Five months ago, when the boys joined our family, I asked them how they’d like to be introduced to others. Would they like me to introduce them as my foster sons, sons, or just use their names? At first, they told me that they’d like others to call them by their names or as my foster sons, but recently our youngest asked if I would call him my son, instead of foster son. I, of course, agreed, but have found that in doing so, it has opened up a wealth of perplexed looks and prying questions from well intentioned strangers.
Often, people have genuine questions, but those questions sometimes have hurtful or judgmental implications. For instance, I’m often asked: are they your real sons? (Yes, we do not look alike, but we are family) What is your relation to them? (Why does it matter?) Are you going to have kids? (I already do!) You don't look old enough to be their mom (Ok, but I am).
The definition of family has come into play in some humorous/frustrating ways as well. For instance, I recently called for an auto insurance quote and was told that our oldest son is too old to be my son and their computer system will not allow him to be added as my child. (Fix your computer system, please!)
When these types of conversations or questions arise in public spaces, we often laugh and brush it off, but I wonder how it impacts the boys’ feelings and identity within our family. To address this, we often have dinner time conversations of what family means, and how each family looks different from the next. We talk about how our family structure makes us special and how we can model for others the importance of foster care. We talk about intentions, and why people ask sometimes hurtful questions. While I cannot control the questions that people ask of us, I can control our responses and hope that through building compassion and kindness in our community, we can construct our own definition of what family looks like.