on being real sisters
Pulling up to our elementary school to pick up the girls last week and as I inched closer I noticed they were both in tears. They were standing with their hands intertwined and locked at their sides and clearly holding back the full out ugly cry. They loaded in the minivan and Evy immediately burst into full out sobs, " they were making fun of us and said 'you are not sisters.'" The other kids had clearly pointed out the first thing everyone notices about our family, our children have different skin colors and therefore; in their grade school logic and experience, could not be real sisters.
My Mama heart was heavy. I know this is a thing. I only understand the very beginnings of the journey this will be and all that is yet to unfold regarding race, privilege, power, identity, and culture. It is overwhelming. I know this will continue to be an issue. And we choose this. We knew it. But it still doesn't make it easier. I find myself again and again feeling undone.
The principal waved me over and was very supportive and explained what had happened and I communicated a bit more about why this is so raw right now with a big court date approaching. This was the second time in a 2 weeks that other kids from school have pointed this out to our kids and insisted, even after longer and shorter explanations that "love makes a real family," that our four kids could not possibly be real siblings.
that our family is more messy and more beautiful than that,
that they are strong and resilient and this will only make them more so,
that sacred spaces of misunderstanding are places to dig into not run away from.
But it is hard to watch your children see how the world sees them, to watch them question and wonder if maybe everyone is right. This has been weighing so heavily on my heart friends. I think maybe because these comments hit deep places of insecurity in my parenting. They rip off scabs of deep wounds of rejection that feel so fresh some days. These comments brush up against deep doubts that maybe because it is all so hard it is not real. They remind us of deep fears that maybe this could all change in an instance and the only people that don't have any say in that are all of us.
As I have sat in this place for a bit I realized I need to share and to ask you to care and not just for a moment but to take the time to talk with your kids about families who may look different than yours, to ask and answer difficult questions, and to remind me my community will embrace our family. I know you do this friends, because I do life with many of you and we are all trying to raise our kids to see and love others so I feel safe asking this of you. I want to do this for you too so please know you are welcome at our table. I want to be teachable and learn and help my kids embrace and love others in costly, creative, & life changing ways. We talk about hard things and things that matter and in those places we point to Jesus.
I do not have any blame or shame to hand out because I realize kids just do not know or have not seen this before so most of the comments we hear are from an entry point of curiosity. Sure, there was the grown ass woman who walked right up to me (in front of our daughter!!) and asked "where is her real Mom?" Just B.L.E.S.S. But for the most part the questions and comments are from genuine curiosity. But just as I have learned how much my privilege seeps from my lips by the correction of people who have loved me enough to challenge me. I want to challenge us all to help our kids be shaped and molded into people who have concern and care for families that look different from their family of origin There was also another student who, in that moment came to E & R's side and stood with them and said "they are sisters so leave them alone!" I am so thankful when our girls were silenced by their overwhelming emotions another child stood in that gap. We all want to raise gap fillers; kids that will not allow silence when there should be encouragement and courage.
So in my attempt to add something small to this larger discussion I want to help others understand our perspective so we can better love one another. I would not know had I not lived this journey. Friends, can you talk with your kids this week about what makes a family? Here are several things our family discussed and want to humbly add to the convo:
*Families come together in many different ways and while we don't always understand we can respect them and believe what they say about themselves.
*You can ask questions but do not make a definitive statement based on observations. You just do not have the full story and it can be too painful for those kids to push YOUR narrative on them.
*It is their story to share and some days they may want to talk about it and some days they just don't have it in them to explain yet again and you get to be ok with that. It is THEIR story.
*Sometimes it is ok to ask a question but it is ALWAYS ok to just be a friend and learn more about someone by actually living life with them (it will all make more sense then anyway).
*If it is clear someone is upset by what you are saying or asking pause & just give them space. And if you see someone getting upset or crying by what other kids are asking them go stand next to them and let them know you are there and you care. Fill the gap. Don't bully but insist on peace and respect in the situation.
*WISE is a helpful acronym that I am using with my kids to help them understand how they can respond and it may be helpful for your kids too if they have a unique situation other kids ask about: W-walk away (if someone is not being respectful or is teasing you in any way), I- It's Personal (because you do not owe anyone an explanation if you feel like it is a part of your story you are not ready or able to share), S-Share (you can share about your own personal experience if you feel safe doing so) E- Educate (you can help educate someone about something they have not encountered, about adoption or foster care in general)
*Can we all stop using the word "real" to describe a person; a daughter, a sister, a mom. People are real because they were created in the image of God, they are beloved. Their relationships are real.
We can say biological or birth but not real- giving kids this new vocabulary is helpful! Using 'real' also feels like we are forced to choose and both birth families and adoptive families are REAL and important to a child's story. This is not just about being PC friends. Please hear me. I have seen the tears and doubt and insecurity and that is not what we want for any child. This is about understanding that language matters; words can unite or divide. They can remind us of part of our journey or story that can still be painful and raw. Our relationships and kin networks are REAL to us and although they may look different then yours they are no less beautiful, challenging, or real.
*You can grab some books from the local library to help start or continue this conversation with your kids. I picked up all these yesterday and we have already read through most of them. Tell your kids they can ask you anything and be open to talking through these issues at home. It will help them be better prepared to embrace and understand families and kids that look different.
Also, check out the resources on trans-racial adoption books recommendations here or books that picture families with diversity within their family here
Sometimes God has the best timing in bringing encouragement when you heart is heavy. A dear friend gave me a blank card for the girls with a drawing of children's hands of different skin tones on the front and the words "we're in this together" written inside and I burst into tears.
This is what Evy wrote for her sister's birthday.
Their relationship has been hard over the last couple years and so this declaration means even more knowing those struggles. God is working and making all things new friends. It is now framed in our home because that is what a real family means; we forge ahead, we don't let others define us, we forgive abundantly (ourselves, each other, and everyone else), we practice grace, we adventure, we cry, we laugh, we live, we remind each other of who God says we are when the world tempts us to forget, and above all we LOVE; imperfectly but trusting in a God who brought us together. We are in this together, whatever "this" means. And that makes us real. Brokenness is a part of the journey of life and I want my kids to not be afraid of acknowledging their own brokenness and being with others in their brokenness. This is breaking us all.
Peace to you on the journey friends,