"Mommy," a small voice said from the back of the van. "Um, I was talking with [two Hispanic classmates] at recess, and they're scared about what will happen if that Trump guy becomes president."
"Oh," I said, totally as filler to give myself a moment to think. "Why's that?"
"Well," she paused. "They say he wants to send some of their family back to Mexico."
I waited, giving her space to say what I knew she needed to say. Surprisingly, the rest of our kids held space too. They all seemed to be willing her to ask the question, as they waited for my answer.
"If he becomes president, will me and Philip and Patricia and Zoe have to leave the country?"
I'm glad I was driving. If she had seen the anger in my eyes, she might have thought she had done something wrong. I wasn't angry with her, though. I was furious that the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric by a leading political candidate had made my girl question her place in our family and country.
(Lest you argue that maybe her friends' family members weren't here legally, please know that I've heard from dozens of adoptive families whose children are asking the same questions. Some have been told outright on the playground that they'll have to move back to their birth countries if Trump is elected. These incidents have been on the rise throughout his candidacy. His rhetoric is emboldening hateful language from others. Our kids are seeing it. Feel free to discuss the issues here, but our children's real experiences aren't up for debate.)
Some people don't think of our kids as immigrants. But, trust me, they are. We know the paperwork. We've filed documents and paid thousands of dollars to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department of Homeland Security. We can share stories of the first moments each of our children by adoption spent on US soil. They know too.
After all, this is our family - hailing from the US, Taiwan, and Uganda - while we were still living on African soil:
So what do I say when these questions come? After helping them name the emotion and validating it with empathy - "Wow. It sounds like you might be scared and curious about what you heard. I'm so sorry you're feeling that way, and I'm so glad you told me." - here are the three truths we stress:
1. Our government system involves checks and balances so no one branch can make unilateral action on immigration.
2. You are now American citizens so you are treated as such under the law, even though you weren't born here.
3. If all else failed and you had to leave this country, we would ALL leave, because we're a family and we're in this together.
Our kids need to hear the truth about our government system, the truth about their legal status, and the truth about their standing in our family. We came back to these truths when one of our children had "go back to Africa!" screamed at her by a group of classmates on the playground this past spring. And we returned to them again recently when they overheard something on the news while at a friend's house.
Immigration isn't just a political issue. It's a personal one. Whenever you're tempted to lump one group of people together - either lauded in praise or burned in effigy - pause. Because it's hard to love a group, but it's much easier to love a person.
And if your kids are asking questions, pause then too. Listen. Help them name their emotions. Validate them. Offer empathy. And then affirm the truths of the situation in a way that answers their questions without dismissing their real feelings.