Tuesday Topic: How do We Help Our Kids Love the Skin They’re In?

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Today’s Tuesday Topic is from Melissa, who asks,

How do we help our kids love the skin they’re in? My eight year old daughter (adopted from Africa as a baby) wrote me the sweetest letter and picture yesterday saying she loves me with all her heart and she’s glad I’m her mom, and she drew a cute picture of her and me by a castle. I told her I loved the letter and something about how I loved the picture of mommy, and her with her beautiful brown skin. She dropped her eyes (not for the first time) and said “I wish my skin was white.”

We talked about how beautiful God made her and how much I love the color of her skin. And I told her sometimes I have wished my skin was a different color, but reminded her to thank God for making her just how lovely she is. But I know she thinks this often.

We live in a state with a predominantly white population, although she is one of four black children in her class. There is a lady at church with beautiful locs and when she’s feeling really different about her hair she cheers herself up by saying she wants to grow her locs out long and beautiful like that friend at church. I’m just wondering how you all address this, and if you have found ways that help your kids be comfortable in the skin they’re in…and even love it.

I’ve experienced this with my children too, and I’m not sure that I’ve come up with the most affirming, life-giving responses. I would love to hear your thoughts – or you can share your doubts and questions too.

Please take a moment to respond to Melissa. If you have a question you would like me to present as a Tuesday Topic, email it to me at lisa@onethankfulmom.com. If you put “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line, it will be less likely to disappear into the depths of my inbox.

Have a wonderful day, friends.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

14 Comments

  1. sharimcminn
    April 22, 2014

    Excellent. I have a mix of skin at my house too. We really like watching Ken Ham's ONE BLOOD which talks about how we all came from one man/woman, so we are all one race, but have different colors of tan/brown. Compares it to dogs and the different breeds so kids 10 and up can understand easily.

    Reply
  2. Guest
    April 22, 2014

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have no advice, but would love to hear how others have handled this. I struggle with this with my daughter as well and am at a loss.

    Reply
  3. Kel
    April 22, 2014

    My four year old (adopted at 1 year from China) started noticing race about a year ago and would say "I want your face." Now he says "I have a bad name and a bad face." often. We try to affirm the beautiful meaning his name has and comment about loving his face, or telling him he's handsome, etc. at times not connected to these outbursts, so it doesn't seem like we're just trying to make him feel better. Of course, we do it at the moment of the outburst as well and try to get him to explain the deeper feelings that led to the comment. Tough for a four year old. We attend a 50% Asian church and our street is very diverse, with other multi-ethnic families, so it is not just coming from seeing only Caucasian faces around. Can't wait to hear some great responses.

    Looking forward to CAFO Summitt next week – they have a couple seminars for this very topic! Hope to see some there!

    Reply
  4. Laurel
    April 22, 2014

    Yes, this can be a hard issue for those of us who have adopted transracially! We are white parents of our son who was adopted from Africa as well. A social worker recommended the book "Brown Like Me" by Noelle Lamperti. It's about a black child who loves to find things all around her that are "brown like me". We bought it for our son.
    My son is 4 and has had moments of sadness that he doesn't look like the rest of the people in our family. We try to find the similarities that do exist. We talk about how we all have brown eyes, how his lips look like Daddy's, how we all have dark brown moles, etc.!
    We also recently started talking about how everyone is really a shade of brown. So now I refer to my skin as light brown and my son's as dark brown. This seems to help my kids feel that we are all more similar than they thought.
    I really recommend the book "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla". I am in the middle of it and it is a fantastic in depth look at kids' understandings of race at different stages of life. She has great advice for parents of black children on how to help them develop healthy views of race.

    Reply
  5. Lori
    April 22, 2014

    Our adopted children are Asian (India) and so their skin is varying shades of brown, but definitely darker than us. I have talked about us all descending from Adam and that under our skin we are the same. I praise their beautiful skin and dark hair – and it really is beautiful! However, I have never felt like those things convinced them.

    Even in India my girls heard comments about the depth of color of their brown skin and were called names because they were darker than someone else. Can you believe that? I was so surprised about that. Even in a country where everyone has brown skin they are comparing and calling out the lightest skin among them as being the most desirable and beautiful. Crazy!

