When I look at my mother I don’t see a physical reflection of myself because of foreign adoption (I’m Korean & she’s Irish, Scottish & Norwegian), but we are mother & daughter. She is all I know in terms of a mother, but I do have another family that is in Korea somewhere. I often think about the titles in our society…mother, daughter, friend, wife, president…you get the idea. The title automatically comes with meaning, expectations, responsibilities, etc. Even though my mother doesn’t look exactly like me (or at all) she is my mother. Happy Mother’s Day mom.
Hello…it’s been ages & of course with Mother’s Day around the corner…I ended up back at Grinding up Stones. Thanks to everyone who keeps checking back on this blog & also who followed me to J & K’s Adventures.
Sorry for the very extended hiatus. Life’s been busy!
Have a happy holiday, and we’ll be back in the New Year with a new format, so stay posted.
First, let me apologize for taking so long to respond. It’s been a very busy month.
I wish I could give you a straightforward answer to this question, but it’s so difficult. We’re all different and how we respond to these situations – externally and internally – is also very unique. As a child, whenever I got hit with this type of question or comment, I generally gave some answer my parents and siblings helped me with. Honestly, I didn’t always understand what exactly it was I was saying or why, but I can tell you that each time I was asked about why I was different – why I didn’t have the same skin colour as my parents or my siblings; where did I come from; who are my real parents blah blah blah ad nauseam… I felt like my entire soul had shattered. I walked away with my head held as high as possible, but inside my jello legs could barely carry me somewhere I felt safe.
Your child needs to be shown by example how to respond. When you stand up for your child, she will learn to stand up for herself and feel empowered. She should also know it’s OK not to respond to these stupid questions. There is never an obligation to respond to these types of questions. Even as an adult, I get this all of the time – where are you from orginally; do you speak Vietnamese; do you have any family in Vietnam; do you want to try to find them etc. and I often answer each question as honestly and openly as possible and I feel good about it. However, there are days when I answer as I always do and feel later that I shouldn’t have. Their ‘simple’ questions are emotionally draining for me. I have to learn to take my own advice and walk away – figuratively or literally – when I don’t feel up to talking about it.
In closing, I think it’s vital to inform the person – child or adult – that their question is not appropriate and is not acceptable whether or not you decide to answer them. How do we do this? I guess we can just say something like “that question is in appropriate” or “that’s private” or “I don’t care to discuss it right now” or even respond by asking them something just as personal to make a point. So, yes… I think the most important thing is to be able to recognize within yourself and by taking cues from your child when you want to share and when you need to walk away.
Here’s our next question!
Our son had uncorrected clubfeet when we adopted him from China last year. I’m getting tired of hearing about how “lucky” he is and how “good” we are for adopting him. Admittedly, his feet would most likely not have been treated in China and life would have been much harder for him, but on the balance we are by far the lucky ones for having him in our lives.
What are your thoughts on the frequent “He’s so lucky” and “You’re so good” discussions that come up from well intentioned strangers and friends? I’m worried he’ll hear it enough he’ll start to believe it and feel he’s got something he needs to live up to.
This is soooo tricky.
Part of me wants to say, let her lead the way. Let her guide the response. But, I also know that in my own life, by four or five I was all too aware of my difference in the world, and never told my parents about the teasing/questions/harassment I endured. So, I urge you to respond. Make her feel safe and protected. It’s easy to brush things off as “ignorance” or advocate silence as a way of “not sinking down to their level”. But that’s a flawed philosophy, because it denies your daughter the space to feel hurt or angry or confused. It denies her the chance to stand up for herself, to fight back. We’re talking about racism here, not some petty misunderstanding from folks who “just don’t know better”. Teach your daughter that people shouldn’t say things like that to her. That she shouldn’t have to be made to feel bad about being Chinese or adopted, or both.
I’m still working on the best way to talk about these things. And the truth is, there probably isn’t any one thing you can do or say that will soothe the pain. But please, respond. And teach your daughter to respond. You wouldn’t teach her to tolerate sexist comments from kids on the playground, so why ignore racially motivated ones? It seems to me that because Asians are portrayed as the model-minority and put into a racial “grey area”, people are unsure about what it means to make fun of Asian characteristics. But let there be no doubt in your mind – jokes about slanted eyes, yellow skin, dog-eating, “ching chong” language or any of the other usual suspects are RACIST, and should be addressed as such.
I’m glad to hear that you’re educating yourself about how to deal with these things from adults. One thing I think is helpful is to know about Asian American History, as well as current events. Chinese Exclusion, Japanese Internment, Vincent Chin: they may have happened decades or a hundred years ago, but they still shape the ways that Asians are perceived, portrayed and treated. And things are still happening today that only prove how far we are yet to come.
Probably the hardest thing about growing up the only Asian kid in a white family, and one of three kids of color in my entire elementary school was that I had no role models, no one to look up to. In any sense. There were few Asian characters in TV, movies or books (and the ones that were there often relied heavily on stereotypes) and all of my teen magazines promoted a standard of beauty that I could never attain, simply by the nature of my skin tone, face shape, eye folds, hair color, etc. If a local/regional adoptee organization had some sort of mentorship program, I would definitely try to get involved. Even intermittent contact with an adoptee – someone who looks like you, someone who has been hurt in the same way, someone who is there to legitimize your daughter’s feelings on a level that you never will be able to to – could be extremely beneficial.
Whew. That was a mouthful. The bottom line is that this is hard. There’s a lot more I could have enumerated here. And it all adds up to a situation with the potential for your daughter to feel alone. But the most important thing is to keep an open line of communication about it. Support her. Defend her. Never question the way she feels – you aren’t living this, she is.
I think it’s important to remember that most of the time young kids just want to know why the other person looks different. Kids usually don’t need long drawn out answers…just a basic explanation. Growing up I was called names and rude questions were asked, but I always seemed to handle it. My mom taught me to stand up for myself & have a basic answer ready, but also to be careful not to assume someone was being racist.
In my own experience…people are curious because I’m 5’8 1/2 & Korean. I still get asked (about once a month) where I’m originally from etc. For me…part of this whole experience is being comfortable in my own skin…so when strangers stop and ask me questions about why I’m so tall or why my skin is so light for being Korean…I just say the truth. Granted…if I’m really annoyed then sometimes my answer isn’t as patient. However, in my experience I’ve learned people usually aren’t intending to be rude. So…I tend to look at it more like a chance to educate them.
When kids are young…I believe education is the key. For example, my daughter always has some type of “cultural celebration” each year in school. This gives me a chance to go into her classroom and teach the kids about Korea. This has been extremely successful each year and has helped K. be proud of her heritage, which I give equal time to teach about Germany…K’s part German.