So This Happened Yesterday… Talking About Diversity With Kids

Remember that boy, the one I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, the one who told Ava she was the ugliest girl in the world, the ugliest girl he had ever seen? Well, yesterday while I was collecting Ava from school, he marched up to me, pointed at her and asked me:

“Ava’s Mom, are you Ava’s real mom?”

Of course I said yes, I am her real mom, he then brushed his hand across her forehead and touched her arm and then asked me:

“But how can you be her real mom? She’s brown and you’re white?”

He then wanted to know what her dad looked like because he couldn’t understand how I could be her real mom, he repeated this statement a number of times during our brief conversation, because I was white and she was brown.

I know his questions were pure curiosity, I know there was no malicious intent in them, but I also saw the look of hurt on Ava’s face when he kept asking how I could be her real mom when we didn’t “match” (his words, not mine).

You know that expression, a deer caught in the headlights? That’s how I felt in that moment. My mind was racing trying to come up with the correct response, one that would appease his curiosity but not put Ava’s sense of security and sense of self at risk and also trying not to hesitate too long in my response because I didn’t want to raise doubts or questions in Ava’s mind either.

I ended up explaining to him that people don’t have to match to be family. That people don’t have to be the same, or look the same to be family. That family is people bound by love, regardless of what they looked like.

But I won’t lie, it hurt. It hurt to see the look on Ava’s face when he kept asking if I was her real mom. It hurt to be reminded that our circumstances are different and will be at times questioned. I didn’t want to get into the whole adoption discussion with him because he is a child that has already proven to be cruel towards Ava and I didn’t want to give him any information that could lend to him making statements about her adoption that could hurt her. Because let’s be honest, kids can be cruel and kids have no filter.

Of course Ava knows she’s brown, of course she knows she’s adopted, but that is information for her to share, when she feels secure and comfortable enough to do so. While we have never made any secret about her heritage, I want her to be comfortable with who she shares it with in terms of her friends and frankly, at not quite 5, I think she’s still too young to even put two and two together and say things like I’m adopted to her friends.

I had a long chat with her on the way home, where she told me he’d hurt her heart with his questions and we discussed the question of “real” mom & dad and she confirmed that she knew I was her real mom, just like her dad was her real dad. I also reminded her of what I’d told him, that families are all different, but that doesn’t make one better than the other, just different and that families come in lots of different forms. Blended family, divorced families, adoptive families, single parent families, same sex parents, etc etc etc.

But this really got me thinking about diversity and when we start teaching our kids about diversity? Because we have come via a different path to parenthood and have a lot of friends in the adoption community, diversity is something that Ava has never really questioned because she see’s lots of families that don’t “match”. But what about other children who do come from families that match, when do they start learning about diversity?

And then I can take that a step further…. What about families with other differences…. A disabled family member for eg.

It’s all so complex and once again, I’m reminded of how little thought Walter and I gave this whole multiracial family thing when we embarked on our adoption journey. Would I change a thing? No, I’d still choose my children time and time again, I love my family, I love our differences, I love our uniqueness but I won’t lie, as a mother who loves her children, there are times when I am hurt and a little overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a family that does not necessarily fit into societies idea of “normal”.

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October 7, 2014
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29 Comments

  • Reply Jenty

    My word, that child’s parents need to be spoken to!!
    It hurt my heart just reading that, poor Ava. Glad you were there when this happened

    October 7, 2014 at 11:22 am
  • Reply wannabepoet

    You have one of the most beautiful families I know of. There will always be curiosity, always be questions. And the time will come when the nastiness will show its ugly face. But your 2 daughters have the most phenomenal mom and dad, and they can be secure in knowing that you 2 will always be there for them, doing your utmost to protect them.

    Kids don’t have a filter, and don’t always understand the hurt that comes from their comments. Hopefully beautiful Ava doesn’t dwell on it; you and Walter are her ‘real’ mom and dad, whether or not you’re biologically and genetically connected. Your hearts are connected, and that’s the most important thing.

    Xx

    October 7, 2014 at 11:22 am
  • Reply paddatjiesema

    I think this is the age where they get curios about any differences that they see. My daughter is noticing different coloured couples, and asking about it. And she wanted to know how come you only see black people walking, and not white people.

    Oh, and just something I do. When I pick up the children at creche the other kids always have questions (like when I was pregnant one girl said her Mom’s friend just had a baby, and she wasn’t closely as big as I was, when am I having my baby). What seems to work best is to not answer them but ask them a question. Randomly like ‘what colour is your Mom’s hair?’ or ‘do you have a dog’ etc.

    October 7, 2014 at 11:29 am
    • Reply Sharon

      My concern with going that route is that I am then sending a subliminal message to Ava that she has something to be ashamed of. KWIM?

      October 7, 2014 at 11:30 am
  • Reply Vanessa

    And it doesn’t get any easier …my daughter is now 14 and is terribly shy. While most strangers no longer feel compelled to comment on the fact that she is Asian (Chinese) and although comments have always positive ” wow, you look really Chinese”, it still is an invasion of her privacy and just causes her to clam up. Out shopping last week we encountered it again. I feel it with you.

