The girls had been watching a childhood favorite of mine, The Little Mermaid. And to them, it made no sense. Why would Ariel and her many sisters have a present father but no mother?
Questions about family dynamics comes up a lot in our home.
I think part of this is positive. We are very open in our home about all topics, not just adoption. If our kids have a question, we answer it. And we don't just sit around and wait for them to ask questions. If we feel they are interested in a topic or might be wondering about something, we prompt them to ask away. We feel the environment of openness is critical to their identity, our relationship with them, and the demonstration that there is no shame in asking questions, of wondering, of considering, of FEELING.
But part of the question asking, I believe, comes from the constant interrogations from the public about the authenticity of our family. I know, I know. I've heard it all. People are "just curious" and "mean no harm." (Ahem---the road to hell is paved with good intentions...) But to me, no matter their intent, what matters to me is what actually comes out of their mouths and the ways in which people demand to know how REAL, how authentic, our family is. It's disgusting to demand answers from young children. It's disturbing when adults use their size, their authority, their age to bully children.
My children are constantly subjected to the doubts, insecurities, evaluations, and uncertainties of others. And there isn't a lot we can do about it, considering our adoption "status" is apparent, the kids' brown skin contrasting our pink skin. But what I hope is that with the ways we respond to others, with education and grace (and sometimes with a "that's none of your business"), that my children know they can be proud and confident by not giving parts of themselves away to those who haven't earned the trust to hold those things.
When my girls asked me about Ariel's mother, I reminded them that all children have a mother and a father, somewhere, but sometimes the children don't live with their mothers or fathers, or sometimes the mother or father dies. I don't know where Ariel's mother is now, but she certainly has a mother.
My girls' question surrounded me with conflicting thoughts:
Losing a mother isn't easy. And gaining a new mother doesn't eradicate the loss of the first mother.
Adoption is complicated.
Family is everything.
Motherhood is a blessing, a privileged, one of life's greatest honors and gifts.
Love doesn't conquer all, but love certainly is the foundation of greatness, of peace, and of possibility.
I know my kids will have a lifetime of questions, some of them surrounding birth, adoption, race, and parenthood. My responses will always be full of empathy, education, and empowerment.
Illustration from my children's book Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays