Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brown Family

It’s hard not to start bawling when your six year old stops getting ready for school to tell you, “I wish a brown family adopted me.”

It was one of those parenting moments in which I had to take a breath, hide my emotions and proceed with caution.

“How come?”

“Because I want my family to look like me.”

“Well your little brother and sister look like you.”

“Yeah but not the whole family.”

I hugged him and apologized for not being brown. What else could I do? I mean, there was a time when I was small when I operated under the notion that I was part African-American, but the fact is I’m not. I distinctly remember when I found out the truth. I was playing Barbies with my older sister; I was probably about 4, making her around 9. I chose a White Barbie for the Mom and a Black Ken for the Dad.

“You can’t do that,” my sister informed me.
“You can’t have a White one and a Black one be married!”
“Why not? Daddy’s Black.”
And with the whack my sister gave me for saying so, I thus learned my Portuguese-Italian father, while certainly the darkest man I saw in rural New Jersey where we lived, was not, in fact, Black. And therefore, neither was I.

That was the extent of my own childhood racial identity crisis. Of course there was no real crisis to be had. Even though my dad is dark and my Polish-German mother is fair, they are both Caucasian. There was no loss of birth parents or cultural heritage for me. There was no wondering about my ancestry or why all the other kids at school resembled their parents (not to mention one another).

I always knew a day would come when E would start to work through his own valid identity issues so I don’t know why I felt so blindsided by it. Maybe I thought he’d drop some hints first, or that he’d be a little older.

When I tucked him in that night, we talked some more. Or, more accurately, I talked while he mostly cried and nodded.

Was he still feeling sad?


Did someone say something recently that made him start feeling like this?


Does he know how much Mommy and Daddy love him?


And even though everyone talks about how happy adoption is and we ARE so, so happy he’s part of our family, did he know there’s sadness to adoption too?

There is???

Yes, E, because we love you so very much but if the world was perfect and there were never any problems at all, you probably would just have stayed with your birth mother, don’t you think?

And my boy sobbed when I said this. My sweet, sweet first grade boy, with pain more suited for an older person to deal with.

Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?


Well I want you to feel at least a little bit better. You might always have sad feelings about this, and that’s okay. But I want to help you…find peace about it. Do you understand what that means?


Would you like to spend more time with your birth family? Great Grandma and Auntie you just met and your sister that was adopted by another family? Would that help?


Then I will do my best to arrange it, my love. I promise to always do my best to keep you in touch with the brown family you long for.


  1. Lots of tears reading this, Gina. All we can do is give them lots of love and support and security and hope that, in time, questions of identity won't leave them so conflicted.

    I mean, my six year Nina has these insecurities even though she is living with her BIRTH family. She has no contact with her African-American biological father and the rest of her family is white. Lately she seems to feel more at ease around her brown former foster mother (me) and our brown adopted son, Lenny, who shares her ethnicity. She has been begging for us all to live in one house - and she talks a lot about "our" brownness. I know she wants very much to be white like the rest of the birth family, and for this reason differentiates herself from children who are all black.

    All I can hope for is that the number of families with complex histories are going up, and that our children can take comfort in knowing that these are common questions they share as they navigate their lives. But is tough, no doubt. I have to believe that our love will help them handle this sensitive, most basic of all issues.

  2. We know so many families like ours which is good for E to not feel alone but then I worry that we don't know enough entirely brown families. But I guess worrying is Mom's job, right?

  3. This is amazing and moving and is something to learn from for any parent. Thanks for being so amazing.

  4. Thank you Rony. It was definitely one of my most challenging times as an adoptive parent to date.

  5. Very moving, very sweet, very challenging. You have your work cut out for you. Good thing you're so capable and compassionate. You have my very large admiration. I've always been curious about your kids. Now I just feel the love...