When Your Child Notices She Or He Is Different From You

No matter what...

Rachel Galbraith April 18, 2017
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I am a transracial adoptive mother. My four-year-old son is black, I am white, and my husband is Asian. We have many differing shades of skin, colors of eyes, and textures of hair in our home, and we have always done our best to celebrate it. We are against the notion of being “color blind.” In fact, we find that idea offensive. Why would we want to ignore the things that make us unique and beautiful? Even before our son joined the family, we openly talked about race and those discussions continued and intensified with his addition.

Within the past six months, he has started to notice his differences. He wishes his hair was soft and wavy like his older brother’s hair, and when it’s time for a haircut, he doesn’t like the fact that his hair won’t work with the same cut his brother chooses. At preschool, a classmate saw me drop him off and commented that I couldn’t be his mom because we didn’t look the same. That led to a discussion about skin color, adoption, and why my skin is different than his. It went something like this:

Me: “What color is Mommy’s skin?”

A: “White.”

Me: “And what color is your skin?”

A: “Black.”

Me: “That’s right. We don’t have the same color skin, do we? Do you know why?”

A: “Why?”

Me: “Well, whose tummy did you grow in?”

To which he stated the name of his birth mother.

I replied, “That’s right. And she has beautiful black skin like yours. When a baby grows in a mommy’s tummy, they usually have the same skin as their first mommy. So you have skin like T’s. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be your mommy–right? We don’t have to match to be a family. We are a family because we love each other and that’s what matters.”

He agreed and went on happily with the rest of his day. But a few weeks later it came up again. We were snuggling and I said, “What’s your favorite thing about yourself?”  He confidently said, “My SKIN!” Of course, this answer made me so happy and I hugged him and stated how beautiful his skin was.

But his proud statement was quickly followed up with a more solemn, “But Mom, I’m the only one with this skin,” and my heart sank a little bit. I tried to comfort him by pointing out that his daddy and his grandma had dark skin, but he just looked at me with some sadness in his eyes. I said, “I know, buddy, it’s still different, isn’t it?” and he nodded. So I moved on to his friends who are black, and said, “You aren’t the only one! Sam has skin like yours, and so does Gabby!” and as I listed other friends who are black he said, “I know, Mom. But they don’t live here. I want someone else who LIVES here.”

Suddenly, all the advice I had heard from adult transracial adoptees became my reality; most had told me what a difference it made to have a sibling who shared their same ethnicity, or at least what a difference it WOULD have made if they’d had one. So, what do I do? The answer is simple: we adopt again. But, I know better: Adoption is NEVER simple, easy, or even the answer. We have been trying to adopt again for the past three years and it hasn’t happened. Though we haven’t given up yet, we have begun to face the reality that it might never happen. Then what?

It’s not so much a question of “then what?” as it is a statement of No Matter What.

No Matter What: It is my responsibility to give my son the knowledge that he is not alone. Due to this, I chose to put him in a more diverse preschool where he could play and interact with other children who are beautiful like he is. He needs to be around adults, children, and families who look like he does. He needs role models from his own race and culture. He needs to see who he can become.

No Matter What: He needs to know that our differences are what make us awesome! Our differences allow us to see the world from unique perspectives, and then we can come together and make the world a better place from where we stand.

No Matter What: He needs to know his culture, his roots, and his ancestry. He needs to know who he came from and that he has unlimited potential. As his mother, I am committed to providing him with as much genealogical information as I can find.

No Matter What: He needs to know that I love him unconditionally. He needs to know that we don’t need to have the same skin color to be a family. Our family came together in a unique way, but we are still a solid family.

No Matter What: We need to talk about, acknowledge, and celebrate what makes us different. We should never down play, brush off, or ignore our child’s question about his or her race. It is who he is. It is his reality. When we pretend that being “color blind” is the answer, we are subtly teaching our children that something is wrong with them, especially if it is treated as “something we don’t talk about.”

Please don’t be afraid of the day when your child notices that he or she is different from you. Yes, there will be emotions to work through concerning that realization, but if you continue to provide your child with opportunities to talk about how they differ from you, and how they feel about it, they will be able to process it in a healthy way.

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Rachel Galbraith

Rachel Galbraith is a busy mother of five children, one of whom was adopted at birth. She has a Bachelors Degree in social work, and has worked as a medical social worker, specializing in the field of women and children. She was privileged to play a small role in the adoptions that often took place on her hospital unit. Writing has become her own personal form of therapy, and she is excited to combine it with her love of adoption. In her free time, she has a love-hate relationship with distance running. She readily admits to doing it only so she can eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.


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