Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to respectfully ask questions about adoption

Adoption answers we are too polite to say out loud
by: addylawson

As an adoptee, I have also had people come up to me more times than I can count in the middle of a social situation, surrounded by other people, and ask, "Ohmygah Missy! I didn't know you were adopted! Have you found your real mom??"

I am about the happiest adoptee you will ever meet. I carry no adoption baggage. I don't resent my birthparents or my adoptive parents. I've yet to discover all my abandonment issues that I am supposedly required to have. I happen to think adoption is so super awesome that I always wanted to adopt a child myself.

Therefore, if the time is right, the place is right, and I believe you actually care about me and my story and aren't just using me as your personal walking talking People magazine, I'm happy to talk about it. But at a party? Caught off guard? COME ON. And what about the sad details, because all adoption stories have some? Do you really think I'd want to hash it all out in the middle of the Superbowl over some queso? Really?  

I am well aware that once we bring Bethie home, I will be on the flip side of the questions, questions that my mom didn't have to fend off very much because back in the 70s adoption agencies spent a lot of time matching up babies with parents who looked like them.

Times have changed. 

Recently an article went around the interweb called Eight Things Never to Say to Adoptive Families. My daughter is not yet home, but I have already been asked a lot of these.

As a very open person - y'all are reading my blog - some questions don't bother me a bit. Sometimes, I'll talk your ear off about our journey.

But sometimes, I'm just not in the mood to be The Adoption Ambassador to the World. I'm tired. Or PMSing. Or aggravated at the kids I already have. Or mad at the process or on a tangent about ethics which means if you ask me about adoption you might get waaaaay more of an answer than you ever wanted.

But after reading articles like the one above, I know some people who are genuinely curious felt at a loss as to how to talk to us. And after fielding a lot of stupid and offensive questions regarding our babies, we adoptive moms can get a little touchy sometimes. Probably every adoptive mom has had to field a question that caused someone in her family to cry. If it was she who cried, she's on the offense. If it was her child, she's downright stabby. Sure, we need to loosen up. But you don't know the fallout we may have endured from another's nosy question.

But please get this straight, adoption is not a taboo subject. I imagine there are still some nutjobs who never tell their kids they were adopted. But if the mom looks like me and the kid looks like Bethie, the mom knew going into this that she would raise eyebrows at the bouncehouse. We prepared for that.  We even read books on it. We all are proud of our kids and a lot of us are happy to share our adoption stories. It's okay to ask about adoption.

But, just like everything else in life, there is a time and a place and a way to ask about adoption.

Let me give you an analogy you can use.

Think of adoption like the way other people get their kids: childbirth. It's normal, it's beautiful, it's nothing to be ashamed of, and most moms have no problem discussing it. Most moms even enjoy discussing it.

However, there are parts of childbirth that are extremely private. Parts that I wish my husband hadn't witnessed. Parts that I surely, surely wish my 23 year old brother-in-law hadn't witnessed immediately after Shep's birth when someone told him it was okay to walk into the delivery room. It was not okay. So not okay that the only way that either one of us has been able to carry on with our lives has been to slip into denial and just pretend that the delivery room show-and-tell never happened.

You wanna know exactly what biology lesson was learned by my poor formerly innocent brother-in-law? If we are friends, I might tell you. But if I just met you? Sorry, but it is not appropriate stranger talk.

And if any of my children are standing right here listening? Definitely. Not. Appropriate.

As for a few of those questions? Lots of private and messy things happen on the delivery table that we just don't ever need to talk about outside of (a very small circle of) family (not including brothers-in-law.)

Lots of private and messy things happen in the adoption process that we just don't need to talk about outside of family. 

So in the interest of keeping you away from my and my child's private parts I thought it would be a good idea to give some respectable alternatives to the show-and-tell questions regarding adoption.

Sound good?

First off, as with any other conversation, it usually helps if there is a relationship already established, even if it is a burgeoning relationship. Even if it is only five minutes old. Going up to a perfect stranger and asking very personal questions is just, you know, awkward and wrong.