    October 7, 2014 at 11:34 am
  • Reply Immeasurable Love

    I have also experienced this……….

    I do think that parents are responsible for educating their children about diversity, although I am not confident that the majority of parents will actually take this as seriously as they should. I am working on a very special project at the moment that involves creating stories for children to educate them on different disabilities and I am very interested to see how this will be received by the market.

    October 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm
  • Reply belindamountain

    Thanks for talking about diversity in this post – I don’t have to deal with it in terms of my kids being asked these types of questions but it is still front of my mind, especially when Rachel announces to me that “boys can’t marry boys” or asks “why does that man have a ponytail Mom?”. This is not something I have ever taught her but society/movies/books etc reinforce these stereotypes of the nuclear family who all “match” and we have to work hard as parents to teach them otherwise. P.S. You sound like you dealt with that difficult situation particularly well.

    October 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm
  • Reply Debs

    …when you really wanted to swoop Ava up, hold her tight, with the hopes she will never have to see that little horror ever again. If it were me, I would address these situations as you addressed the previous situation with the boy in question. You keep instilling a sense of confidence in Ava so that if someone ever does question her paler skinned Mama or her ‘normal’ family, she very quickly puts them in their place. She looks like a bright, happy child – well done Sharon!!

    October 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm
  • Reply Alet

    Maybe is it a blessing that it is happening now and not later in life. Logan (half-coloured) wasn’t faced with these questions until recently. It is a tough question for a little person to have to answer, yes they are different. But the better they are equipped to answer; the more they’ve had to answer now while they are little – the better they get at it.

    It is a tough one – we can’t dictate what society say or does. We can raise amazing kids with awesome character. Kids with strong foundation grounded in who they are.

    October 7, 2014 at 3:25 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    There is just so much I could say about this topic! Been there, done that.

    When it comes to diversity in general though, it goes both ways. I have had to explain to my daughter about families where there is only one parent, or why someone has a disability. I also do not want her to hurt another child, or even an adult, by pointing out their differences to them, whatever they may be, so I try to explain in an age appropriate manner, because I know that next time she will quote me word for word! And for good measure, she will start with ‘My mommy said…’ So I am mindful of how I answer her questions.

    Part of it is teaching her that people are different for hundreds of reasons, from how they look to where they live, to what they eat to what colour they like. After she watched Pocahontas, she told her little friend that she couldn’t possibly be Indian, because she didn’t look like Pocahontas! We have had a discussion about wraps vs pancakes and how they are not the same thing (as she tried to convince the owner of the wrap). There are many similar conversations we have had that I couldn’t ever have imagined.

    I guess it comes down to respect in the end. Respect yourself, respect others. That’s what I really want to teach her.

    October 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm
  • Reply Pamela

    This little boy sounds like he would probably find something, no matter what, to pick on. So sorry for Ava that is something she has had to deal with already.

    My daughter (also 4) has just started noticing differences and asking questions and I know they are from a purely curious point of view but it can be difficult and knowing when her questions might offend and when they don’t is a fine line. She asked a friend of mine why he was in a wheelchair, as he is an adult I let him tell her. We had the “people are different but the same” conversation after that.

    October 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm
  • Reply laurakim

    A little boy at Kiaras school actually asked me this exact question last week. First he asked her if Jack was her brother, then he asked if I was her mother. THEN he has asked me how I am their mother – I said ‘I pick up stranded kids on the side of the road’ – he was unimpressed :-p It wasnt my most mature moment but I didn’t have time and our family is rather complicated to explain and very abstract really.

    Like you said some children can’t understand brown kids with white parents – it isn’t in their frame of reference and kids are very literal.

    I don’t know how you teach tolerance/diversity because like your kids mine have always just been exposed to it

    October 8, 2014 at 8:04 am
  • Reply cat@jugglingact

    Firstly – I can not understand how the most beautiful girl ever could be called ugly! (I know- besides the point).

    Honestly I think schools and parents need to educate children. We were very lucky that in the little Catholic pre school our kids attended there were a bit of everything – children from diplomatic backgrounds, black kids adopted by white parents, a set of same sex parents – a mommy and mommy (that one gave A lots of questions). Our kids saw different types of families from very early in life. But yes, the school had diversity as part of their teaching and mix and we also took the responsibility.

    Now in the Afrikaans school almost all black kids in the school are adopted kids or kids that grew up inside the family’s house so it is truly nothing odd to see a white mom and dad and even brothers and sisters cheering on a black kid on the athletics field.

    October 8, 2014 at 10:07 am
  • Reply Louisa

    N and I have had a few chats about it and she seems fine with it. There are two adopted kids in her class so it’s nothing strange to her. The only quirk she’s picked up lately is that she only speaks English to anyone black. I think it’s because all the teaching assistants and teachers at her school who are black speak English…but even if someone speaks to her in Afrikaans, she’ll answer them in English. This too shall pass I guess?

    October 9, 2014 at 4:36 am
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