“Is that your real mom?” The question drifts up the stairs from the basement, where my youngest is playing with a friend. I pause – stopping in the middle of writing out next week’s dinner menu – to listen to the answer.
I don’t think he has ever been asked this question before and now here it is, a profound question, so loaded with meaning, presenting itself in the midst of the most mundane activities – a Tuesday afternoon play date, a grocery list. For the time being I had forgotten that our family looks any different from most. My son’s friend, five years old, noticed and wondered and – in typical kindergartner fashion – asked his question out loud.
“Well, YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I hear Bee reply. My shoulders relax. This question didn’t throw him.
Still, I ask him about it later. I want to know what he thinks about this question. How did he feel when his friend asked if I am his “real mom”?
“Sad,” he says. “Because he knows you’re my real mom!”
I realize he doesn’t understand why his friend asked. I wonder if I should explain or leave it alone, but I know it is very likely he’ll be asked this question again at some point. I want him to be armed with understanding and the self-assurance not to be embarrassed or self-conscious when others question the things he knows to be true and that are, to us, so obvious.
“Well, sometimes people ask that question when a mom and her child aren’t the same color, or a dad and his kid aren’t the same color. Some kids in families like ours get asked that question a lot. Maybe your friend doesn’t know a lot of mixed families like we do, so he thinks families are always the same color and he is curious when he sees parents and kids who are different colors. He might not understand that a white mommy can have a tan or brown kid, if the daddy is brown. We know lots of families like ours – like your cousins and our neighbors and lots of the kids on Zip’s football team – but not everyone else does.
“And sometimes kids are a different color from their parents because they are adopted, like your brother’s friend Malcolm. He and his brothers are Black and his mom and dad are White, because they’re adopted. They grew in a different mommy’s belly, but their mom and dad are still their ‘real’ mom and dad, because that is who takes care of them everyday and makes their lunches for school and reads them bedtime stories at night…just like I’m your ‘real’ mom.
“I see why you might feel sad when someone asks you that question, but it’s such a silly question. Of course I’m your real mom!”
When we have these conversations, I have a few goals in mind:
- I point out that there are lots of multiracial families – I want my boys to know that we aren’t strange or unusual. (I also take advantage of any opportunity to talk about the many different forms families can take, hence the mention of adoption.)
- I frame others’ questions in terms of them just not knowing what we know. I want him to understand that their comments likely come from lack of experience or knowledge, they aren’t reflective of the truth (this will be especially important when he hears negative things about people of color), and to feel empowered by the thought that he does know.
- I always let him know how he feels is okay.
- I want to help him to be prepared to handle situations that might happen in the future.
“What would you say if someone else asked you that question?” I ask.
“Well, DUHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Of course you’re my real mom!”
I could have said more – that he could explain he’s a combination of his dad and mom, or that families come in many different shades – but for now I think he’s got this one under control.