I was six years old when I got into my first and only fist fight. I was digging for buried treasure in a sandbox while my brothers played baseball at a field nearby. A little boy cocked his head to the side, looked me square in the eye and said “that’s not your real brother.” This resulted in a compelling back and forth chorus of yes he is/no he isn’t and ended with me socking him in the face and running to my mom crying. She held me and said “there are no fake members of our family. Everyone here is real.”
Thus began a lifetime of conversations about adoption.
My brother joining our family is my earliest memory. His large brown eyes. His nervous smile as he clutched his bunny to his chest. He was a year older than me, but immediately he was my responsibility. He belonged to me. The notion that he was somehow unreal, that he didn’t belong made me come unhinged. My chest still gets tight at the memory.
As an adult I followed in my parents’ footsteps and built my family through adoption. I have three beautiful girls, none of whom share my DNA, but each one is fully mine. I am their mother.
I love being an adoptive family. The intricate way our life stories have woven together to take five individuals and create a family is nothing short of a miracle.
Our family naturally draws curiosity. People want to know all the backstory of how this lovely life came to be. But curiosity is a double-edged sword. It can cut away awkwardness to build understanding, or it can be a knife to the gut with an unintentionally hurtful question.
Here is a sampling of questions I have been asked about my children:
Were your kids drug babies? Do you ever worry their parents might kidnap them? Do they have AIDS? Are their parents in prison? Are they real sisters? How much did they cost? Did you ask for white kids? Aren’t you worried how they’ll turn out? Do you ever wish you could have had kids of your own? How much do you get paid to take care of them? Where are their real parents? Were they sexually abused? Do you worry they’ll end up in jail? Why don’t they call you mom?
Many of these questions were asked in front of my children. I kid you not.
In our family adoption isn’t a dirty word. It’s a point of pride. My children will often tell people we’ve just met that they are adopted. My girls have histories that extend beyond my biology. They know their stories. We are proud of their stories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to share all the details.
The issue isn’t with curiosity. The issue is with kindness. So many times these questions are unintentionally hurtful because the asker isn’t considering the perspective of the askee.
So before you ask a question, consider why you’re asking. Do you need to know? This is a FAMILY, not a lifetime movie of the week or a Chicken Soup for the soul story for your entertainment. Think about your most challenging, painful, terrifying, embarrassing, confusing moments. Would you want people asking you in-depth questions about those experiences? Would you want virtual strangers making comments about them in front of you to someone else as if you aren’t there? Of course not. Neither do we.
If a foster/adoptive family shares stories DON’T PRESS FOR DETAILS.
If they are being vague, there’s a reason, and that reason is that it isn’t your business. I can not count how many uncomfortable conversations I’ve had to wriggle my way out of, or stop outright. Many of the details I’m pressed for don’t belong to me. They are my children’s stories, not mine. I respect their right to privacy.
If a foster/adoptive family shares their stories DO NOT REPEAT THEM.
This is a biggie for me. I can not tell you how many well-meaning people have told about their friend so and so who also adopted and is a complete stranger to me. They’ll relate intimate details of birth families, behavioral issues, and adoption expenses. They share these stories to connect with me and show empathy. Unfortunately, it does the opposite. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me worried that they are sharing stories like this about my kids. It makes me feel unsafe. Please don’t co-opt adoption stories as an interesting anecdote. We are more than a story, we are people with feelings and a desire for privacy. Our stories are amazing, but they are OUR stories.