back-to-school 2

I am 26 days from the first day of school. 26 days from all three of my children going to school. Not just two – all three. Not that I am counting (never mind that giant calendar in my office that has red X’s through every day of August so far). I jest (a little), but yes, the truth be told I miss my kids fiercely when they are at school. I love when they come home, burst through the door wild-eyed ready to tell me the fun (and sometimes hard) stuff from their world at school. And thinking about that world to come – the new one – the mini-stratosphere of their homeroom and how it will make or break them day by day, pushes me to prepare them well in the short 26 days ahead.

Thus I will have 5 specific conversations with my children before they plunge head first into fifth, first and pre-K. The first of which, because we are a multiracial Blended family is a Back to School Chat about Adoption. This ‘chat’ happens not only with my children, but also with my children’s teachers.

On the first day of each school year we receive a ‘Get-to-Know-Me Sheet’ from our teachers. On it the parent lists likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality interpretation from a parental perspective. In a tiny box at the bottom they ask if there is anything else that I would like to include that would aid the teacher in helping my child transition well at the beginning of the year. In this box you might list such items as a recent death in the family, a parental divorce or separation, or significant struggle your child is having. Okay. It’s a bear of a form, but helpful to teachers. However, that is really the only space they give for ‘other’ information. And adoption doesn’t qualify for that tiny box. So when I started receiving these forms years ago I started attaching a separate sheet to engage the teacher in a positive way about adoption in the classroom.

Every single year my children have been in school negative adoption talk has occurred in the classroom. Every single year. While more experienced teachers have dealt with adoption before, there are so many that have not. This is where I come in – and where you should too. As much as we prepare our kids to talk about adoption, we must also give ourselves over to preparing the environment that they spend so many hours in. As adoptive parents, we are the experts. In that vein, here is a sample of what I send in to the teacher – its really quite simple.

Dear Fabulous Teacher of My Child,

My child is part of a multiracial bio-adoptive family, or as we call ourselves, a Blended family. While my child is open about being a Blended family, it is her choice to share when she feels comfortable, not when the subject of adoption comes up in the classroom. Please ask her privately before you put her on the spot. Some things are private for a reason and I would appreciate you setting the tone and discipline about her privacy in your classroom.

Also, I want to offer, if you feel the need, to meet privately with you to talk about positive adoption language in the classroom. I have also in the past talked with classrooms about adoption and positive adoption language in an age appropriate way. Let me know if I can assist you and your classroom in having a positive experience with the subject of adoption.

Thank you for your diligence in this matter and I look forward to partnering with you this year!

More often than not, the teacher takes me up on the offer. I broker the conversation, and many are grateful as they often don’t know how to handle adoption in the classroom (especially after a child has said something that is hurtful). A proactive conversation with our children’s teachers at the start of the year gives the teacher tools and language to address situations if they happen (and they will, either with your kid or someone else’s).

While I make a point in sending in the note and talking with the teacher, the more critical conversation happens with my children. Talking with each of my children about adoption enables them to talk with friends or teachers in their school environment. As much as I work to prepare a positive classroom experience for them, I have to aid them in discerning just what to say, or in some cases to say nothing at all, when approached at school by the curious. A book we always fall back upon in our house is the W.I.S.E Up! Powerbook. It gives power to the adoptive child or sibling to answer adoption questions based on comfortability and safeness. I use the curriculum with both my adoptive and biological children. It is equally important to prepare both. My middle daughter becomes quite defensive when she hears inappropriate things said about her sister. She can respond physically to other children, stepping in between her older sister and the perceived aggressor. Hands on her hips she will shake a finger in the face of the other child and can be heard saying loudly, “You said WHAT about my sister?” Having the conversation with her about how to respond appropriately when asked why she has a black sister, or why doesn’t your family look like it belongs together, or why is your sister so different from you, is key to her emotional health and leads to greater coping skills.

So along with the other back to school preparations like clothes, supplies, haircuts, and lunchbox ideas we will also spend our time having Back to School Chats in order to ready our family for the year ahead. This week the first of my 5 Back to School Chats will be about adoption. And in thinking about these conversations I realize 26 days to prepare is not very much time at all.