When Looks Matter

Anne Bentley | Monday, January 17, 2011 | Links to this post

We all know looks don't matter . . . until they do. Adopted or not, we begin to evaluate our parents more critically from a young age noticing our similarities and differences. I remember thinking, I couldn't possibly be the child of my biological parents. Even though we shared obvious physical characteristics, I wasn't so sure we did. And we certainly didn't act alike. So how could I possibly be related?

Our Kazakh daughter, adopted in 2007, has been pointing out and comparing our physical traits since her third birthday. One day, she proudly announced she looked just like her daddy since both share brown hair and brown eyes. It was clear then she could only see the similarities. A few months later she cried because she didn't have polka dots (freckles) like mommy. Telling her how lucky she was to have clear, beautiful olive skin wasn't much help at the time. Later she started to notice our not so subtle differences in hair, eye and skin color. She never said it with sadness, just interest. Maybe I missed an opportunity to tell her about her birthmother then and how they looked alike, but it didn't feel like the right time or something she could really understand yet. Teaching her about embracing everyone's differences, from the curls in their hair to the glasses on their face or skin color seemed more important and relevant at the time.

Approaching the glorious age of four brought all kinds of new questions with it. Sure, we'd talked about her adoption since the time she'd come home with us and experiencing her sister's adoption helped everything sink in. But her fascination with her own looks and how they differed from ours seemed to be at the forefront of her curiosity. I’d begun to notice her hard stares when Asian families were nearby and waited for the question, "why do I look more like their family than mine?" I attempted to address it, although it never came - not until recently when she asked, "do I look like the nannies that took care of me at the baby house?" I quickly pulled out her adoption photos and showed her that she resembled a few of them and the Kazakh people in general, but also let her know that no one else in the world looks just like her. She's one of kind. We all are. Individuality aside, I think it's reassuring to her just knowing others look like her. It’s possible I’ve missed some underlying psychology here, but I tend to think at four her view’s a little more simplistic (for now anyway). Given her new comfort level with her visual identity, she's now very quick to let us know when someone looks like her. All good news for her exploratory nature.

Looks can matter to parents too. I had this preconceived notion of what I thought my children would look like before I knew I couldn't physically have them. It was hard to surrender that fantasy, but I did. I think a lot parents go through this and carry feelings of guilt for letting our minds take us there. For me personally, adopting our children helped erase that longing. I can't imagine my children looking any other way or more beautiful for that matter. I know that telling someone this is vastly different than experiencing it. But I think you'd be hard pressed to find an adoptive family that didn't feel the same. Our children are our children regardless of who delivered them. Connectivity of physical appearance has nothing to do with the bonds that form between us.

So whether you have an adopted child or you're talking about adopting a child that doesn't look like the rest of your family, talk openly about your differences and embrace them early on. Once you've acknowledged and celebrated your family’s uniqueness - skin color, eye color and ethnicity become another set of features that make your family your beautiful family.

--Melanie Hill
The Hill family adopted 2 girls from Kazakhstan

2 responses to "When Looks Matter"

  1. Beautifully written, Melanie!

  2. I love this post!

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