Transracial Parenting »

The Elephant in the Playground

Yesterday was my son, Tin’s 8th birthday and party. It was a free for all at the new Sir Cumference playground in City Park. We had pizza, veggie sticks, cookie cake, balloons, and the ubiquitous juice packs on ice. I kept looking around and seeing swarms of children coming through either with a soccer ball, a football, hula hoop, Yokai Watch medals, Pokemon cards or fistfuls of candy that had come out of the Batman piñata moments earlier. Other groups had gathered for the playground or under the Pavillion Shelter and an occasional child would wander over to see if they could have one of the chocolate chip cereal bars on the table or a juice. All in all the children were playing well together, the adults were chilling out and enjoying the day, and all seemed right in the world. That is until my son came running up from the play structure. “That boy is mean,” Tin said. “He told me because I was adopted no one wanted me.” 

“Which boy?” I asked. 

“The one in the red jacket up there,” Tin said.

“You know I want you. You’re the love of my life,” I told my son.

I walked over to the playground and the boy in the red jacket was looking down at me. He was a couple years older than Tin. I beckoned him to come down and he did.

I looked him in the eye and said, “I want to tell you about adoption. I want my son, and I chose my son. And he chose me. I love him and every day of my life I thank God for him. He IS my life. Do you understand?” 

“Yes, you’re his real mom,” the boy said without flinching. 

Tin had come up beside me, and he said, “That’s right, she’s my real mom!” 

“Are we clear?” I said to the boy, and he nodded yes. I reached out took his hand and said, “Let’s shake on it.”

The boy shook with a pretty firm grip. 

When I got back to the adults in my party, I mentioned what had just happened. One concerned father asked if his children had overheard. Another mother said, “Why would someone say something so mean and hurtful?” Then she asked if her son and daughter had overheard. Many of the parents were ruffled by the boy’s comment, because most of the kids at Tin’s party are adopted. If you sliced and diced our group we look like the United Nations of Adoption. In attendance, were same sex couples who had adopted, hetero couples adopting older siblings, international adoption, domestic adoption, local adoption, out of state adoption, transracial adoption, siblings from different parents adoptions, and same siblings adopted. We covered the rainbow of adoption and family scenarios. In addition to adoption, there were divorced parents, single parents, gay parents and hetero parents.

I do not know where the child identified a negative stigma with adoption. I don’t know if he filled in the gaps on some partial knowledge he had from real life experience or if he (sigh) overheard an adult say something ugly about another family. What I do know is that many children are curious about adoption. It is one of the many elephants in the playground. Often the parents of Tin’s friends will ask me to explain adoption to their child when they are asked about me and Tin. Parents do not need to duck out of talking about adoption for fear of getting it wrong. There are many reasons that adoption happens, and what adoption is most often has a universal explanation. 

  1. Adoption is when an adult who did not have a child biologically becomes the parent of the child.
  2. Families come in many different sizes, shapes and colors. 
  3. All families love each other and support each other.
  4. A real parent is the one who makes the child do homework and eat vegetables. 

Keep in mind that children are curious about adoption, and while there are no secrets concerning adoption, there is every family’s right to privacy. So help your child understand what adoption is, but as for the reasons why, gently remind your child that it is none of their business. 


March 7, 2017 - 2:20 am

Rachel - Thank you Laura. I think that I’m more able to be generous with someone else’s ignorance because I’ve come to see how ignorant I have been in my life of many things. My own lack of understanding of how misogyny played a role in why I identified more closely to my brothers and father than my mother and sister. My own inability to see how I was contributing to racism by not seeing it. How would a child know anything unless he was told this or filled in the information gap with some experience in his own life? I appreciate your comment. Love, R

March 7, 2017 - 12:58 am

Laura - You handled that beautifully. I only hope that as/if the need arises in whatever situations come our way, I can be as fiercely protective of my child while being as mindful as you were of the child on the other end. I promise you he will never forget what you just taught him.

March 6, 2017 - 10:45 pm

Rachel - Thanks Cheryl, I got a feeling when I made eye contact with the boy, the way he reacted to me, that something else was motivating his comment other than curiosity. I hope he came away having a different perception of adoption and how mothers who don’t look like their child love and protect them as fiercely as mothers are want to do. I remember when I was young, the whole adoption fantasy flying around in my own thoughts. My father and brothers were so dark, with such prominent “Jewish” noses and curly dark hair and I seemed like I was plucked from a different garden.

March 6, 2017 - 9:59 pm

Cheryl Corson - Thanks for writing this! And then there are children who fantasize about being adopted, wishing for new parents and a fresh start, or who pretend that their biological parents are not really theirs. When my husband was a child he told people he was “from France.” It’s a powerful fantasy for those on both sides of the equation. Maybe that boy wished for a mother who really wanted him like you want Tin, and was projecting his feelings of unlovability outward.

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