When we were being licensed for foster care, we had to complete several hours of training. The training really was pretty extensive, but we learned first hand that they can’t prepare you for some of the unexpected questions that may come your way.
Our 4-year-old foster daughter was very much a follower of her 6-year-old sister. Therefore, she didn’t have a lot of questions. However, the 6-year-old was curious about a lot of things and we weren’t expecting some of the questions that she threw our way.
The girls were AA and had been removed from their mom’s care a few months earlier and went to live with grandma. Grandma decided she was done and they went live with a foster mom who was also AA, but her single status caused her to rethink her decision and she decided that fostering these two girls wasn’t a wise choice for her. When the girls found out they were moving yet again the oldest apparently stated, “We’re probably going to live with an ugly white family.” This was going to be their first experience living with an ‘ugly white family,’ but I’m quite sure they weren’t expecting to find that we were also a transracial family and that only conjured up more questions for the 6-year-old.
They had been with us a few days when she cornered Lili and asked her, “Where’s your real mom?”
I knew that at some point this question would be presented to me or Lili or Naomi, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to come from a little girl who was going to be living with us. I looked at Lili and could see the absolute confusion on her face. What did she mean, “Where’s your real mom?” After all, her real mom was sitting right there on the porch. How could she not see her sitting there? So Lili pointed over to me.
I waited a little longer to see how this would play out and heard the 6-year-old ask, “No, where’s your real mom?” Lili looked over at me a bit dazed and confused, not able to understand why this girl was asking such a strange question and that’s when I stepped in. “I am her real mom.” This was not an acceptable answer at all and the 6-year-old was bound and determined to get answers.
Now, I understood that this little girl’s world had been turned upside down. She had questions about what was going to happen to her and her sister. I’m quite certain seeing Lili and Naomi happily living with the “ugly white family” only caused her more confusion and fear. She not only knew who her “real” mom was, but she saw her on a weekly basis – or as often as mom kept the visitation appointments. If she had a real mom that she knew and saw on a somewhat regular basis, then surely Lili and Naomi had a real mom that they knew and saw on a regular basis too.
So the questions continued. “No, her real mom.” Again I answered, “I am her real mom. I think what you’re asking is, where is her birth mom and her birth mom lives in Guatemala where Lili was born.” Now she was looking confused and trying to process all of this. I told her that I was happy to talk to her about it more, but that it was rude to question Lili and Naomi like that and she needed to ask me those questions.
Obviously, Lili and Naomi are going to need to learn to answer these questions for themselves. I’m not always going to be there to step in and answer the tough questions for them, but in this particular case we needed to set up some rules and boundaries or this was going to get out-of-hand.
Over the 4 weeks that the girls were with us, the question was brought up time and time again. One evening during dinner the 6-year-old asked again, “Where is your real mom?” so I asked her, “What does a real mom do?” Here is the list I received . . . . .
– She buys her things
– She buys her clothes
– She buys her food
– She buys her toys
I was getting a much clearer picture on the expectations this little girl had of her real mom.
At this point I had to start asking more questions.
Me: Does a real mom make sure her kids have food?
Me: Does a real mom give her kids kisses and hugs?
Me: Does a real mom take care of her kids when they are sick?
Me: Does a real mom make sure her kids are getting a good education?
Me: Does a real mom do things with her kids like playing with them or teaching them how to cook?
Me: Does a real mom love her kids?
Me: I do all of those things for Lili and Naomi so it sounds to me like I am their real mom.
Her: Smiling shyly, but still not buying that anyone other than that woman who birthed them could be their real mom.
I also found it sad, disturbing and interesting that at no point did she question Dave’s status as their ‘real’ dad. Apparently, a dad could be any man and as far as she was concerned, Dave was their real dad and that was okay.
Fortunately, she did begin to direct her questions to me and we actually had some nice conversations about adoption and the responsibilities of a real mom. I think she actually got the fact that families come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, but that no matter how they were formed, they were real families in every sense of the word.
One of the funnier questions we got during their stay was directed toward Dave and still makes me chuckle.
Her: You’re white.
Her: Is your poop white?
That question was truly unexpected, but I suppose in her 6-year-old mind she thought what comes out of your body is the same color as your skin. LOL!!!!
One day while I was fixing her hair, the 6-year-old stated, “There are more white people living in this house than black people.” Of course I had to correct her and said, “No, there are more black people in this house than white people. Dad and I are actually the only 2 white people in the house.” She looked at me like I was crazy and I said, “You, your sister and Naomi are all black. Lili is Mayan Indian, so dad and are the only 2 white people in the house.” She then got a confused look on her face and asked, , “Lili isn’t white?” Now it was time for the conversation on different races, cultures and a reminder of where Lili was born.
If nothing else positive came out of their 4 weeks here, the 6-year-old certainly got a great education in social studies and geography. And we got a great education on how to better prepare our girls for the tough questions that are going to come their way throughout their lives.