    I think taking the focus off of the difference and celebrating their heritage and what makes them special is a great way to give them a good feeling about who they are. I love that America is a melting pot of all kinds of ethnicities and all are unique and good.

    Even with all that we have done and talked about regarding skin color my youngest daughter still finds it uncomfortable in public situations when she feels she is being stared at because she is different. I think they stare because she is strikingly beautiful, but that doesn't change how it makes her feel.

    I go back to the best way we can help them is for them to embrace and celebrate who they are and see themselves as a special child of God.

    Reply
  6. Cindy
    April 22, 2014

    Our home is a mix of white, African, bi-racial and Hispanic. We enjoy the book, The Colors of Us. As a little girl goes about her day, she compares the skin color of those she meets to foods that are similar. Each one is special and beautiful; none is better than the other. It's a great springboard for conversations with our younger children.

    Reply
  7. Momma t
    April 22, 2014

    This was a big concern of mine for a while, but my experience has taught me one thing. Any time you make a big deal of anything, even if you think you are building someone up, you are raising a red flag. Would you tell your white child how much you love their skin? Would you do it in front of your black children? I have seven children and they are white, black, Native American, and Asian. Most of them are a combination of two, but most of them also look white. When our first daughter came she was a year old. Her skin was brown and her sisters was not. We constantly told her how beautiful she was, and she is! She is so smart. She figured out beautiful was a code for different. She went through several years of hating herself and everyone else before she finally started to love herself for her.
    Five children later came our African American son. After watching the pain our daughter went through I decided to do something different. He was only four months old when we brought him home and everyone fell face first in love! Our daughter was over the moon! One of our other sons threw a huge tantrum! He thought his baby brother was so cute he wanted to look just like him! He wanted to be brown! His sister then Took the opportunity to let him know that she was and too bad for him. Lol :/ then she watched. And waited. She wanted to see what we would say or do. We did nothing we wouldn't do for any
    other child. We loved him.
    We did have a little bit of fun at others expenses. I mean, when you walk into a restaurant with a baby carrier and people come over to you all excited about your baby……….. Well, let's just say their first reaction was usually priceless when the cover was removed! Hehe!they always recovered quickly and were really embarrassed, but we weren't angry.
    She saw that too. How we reacted to others. How they reacted to us. And very slowly, with a lot of praying on our part, loved herself again.
    So now to our son. He is now six and for a while I wasn't sure he knew his skin was brown. He has brought it up only a few times. The first was about a year ago, when he told me his skin was so brown. Then a little while later he asked why. I explained that because they all grew in different tummies they all looked different, and that some families just don't look the same. At school someone asked him why his mommy was white and he was black. He asked me again and I explained his skin looks like his birth mother, and that we all love her for making him, but I get to be his mommy now. He has no issue right now with his skin and I pray it stays that way. When we discuss heritage, we do it for everyone. We celebrate everyone's background together. For our family, skin has become just one of the many characteristics that make a person. Like hair, eye color, personality, or any other trait. It's just not a big deal. We are a family because we love each other, and we stress they are all exactly where God intended them to be.

    Reply
  8. Lori
    April 23, 2014

    Go to a Heritage camp! The kids will not only get to meet other kids that look like them but have families like theirs. They will come away being proud of their ethnicity. Before Heritage Camp my son (India) would voice negative comments about his own or others skin. This virtually stopped after Heritage Camp. Sorry I am sounding like an ad. I think there is something very reassuring to kids to see that they are not the only dark skin kid in the world with white parents. Colorado Heritage Camps are great and I highly recommend them.

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth
    April 23, 2014

    I think something that really hit home for me after having a transracial family is how "white" Jesus often looks in story books and other pictures. After reading my younger siblings (from Liberia, West Africa) a Bible story before their bedtime, the subject of skin color came up. I mentioned that we really don't know what Jesus looked like, since the Bible does not ever heavily describe his appearance. I'll never forget my one younger sister responding "but I KNOW Jesus had white skin." It caused me to examine our depictions of Jesus. I know that my siblings still have a hard time always being so "different." Different than their parents, different than most peers, (My family lives in a very light skinned community) and in their mind, different than Jesus – God Himself. It is true that we're all just various amount of brown pigment. I've wished for more, they have wished for less. However, I recognize that it is not nearly as difficult for me to see beauty in my skin because the culture around me (Disney princesses, lead actors in films, magazines) mostly shows light skinned people.

