In His Image, but not Mine

“I want to dye my hair,” Daughter #2 stated. Again.

I looked at the long, near-black hair on her head, the stuff magazine ads are made of.

Trying to muster the energy for yet another round on this topic, I asked why.  This time her answer was different. More honest.

“I want to dye it to match yours.”

There it is. This isn’t an issue of the latest fashion trend so much as it is an effort on my daughter’s behalf to identify with me, her adopted mother.

And we’re hearing this from both our girls.

“I don’t look anything like you!” Daughter #1 cried in anger. And she started down this list of all of the adopted kids she knows and how they look like their mothers.

“Ashley looks like her mom.” (True)

“Lucy looks like her mom.” (Debatable)

“Ava looks like her mom.” (One is Chinese, the other Caucasian)

Her logic here makes no sense. Then I realize for her, it’s all about skin tone and hair color. The two biggest differences in our appearance. She and her sister are struggling with the same issues.

I think back to all the comments I’ve made over the years, admiring Christmas photos of friends and their families. “He’s the spitting image of his father.” “She has her mother’s smile.” I never gave those comments a second thought, until now.

My daughters are made in God’s image, but not mine. Family resemblances, taken for granted and praised in biological families, are often absent in adoptive families. And in transracial families like ours, this becomes a huge issue when their child-like naiveté gives way to adolescent awareness of situations of social awkwardness. When looks become stares. When strangers’ faces read confusion, curiosity, or disgust. Knowing and understanding that it’s something my daughters face every day breaks my heart. But it also gears me up for helping them learn to accept who they are and how God brought our family together for a reason.

I’m sure I’ll learn better ways to respond, and when I do, I’ll be sure to share them. But for now, I try to remind them:

“Baby, I know we don’t look alike on the outside. But we do look alike on the inside. Our senses of humor are the same. We both love to read. You’re inquisitive, like me. You’re kind and caring. These are characteristics you got from me. Your appearance, your beauty, you got from your birth mom. It’s what makes you special. Embrace it. Nobody does you better than you.”

How much of this actually seeps into their minds? Some, I hope. Daughter #2 walked away satisfied. Or maybe she decided to save this battle for another day. I’m sure the topic of hair dye will come up again, and this time I’ll have a better understanding of what’s behind it. And hopefully I’ll have dealt with my own conflicted feelings on this.

Will I let her do it? I honestly don’t know.

Have you faced this challenge? How did you decide to handle it?