Identity Crisis for TCKs and the Adopted Child

Different is Beautiful

Photo by epicnom

The scene and conversation below is one that we tend to be a part of on a weekly basis. 

It’s raining. A bright blue, a brighter orange, and a large blue and green umbrella dashed across the street to the bus stop. Okay, dashed isn’t what we did…I had Jie Jie, so we stomped in the water puddles and marched. The large bus squeaked to a halt and we quickly slid our way to an open seat. I looked at the kids’ spotted wet clothes and wondered why I had insisted on them using the umbrellas.

Mei Mei and Jie Jie shared a seat. Ge Ge stood holding a pole. A Chinese lady sat next to the girls and I stood near them praying that Jie Jie wouldn’t jump on her, suck her hand and then try to shake the lady’s hand, or that Mei Mei would be patient with her older mentally disabled sister.

Yep, all three things came to pass, but thankfully the lady was gracious as we swayed to the rhythm of the bus.

The older lady looked at the girls, then at Ge Ge, and then at me. I was ready for the question. The question that we get about 2-3 times a week.

“Are all these children yours?” she asked in Chinese pointing at them.

I nodded and smiled thinking to myself, there’s only three.

The lady looked at Mei Mei and said, “But, she doesn’t look like the rest of them.”

I nodded and told her she is adopted.

Mei Mei sighs and says in English, “Mom, why do they always say THAT?”

I sighed and just winked at her. Too tired and wet to have this conversation again.

Then today we had this same conversation with a different Chinese lady walking home, except Mei Mei added another sentence, “I wish I could change my skin color.”

My heart stopped. WHAT did my daughter just say? WHY did she just say that? HOW am I to handle this right now as I’m chatting with a total stranger while keeping my tight grip on Jie Jie who wants to run out into the street?

I pushed her comment to the back of my head and finished the conversation with the lady. After our good-byes we hustled home to start homework, her comment crammed into the back of my mind.

Suppertime came and it was just the girls tonight. Her comment and my concerns about it wriggled itself out of the corner of my mind and I began to dialogue with her about it.

Here’s my conclusion:

1. Insecurity – Being different and singled out can make most people feel insecure. As a woman, I can relate with that. We did talk about other kids that she knows who are also adopted. She is not alone, and neither am I.  

2. Identity – We just started to scratch the service on this one. I mean think about it:

  • Third Culture Kids struggle with identity.
  • Girls struggle with identity.
  • Adopted kids struggle with identity.

This is something that we will probably dialogue about for years to come.

And I think that is the key: Dialogue, to keep the communication open so she feels comfortable to share her hurts, her fears, and frustrations. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a listening ear and a loving heart for my little girl.

I just have to remember to keep those ears open. To put down the dishrag. To not let concerned comments stay crammed inside my mind never to be found until it is too late. To sit with a cup of tea and listen.

Your turn: How do you handle questions like this from your adopted child(ren)? or from your TCKs when trying to identify who they are? Please comment below.

13 thoughts on “Identity Crisis for TCKs and the Adopted Child

  1. Thanks for your courage to share this with us because these kind of questions can be challenging for us as parents. What I know about kids is that it is good to be available when they start talking about the things that are bothering them, like you say: take time and put the dish towel down.

    I remember when we lived in Africa my parents raised us with the motto “dare to be different”. Just recently I was thinking about it, you know I was different with my blond hair and blue eyes. I don’t think that I had to “dare to be different”, I just was and that’s what I had to accept. I hoped that I would find kids like me in my passport country (the Netherlands), but there I discovered that I was “different” once again.

  2. I can understand what you are saying because my husband who is German, but grew up in Asia is most comfortable around the international community. He looks like he “blends” in when we are in Germany/USA/Asia, but inside he isn’t, unless we are with others that have lived overseas.
    I seriously shudder when I think of moving to a place that doesn’t have other internationals…can’t imagine what we’d do. Seems like you are finding some camaraderie among the online tcks, which is nice i’m sure….but not like going out for coffee, right?

