Honoring Differences While Celebrating Sameness in Adoption
Lately, on both the Creating a Family radio show and on this blog, it seems like I’ve been focusing a lot on honoring the differences of our adopted kids. We need to incorporate their racial and ethnic heritage into our lives, we need to honor their birth families, we need to talk with them about their adoption. But lately I’ve been thinking that with all this talk about honoring differences, we need to not forget that first and foremost our children are ours and members of our unique family. You may be of different ethnicities or talents, but you are all Jones or Smiths, and as such, you share much in common.
Not all the experts agree, but I think we should look for opportunities to point out ways in which we are alike. The Johnson clan is known for being competitive at board games. The Smiths all love the TV show NCIS and listening to the Beatles. The Butler women love to shop. When a difference is brought up, especially if it seems to be happening with regularity, I make a mental note to point out a similarity some time that day. It’s a good exercise to look for ways we are similar to our children.
Pointing out similarities shouldn’t be obvious or even in the same conversation. This is especially the case when the difference is brought up by your child because immediately talking about something that we share would dishonor the spirit of what the child wanted to talk about at that time. Also, we don’t want to give our kids the message that talking about differences makes us uncomfortable. But while we can be perfectly at ease talking about way that we are different, we should also feel free to talk about ways we are the same.
For example, when your son notes that he is darker than you, you could acknowledge that difference but after dinner you could point out how you all love ice cream, and then as you are putting lotion on him at bedtime you could talk about how you both have dry skin that soaks up lotion.
When my youngest daughter went through a stage of focusing on differences, I joined her where she was at, but tried to expand her ideas. We made a chart of all the different hair colors in our family. When we looked at the chart she saw that she was in the majority on hair color since four of us have varying degrees of dark brown hair. She really liked the idea of charts, so we also made one for our favorite flavors of ice cream and favorite seasons. Again, the subtle message was that there were lots of differences in our family but similarities too, and the grouping changed depending on the issue.
We had similar discussions on skin color. Using a globe and my limited understanding of the science we talked about why different people had different amounts of melanin in their skin. We compared our family’s skin coloring as well. Yes, she had the most melanin, but each of us had a different amount. During this period, we also read books about children from all over the world and together pointed out their similarities and differences. I’ve listed some of our favorite books on the Suggested Books for Adoption page. It may feel like a bit of a juggling act, but I think we can honor differences at the same time we celebrate our similarities and uniqueness as a family. Our kids need both.Image credit: Julie70