A Transracial Family. Isn’t that nice, all in bold like that? Sometimes that’s what our family feels like. Instead of being a mom, dad, son, and daughter we become a bold-type Family, faces standing out in the crowd, an entity.
I get it. This is part of what we signed on for when we agreed to adopt children who are a different race than we are. But sometimes I forget. I forget that even though all families are made up of individuals, our family wears those differences on our sleeves, and that sometimes this imbalance in the classic family image causes discord around us.
I don’t mean to say that we’ve met actual opposition to us as a family, just that the visual of us when we’re out together is clearly jarring to some of the people we meet. And I do find it interesting that perfect strangers feel comfortable expressing their opinion of our life together. This usually varies depending on the age of the person involved.
Children are generally the most forthright, coming right out and asking what our relationship is to each other. I’ve dealt with this at the beginning of every school year — when I go into the classrooms to volunteer and am introduced as T-man’s or Bear’s mother there are usually a few confused looks. Slowly, over the next month or two, the kids who are the most perplexed will find an opportunity to ask straight out, “You’re so-and-so’s mother? REALLY? His/her mother?” This is usually resolved by a simple and straightforward “yes,” repeated as many times as necessary.
The most emphatic encounter I’ve had was with a girl in T-man’s third grade class. She joined the room mid-year so she hadn’t seen me yet; all she knew was that T-man’s mom was coming in that morning to volunteer. I was settling in to work at a table and heard a quiet commotion on the other side of the room. I looked up to find another student in heated discussion with the new girl, and all I could hear were his repeated assertions, “Yes, she IS.” Finally he looked up, met my eyes, and called across the room, “Hey! T-man’s mom! Could you tell her you’re really his mom?” And even with my assurance that yes, I am his mom, this young lady still shot out an incredulous “Really?!?”. Now, she happened to be a black student, and I’m not sure if that made it more difficult for her to grasp how he and I could be family, but that’s definitely the most reassurance a child has required before being convinced that our family is real.
Adults have their own way of handling us, and it typically involves what I think of as The Look. When we go somewhere new there’s almost always someone who’s doing a double take, or sometimes a sidelong glance when they think we’re not looking. You can see the wheels turning as they process our interactions, watch our body language, or listen to how we speak to one another. You can almost see the moment when they realize oh, they’re a family which is usually followed pretty quickly by their kids must be adopted.
At this point the adults fall into one of three groups. Some simply accept this concept and move on. Others are unable to move past the different and colorful nature of our family and continue to watch us, albeit discretely. The last group includes those adults who feel compelled to speak to us about our family structure. The best ones simply tell us what a beautiful family we have. That’s it, the end (and we completely agree). However, others venture into questionable territory. Some comment on how lucky our children are, and many will argue with me if I try to deflect this with “oh no, we’re the lucky ones.” Perhaps the most difficult interactions are with people who start peppering us with questions about whether the kids are biological brother and sister, how long we’ve had them, or where they came from. While I understand that this is simply their way of making conversation or expressing interest in our family, I doubt they’d walk up to a “typical” family and start asking for personal information about the children present.
I know we look different and unique — it’s one of the things I love most about our family — and I realize this makes us more conspicuous. However, it does not override my children’s right to privacy. If your question would be inappropriate with a stranger and their biological family then it is inappropriate with us.
I don’t mind talking adoption…it is the miracle that brought my family to me, after all. But I won’t do it at the cost of my kids’ comfort or confidentiality.