    Reply
  10. Heidi Mehltretter Lanni
    April 23, 2014

    I appreciate these comments. My son would not wear an Ethiopian shirt once (he is Ethiopian) because "it shows too much brown" – of course I felt heartbroken. It's a subject that comes up a lot and is NOT helped when Ethiopians tell him he is too dark to be from there! But, even my lighter skinned daughter wishes "I had white skin" and she is the loveliest girl. Sigh. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    Reply
  11. amy
    April 23, 2014

    My daughter was 2 years old when she first noted the difference of our skins. She was crying because our tummies "didn't match". I know kids generally don't get this kind of racial awareness until they are much older but I think in transracial families – even if you don't talk about it or make a big deal about it (even in a positive way) – others will. My son is "honey" brown and my daughter is "chocolate" brown and she gets comments almost everyday we're out about her skin or hair. My son is of Chinese origins and my daughter, Indian. She is a beautiful girl, not just from this mom's perspective, but she gets soooo much attention from people we don't even know. Its tough for her – even though it's all positive (and she's only 6 years old). I have no great advice, sadly!!

    Reply
  12. catully
    April 24, 2014

    These are all excellent posts, and it is heartwarming that parents are preoccupied about the negative self-image their "exotic" adopted children are developing. One thing I know, and that is from having been the exotic child in a White family and community, is that children recognize they are different way before they might show or mention it. Racial distinctions are foremost on their minds, constantly. While they of course love their White parents, they will simply wish they could be White as well (with all the endearing features including freckles.)

    I wished my parents had allowed me access to the Black community, but even though they did not fear Blacks, I thought they did, and so I grew up fearing Blacks. Lupita Nyongo has said over and over that growing up, she never thought of herself as beautiful. I can tell why not: her early years were spent in Mexico… While she had her African parents with her, because of them living in Mexico where the majority of people were lighter, her self-image was bruised… anyway.

    I believe you all are doing the best you can, in providing a mixed social environment for your little "exotics," and having open channels of conversation with them about their racial concerns. And I truly commend you also for seeking advice from others in shoes similar to yours.

    One more thing: When a Black person does something negative, (the media will broadcast it) or a tragedy happens to an innocent Black (Trayvon comes to mind) then you need to engage your children in conversations so that they do not feel personally connected to negative acts done by others, or fear that they may fall prey to racial misunderstanding and hatred.

    Your best effort can only be your best effort, and your child will feel cared for and protected by you. That security is invaluable.

    I was a very protective mother and recently discussed with my mixed-race son how he felt growing up under my overly protective nature. He said he always felt very secure and protected. So, we can't take away our children's perceptions of themselves, but we can give them a very good feeling of security when it comes to being cared for and protected.

    Reply
  13. Lori
    April 25, 2014

    Go to a Heritage camp! The kids will not only get to meet other kids that look like them but have families like theirs. They will come away being proud of their ethnicity. Before Heritage Camp my son (India) would voice negative comments about his own or others skin. This virtually stopped after Heritage Camp. Sorry I am sounding like an ad. I think there is something very reassuring to kids to see that they are not the only dark skin kid in the world with white parents. Colorado Heritage Camps are great and I highly recommend them.

    Reply
  14. Susie
    April 29, 2014

    Adoptive families .com has a web forum with different discussion boards. One is on transracial families. You will be able to read a lot there from all parts of the adoption community-parents, adoptees, professionals. Some of it you may not agree with, some of it you may strongly not agree with, and some of it may hit home. 🙂 it can be a really charged topic for many for understandable reasons. But, if you look back at old posts you will get to read a lot of different voices and some of them may help you consider where your child might be in his/her journey. Sometimes, they do not like their skin color because of racism they are perceiving that parents who are in the majority may not even realize is going on. I think of the news with the NBA owner's racist comments and I wonder how some kids will feel when they hear it talked about. But, yes-what words do we use?? It's hard. The transracial families posts may help.

    Reply

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