My answer to the first question is a resounding "YES"! I looked very different from my a-parents. My a-Dad had several stereotypical Native American attributes including jet black hair, brown (almost black) eyes, a large, hook-shaped nose, and red skin. My a-Mom had dark brown hair, blue eyes, very pale skin with freckles, and a petite, thin build. Both my a-parents were average height. I, on the other hand, have red hair, green eyes, light skin tone with freckles and a more medium build. I never grew to be even close to the same height as either of my a-parents. When I was little strangers would always ask me where I got my red hair. As modeled and encouraged by my a-Mom, a simple "From God" accompanied by a little tilt of the head, angelic smile, and twinkle in the eye was all that sufficed. The result? Oh, those inqisitive (er...dare I say nosey?) people would respond right on cue! They would "ooh" and "aah" as they beamed from ear to ear and would walk away cooing to one another, "Well, isn't that just the cutest thing?"! Ah...from the mouths of babes!
But you see, there arose a problem in this grand scheme of a-Mom's and mine. It was only cute for so long. Once I got to be 14, 15, 16...that little head tilt, angelic smile, blah blah blah, just didn't seem to work anymore. I had to get smarter. Time passed, and while my a-parents seemed to reach an impasse on how to answer this question without stating the obvious, I became a high school student who for a very short period in my life absolutely loved BIOLOGY. Yes, I said BIOLOGY! I most particularly found myself interested in the study of genetics. I quickly learned that although red hair is a recessive gene 2 parents with dark hair might have the red hair gene but it is dominated by the dark gene, so they themselves might not have red hair but they can produce a child with red hair. AHA!!!! There was my answer. Only, do you notice something about this new explanation? Without even realizing it I found a way to cover the fact that I was adopted. I found an explanation that would make it reasonable for any normal person to assume that my a-parents were actually my b-parents. And it wasn't until just this week that I realized that's what I was doing, or at least it certainly appears to be what I was doing! W-O-W! What a startling realization! All this time I never thought looks mattered, yet there I was, as a teenager in high school looking for a way to make it appear as if my family was "normal"! As if I was normal! So, do looks really matter to the adopted child? You bet! But how can a-parents help in making their children feel comfortable in a family that looks so different from them? Tough question...
- I believe you need to be honest with your children and share with them their adoption story from day one.
- You need to ensure that your children have pictures of their b-parents so they know the origin of their hair color, eye color, and the shape of their nose, chin, and mouth.
- You need to allow your children to ask questions about their b-parents and if you don't have the answers be honest about not knowing and together look for ways to obtain those answers.
- You should not fabricate a cute anecdote for your children to use in explaining to others why they look different from the rest of the family. Allow them to be honest with those curious enough to ask and allow them to provide as much or as little information as they wish to disclose. It is their information to do with as they choose, but you must provide them with that information in the first place. Should people ask before the child is old enough to respond you must be willing and able to share a very small part of the truth, which is that you adopted them. Nothing more...nothing less. No big hoopla about the why or where or how of the story. Just a simple..."our child is adopted".
- You must not allow your own fears and inadequacies to get in the way of what is best for your children!
- If at all possible you must allow your children to have a relationship with their b-parents. While looks might be reflected through photos all other personality traits can only be revealed through direct, personal contact.
- Finally, you must ALLOW your children to feel uncomfortable. It's not a reflection on the quality of parenting. It's allowing your child to feel what is inevitable. You cannot change your children's physical appearance and you cannot change the fact that YOU chose FOR THEM to join your family. It is what it is. They look different because they are different and no amount of wishing OR love will change that. The only thing you can do is empathize with them and be there for them when they come to you. If you are honest with your children from the begininng they will learn to trust you and they WILL come to you when they are ready! No matter how hard you try, you cannot force the relationship to happen. All you can do is nurture it and then stand back and allow it to grow freely!