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Are You My Mommy?

Whether by birth or adoption, some of us are raising kids that don't look like us. What happens when you are the parent of a child who looks nothing like you?

"Are you my mother?" the baby bird asked the kitten. -P.D. Eastman

When I was very pregnant last summer, my sister offered to take my oldest on a shopping date to the . Hours later they returned and my sister had a worried look on her face.

“Is this what happens to you whenever you go out?”

My sister explained that several different people approached her to find out how she was related to my daughter. Where did she “get her?” Was she the nanny? She could be. We all read But then she couldn’t be. She was dressed in her ultra-expensive business attire. Could she be the mother? Well, she couldn’t be that either. Their skin colors don’t match.

I got what was troubling my sister. “Oh, that. I get that all the time.”

The big difference between me and my sister is sarcasm.

When people ask me “Are they yours?” I tell them, “These are the ones they gave me in the hospital.” I know they are asking if I’m the nanny or their mother. If I gave birth to my kids or if I adopted them. Does it matter? I am still their mommy.

For our children’s generation, the perception of race and family will be vastly different from ours. Pink mom, brown daughter, brown mom, pink son.

I noticed that I have lots of friends who don’t match their kids, and I asked them about their family life.

From Jill Chandler: “Before we started the adoption process the first time, we prayed long and hard about the impact that becoming part of a multiracial family would have on our children. We’re blessed with a loving family that was very accepting of the idea. But the kids have to face it daily.  We pray that we are providing a strong, loving, faithful family foundation from which they can grow into confident, independent adults.  Our children’s adoptions are obvious, so it has been easy to make their own personal adoption story something we talk about easily whenever they choose 

Our children attend a summer camp exclusively for international adoptees by Holt International Children’s Services.  It’s a wonderful combination of summer camp stuff with a healthy dose of ‘what’s it like to be an adoptee who doesn’t look like everyone else in your family.

Some of the adoptees had new experiences when they went to college because their adoptive status wasn’t immediately obvious since no one knew or saw their family on campus. Some tried attending clubs like the Korean Student Association, but didn’t feel they fit in because their cultural upbringing was in the US.  I found that interesting and something we intend to talk about before our kids head off to school.”

From Heather Borowski: “Right after the adoption, everywhere in Beijing, elderly people would approach me and point to Zander and then to me and say with much disbelief, "Mama?" I wished I could have replied in Mandarin, "What? He doesn't look like me?"

From M. V. Freeman: “My husband Steve is Hispanic and via genetics one daughter looks like him and one like me. We couldn't decide on any names from either family. I wanted names like Morrigan or Isabella, but we settled on Russian names because Steve and I had studied that language together.”

When I am with my youngest daughter Svetlana (with the brown hair) no one believes she is mine. When my oldest daughter Tatyana is with her dad, people have asked him if she is his. Even at school they get asked if they are related!

One pediatrician asked if I adopted them from Russia, she thought Svetlana came from Gypsies and Tatyana from another area. I have had to tell people that they both are really mine. Still, even if they were adopted, they would be mine because the heart doesn't know the difference.”

From Stacey Labouchere: “You could write a whole article about the things that people say to people "like us" in a grocery store! I find my youngest daughter’s simplicity about the subject refreshing. She often points out when we are holding hands, ‘Look Mom! It’s a pattern: , brown, peachy tan, brown, peachy tan, brown, peachy tan, brown, peachy tan.’ I love my family's patterns. The patterns of our interlaced fingers, bedtime routines, holiday traditions, and Friday family movie nights. These are the things that make me the Mom that I am.”

I am rarely sentimental. For all I know, my kids are cyborgs. But when people ask me where they came from, I do pause. I do wonder. Where did they come from? I know about the birds and bees ... sort of. I look into my kids eyes and can't remember how I came to be a mom.

How should I respond to that question? It was magic. It was a blessing. No matter where our children come from, no matter what we look like, it is always a mystery ... and a miracle. Enjoy yours!

Meg Clark August 28, 2011 at 12:09 PM
First off, the Laboucheres are amazing! Love that family! As much as my mother and I are exact copies now, nobody ever thought I belonged to her as a child... People were convinced she was my nanny. No way that pale baby with jet black hair could have been hers! My sister in law, I fear, underestimates these things. If and when all her adopting is done, they will be a very multicultural family living in a country (not the US) that is not ethnically diverse. She doesn't think anyone will notice...
gomommy August 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM
I have no direct experience with adoption. I have friends who have adopted but that's it. So I don't know what it's like to have an adopted child. But I know what it's like to have a child people don't think belongs to me! My grandmother told me that I have "one of each, Salt and Pepper." She was referring to my two daughters, one blonde and one brunette. When we go out people ask "Are they both yours?" I reply "Yes." Sometimes they ask "Are they sisters?" And then I answer the unasked question, "Yes. They also share the same father." sigh. My best friend is Puerto Rican and her husband is a WASP. They have three children, one adopted. The bio kids have dark hair and gorgeous brown skin and the adopted son looks like a cute, blonde, mini-man. And when her little blonde man was just a baby she worried about what people would say. At last I had some experience I could share with my friend! I just pointed to my blondie and told her that I have the same problem and that if her son ever complained about looking different from his siblings (which he never has, btw) she could just point to me and my girls and remind him that no matter how they came here or what they look like, we are their mother.
Cynthia L. Armistead August 28, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Some people do the opposite! I was at church with my partner's daughter one Sunday morning, early on in our relationship, when someone told her, "Oh, you look just like your mother!" Both of his kids have the same fair skin, dark hair, brown eyes, and bone structure as their mother, so that makes sense. Then the woman turned to me and said, "I'm so glad you come with the family now!" and walked away before we could correct her. There was nothing to do but laugh about it. I have green eyes, and had red hair at the time. I have very, very pale skin with a very different skin tone than they do. I still don't know what she thought she saw in the two of us that was alike! But my mother says that when my siblings and I were small and all had very different coloring, she would get asked questions about whether they were all hers, and other questions that were clearly attempts to find out if we all had the same father. She started saying that our father was the milkman and walking away. (And it was true - he had been a milkman, at least when my sister and I were born!)
Christine Glover August 28, 2011 at 06:52 PM
My daughter looks a lot like me and her dad, so we don't the "is she yours or where did she come from" questions. However, as a mother of an only child I am often accosted with comments and questions about the fact that she is an only child. Things like "why don't you give her a sister or brother?" "You should have another one." Or another classic, "what if she died? You wouldn't have a child." And last but not least, "she's so nice you'd never know she was an only child." I'm done apologizing or explaining why we have our one and only. But the insensitivity of people and the daring that they have in their intrusive comments and questions still irritates me. My standard answer is, "one is fun." But then so are two, three, four, or more. It's up to each family and their circumstances how they will blend and become a circle. So hugs. I like your attitude about the questions. But I think people should just not say anything at all. JMHO.

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