A few months ago I posted on my Facebook page about an interaction I had with someone and the context of my post was largely misunderstood. I ended up removing the post, but it has stayed on my mind.
One of the questions adoptive families get from time to time, especially multicultural families, is “are they all yours?” This is a common comment that many large families receive and I think that generally people don’t mean any harm by it. However, with adoptive families the interpretation is different. I’m not worried about someone offending me–I’m worried about what the little ears around me hear.
Many times adoptive children have an internal struggle about where they “fit” in a family. Even the most inclusive families I know have told me from time to time their kids have expressed a feeling of insecurity with their place in the family. Hearing a comment like, “are they all yours?” may, in their mind, make them feel like that person thinks they don’t belong with their family.
One of the most important things in an adoptive family is inclusion. We call it circling in. We always want to be circling around our kids and saying and exposing them to things that draw them into our family rather than anything that will make them feel separated or push them out.
Can you protect your child from everything? Absolutely not. Which is why as parents our response to comments like this is so important. We never defend our family or explain our family to anyone. We always respond in a positive way. As our kids grow older we will teach them that they don’t have to answer questions like, “where is he from?” if they don’t want to. Just because our kids are adopted does not mean that people have a right to know about us. Our family and adoption story is always one we are willing to share, but to people who are genuinely interested in learning about adoption–not to people who just want to figure us out.
I have been eager to type this piece but also afraid that I am going to discourage people who are really interested in adoption from approaching families or just giving a family an encouraging word. That’s not my point at all. There are ways to talk to families and get the information you’re seeking without sending the wrong message. Here are a few of my suggestions.
“What a sweet family.” We get the point. I can see the kindness in your eyes. Your saying you see me and you see my boys and you appreciate how we built our family. I love these interactions.
Pull me aside. “Hi, I am interested in learning more about adoption but I know this isn’t the time or the place. Is there any way I could email you or we could have coffee?”
Once we are alone and away from my kids you can ask me pretty much anything you want. There are a few things we keep private about our process and our kids, but you can ask me anything you want and I will not be offended. Want to talk about money or attorneys or fears? We can discuss all of that. As long as my kids aren’t around.
“You are so lucky to have each other.” Yes. Yes we are. Incredibly lucky. People need to be mindful of the struggle a child may have been through. Depending on the age of the child they may have been through a lot emotionally in the transition to being adopted–especially children that have been in the foster system. We don’t tell biological children they are lucky for being born so we shouldn’t say adoptive kids are lucky. In reality most of the time the parents are the ones who feel the luckiest and in the end the whole family is truly blessed.
“I’m so happy for all of you.” We want people to be happy for us whether our kids are adopted or biological or both. One of my children is biological. A big fear of blended adopted families, a family that has adoptive and biological children, is that people won’t be as excited for the adoptive children as they are for the biological. Making a point to be happy for either one makes parents and kids feel validated.
I don’t want to complicate this with a long list. My biggest advice would be just think for a second before you speak but don’t walk away and not say something if you really are wanting to learn more.