While my little sister has been growing up, we have never hidden race or adoption from her. She has a different heritage and birth mother and has a different colour skin, but that does not make her different from us. She is family. She is my mother's daughter and my sister. She knows this and so do we, but to the outside world this can sometimes be confusing. It is human nature to be curious. This is part of what makes us people; the want to understand and discover new things. Children are above all the most curious, and will say things how they see it. Quite often a child will say "She can't be your mum, you look different". That blunt explanation is the innocence in them. They have no filters when it comes to social boundaries, to them that is what they see; brown skin and white skin.
All I can do is encourage parents to be educational. Educate your children by explaining to them that sometimes families can be made up of two mums or two dads, with only one parent or in foster care. Take the time to mention how some families are formed with babies grown in hearts and not in tummies, so that one day when they meet someone at school or in the playground that has a different family unit they except the information they are given and don't question the answer they receive. I remember fiercely defending myself in the school playground time and time again about how you could have two mums, to ears and brains that were certain that they were right. However, what still surprises me is how un-tactful grown ups can be.
Announcing to a parent of a transracial adoption "Where has she come from?" or "What is her origin?" might be slightly jarring to hear from someone they have only just met. Many times my mum has been at the play ground and has experienced the idle chit chat that parents sitting on benches start. When the strangers put two and two together, with my little sister running up and calling her mummy, you can see the cogs start to work. Rather offensively their first question is usually "Is she yours?" which is then followed by "What is her origin?". Firstly, I would never think to ask that of an adult who I had just met, regardless of my curiosity regarding their heritage. By pointing this out it can be a sensitive topic to adoptive parents, because this is something that they cannot change. Adoptive parents can then also feel obliged to tell people more than they should. There is that slightly British trait inside all of us that does not want to seem curt or rude. Answering a simple "Yes" to the question "Is she yours?", can sometimes leave a conversation hanging and in the space to fill it [what I can only explain it as verbal diarrhoea happens] where you find yourself divulging too much information to feel polite. When in actual fact, they should never have asked the question and the adoptive parents should never feel they have to give up all of their personal information either.
If a child of the same ethnicity had come over to my mum and called her mummy, a stranger would never even think to ask whether that child was hers. You see, the curious part of your subconscious took over. Instead of asking an intrusive question, try with a conversation opener that is actually about the child rather than demanding to know their private history. Many adoptions are sensitive and details are not meant for outside people to know. An adoptive child has only their own story to tell, when they deem it worthy to tell someone. So the next time your curiosity fuels your questions, try and put the two and two together and instead of delving straight in with the million dollar question you are dying to ask, start with "How old is she?" or "Does she enjoy ballet because my daughter does?" as I find these are good conversation starters with any parent without being intrusive.
The next time a child of a different ethnicity calls someone mum, just assume that they are their parents and query no more. The reality is that you may never find out the whole story, and you may leave with unanswered questions but at least know that you have made a parents' day by not asking whether their own child belongs to them. Be aware that an adoptive parent of an ethically different child is already having questions asked about skin colour, race and heritage from their own children and the topic is raw and tender as you explain what it means to be adopted and why you do not look the same. So in that moment where you have watched a mother and child together and have not examined their relationship, or asked the obvious question, it means everything because you have seen them for what they are. A mother and daughter. Nothing more, nothing less.