real test of my patience and temper. I was too startled to do much more than stand there and blink at them until they walked away, which is probably better than smacking them upside the head. Probably.
Jonathan is a child, not a Chihuahua. To say "they" makes him and other people of his same ethnic origin sound like members of another species and reduces him to the status of a cute puppy. He is a human being, no different under the skin than you are, and for that reason alone you should show him and "them" more respect. He isn't cute because he's Black or despite being Black, he's just cute period.
The asker here isn't a horrible person, and I get what they were going for, but you don't need to reassure someone that their family is "ok" in your eyes. If I may quote Miss Noxeema Jackson, your approval is "neither desired nor required."
I have opinions on things and want to help make them better
MA: awesome! We should find a way to serve together!
Yes! I love seeing people take action and get passionate about their communities and making them better and safer for everyone. We serve with our friends in assorted outreach and community projects all the time and we're always looking for people with big hearts and big work ethics. Come join us!
[INSERT OPINION ON THE STATE OF OUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT/DRUG ADDICTS/MINORITIES/ETC.]
MA: Yeah, things can get really frustrating. We're hoping things will get better, and we're always looking for ways to help in our community and our church.
I usually also follow this with, "In fact, let me tell you about this great volunteer opportunity we have/way to help support foster families/etc...." If you want to see change, you have to be part of that change. But if you're just trolling people or being a racist jerk, then I really don't have much time for you.
Q: Where is he from?
My one-word answer on this one usually gets some pretty priceless looks, and I'll admit I sometimes have to try hard not to laugh since it's an honest question. Many people assume that because Jonathan is Black, we must have adopted internationally, which I (kind of) get. It's a sad but true thing that many adoptions that take place both privately and through the foster system are from families that for whatever reason aren't open to children of other races than themselves, and that the number of minority foster families is lower than caucasian ones. My favorite response was actually Jonathan's first foster mom's when she was out shopping with him. She'd tell people she picked him up on Aisle 3 - he was on special.
Again, while some of the more boneheaded things I've heard can frustrate me, the majority of people I talk to really are just genuinely curious, and I LOVE curiosity. You can't learn if you don't ask! I would love to hear any questions you might have about us, the adoption process we went through, foster care or anything else. Please leave a comment or PM me and I'll answer anything that I can!