Adoptive Families: Dealing with the Questions.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about things that are often said to adoptive parents, ranging from innocent, well-meaning statements to ones that are downright offensive.

But here’s the thing — I can beg on my blog until I’m blue in the face for people to use terms  “biological child” and “birth mom”, but the questions and comments will still come, and I have to figure out how to handle my own responses appropriately.families

While we were in the process to bring Baby Boy home, there was so much beautiful support from family, friends and perfect strangers who somehow found out that we were adopting (okay, okay, I did don a lot of adoption t-shirts during our wait). Were there ever things that were said to us that shocked or hurt us? Of course. But for the most part, we felt pretty in control of things and we weren’t bombarded with questions wherever we went.

Nothing could have prepared me for the barrage of opinions and questions that ensued once our son was in our arms. The very first night he was home, a picture of our family at the airport with him was shared on the Facebook page of a local news station, which resulted in a string of attacks from commenters who said we should never have adopted a child from another country when there are children in our own backyard who need homes.

And so it went. Whether we were enjoying a family soak in the hot springs or running through the parking lot to get out of the snow, we were getting stopped. Sometimes it was very natural — a mom sitting next to me in the library would ask questions about our adoption process. Other times it felt invasive — in the middle of a conversation with a friend at a store when someone would call across the aisle to ask if our son used to live at an orphanage.

When we began to realize the amount of attention our little one attracted, we had to regroup. My husband and I had to figure out how we would evaluate and respond to various situations. We had to decide when it was good to share and when we needed to draw a line in the sand.

Here are some things we have talked through at our house. This may not be how you go about it because your family and situation are different, but I’m hoping that by sharing our process, I can get the conversation going in your home!

Our Goals:

First and foremost, our goal is to both empower and protect our children in how we respond to questions and comments — whether they come from family, friends or random people at the grocery store.

When the situation warrants it, we also hope to educate without insulting, and — if needed — to be a resource for others.

Evaluating our Kids:

Right now, Baby Boy is just a year old, and is indifferent to whatever is said. But his sister is not. She is listening even when I think she isn’t — and doesn’t miss a beat. A conversation with my 4-year-old revealed that she doesn’t always like answering questions and talking about her brother’s adoption, and believes he should “just get to be a baby”. Eventually, Baby Boy will also realize what’s going on and one day — be asked questions when I’m not around to answer them. So it’s important that I set an example for him.

Before I even consider answering a question or responding to a comment, I take in what’s going on with my daughter. There are some questions I just don’t answer in front of her (how much the adoption process costs, for example). There are times where we’re involved in an activity, and I can tell she is bothered that someone is interrupting and prying about her brother. At other times, it’s all good, and it’s perfectly comfortable to visit with someone and share a little bit about how our process went and how well our son is doing. Eventually, I will be taking Baby Boy’s wishes into consideration in how and whether or not I respond as well.

Ultimately, though I may love to talk about adoption and be an encouragement to others — my kids are my priority. They don’t need to feel as though they are a walking, living advertisement for adoption. They have a right to simply be our children, undefined and unidentified as adopted and biological: simply kids who are part of a family.

Evaluating the Situation:

While it is possible to misread people, I think it is usually apparent as to why someone is making a comment or asking a question. Most of the time, I do think people are just curious and/or well-meaning. Sometimes, I think people are genuinely ignorant. On rare occasions, people say something that is downright insulting or offensive. How I respond to someone is often dependent on how it is asked.

I have also learned that I don’t do well on the spot. I can’t think up witty, perfect things to say when I’m in the moment. Having some “canned” responses does me well. Even though there are times where I’m still completely shocked and unprepared and left standing with my mouth agape, I find that I am doing better with being concise and informative, while still being protective of my son’s story. Practice makes perfect.

Joel and I worked through certain responses so that we are both on the same page whenever possible. I’ll share below our responses to the four most common questions and comments we receive:

1. “He’s so lucky!”

What we say (I can’t take credit for this — it is a response that I LOVE, shared by a friend who is an adoptee and adoptive parent): “There is no luck in loss, but we sure feel blessed to be his second family.”

Why we respond this way: While we hope our son will feel happy that he is a part of our family, we also don’t want him to grow up feeling like a charity project. He doesn’t owe us anything or have anything to live up to, and we want him to know that WE are the ones who feel blessed to call him our son. In addition, we want him to know that he has a right to grieve his loss and that we recognize that his adoption happened because of loss. He does not have to live a life of  gratitude in debt to us.

2. “How much did he cost?”

What we say: “International adoption is expensive, and while we don’t share our adoption costs publicly, if you’re considering adoption, it’s something that you can very easily find online.”

Why we respond this way: We don’t want our son to feel as though he was BOUGHT. We also want people to realize that this is not the most appropriate question to ask an adoptive family or a particularly thoughtful way to phrase the question. If they are asking because they are considering adoption, this hopefully gives them some encouragement and direction without shutting a door completely.

3. “What happened to his real mom?”

What we say: “Our son’s birth mom is in heaven.” If any further questions are asked we simply say, “We don’t share that part of his story.”

Why we respond this way: It gives us the opportunity to educate by using the term “birth mom” as opposed to “real mom”. Because we talk about and celebrate Baby Boy’s birth mom openly, we don’t mind sharing this piece of his story, and have found that giving people a tiny bit of information and leaving it at that usually gives them the hint that the rest is off limits.

4. “Is your daughter adopted, too, or is she yours?”

What we say: “Both of our children are ours. Can’t you see the resemblance?”

Why we respond this way: We used to explain that both children are ours, but our daughter is biological. However, we’ve decided that it is best for our kids not to draw this distinction. They both will grow up knowing that the unique ways they came to be our children are special, but we don’t want Baby Boy to always be known as The Adopted One.  Cracking a corny joke helps me feel better about being firm without sounding condescending.

How about you? Do you have certain criteria for responding to questions and comments about your situation? Do you have any responses that have worked really well? Please share in the comments section, so that we can all learn!

Adorable girls’ clothes on zulily.com

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Comments

  1. A very balance post. 🙂 I wish more parents would do what you are suggesting – be prepared for questions that may offend. My kids are now 10 and 12. We adopted them when they were 4 and 3 days old. Initially my canned responses were snarky because I took offense easily. We soon realized that most people just didn’t know any better. Adoption is an alien world to them. So if we are asked – how much were they? – we respond with telling them the immense joy of adoption and yes it was pricey but that is irrelevant to us. Our kids are at ease with being adopted. When I hear them tell someone “I’m adopted” they say it as a matter-of-fact, because it just is. It is who they are and it is who we are, like having brown hair or blue eyes, it just is. We decided not to be the parents of “adopted kids” but “kids who happen to be adopted.” I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it clicked with us.

    • I love that — that is how I feel about our son, too! My mom said the best thing to me once: “I forget he’s adopted. He’s just one of us!”

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