So assuming you have known this lady for more than the time it takes to check out your groceries, I believe the first thing that you can do is ask if this is a good time.

"I am very curious about adoption. I think it's so beautiful. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?"
Or, "Could I take you to coffee sometime and ask you some questions?" 

Then if we say no, let it go. And don't take it personally. You have no idea what we might be dealing with.

If the child you wish to inquire about is standing right there listening,  


I repeat
if the adopted child is standing right there,

Don't wake up Mama Bear, y'all. You know how Mama Bear can get. Grrrrrrrowl.

Pretend your child had a large birthmark that covered her face, and she's standing right by you. Would it be okay for me to come up and begin: "What's up with her face? Was she born that way or did she get burned or something? Are you gonna get that removed?" Asking about adoption in front of an adoptee can make them feel just as self-conscious and weird. Which is why Mama Bear might eat you.

But if the timing is right and the child is way out of earshot, fire away. (Politely. Respectfully. Within certain boundaries.)

Know first off that the word "REAL" causes me, both as an adoptee and an adoptive mom, to instantly bristle, and I'm not alone in this. Think about the word. To use 'real' in regard to my child's first family implies that our adoptive family is fake, unnatural, or artificial. Best to just ban 'real' from your vocabulary. Proper terms are birthmom, biological mom, or first mom."Kids of your own" is another phrase to ban. Bethie will be just as much 'my own' as Maggie or Eva Rose are.

Burning questions about adoption and how to ask them:

Don't say: Is he yours?
Do say: He's so cute/smart/funny!
If I say thank you, then you know he's mine.  

Don't say: So why was she adopted? 
Do say: How old was she when she came home?
~Then we will share as much or as little of her story as we choose. Please understand that all adoption stories involve pain and loss. And like other life stories of pain and loss, it's very personal. Adoptive moms, as a general rule, believe that their child's story is theirs alone to tell or keep private. You will probably get very little information out of us.

Don't say: Where's her real mom? Why couldn't her real mom keep her? Was her real mom on drugs? Oh I could never give my baby away.
Do say: I bet her birthmom misses her terribly.

Don't say: Which ones are your real kids? Are they real brothers and sisters?
Do say: May I ask, which ones came to you through adoption? or Were they all adopted? 

Don't say: Why did you adopt from over there when there are so many babies over here who need homes? (This is my personal blood boiler.) My friend Julie says she gets the opposite, Why did you adopt from here when there are kids in Africa who are starving? 
Do say: How did God lead you/what led you to {foreign country}/adopt domestically?

Don't say: How much did he cost? 
(I'm fine with this question because I love to proclaim that God provided every penny. But lots of people just aren't comfortable discussing their finances. Adoption costs less than most cars, yet people rarely ask how much a new car cost...)
Do say: I'd love to adopt, but I worry that we can't afford it. or I hear adoption is very expensive. 

Don't say: Did you go to his house and get him / did you just see her over there and bring her home / did you get to pick him out?  
Do say: Was it a long or difficult process to adopt?  

Don't say: Does he have AIDS? Did his mom have AIDS?  
Do say: I can think of no polite alternative to this question. Just don't. 

Don't say: Why didn't you get a white baby?  
Do say: What led you to Ethiopia?

Don't say: Couldn't you have kids of your own?
Do say: What led you to adopt? 

Don't say: Wow, she's so lucky you adopted her!
Do say: Wow, you are so blessed you get to be her mom!

Don't say: Wow, you're amazing! I'm so glad you found your calling!
Do say: Wow, she's not so amazing, she's just a normal mom, with normal strengths and weaknesses. And that kid sure is cute. Maybe adoption is something I want to get more information about...I think I'll ask her to meet me for coffee.

Does that help?

Many thanks to my facebook friends who helped come up with questions and answers

Moms, I am very open to editing this blog post based on suggestions you leave in the comments, so go ahead!


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