Tell Me About It
The other day, Gracie—my three year old—pointed to the top of her hand and said “I’m the color of chocolate cake, but my family’s the color of this…” She turned her hand over and touched her palm.
“How does that make you feel?” Kristin asked. Gracie touched her fingers to the sides of her eyes and pantomimed tears running down her face.
As adoptive parents, our children will struggle with issues around identity and belonging. A strong attachment and a safe place to dialog can make a world of difference in how they deal with those issues.
The Donovan Family. Clockwise from the top left: Kristin, Matt, Jaimes, Davy, and Gracie
Kristin expressed sympathy and Gracie moved on to the next thing, but the image of her palm and of her sad mime tears had burned into my memory. I felt I had utterly failed as an adoptive parent. We’ve talked a lot about color in our home. We’ve read books, talked about color in terms of flavor, and discussed (sometimes at length) what flavors and colors and shades of brown each of is. But this was the first time my adopted daughter expressed sadness because her skin was a different color.
At the young age of three, she’s already processing complex emotions and trying to make sense of the differences she notices between herself, her sisters, and the rest of her family.
At first I was troubled. I felt a bit intimidated by the comment. I wasn’t sure how we should respond. I was also a little hurt. We’ve done a lot of work over the past several months to build a stronger connection with Gracie. I interpreted her comment as a failure on my part and that stung. Honestly, I was kind of scared too. In the two seconds it to to drag her fingers down her cheek, my little girl exposed an ocean of grief and confusion I feel unequipped to help her navigate.
Slowly, my sadness turned to gladness. Hearing my daughter express these feelings is a good thing simply because she’s expressing them. Sometimes I forget that. At the young age of three, she’s already processing complex emotions and trying to make sense of the differences she notices between herself, her sisters, and the rest of her family. If her mom and I are too timid, hurt, or scared to listen and dialog, it’s then that we fail her.
I feel sad when my daughter says she feels different from her family. I’m sad that she longs for a fuller sense of belonging. But I’m really glad she feels like she can tell me about it. I want for her to always always always tell me about it.