One of the most demeaning questions thrown at adoptees and their families centers on the concept of REAL. Do you know your REAL parents? Do you have any REAL brothers or sisters? In addition to your adopted children, do you have any REAL ones?
These questions strike deep. They demean the validity of our families, cast us as less than biological families and require us to defend our "inferior" status.
At some level, the REAL question causes kids to worry that perhaps the questioner is correct. Perhaps adoptive families are not quite as good as other families. Even we parents wrestle with doubts: Are we doing a good job? Are we all attaching well? Are we respecting birth parents and birth family enough? Will our children grow up and want to abandon our family in preference for a return to their birth parents?
Most of the time we remain strong in our commitment to our family and trust in the genuine bonds we are building. But when people wave the REAL flag in our faces, their implied criticism shakes us. In that moment, we are challenged. As Intentional Parents, we've rehearsed these scenarios, have analyzed our thoughts and beliefs, committed to adoption-attunement and thus, we can remain confident that our families and the bonds which braid us together are very real. We do not lose ourselves in the fear factor. This is why we parents discuss adoption topics.
It is equally essential that we have similar conversations with our kids. We want to help them be reassured in their own minds and to prepare them to handle the inevitable REAL questions when they are lobbed in their direction. How do we bring up such a "Big" and difficult conversation?
This book offers the perfect gateway to discussing what makes a family real. As adoptive families, we know that our families and our relationships are all deep and permanent. Real. The choice is not binary; both adoptive and biological parents and relatives are real. A book like this offers an indirect way of initiating a conversation with our kids about realness, truth, misperception and ignorance. Begin by discussing an item from the book, and then ask your child if people ever ask them about any part of their life being real or "not real." If they follow your lead and mention adoption-connected stuff, go for it.
Invite them to share their experiences and thoughts. Listen. Deeply. Give them time. When they pause, ask them to tell you more. Stay quiet and listen. Once they've downloaded all their thoughts, then review the events together. Explore how they felt. Identify what they wished they could have changed. Look for opportunities where they could have influenced the conversation. Be sure to approach it from a perspective of improving things for the next time as opposed to judging their experiences as failures.
Help them to determine if the question emerges from mean-spiritedness or genuine curiosity hampered by ignorance. (Many people lack the appropriate vocabulary to draw the distinction between biological and adopted relationships. They default to REAL when what they actually mean is biological.) Once they've taught the questioner how to use adoption-attuned language, any further use of REAL most likely is pejorative and intended to demean adoption.
Another path this family conversation can explore: some people won't accept adoptive families as fully equivalent to biological families. Not an easy topic, but still an important one to address (in an age-appropriate manner.)
Adoption-attuned book review from Writing to Connect
Real or Fake? Far-out Fibs, Fishy Facts and Phony Photos by National Geographic Kids is a fascinating book that helps kids to see through information and identify what is true from what is contrived, faked, tweaked or downright false. With the advent of the Photoshop era and the proliferation of exaggeration on-line, in print and in advertisements, truth competes with persuasive, authentic-sounding lies and fakes. Such stories, "news" reports, photos, and zany factoids can even fool adults .
We must help kids develop the ability to see through the trickery and deceit to discern what is real or fake.
The book uses a fib-o-meter to help display the range of falseness that an item may contain. Some lies are broader and more serious than others. The bottom line is that it still represents an untruth. We all must be alert for the tricks that people use to fool, confuse and manipulate us. Sometimes the deceit is unintentional, sometimes it is for fun. Many times, however, the intention is to control and trick kids (or us) into doing something or believing something we would not otherwise do or believe if we knew the truth.
In what way do you personally struggle with the question of REAL? Which buttons does it push? What is the best way you've found to cope with such questions?