While we know our adoption of our son is where God led us, we know that was not God’s first plan for our son. In a perfect world, there would be no separations of families. There would be no hard choices or death or broken homes. There would be no hunger or violence or poverty. In a perfect world he would have grown up in Haiti, surrounded by abundance of love. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen, broken world and adoption exists because of many, many factors. In a perfect world, people would just see a family. In the real world, people see differences and with those differences, come a myriad of questions.
This is long, but I wanted to share something that’s been on my heart and something that takes some bravery to write out. I don’t like confrontation. I am getting better at addressing things directly and gracefully, but I still struggle with “in the moment” confrontations. I haven’t always answered these questions in the right way when confronted, especially when I am frazzled in the checkout lane. However, I’m trying. I’m learning that I need to fiercely advocate for and protect my child. That is my job. We knew that by adopting transracially and also internationally it was going to invoke a lot of questions by friends and family and complete strangers.
I have heard from many adult adoptees who share their feelings on comments and questions people have asked them to their face or as a child, to their parents while present. Those questions and comments are from (usually) well intentioned friends and family or most oftentimes from complete strangers. I know that people who know us are just trying to relate to us, but they probably don’t view it through the eyes of my child. I am hoping to convey this from a place of humbleness and an open place of teaching without judgment. What I am about to share is personal yet very common among other adoptive families.
Please understand that some questions asked in front of my son can invoke feelings in him that can make him feel “less than” or “othered” or needing to feel gratitude for his adoption. All false burdens placed on his little shoulders that are completely unnecessary and untrue.
“So, where is he from?”
“What’s his story?”
“What happened to his real parents?”
He is a real child and we are his real parents. What you might be questioning is the part of his birth story regarding his birth parents. Birthmom and birthdad are appropriate terms used in adoption. Depending on who is asking and in what context, I will answer the question about where he was born, but not where he is from. If someone asks you where you are from, you usually say your town of residence. I don’t reveal that private information to complete strangers and most of our friends know where we live. However, I have learned in the years of parenting biological children, that not once, has anyone ever asked me where they are from. Our son’s story is his to share someday if he feels like sharing. His adoption story is his and we share it with him. We don’t think it’s right that others know what happened in his past before he does. What led him to our home is personal and private and not my place to share.
“He’s so lucky.”
He’s not. I mean, yes, we are a fabulous family and all, but in all seriousness, adoption exists because of some sort of loss. A child is separated from his birth family. Even if adopted at birth, a child is separated from all the familiar sounds and movements of their birthmother. There are plenty of studies that show that children have attachment difficulties and trauma even if adopted at birth. For a child who was internationally adopted and/or transracially adopted, there are many other facets to consider.
Imagine this. You wake up one day not knowing your life would be turned upside down by day’s end. By midday, there is a smiley lady who smells funny, crying and wanting to hold you and hug you. You don’t understand her at all because she speaks a different language. The man standing with her is taking pictures of you. The people you know and love hand you over to these strangers. Before you know it, you are in a car and then an airplane (something you’ve never been on before, so that absolutely terrifies you). You hope that you are heading back home soon. You think you are being kidnapped. After an exhausting day of travel, you are in a strange place. You don’t quite understand what these people are saying, but they insist on holding you and perhaps kissing you. Maybe you have many more days of travel, but maybe you are “home”. Nothing is familiar. Everything smells differently. You don’t know what they are saying to you. The food is nothing that you’ve ever had before. Your bed is not your bed. Days and months go by and you lose your language, your culture, your familiar smells, familiar food, familiar people, and everything about your old life. When you realize that you’re never going back, you grieve hard. You have LOST so much.
So when people say my son is lucky, I imagine this scenario and my heart breaks for him. I imagine that being adopted as a toddler, he remembers and knows enough, but he was not old enough to understand any of what was happening to him. While we were familiar to him prior to bringing him into our family, I’m sure there are elements that were just as scary as the scenario above. He has already lost so much. He is not lucky. We are not amazing, not in the context that people are usually insinuating. We are simply his parents who do their best. We are honored to be a part of his story and are humbled to be his parents.
The following questions/comments are real questions I’ve fielded since our son has been home (and some before), oftentimes right in front of him.
“Are all of these children yours?” Yes.
“Are you babysitting” No.
“Are they real siblings?” Yes.
“Will you change his name?” Would you ask that about my biological child after I’ve named him?
“Oh, yeah, I just adopted a dog. I totally know what you mean about that paperwork.”
Totally not the same. Please don’t equate the adoption of our son to an animal, because that is what he will “hear” out of that statement. You might be trying to find some common ground, but that is not appropriate.
“Why didn’t you adopt from this country?”
That’s no one’s business, but by asking this question, you make my child feel inferior by implying that being adopted from America is better.
“Will you tell him he’s adopted?” (this mostly comes from strangers)
Again, that is not a question I would answer to a complete stranger. I don’t owe them any explanation of our family. Most of the time I just stare at them for a second and they realize that this question is really not one they need to ask.
“How much did he cost?”
Maybe you are asking what the fees were regarding the process revolving around our adoption? My child was not for sale. If you are truly interested, I can point you to many websites and agencies that explain the typical fees of both domestic and international adoption.
I ask you to think how these questions would make him feel. Or better yet, how you would feel if someone asked these questions about you in front of you? Or pause and ask yourself if you would ask such personal questions about our biological children. My typical response to most strangers is “Why do you ask?” If they are truly interested in adoption, I will ask for their number and I can chat with them some other time. I’ve never had anyone take me up on that. If they are not truly interested in adoption, they usually don’t have a valid reason for being intrusive.
This isn’t a question I get, but rather a personal space and respect issue. Just like touching a stranger’s pregnant belly is socially unacceptable, so is touching my son’s hair. Yes, this has happened multiple times and it really is inappropriate. If you want to learn more, there are many resources out there that talk about Black culture and what is appropriate.
There are so many, many more questions adoptive families get bombarded with on a daily basis, but here are the most common for us. Thank you for reading and learning along with us. Thank you for allowing me to share something that is important to our family and help reframe some of these common questions through the lens of my child.
If you are part of an adoptive family, I’d be honored if you chose to share some of the questions and comments you’ve received and how you’ve handled them. Comment on this post so we can all learn.