“Why fit in when you’re born to stand out?” –Dr. Seuss
My family stands out. My kids are Asian; my husband and I are white. Most people will (correctly) assume our children are adopted.
I get that “standing out” invites curiosity, stares, potentially well-intentioned comments, and questions that come off as intrusive, even offensive. I try to remember that most people don’t mean to put me in an awkward spot by asking a question about my family. They just don’t stop and think of the second- and third-order effects of their innocent query while we’re in line at Costco.
I try to respond with grace and patience and let stuff roll off my back (sometimes with a sigh and an eyeroll). But sometimes it’s hard, especially when you get smacked over the head with ridiculous questions and comments. For instance:
1. ‘What happened to their REAL parents?’
I hate to be a buzzkill who gets wrapped up in technicalities, but the correct term is “birth parents.”
And to answer your question: None of your business. Seriously, any reference to the word “real” trigger these kinds of questions from my kids:
“Aren’t you my real mom?”
“Mommy, why do people ask if we’re real brothers?”
Conversations about adoption happen regularly at our house, but it kind of sucks when our important conversations are prompted by the offhand question from someone who doesn’t know our family. If you ask me about “real” parents or “real” siblings and my response is a tense smile and “I am the real mom,” and you come back with “Oh, you know what I mean,” and I look like I might be getting stabby, you might want to move along before I summon the flying monkeys.
And yes, I know what you mean. It’s none of your business.
2. Any derivative of ‘Your child is so lucky/you’re a saint/bless you for rescuing that poor orphan.’
I am neither a saint nor a superhero. My child is not a charity project or a person who needed rescuing. My husband and I weren’t trying to save the world or seeking a service project. We just wanted to be parents.
3. ‘Can’t you have your own children?’
Awesome. Any time a stranger asks about your baby-making equipment, you know it’s going to be a great day.
4. ‘Why did you adopt from X instead of Y?’
Why did you adopt a Chinese child and not an American child?
Why aren’t you adopting a child from foster care?
If you ever decide to adopt, know that someone will always question (and probably find fault) with your adoption choices. The blanket answer is “mind your own business,” but truly, this question is complicated.
There are so many roads to adoption and so many reasons to choose one program or one country over another. Unless you’re seriously considering adoption and seeking answers on the best choice for your family, it’s smart to steer clear of this one.
5. Any reference to adoption being ‘the easy way’ to have kids.
No, I didn’t endure morning sickness or episiotomy stitches. But do you know my story? Do you know how many miscarriages I had or how much I might have spent on fertility treatments? No? Then maybe you might want to rethink using the word “easy” when you talk about my adoption, or anyone’s adoption.
6. Any sentence that starts with ‘I could NEVER.‘
You could never raise someone else’s child. Good to know. You could never give up a child for adoption, no matter what the circumstance. Awesome. I’m happy you are so crystal-clear on how you’d handle situations you haven’t experienced.
And yes…that was sarcasm, let there be no doubt.
7. ‘How much did it cost?’
Asking about someone’s adoption expenses is akin to asking their credit score or if they owe back taxes. It’s not the same as admiring someone’s new car and asking, “Do you mind telling me how much that set you back” — although personally, I think asking about prices of pretty much anything is a slippery slope.
If you find this question on the tip of your tongue, take a minute and ask yourself why you’re asking. If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll find you probably don’t have a good reason for such an intrusive question, and you should probably just zip it and say “cute kid” or “congratulations” or “let’s go have margaritas.”
And if you ask, “How much did he or she cost?” all I have to say is this: You’d better hope you can run faster than me.
8. ‘Do you think they’ll grow up to be communists?’
We adopted from China. China is a communist country. We get that, but our kids are now U.S. citizens. Sure, I wonder about the adults they will someday be. Like most moms, I want my kids to be good students and good citizens. But mostly, I just want them to be happy. Their future political leanings aren’t really a source of concern right now. Seriously, who has time for that? Sorry to disappoint you, oh asker of the most asinine question ever.
Curiosity isn’t entirely bad. What and when to ask should be dictated by your relationship with the person whom you’re asking the question.
So…if you wouldn’t walk up to the mom of a super-sized baby and exclaim, “Wow, that’s a really big baby. How long did it take to squeeze that out?” then you might want to rethink the way you approach that family who — for whatever reason — stands out just a little bit.
In short: Don’t be an asshole. No one likes an asshole.