I knew she’d approach me before she even took a step.
It was the way she locked eyes with me, a move I’d seen dozens of times over my decade-long stint in motherhood.
Then she walked with purpose toward my family, gave me a toothy-smile, and then loudly gushed, “God bless you for adopting children who needed a good home!”
Awkward? You bet. I mean, we’re in the middle of a store on a busy Saturday, and my kids don’t enjoy random strangers coming up to us with the expectation of a lengthy conversation on our family structure.
The sole reason she approached my family, and not the family right next to us, is simply because my kids are black and we are white. The adoptions are obvious. Our multiracial family stands out everywhere we go. And strangers either love it or hate it.
Now to be fair, many strangers simply take their second glance and then warmly smile our direction. Some even say something as simple and as kind as, “You have such a beautiful family,” to which we always say, “Thank you.”
But others are so curious and eager to render their opinion as fact, that they approach us, an odd determination in their eyes, and let us know exactly how they feel. We’ve heard:
“Your kids are so lucky to have you as their parents.”
“There are so many children who need a loving family.”
“What you did, adopting these children, is amazing.”
“It’s so cool that you chose to adopt kids of another race.”
These “compliments” scream an unhealthy message to my children: that we, the parents, are superheroes or saviors, while our kids should be grateful that we swooped in to save them.
Yes, there are some children who come from horrific circumstances. Yes, some children are considered harder to place in families because of their age, special needs, race, and even sex. Yes, there are many, many children (over 100,000 of them in the United States foster care system) who are waiting for a forever family. In fact, 20,000 children age out of the foster care system every year, released into society without the love, guidance, and support of a family.
But my children fit into none of these categories. And even if they did, they should never be told to feel lucky, grateful, or less-than.
Each of my children was adopted at birth, via an ethical adoption agency. The kids’ birth parents chose us from a sea of adoption profile books, which are essentially photo albums with detailed captions that explain who we are, why we wish to adopt, and how we plan to raise a child.
You see, we were the ones who were chosen. We didn’t “select” our kids. They weren’t charity causes that we took up to feel good about ourselves or help others. In fact, we adopted for one purely selfish reason: we wanted to be parents.
As for the reasons why my children were placed for adoption? We keep those private. However, I can share that many children are placed for adoption because their birth parents feel they are not in a position to raise a child at that time. Their reasons range from a lack of finances or family support, an uninvolved or unknown biological father to partner with, mental illness, addiction, abuse, and age. Some also decide that having a child will not fit into their current life plan of joining the military or earning their degree.
The assumption many hold is that birth parents are sexually promiscuous, drug abusers, who are poor and young. I can tell you from my twelve-year experience in the adoption community, many biological parents do not fit the stereotypical description.
Because of the assumption, many think my kids came from unimaginable poverty and danger. They assume our kids are better off being with us and are so “lucky” to have been adopted by a two-parent, financially stable, well-educated family.
Adoption is complicated and bittersweet. Despite Hallmark movies and viral adoption reveal videos, adoption isn’t easy, there’s no “good guy” and “bad guy” to be vetted, and those at the center of the adoption, the children, have a lot to process throughout their lifetime.
Let me be clear: My husband and I are the lucky ones. We have the privilege of parenting four children. We were also the chosen ones. Their birth families selected us to raise our kids. We are so thankful to have been chosen, trusted with the tremendous honor of being the ones our kids call “mom” and “dad.”
As for my kids? We support them in feeling as they do. We don’t need validation, nor do we appreciate strangers’ verdicts.
The absolute best thing a random stranger can do when they see our family is do nothing at all.
—November is National Adoption Awareness Month—