Disclaimer – image is unrelated to today’s story.
Also not my personal story. It simply breaks my heart.
I’m a kinship care provider to my nephew and I’m really struggling right now. There is no possibility of him going back to his parents because they both died over this past summer. His mom was my sister. It was a murder/suicide perpetrated by his father and I feel like that’s really relevant to the situation. Which is sort of complex and multifaceted, but I’m just looking for some guidance or opinions. Also I am white, my husband is Puerto Rican, and my nephew is mixed black/white. He just turned 2 at the end of December.
This past week he’s started calling me mom and my husband dad, and we’re both very emotional about it and not sure how to respond. We think it’s started because his friends at daycare all call their parents mom and dad and he hears that all the time. When we show up other kids will also tell him that his mom or dad is here. The teacher always corrects them, but toddlers don’t really get the difference sometimes. Anyways we don’t want to make him feel like we’re rejecting him by correcting him every time, but we also don’t want to erase his parents. My sister and her partner had a very rough relationship with each other, but they were both wonderful parents who loved him with all their hearts. We show him pictures of them, and have them around the house. Whenever he asks about them in the pictures we refer to them as mom/dad. I just don’t know what to do.
The other issue that I’m starting to worry about is him feeling connected to his paternal family. Currently, there is a no contact order in place against one paternal aunt. When everything first happened they couldn’t believe their brother would do it and started threatening me and my husband as well as my mom. I understand the initial shock/trauma response, so I don’t want to hold it against her forever but I’m also not sure if contacting would be safe. I also would text a different paternal aunt at first but she cut contact after the stuff with her sister and no one from that family has reached out to ask about him since. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my nephew staying there alone, at least at first, just because I know several of members of that family were abusive to their own children. I also know that this is a cross racial situation and I want him to feel connected to his culture. I do my best to stay educated, listen to voices of people of color, and be aware of the situations he will face in life, but I will never have the lived experience. As a white woman, I’ll never get how it feels to face racism every day. The closest thing I’ve experienced is the occasional racist mad about my blended family, but even then the color of my skin means I can seek protection much easier than my husband or nephew.
One adoptee confirmed – its totally fine for children to call their permanent caregivers mom and dad even if they aren’t. Let him. You are the acting parents in this situation, and kids (especially kids with a trauma background) need to feel a sense of normalcy in their life. Regarding paternal family connection is important but so is safety. Regarding cultural connection – some of the big ones are going to be immersion in black culture, mirrors in that kiddos life, and making sure that your neighborhood and school has a lot of other black children.