“Are they brother and sister?”
“Why don’t they look alike?”
“Where’s your mommy?”
“Who’s the mommy?”
Any multiracial or same-sex-parent family of any configuration — be it from adoption, surrogacy, IVF or fostering — has been confronted with these or a plethora of other questions more times than they can count. It can feel like you’re under a microscope whenever you step outside of your house, as the general population hypothesizes about your familial existence. Between work, getting the kids to school or swim lessons, doing the laundry, paying the bills and trying to buy chicken for dinner, the last thing any parent wants to deal with are questions about why their child doesn’t look like them.
When these awkward situations arise, the most important thing is to make a choice rather than slide into default mode. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you recognize it as a choice. You’ve got three options to choose from in the moment:
How the question is asked, who’s asking it, your prevailing mood, your location or the time of day — these all factor into your response. On Tuesday, what might elicit a warm smile and an enigmatic nod, could on Wednesday bring an answer longer than your grocery receipt. And that’s okay. All rights are reserved in navigating these social waters, and everyone’s fate lies in that split-second decision.
We all have those days when we wish somebody would give us a reason to sound off, and when you’re a mismatched modern family, it’s bound to happen. In those cases, there’s nothing better than when the planets align and your eloquence and passion unite to form quips and comebacks that make you feel like a linguistic artisan. On the flip side, more often than not, that overwhelming sense of pride is fleeting, and leaves you with feelings of guilt. Catching glimpses, stares and whispers can get your blood boiling; while some of those people may not mean well, it’s important to understand that the majority of people aren’t intending their voyeurism to be malicious. Think of it as less of an infringement and more of an intrigue. Assume the best to avoid exploding. Plus, no matter how articulate you are, you will never come across as cool as they do in “shondaland.”
Pro: It feels good to let off some steam.
Con: You set a bad example for your kids and may hurt your cause.
Sometimes it’s easier to just agree. From a young age, we learn to pick and choose our battles, and as parents, we all know that each day brings new challenges, so not every single engagement requires you to fully give yourself over. Even if people ask ignorant questions or make wild assumptions, you are not obligated to divulge any information or expend any energy to clear them up. You’ve got dinner to make, so focus on remembering whether to preheat the oven to 350 or 425 degrees, and forget the need to step into your pulpit. Sometimes, “Mommy” is home taking a shower.
Pro: It saves time and maintains privacy.
Con: You may feel like you’re hiding.
In a world where everyone is strapped for time, taking a moment to educate people serves both parties. Your inquirer gets to learn something new, and in the process, everyone’s levels of empathy and compassion are deepened. From that moment on, they will take their newfound knowledge out into the world, and hopefully educate others. This interaction will also illustrate to your children how to effectively communicate with people who may have differing opinions, as well as instill a sense of pride in their family structure.
Your crew might be motley, your colors may be different, and your family unit might not look like the sea of other families, but your hearts match.
In order for modern families to be “normalized,” we must be unapologetic in public spaces. You didn’t spend time, energy and/or money to create the family of your dreams only to spend each day fighting or hiding. Choosing to educate is choosing to take up space. These moments present golden opportunities to proclaim to the world that your family — and so many other families like yours — are here, in all their beauty and splendor.
Pro: You expand the minds and hearts of those you encounter.
Con: You make yourself vulnerable and it takes time and patience, which, let’s face it, we’re frequently out of.
We must choose love
These are the in-depth thoughts that happen in a flash. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it can be difficult trying to vibrate at the highest possible frequency while not forgetting that our kids are watching and learning. As my kids have gotten older, they’ve started to field some questions themselves. No need to interject: They will inform anyone and everyone in the situation. Instead of rushing out of the store in shame due to losing your cool, you rush out because your child thoroughly lectured a cashier on Modern Families 101.
Fortunately, it’s a new world. “Family” doesn’t mean blood anymore. “Family” means choice. Regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, ability, shape or size, anyone who wants to have a family can have a family. How beautiful is that?
The world we grew up in is not the world we’re living in today. The times have changed, and we are the agents of that change. Sure, it can be difficult not to pull our past traumas and judgments into the present, but it’s our job to protect our kids from harm, including from ourselves. We must choose love.