The “not real” commentary and its follow through

We’ve had some interesting conversations with the kids this year. It started with a little girl who told Remy she didn’t like him. That led our sweet boy to start experimenting with telling people he didn’t like them – in the family. We had some long conversations about how that hurts people’s feelings and isn’t really what he wants to say. He gets it now, and is the “mean” police, keeping us all kind.

The kids are also hearing some commentary about how “real” their family is. It’s come in different forms, from adults and children, but it’s amazing how fast they internalize it. For example, following one of these random incidents in the park, Tess told Dave he wasn’t her dad. When you prepare to adopt, you take a lot of classes. And in everyone of them, they talk to you about this moment – the moment when your kid tries to figure out how this all works. So despite the fact that my biggest fear is hearing those words from one of my kids, I suspect I will react the way Dave did.

With an audience of other kids and parents, he explained that he was her dad and loved very much, then  sent her off to play again. Back at home, we talked about how many different kinds of families there are: families with first moms, families with two moms, families with one parent, families with stepparents, families that “match” and families that don’t, like ours. We kept it light and short, but when our kids hear some of the world’s crazy responses to adoption we want them to hear us as their inside voice – not any of these other people.

We will never skate under the radar. Whether they like it or not, we visibly stand out from hundreds of feet away and that will never change. While interracial adoption becomes more common every year, our family will always be in the minority. There’s nothing wrong with that! But when we know how many crazy things they’ve heard already by age 4 and under, we’re digging in our next messaging.

Some of our family rules, the things are kids can recite back to us, include:

1. Disrespect maman or a babysitter and you disrespect daddy, and vice versa.

2. You take care of your siblings and you protect people smaller than you.

3. We don’t say “hate” about people.

4. First time is a mistake, second time is a choice. We’ll respond accordingly.

5. When you hurt someone, on purpose or not, you apologize and give them a hug. No exceptions.

The list keeps growing, although most of them are pretty much moral tenets we expect them to maintain for the rest of time. I can feel one coming on this topic, but the outlines are murky. Do we talk about how words can hurt feelings? Do we talk about how to respond? Do we use that teaching moment to talk about all the different kinds of families, to normalize that our family isn’t the standard?

These moments stay with me, and David and I noodle on them for weeks or longer. Fortunately, our kids don’t. At this age, we have the conversation and let it go. They will always come back for another round, but it doesn’t stop them from feeling loved and going about their business of play.

That same night, Sassy brought over a house full of groceries and helped make dinner, as David was out of town. The kids were delighted to have her, and took their bag of chips or loaf of bread into the house giggling about how they were unloading groceries with Sassy. They squealed with delight when Poppy and tante Caela came in later, peppering with them with questions and telling them long, unwieldy stories. They were thrilled when Sassy brought them to bed, just like any other kid spending time with their grandparents.

Dave’s parents, grandma and grandpa, came up the following weekend. Family field trips to the library and to Harrington beach to fish were pretty much mind blowers, even though the kids were so tired they acted like crazy people. Rose and Dan have been wonderful champions of our family from day one, which endeared them to me even more than the welcome I received when I joined the family. Their attachment to our kids is so visible, to the point where Dan said he wished they lived closer after watching one of Tess’ temper tantrums. I assure you, that is epic levels of love.

Tess and Remy will be talking about their visit for weeks! Love is never lacking in this household, and it’s a big family in that great big world that supports all of our kids.

As different as our family may appear to be from the outside, and as unique as it may be in all of its extended family branches, family is family. I don’t see that many differences between our lives and those of my siblings and friends who also have children. We all love them fiercely, balance work and family, and balance extended family time against the general busyness that hits all of us when our kids hit school-age.

If you accidentally say something mildly stupid to an adoptive family (or your child does), don’t panic. Apologize and take the teachable moment to go over with your child (or yourself!) what adoption is, and that families may look different from what they expect but that doesn’t change the fact that they are just as much a family. People look horrified when this happens, but we all put our foot in it here and there. I refer you back to our family rules: “The first time is a mistake, the second time is a choice. We will respond accordingly.”

We cannot in good conscience put our children in situations where their family life is challenged or diminished on a regular basis. That said, people around us needing to learn how to talk about adoption and actually taking the time to do so shows us respect and love as a family. We understand the learning curve and respect the efforts. Thus far, I think we’ve only come across one person who was incapable of adjusting their worldview as it related to us as a family.

So don’t be afraid to talk to us at the park. Don’t freak out if your kid mentions  my son is black. He is. There’s nothing wrong with that aknowledging that we all look different, and we talk about that at home too. Focus on the authenticity of our family, the fact that we are as much a family as everyone else. And apologize if you realize you’ve offended.

Recently, a parent did us a huge favor and asked how we would like her to handle what her child said to our kids. It’s a relief to be able to directly say the things that we’re writing here, and she endeared herself to us with that choice. That also helps us reinforce the messaging to our kids. The worst choice is to pretend nothing was said. If we have no context and our kids start saying things like “you’re not my dad”, it’s a lot harder on our end!

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