“He actually looks kind of like you!”
“Wow, he really looks like his new dad!”
“You know, he looks like he could be your real son.”
These are all actual things I’ve been told since the boys moved in. And ohhhh boy, have I got a LOT to say about it. But in that moment, what do I manage to eek out?
“Umm…err…thanks? Yeah, kinda, I guess?”
It’s awkward, at best.
Now, I’m not a monster. I understand there are a few reasons why even the most well-intentioned people would want to point out how we look alike:
- Humans want to group things together. It is in our nature to find similarities and attempt to categorize things/people/ideas.
- A majority of families are biological, so we tend to assume. We’ve all been there: brand new baby in a stroller, little eyes peeking out from below a tiny cap, and the first thing we say is: “Wow, she’s got your nose!” I am guilty of this, too.
- They think we need to hear it. People who know we are adopting the boys also know there are challenges that come along with the transition. They’re trying to encourage us.
All of these reasons are legitimate and fair! But next time you’ve got a compliment about looking alike on your lips, just take a pause and…
…Consider the mom via infant adoption who might be struggling to bond with her new child, because she didn’t have nine months in the womb to form a relationship. Maybe she and her partner struggled with infertility for years and thought they were done grieving that their family will look different than they imagined. How might you be hurting her heart by assuming her child is biological?
…Consider the damage you might do by pointing out how my son looks like me or my husband. Your words attempt to erase or ignore where he has come from and replace it with where he is now. All of those parts of his story are equally significant and valid.
…Consider the interracial family of adoption that you might encounter tomorrow, to whom you probably won’t say this. Is their family less “real” because yesterday you said my son looked like he could be my “real” child?
Trust me, you won’t search the faces of my boys and find my husband’s eyes (unfortunately) or my nose (thank goodness), so don’t go looking. What can you do instead of defaulting to appearance when trying to encourage us or compliment us on our children?
- Just give a regular, non-appearance compliment. Maybe you noticed he is great at coloring, or he is a super good helper. Did he say something sweet or did he make you laugh with a silly face? Let us know. We like hearing good things about our kiddos, especially on the hard days.
- Group us by personality. Though our kids may or may not share our physical features, we definitely have things in common when it comes to our personalities. For example, one of our sons is sensitive and affectionate like Nate; the other, independent and adventurous like me. We all love dance parties and Taco Tuesdays. Sarcasm is spoken fluently in our family.
- Celebrate adoption. Not all families are the same, but all families have some things in common (The Family Book by Todd Parr does a great job of explaining this). My boys LOVE to read books that mention adoption and meet other kids who were adopted from foster care or as a baby. Celebrating adoption as a person who doesn’t have adoption in your immediate family might look like this: not assuming a baby is biological, asking my kids how they feel about their upcoming adoption, or complimenting a child or family on how special and unique it is that they are adopted.
- Don’t think of adoption as a second choice or last resort. Adoption is growing in prevalence, and more families (like ours) are choosing to adopt as a “Plan A.” Furthermore, these days more families are made up of different skin colors, races, ethnicities, and abilities. Assuming that parents need to hear their children look like them to feel more proud, connected, legitimate (or what have you) is insensitive.
Our adopted children may have certain features that resemble ours, but that is purely by chance. We don’t need our kids to look like us. If we did, we probably would have tried to reproduce. But we didn’t.
What we need more than compliments, more than a sense of shared features, is for our kids to look like themselves; to find in their features traces of who and where they came from for the continuity of their story. We celebrate their uniqueness that goes far beyond our nurture to their nature.
In all other ways, our children are OURS and they are wholly part of our family. But they have another family, too, and that family didn’t go away when they joined ours. Why disregard one the most significant (and sometimes only) tie an adopted child has to their birth family–their DNA?