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06 Feb, Monday
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Montreal Families

Real families come in all shapes, sizes and colours

It was finally happening. We were becoming parents. I was speechless, elated and overwhelmed with emotion. Our adoption worker had called and informed us that we were the parents of a beautiful, healthy 13-month-old boy.

We had endured police checks, financial checks, a mandatory adoption class and a home-safety inspection. We had provided references from employers, family and friends. We had read all the books and met with countless adoption workers. We were as ready as we could possibly be.

But as we shared the news of our impending parenthood, my euphoria was quickly extinguished. The response we received from most of our friends, relatives, neighbours and strangers, both before and after our son came home, left us speechless and deeply hurt. “Well, what is wrong with him?” people asked us. “Did they run out of white ones?” (Our son is black.) “Who are the real parents?”

These insensitive and heartless comments devastated me. Our society is more progressive, we thought. But rather than offering congratulations or best wishes, people questioned our judgment at becoming adoptive parents. Everyone became an (unsolicited) expert.

Nothing is “wrong” with my son, who we adopted five years ago – or his brother, adopted in 2008. Adopted children are not damaged goods. Nor do biological families hold a monopoly on perfect kids. But what deeply shocks me is that people continue to question our choice to adopt black children. Doctors, cashiers, teachers and strangers have queried “why black?” And people have no hesitation asking in front of our children.

I have answered with “why not?” We sought a healthy, happy child, and that is exactly what we got. I celebrate my children’s heritage in many ways. At their tender ages, they have a good understanding of their background, family of origin and culture. They are not my black sons – they are my sons.

Blended families, interracial families, single parents and same-sex parents are increasingly common. As a progressive and open-minded society, we acknowledge and accept that families come in different shapes and sizes. I would not ask you how your family came to be. “Were your children planned or not?” “Is your husband the father of all your children?” “Did you use fertility treatments or a sperm/egg donor?” “Are they your real children?” That would be hurtful, callous and, frankly, none of my business.

Yet I am often asked, “Who are the real parents?” to which I reply, “my husband and I.” We may not be our sons’ biological birth parents, but we are real. I really deal with nightmares, illness and temper tantrums. I really celebrate my children’s small accomplishments – potty training, learning to read, cycling without training wheels. I really laugh at their antics, their cuddles and their innocent perspective on life. I really feel pain when they are injured, sick or sad. We are not a false, fake or artificial family – we are real. We are a family first, a family of adoption second.

Since the adoption of our second son, the most common question I am asked is, “Are the boys real brothers?” “Of course,” I reply. I can assure you that my sons see themselves as nothing less than real brothers.

Despite my initial gut reaction (which would be to glare and tell people to go away), I try to handle these moments with grace and decorum. I smile and answer, “why do you ask?” This is usually enough for most people to realize they are being nosy. For those seriously contemplating adoption, I have not closed a door. I am more than willing to provide information on adoption. I am, however, not willing to give you the history of my children, or an explanation of my choices. My children, like yours, are entitled to privacy and discretion.

While these rude inquiries continue to baffle me, we have learned to deal with them in a productive manner. It is an opportunity for us to discuss the special elements of adoption with our children, and reiterate how loved they are. Our children know we have adopted one another: we were parents who needed a child, and they were children who needed parents. They know that if anyone has a problem with an interracial, adoptive family, it is their problem, not ours.

My greatest revelation in becoming a parent, the one thing I was not entirely prepared for, was the depth and intensity of love I have for these two little boys. Words cannot describe what these children mean to me. My love for them is raw, profound and unlike anything I have ever experienced. Perhaps that qualifies me as a real mother most of all.

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