Transracial Adoption Leads to Stares: How One Mother Deals

Filed under: Adoption, Siblings, Amazing Kids, Amazing Parents, Relationships, Opinions

transracial adoption picture

Ilie Ruby and her three children. Credit: Ilie Ruby

There is a natural curiosity about a Caucasian woman holding the hands of three African kiddos at a Chinese restaurant. Visually, things don't quite jive. Transracial families are still, in most places, an oddity, and staring comes with the territory. This is what I tell my three children, all adopted from Ethiopia.

Two years ago, when my children first arrived, people stared at us wherever we went -- a water park, the mall, the grocery store, the train station, the beach. During our first summer as a family, people seemed to be riveted by the striking beauty of my eldest; the dark shade of her skin made even more luminous by the summer sun.

The problem is compounded because my daughter has a penchant for lo mein.

The Chinese restaurant that my daughter insists on dining at has been the site of the most overt staring offenses. At one dinner in particular, the family behind us (whom she was facing) was staring at her, which included two little girls whispering. While she tried to ignore it, she said that the situation was hurting her heart. I leaned over the booth and politely waved at the staring family.

"Geez, my daughter thinks your girls are staring at her," I offered. "Is it because she is so beautiful?" Thankfully, the mother caught on quickly, and agreed that yes, it was because my daughter was so beautiful.

Not long after, it happened again in the same Chinese restaurant. I had just returned from taking my toddler to the restroom when my eldest reported that the people at the facing table were staring at her (different family than the previous offenders). So this time I told her to smile and wave. She did. Then I turned around and smiled and politely waved at them. They all waved and smiled back. "Your kids are beautiful," the mother called out. "And so well-behaved." I thanked her.

Now, two years later, we ignore the staring. Perhaps we don't notice it anymore. Perhaps we have become part of the fabric of our community. I am acutely aware that my repertoire of responses and reactions will continue to evolve as I grow in my own understanding of our family and its place in the world. And I also know that my children's reactions will change as they move through varying developmental stages. So we take each day and each situation as it comes. On occasion, when I am confounded, I call a very wise adoptive mom of six Ethiopian children for her best advice. It truly does take a village.

Thankfully, now, with some time under her belt, my eldest has a confidence that humbles me and a zest for life that gives her a rare charisma. She has a group of friends who adore her. She is charming, funny, and if you cross her, she'll stand up for herself.

Does race get in the way? Sometimes. Does it still hurt? Sometimes. As I cuddle my children, talk to them, walk them through scenarios and keep them from harm's way, what I try to keep in the front of my mind is that I can never truly understand what this particular issue feels like to them. I can share my own childhood struggles, but I can't pretend to know this particular struggle intimately. And I can't tell them not to let it hurt their hearts.

Though painful at times, I must let my children have their feelings. I can help them speak their truth and equip them to deal with whatever comes their way. But in order to flourish, we have to accept that "looking different" is a part of our lives, and assert that this is a real family built by adoption, bonded by love. My children have a place where they belong and parents who love and adore them. This seems to take the sting out of things, I've found. For all the questions and staring from strangers, the racial divide has, in some ways, strengthened us. Because when held up against the bond we have -- the humor, the connection, the trust, the love -- well, nothing really stands a chance.

As for the Chinese restaurant, my eldest has the standing option of never going back there. But my outgoing, glorious daughter has a penchant for lo mein. And regardless of what has gone on before, she continues to insist on going back to that Chinese restaurant.

Ilie Ruby is the mother of three children from Ethiopia and the author of The Language of Trees, a novel about healing, second chances and how far we will go to protect the ones we love. Read her blog on Red Room.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.