Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Missed Opportunities

We aren't a stay-home-much kind of family. The kids and I go somewhere most every day.  And since we are out and about in the community a lot, there are lots of opportunities for people to see that one of my children doesn't look like me. Most of the time, folks don't say anything at all, or say something nice like, "he is so cute!"  Occasionally, they say something not-so-nice, although those times are not all that frequent.

And I've decided that I need some ready-made answers for some of the questions/comments that I'm getting.  I've been stumbling with responses, not really wanting to get into big-time discussions with random strangers, but leaving feeling as if I've missed the opportunity to educate someone about adoption.

Because most of the conversations go something like this:

Random Stranger: Oh he's so cute.
Me: Thank you. We sure think so.
Random Stranger: Is he yours?
Me: Yes. He's mine (with a smile).
Random Stranger: Where did you get him?
Me: He's from Ethiopia.

At this point I get one of two questions:
1. How long did it take to get him?
2. Do you know anything about his mother or his family?

I know that these folks are genuinely kind and sincerely interested. They think they are making light conversation with an adoptive mama of a cute little boy.  What they don't realize is that they have just asked me to discuss in public, in front of my children, the tragedy of my youngest child's life story. And they've just said within earshot of however-many of my children are with me, that I am not his mother; that we are not his family.

We decided long ago that we are not sharing the details of why Amani was adopted with anyone. Not even our closest family. The only people who know right now are me, my husband, our agency caseworker, and our attachment therapist. Well, and my friend Kim who was with me in Ethiopia because we were fighting together to bring both our boys home.  That's it.  Not because there is anything shameful about why he needed to be adopted, but because it is AMANI's story. Not mine. It is not mine to share. We will share it with him as he grows up and we will be there to help him decide who he wants to share that information with. And I certainly don't think random strangers are entitled to that information under the guise of "small talk."

But I don't always feel like going into all that with the random stranger who is talking to me from across the room at Kids Alley at the Science Center, along with anyone else in the room who might be listening.

So I've been mumbling something along the lines of "we don't know..."  in an apologetic tone, as if I need to be sorry that I can't satisfy her curiosity with more details.  And that's not even entirely true. There are things we know and things we don't know.  And even that is more information that I really wanted to share with the nice random stranger.

So I'm trying to come up with a very nice way of saying, "you know, adoption almost always comes out of a difficult situation involving grief, loss, and trauma. I am not going to discuss the greatest tragedy in my child's life with a random stranger in front of my children."  And I want to say it in a way that the other person has learned NOT to ask those questions of adoptive families in front of their kids but doesn't feel like I've just chastised them.

That's a tall order.

I'm still working on it.  Because I'm not at all happy with how I'm responding right now. And I think I am given precious opportunities to educate folks about adoption (particularly interracial adoption) when they make comments like that. And I don't want to miss those opportunities.

So.... let me hear from you adoptive families out there! What do you say? How do you handle it? Even if you do share your child's story (lots of wonderful adoptive families handle their children's backstories in different ways), how do you handle the completely random stranger wanting to know it?

Or maybe you are a regular non-adoptive-family person.  What would work? How would you like to be told that you've just unknowingly said something potentially harmful or hurtful?

If I get lots of good responses, I'll do another post and share them!


  1. I just saw a thread about something similar (multi-racial families) on my neighborhood's online mom newsgroup. There are a lot of multi-racial families in my Boston community - both adoptive and biological. Generally, people asking these questions are simply ignorant and possibly just trying to make conversation, not sure what else to say. A few people on the board commented that it turned out the "ask-ers" were people who were going through the adoption process themselves and wanted to connect (and did so awkwardly). I think a simple "The circumstances around the adoption are private, but thanks for your interest and concern" is enough to shut folks up without being rude. And after saying "Yes, he's mine" (after all, he very well could be biological for all that stranger knows about your life/marriage), just make an excuse and walk away. You don't have to offer a stranger any details that you don't want to give.

  2. This is a great post. Not having any kids yet, we have only talked about how we will answer this question. I have changed my mind about the best approach, but right now I really feel like the best way I could deliver this would be to say "That is his own personal story and when he is older I will let him explain it to whomever he feels should know about it." Any response can seem offputting, depending on the delivery. So, I will try my best to answer with a smile, knowing the stranger is probably not meaning to be hurtful by asking the question.

  3. I'm sure you've read this post:
    But if you haven't it's really good - as are the comments.

  4. I am so glad you posted this! I have been thinking about this a lot lately because I am not happy with how I have been responding. I also do a lot of "I don't know" even though that isn't true. It never feels right and now that E is getting old enough to understand more I really need to do a better job. There have been a few times when I have said that the information is private and for the most part people take it in stride. For some reason it always catches me off guard. You would think after having E home for over a year and a half I would be less surprised when people ask. Most of the people that have asked me haven't been rude at all and just seem to be making conversation and I think that is why I get off my game. I need to do better! I hope you get more responses as I enjoyed reading the above comments!

  5. thanks - I know we just got home a few days ago with our little Curt - but I dread the questions. I already have the stares - but mostly the "he's so cute". But tomorrow is our FIRST real day alone and out and about! So we'll see. If its ok - I may borrow this or link to my blog - I just know I can't say it as well! But thanks - and its good to know I'm not alone in my thoughts and how to say things. I've already heard the questions about cost and his story and its drove me nuts - but now that he's home - I just pray I get the right words!
    So thanks for sharing and I will continue to look for the other responses.
    PS - glad you liked my post on not wanting others to hold him and to respect that. I didn't go to church today KNOWING people would not get it. And also having people respect our name change process.


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. All comments are moderated (because I won't post it if you aren't kind), so it may take a little while for your comment to appear.