  3. Hi there, we are a bit of a fusion family too. My husband is Pakistani, I am Irish, my two daughters were born in England and my Son is Scottish. I am often asked if the children are mine, as they are dark-haired, and tanned, whereas I am pale with blonde hair and blue eyes.
    My eldest daughter always identifies herself with me, saying her father has dark skin and she doesn’t. I can only imagine it’s because I am female/her mother, as we have never made dark skin seem less desirable. In fact, I always tell her how lucky she is to have such beautiful tanned skin and how I wish I did! Perhaps she does it because I sometimes say I am the odd one out and she is showing some solidarity! Great blog, I’ll be interested to follow it…

    • Wow, you do have quite the fusion family! I so wish I had the tanned skin, too! I remember my oldest (blond hair blue eyes) telling us that he had black hair and brown eyes. He did this until he was probably 3 or 4…we were living in Asia, and everyone else he knew had black hair and brown eyes. Your story of your daughter reminded me of that.

  4. MaDonna, I feel for you and your daughter on this one. I can just imagine what went thru your mind when she made that statement. It is heart wrenching when our children make comments like this. She is a very lucky girl to have such a wonderful and thoughtful mother.
    I have four children, ages 11-22. We left the USA in 1999 and have lived in Australia, New Zealand and England… Next year we moved to Vietnam with the youngest. The eldest lives in Australia, another attends University in New Zealand and I have one heading to the USA to attend college next year. They often ask where they should call home. I always say that home is where the heart is….someday, when we step off the expat express….I hope we can say we are home.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog…best wishes to you and your family.

    Jeanne xx

    • Thanks Jeanne for the encouragement. Even though I’m a girl, this one seems to amaze me with the things she says and does. How did my mom ever survive with four girls.

      Yes, the “home” thing is rather a challenging question. My husband still struggles with that one at times. He pretty much says that home is wherever I and the kids are. Married life I think helped him a bit with that issue, but not completely.

  5. The identity and home questions are both huge. I am American, raised in Pakistan, and lived and raised my five children first in Pakistan, then in Cairo, Egypt before coming to the United States. I laugh and say that when you live between worlds, you are most comfortable when you are on an airplane, because there you are quite literally between worlds as you make your way from one destination to another. I’ve included a link to a post I did called Identity Theft because that expresses far better than this comment some of my journey and process. It’s a challenge being a TCK and a challenge raising TCK’s but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    • I just found your comment. It went to my spam folder for some reason! Love your comment about being most at home on airplanes. I think that sums it up just about right. My husband LOVES airports. He is always looking around for people he may know.

    • Thanks Marilyn for the link. I think my husband can so relate with most of what was shared. He, too, is a TCK and his insights have helped me with understanding and raising my own.
      *sorry about the other comment. I don’t think it made it through. I have to approve them before the show up and didn’t see it.

  6. Pingback: Adoption Awareness Month: Our story | raisingTCKs

  7. Hi, My husband and I are both caucasian American – we have lived overseas (West and East Africa, and now Jordan) for 11 years. Our five year old son is adopted, he has been with his forever family since 3 months old. We are an interracial family, dealing with TCK issues. We have many people stop us (guards in the mall, people in the park, and.. the AIRPORT of course) and feel very comfortable stopping and asking us questions well within earshot such as:
    is this your son?
    are you married to a black man?
    his skin – it’s different than yours – what happened?

    Recently when it was just me and my son, I was stopped by mall security (simply out of curiosity), as they were trying to piece out our lives and how we fit together – and asked ALL the big questions. When trying to work out my lack of Arabic, and their English, I finally just said, “his skin is milk chocolate”.This seemed pleasing to them, but my son was NOT happy. I need to find some tools on how to navigate this stuff – if you have any resources you can share, please feel free to pass on my way.

    • Hi Crissy,

      Sorry to just now getting back to you. Holiday season was a delightful busy time. We just returned from a mini vacation and this was on my list to finish before the weekend starts here. =)

      I’ve definitely have had similar situations come up with our daughter. I’m sharing a link to a private Facebook page that is specifically for expats raising adopted children. The administrator of the group has started a study on this group of “Third Culture Kids” and there are some great questions and answers from others who have and are traveling this same path. The site is called Raising Adopted Kids as Expats and the link is

      Hope this helps. If you have more questions, you can email me at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com. I don’t mind answering personal questions on a less public arena. =)

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