Parents know what it’s like, the questions and requests from teachers for baby photos, information for family trees, and questions about moms. A teachers job is hard, really hard. It’s even more difficult as class sizes grow. To remember the backgrounds of every child is difficult, but I think there should be a general understanding that there are children in the classroom who come from divorced families, are in foster care, or were adopted.
For Mother’s Day, Payton’s teacher had the class answer questions about their mothers. Simple enough right? Well, one of the questions Payton had to answer was: Why were you given to your mother and not some other mother? Let that sink in for a while. I did, and it hurt. It didn’t hurt me, it hurt my daughter. Think about how the adopted or foster child answers this question. Payton had written out a long paragraph explaining what happened to her and why she’s with another mommy. Talk about heavy. These conversations are welcome in a loving environment with Mommy and Daddy available to hug and offer answers and weed out what she’s feeling, but in class, sitting by herself? She erased her answer and wrote: My mommy likes to go swimming with me. Total avoidance of the question, and I don’t blame her. I’m proud of her.
The really odd thing is I’ve told Mrs. Briggs* about Payton’s past, thoroughly. And more importantly, she’s worked with children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder, so she knows all about it, or you would think she does. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why Mrs. Briggs would ask such a question. I mean I grew up with both of my biological parents and I have no idea how I would answer this question. Ummm, because that’s who I was born to. Seems simple to me. Fate? Destiny? God’s design? Let’s take hypothetical Shalene, her relationship with her mom wasn’t good as a teen. Even if she had considered what it would be like to be born to another mother, it wouldn’t have benefited her in any way. I hate the phrase, but, it is what it is. She didn’t have any other choice, and thinking about it wouldn’t have got her anywhere besides depressed. dear teachers, we come from diverse backgrounds
After reading a card Payton made in class, I came to a presumption (I think I’m close to the answer) of why Mrs. Briggs asked this question. They used this questionnaire as an outline for their Mother’s Day cards. I think Mrs. Briggs was trying to ask the kids what’s special about their mother. Maybe it should be phrased this way. I know it may have been easier on at least four kids in the class, my daughter, a boy who’s being raised by his grandparents, a child who’s been adopted by family, and another child who’s been adopted by his grandparents. That’s a lot of kids. In todays society, it would be great if teachers would preface any questions or conversations about mothers by including those who could be the students primary caregivers; grandparents, aunts, and siblings for those who come from different family dynamics.
It goes beyond Mother’s Day though, teachers need to acknowledge those diverse ways children come into families. What about children who are asked to bring in baby photos? What if the child was adopted from the Ukraine at five-years-old and they have no pictures from when they were younger? What if a child enters foster care with nothing at the age of ten? They won’t have photos, they usually don’t even have more than the clothes on their back. When parents neglect and abuse children, they often don’t make it a priority to create family photo albums, and they usually aren’t passed on with the child if they do have any pictures.
I don’t have such a problem with family trees. There are plenty of ideas out there on blogs that give adoptive parents ideas on what to do for these. It’s a great way for your child to learn about their new family, or you can do two family trees, with one being the biological side if you have enough information. (It will be up to your child if they want their class to know they’re adopted.)
When I shared this question that came up on Payton’s paper, my friend, JoAnn*, said her adopted daughter was asked: What was the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? JoAnn said her daughter was reeling for days afterwards. She adopted her daughter from Haiti after the earthquake. Mika* had been living in an orphanage when the Haiti earthquake shook the earth beneath her feet and brought down most of the city. This question brought up so many horrible, terrifying memories for her, ones that I’m sure go far beyond the orphanage and the earthquake. I don’t think this is a question most teachers would even consider asking, but it happens.
Teachers are awesome, I know so many and I respect them for what they do. They get paid nothing and they have THE most important job besides parenting. My hope is that this helps teachers understand how to approach children in the classroom, considering all backgrounds. If you’re a parent and class assignments come up that make your foster or adopted child really uncomfortable, have a honest, but kind conversation with your child’s teacher. Explain where your child came from and why it’s difficult for them. I think many teachers will be open to your input so in the future they can avoid causing children emotional pain. Many teachers are aware of what’s been said in this post, but there are still some who don’t understand how our families come to be. Thank you to ALL teachers for what you bring to society.
(Since writing the draft of this post I’ve spoken with Payton’s teacher about this question and how it made Payton feel. Mrs. Briggs said she would speak with Payton about it and apologize to her and that she respects both of our feelings on the matter.)
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Tracy Dee Whitt writes for her blog Lovin' Adoptin': Supporting adoptive parents and families living with Autism. You can follow Lovin’ Adoptin’ by “liking” the Facebook page and follow Tracy on Twitter and Pinterest.