The Million Dollar Question

So it happened already.

I knew it would at some point, but last year it took all the way until April.

What happened?  The question.  The one that families via transracial adoption wait for all the time:

“Why’s your mom white?”  Yes.  Said with the italics emphasis on white, in a tone that didn’t sound too impressed.

The little black girl who asked the question had followed my daughter over to me, where I stood waiting for the bell to ring before I left my post watching Baby Girl in the enclosed play yard.  The girl was friendly and engaged me in conversation, so I asked what her name was.  When she told me, Baby Girl proudly pointed at me and stated: “She’s my mom!”.

That’s when the confused look appeared in the girl’s narrowed eyes, as she scrutinized me.

I knew when I signed up for transracial adoption that these moments would come.  We’ve had them before, we’ll have them again.  I knew this little girl’s curiosity was innocent and natural.  I knew this was an opportunity to educate.

But I still wanted to hit “rewind” and somehow make that little girl NOT ask that question.

I wanted to save my Baby Girl from having to answer a question that she shouldn’t have to answer.  I wanted to protect her from the burden of explaining her most painful detail, because she already has to carry the burden of her adoption every moment of every day.

Adoption is such a wonderful, beautiful, life-enriching way to create a family.

Except for the adoptee, sometimes.  This was one of those times.

It was in that moment, when the other black girl who obviously has black parents or at least black family made it obvious that she couldn’t understand another black child having anything but black family, that I truly felt my daughter’s burden.  How she must have felt so segregated from her own race at that moment, because of me.  I felt guilty, almost, for adopting her and involuntarily subjecting her to a lifetime of questions and feelings of not being like everyone else.   At that moment, I longed to be black, despite the fact that we teach our children to accept, respect and embrace differences, simply to make that question disappear.

I looked at my daughter and saw the worry in her eyes – would the little girl make fun of her for having a white mother?  Would she be mean to her for having been adopted?  I asked Baby Girl if she wanted to answer the girl’s question, and she started in, providing an entirely different response than the ones that we had practised together for times like these.


She explained to the girl that she had been born in South Africa and her mom had been born in Canada.  True enough.  Then she told the girl that she came out of (insert birth mother’s name) tummy.

The little girl was understandably confounded.

I told my daughter that she was right and had made a good start with her answer, and then gently offered to help her explain further, as she was very nervous and had stopped speaking when she started to stumble over what to say next.

I explained to the girl that my daughter was made in another woman’s tummy than mine, and that woman was a black woman, which is why Baby Girl has black skin.  I went on to state that the woman who made her was her birth mother, but she could not be a mommy to our daughter, so somebody else had to be her parents, and my husband and I had adopted her, which means we became her parents without her growing in my tummy, and now we were a family.  I added that families don’t have to all look like each other to be a family and I wanted to continue, but the girl’s eyes were starting to glaze over.

She said nothing when I stopped.  Just looked at me for a long minute, and I don’t really know if what I said had made sense for her.

I asked my daughter after school if the girl said anything more to her, but she had not, and I think Baby Girl and I were both relieved.

I also asked how she felt about the girl’s question and my answer, and she told me “embarrassed”.  I asked her why, and she explained, not for the first time, that it made her feel like she was different from everybody else.

I get it.

She is.

My challenge as her parent is to help her see that this different that she feels and that everybody else sees, is not a bad thing, not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed of.

Sometimes it’s hard to pull what’s in your heart out into the open world and get everyone to feel it along with you, isn’t it?


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8 thoughts on “The Million Dollar Question

    • Why thank you, Michelle! I’m just an average mother with many faults, but hopefully my daughter will appreciate one day that I do try to empathize with her as much as possible (it’s not always easy!).

  1. My brother’s (now a widower) daughter is Barbadian, thus she is dark skinned, he is white. Recently they were at a McDonald’s in Chicago which is predominantly black. After he came out of the washroom, he saw she (aged 7) was defending him. Two African Americans were questioning whether or not my brother was her father. After many comments, she finally asked/said to them “are you prejudiced?” A proud moment for my brother.

    • Wow. Good for her to be brave enough to say that! Sometimes I worry my daughter will be questioned why she is with me or my husband, and what’s worse? That she will be in a “mood” and deny our familial bond to be sassy, not understanding the implications. So many considerations when you adopt transracially or as you’ve pointed out – when you have different races within a family. Thanks for sharing, Catherine!

  2. What a thoughtful and understanding mom you are!
    I overheard a similar conversation with my daughter, who is Mayan Indian and adopted from Guatemala. She was playing with a friend who was black. Both her mom and I are white. She asked her friend “Are you adopted, too?” to which her friend looked at her quizzically, and said “No”. “Then why are you black and your mom is white?” she asked. “Because my daddy is black…”

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