Ask AF: Affirming Belonging

An adoptive parent whose young child realized her skin color was different asks AF's expert for help with talking about race and belonging in a blended family.

Q: A few years after adopting our daughter, Mia, I became pregnant. When the baby was born, Mia seemed surprised and remarked that she's "the only one with brown skin." What should I have done, while pregnant, to prepare her?

A: There's no point in talking about "woulda, coulda, shoulda." Whatever you said wouldn't have been real to Mia at that point, anyway. Children's questions about racial differences are often really questions about their belonging in a family. That seems to be what is happening here—Mia is looking for reassurance that families aren't built on skin color. Talking about skin color can  help.

You can talk about the various ways that children join their families: "Some babies live with the family they're born to, like your little sister, and some live with the families that adopt them." Or talk about the roles of each of her mommies. "Your first mommy was in charge of how you look, and she did a great job [comment on your daughter's beautiful smile, and so on], but she didn't think she could provide everything you would need to grow up. Now I'm the mommy who's in charge of taking care of you forever."

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