The home of Michael and Christine Way Skinner is filled with the laughter, arguments, and general mayhem that come with raising five children ranging in age from 11 to 19. All five are adopted. Some of these children were adopted at birth, others as toddlers, and others as old as 11 years. All of the children come from challenging backgrounds, and each has varying degrees of special needs. As a family, the Way Skinners represent a total of 13 various ethno-cultural heritages.
Michael is the coordinator of Religion, Family Life and Equity for York Catholic District School Board in Aurora, Ontario. Of Irish and Native ancestry, Michael was born the ninth of ten children in a small village in Newfoundland. He has a Masters of Divinity degree from Harvard University and has been an educator for over twenty years with extensive experience writing curricula. Michael has a particular passion for teaching World Religions, Holocaust Education, Equity and Inclusivity. He is also a graduate and Merit Award winner of the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Christine is a catechist at St. John Chrysostom Parish in Newmarket, Ontario. With Michael, she also completed a Masters of Divinity at Harvard and has pursued a Ph.D. in Theology. Christine would have probably finished her Doctorate in Theology if she and Michael had not felt the responsibility of raising five children. She has a special interest in Sacraments and Liturgy, Inclusive Catechesis, the Neuroscience of Ritual, and the use of art in Religious Education.
Michael and Christine show their kids that “every child deserves to be a permanent member of the family and every child deserves a warm place to call home.”
“Adoption has always been part of the story and language in this house,” Christine says. “Our kids are all mixed race and we are white. It is obvious they are not our biological children. We’ve invited that level of openness. All too often in their lives, we’ll hear the word “adoption” spoken as a negative. A lot of people don’t understand it. When we say the word “adoption”, it is dripping with love.”
The Way Skinner family is a study in diversity: Christine and her husband, Michael, are white while their oldest daughter is part Aboriginal and part African Canadian; two of their children are part African-Canadian, and one is of Italian and Caribbean ancestry. As well, two Caribbean-Canadian children of a friend live with them. “Family tree projects get complicated,” says Christine. She thinks her family probably discusses race more often than others do, starting from the time daughter Beth, then a preschooler, pointed out that dad (Michael) wasn’t so much white as “kinda pinkish.”
PHOTOS Anna, Beth & Patrick — Getting ready for Easter | Left to right: Patrick, Christine, Beth, Michael, Anna | Beth with mom and dad at the Cordon Bleu Chef School
The family makes an effort to cook foods from a variety of cultures and to participate in activities that reflect the children’s heritages. They also ensure that the children are part of the Irish and Newfoundland cultures of their parents. “We’ve introduced them to Irish music,” says Michael, “which they mock with great affection.”
And while Christine says her children haven’t faced a lot of overt racism, she sees it in more subtle forms.
“Sometimes, well intentioned people note that our children are “lucky” that they have us as parents, who “take them in” to give them a chance. We always respond that we are the lucky ones to have them as our children. Our lives are so rich and vibrant with them.”
Another time, a child care professional once asked if the attitude of their Caribbean-Canadian teenager was “cultural.”
“I was so caught off guard, I didn’t know what to say,” she says. “But later I thought, yeah, it’s cultural -- teenage girl cultural!”
While the members of the Way Skinner family each have their own cultural heritage, the tie that binds the family is celebrating those cultures through art, music and food.
The couple contacted the birth families to find traditional and favourite family recipes for each child. Also, during family trips a mixture of music to reflect different cultures and varying personal tastes is loaded on an iPod and listened to alphabetically – including rap, nursery songs, rock, Irish jigs and folk songs from Newfoundland.
Michael and Christine even join their children’s cultural dance lessons. Through this, the children have a deep sense of connection to their parents’ culture and to their own. “Our family value is diversity,” Michael offers. “I’m not going to drop them off and pick them up. It is important that I join the lessons. That way I show them it is important that I learn. We have had so much fun together this way.
Culture is who we are, and love unites us as one family with a variety of cultures, attitudes, gifts, and needs. But, we are a family indeed.”
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