I'm devoting this week on the blog to adoption. Many of you journeyed with us as we brought the Bean home from Ethiopia over four years ago! How quickly time goes by! We are now in the joys and hard work of parenting all our children!
I love adoption, and I am open and willing to share about our story. But we've had a few incidents lately where strangers have asked questions and made comments. It's been a tough road to navigate in grace, (which is why I write this post).
In an effort to be constructive, I'm going to give five practical tips for when and how to ask an adoptive family about their child's adoption.
Disclaimer: I am not every adoptive parent. These are my suggestions, but I am not an expert. I am one person with one lens of experience. For any adoptive parent who is reading this who has their own suggestions to offer, please do! I really hope this is a helpful resource for anyone reading.
Last week I was dropping the Bean off at preschool when an excited, sweet mother (whom I had never met) walked up to me (with her two daughters in tow) and said: "Hiiiiiii! I've been wanting to meet you! I can't help but notice your son is adopted!"
She was jolly enough, but it's cold outside and the Bean is begging me to zip up his sweatshirt. I had just whizzed through the morning routine of getting ready for school, making lunches for all the littles, squeezing everyone into the car and dropping the two older at their school, then driving another 15 minutes to the preschool. I'm harried, messy-haired, hungry, cold (did I brush my teeth even?), I have no make-up on, I don't want to talk to anyone, let alone in the parking lot, let alone on the subject of adoption.
Please hear me when I say this. There is a time and a place and a manner in which to ask questions. And that time is not when I'm walking into preschool, with the Bean holding my hand, while we're shuffling through the parking lot and school is about to start.
While we're at it, that time is not in the grocery store, either. Or on the baseball field. Or at a birthday party. Or at back-to-school night. Or at a fast and easy restaurant. On on the patio after church.
My son is almost five. While he might appear oblivious, he hears everything. He hears people ask why we chose adoption. He hears people inquire about his first family. He hears people ask about his skin color and hair. He hears people ask how our family has gelled. He is aware.
The plain truth is, if my son didn't have black skin, if he wasn't clearly not white like me, very few people would ask, and fewer still would ask in the parking lot of preschool. But the poor kiddo has to entertain comments and questions from strangers all the time in front of him, basically a sort of racial profiling, that opens up his story to people who have never earned the right to hear details of it.
I understand that some of these questions are normal. I am not opposed to questions. I am, however, in favor of people asking questions at the right time, in relationship, and not in front of my children.
Here are my suggestions for how to ask an adoptive parent about her child's adoption:
First, before you open your mouth, consider whether there are any children within a 20-foot radius that will hear you. If there are, now is not the time. She's not going to want to engage in an adoption conversation while mothering and/or supervising her children. In between washing hands and tying shoes, she's not going to appreciate trying to shield tiny ears from whatever you say.
Second, realize that your innocent, curious questions prod into his private, personal, and profound loss. Understand that hard stories are not meant to be tossed around at a pizza party, fundraiser, or casual social event. Pick a location where a myriad of emotions could be explained and expressed openly without distractions, interruptions, and a schedule forcing a rushed conversation.
Third, please accept that if the adoptive parent blows you off or gives your question a short answer, she might simply be protecting her own heart and the heart of her child. She is not entitled to answer every adoption question thrown at her. Her child's story is HIS story, and every adoptive parent is different. The mother is charged with parenting and protecting her child, and that might mean declining to answer your question. That is her right as a mother. Should she choose to tell you any details is entirely her call.
Fourth, ask in trustworthy relationship. Adoption isn't a casual, impersonal conversation. If you're a stranger and have no vested interest in my child, no real relationship with me or my family, you have no right to inquire about this personal subject. If we are causal friends, I will give you broad stroke answers provided you ask me at the right time, in the right place, without my children present. Show me you are in relationship with me and not just wanting cheap details, and I share openly. But you have to earn a right to ask. Otherwise, it's none of your business.
Finally, be aware of racial profiling. While adoption is how my son came into our family, it is not who he is. Please don't stamp his forehead with the word "adopted" because his skin color happens to be different than mine. Notice his big eyes and skinny legs and coy mannerisms and see his beauty--he's a boy! Not an adopted boy! Nobody wants to be singled out for how they are different.
I hope you get a kick out of this video by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan. It's a parody, so it's not meant to offend. But I couldn't believe how many of these comments she pokes at are comments I have heard at one time or another!
Adoptive parents, do you have anything to add?